A three hours’ drive away from Yola, the capital city of Adamawa state, would lead to a kingdom not particularly worth envying by the standards of 21st century living; a world heritage site and listed among the seven wonders of Nigeria. Located between Madagali and Gulag, and politically under Madagali local government of Adamawa state, lies Sukur Kingdom.
More journey hours await as climbing the mountain where in spreads the actual realm is as challenging as it is amazing. Reason? You wonder how these people created a foot path of stones from the foot of the mountain to the peak—much like modern interlocking (it would be hard to swallow if modernity did not actually get its idea from them). It could be a joke but, who knows?!!!
The initial thoughts of this reporter were that it would be easy given the existence of a foot path leading up the mountain, but perhaps, I got it all wrong. It was not easy at all. The scorching sun added to the anguish because the climb was in the mid-afternoon which is just not the right time. “You have to be early not to find the climbing too torturous,” Simon, my guide said as a suggestion for the best time to engage in the venture. The heat contributed to me throwing up along the way. I totally lost hope when we reached a resting point. Simon sought to know if I really wanted to do this to which I responded, “Yes.”
Armed with belief I said to myself in a strong voice: “I shall make it to the top”. That was how I managed to reach the first gate with the courage derived from the two friends-cum- escorts that accompanied me—Maxwell and Aliyu. Astoundingly, the first gate had its own story to tell, which is amazing to me. Does that mean each step we take has its own uniqueness? I wondered…
At the first gate were two entrances of visibly varying sizes: big and small. The big gate, I gathered, is for everybody’s use while the small gate is for the king only. The Sukur people have a belief that the king is not supposed to share the same passage with ordinary people; therefore the king has his own passage in most of the gates. Sacrifice is also being offered at the gate by slaughtering a goat. The bones of the goat get buried in the middle of the road and the skin of the goat is tied from end to end by a special method. Gradually, the extended goat-hide disappears and this is taken to be a sign of appreciation from the gods. Another thing is that it signifies an assurance from the gods concerning protection from all evil and an additional blessing in all that they do.
At this point, I was already weak but because I want to see more about this kingdom with the wonderment feeding on my mind as to what is next, I got the courage to move on. On getting to the second gate, things became more interesting. It was like these people really have a uniqueness that makes their dwelling recognised as a world heritage site.
At the second gate we met a guard known as Daikarba, he is also the chief blacksmith. His duty alternates between guarding that very second gate and also the king’s grave yard. The puzzling thing about this Daikarba is that he is not at liberty to see the king face-to-face as if that happens, “something terrible” would befall the king or the people. Once it is late, Daikarba allows nobody passage beyond this point–no matter who. Daikarba has his house not far away from the gate and there he lives with his family. That is hardly incredible but at the house one could behold two different trees with plenty of awe to their existence. The trees share a single root which the Sukur people believe is not normal and they call it the forbidden tree. They hold the belief that anybody who touches the tree is bound to become a transvestite; having male and female organs. I could not believe it. “It is just a tree,” I said to myself.
I felt like screaming with joy when we finally made it to the top. Yes, all the while we were not even in the kingdom let alone the palace and then finally, the encounter to see how Sukur Kingdom looks like. Walking to the Kingdom was enjoyable. The atmosphere is calm and breezy. Voices of children could be heard echoing in the air; they were singing. The voices were not coming from the same direction. They were voices of different children resonating clearly from different houses. The rhythmic pattern the songs followed forced me to inquire more about it and Simon told me that it is a normal thing that the children do in order to stop the monkeys from coming. Breathtaking!
At the palace, we were quite fortunate to meet a son of the king. He introduced himself and proceeded to show us around. In the compound there is a small hut meant for the king to sit and watch all activities taking place in the domain. Few steps away from the king’s hut there is a shrine and seats for the king’s men. The shrine is known as Medala. It houses a very deep hole into which their local wine is poured every year as a form of sacrifices done to ascertain the possibility of a good harvest of crops. If the hole is still filled up when it is opened after a year, it indicates having a good harvest but if the hole is empty, the omen is that of a bad harvest. In effect, only a title holder is allowed to do the offerings.
The Sukur community is made-up of 27 clans but only one clan has been ruling for years now. Entering the main palace where the king and his family live, you will see where the title holders and other people sit and wait for the king. The space is specially made for that purpose. About the same space, there is a passage for the king to retreat into if he doesn’t wish to be disturbed. Within the same confines is also some sort of a chalet for young, immature children. Mature men are not allowed to stay in the king’s palace.
Men are ushered into maturity following a traditional dance which is performed by adolescent males as an initiation exercise but it only signifies that an adolescent male in that dance has reached a certain stage in life–that of being a man. The dance is known as burr in the local language and it is done once in two years where the family of the yet-to-be-initiated men will dress in their best outfit, cheering the male as he dances. Each youth meant for the ceremony will offer the heart and tail of an animal that he has slaughtered but if it happens a said youth is a first born, a keg of local wine will have to be offered the king as well. Dancing, eating and drinking lasts for the entire day.
According to Sukur tradition, only the first wife of the king prepares his food. The rest of his wives serve their duty as ordinary wives to the king. There were about 27 gates to which our guide could not really offer concrete explanations for besides loosely tying each to the 27 clans that make-up the Sukur community. He said nobody in the Sukur community could say why.
Even before contact with the West, the Sukur people were civilised in their own special way. They had their own locally made coin that they used within the community for buying food and other things. This coin is made-up of a substance found on the mountain which they melted and shaped in form of a circle. “How smart!” I said to myself.
They also have a multi purpose hall just like the/our National Assembly where decisions and other issues are being discussed. It also serves as court yard where punishment is meted out to offenders. The guilty is tied up by the legs and left in a hole for days until he/she accepts his/her fault. In another form of punishment, the guilty gets thrown in a hole which serves as a prison cell until the king and the king’s men have decided to let them out. It is only in the multipurpose hall that any citizen has the right to bare their mind to everybody, even to the king.
The physical structure of the kingdom is unexplained, even as it is hard to tell what magic was used by these ingenious people to arrange stones in different shapes, forming a wall that still stands after about five hundred years. It is clearly no child’s play because even the best of civil engineers might have to dig deep to come up with such masterpiece. One cannot help but wonder how much of science the people of Sukur Kingdom must have known even in those days… According to history, the Kingdom was built by two brothers, Fula and Dovu who came from no particular place anyone could say and left without a trace after they finished building the palace. This kingdom dwells 356 thousand feet above sea level (would you believe it!).
In Sukur Kingdom, you don’t leave by the same gate you gained entrance to the palace–there is an exit. At the exit gate there is a forbidden stone. The stone is placed so that it separates the passage for ordinary people and that of the king. If anybody touches the stone, small rashes like chickenpox are believed to appear on the person’s body and are without cure unless a sacrifice is offered to the gods.
More astoundingly, they don’t have a specific deity that they call god but they believe that there is someone up in the sky that is special. The Sukur community is made up of mostly farmers, hunters and blacksmiths. They grow crops like millet, maize, rice and many others. But the mountain dwellers seem to be living a prehistoric life. They go about half-naked and very far from civilization.
Like in the case of attempted settlement of Koma people who were some years back discovered by a curious youth in the same state, there were attempts to resettle Sukur people at the bottom of the mountain they inhabit. But only a few of them accepted resettlement.
The resettled Sukur people and the ones still living on the mountain belong to one community and are in the same local government, Madagali. There is an LEA primary school in the resettled community but none for those living on the mountain. Other basic amenities such as clinics, courts and modern markets, signifying government presence were readily available. However, there is a church on the mountain apparently because of the unrelenting efforts of evangelism by missionaries in the area.