The Susu people, also spelled Soosoo, Sossoe, Sosoe, Soso, Sossé, Sosso, Sousou, Susa, Susoo, Susso, Sussu, Suzée, or Soussou, are a West African ethnic group, one of the Mandé peoples living primarily in Guinea and Northwestern Sierra Leone, particularly in Kambia District. Influential in Guinea, smaller communities of Susu people are also found in the neighboring Guinea-Bissau, Senegal.
The Susu are a patrilineal society, predominantly Muslim, who favor endogamous cross-cousin marriages with polygynous households common. They have a caste system like all Manding-speaking peoples of West Africa, where the artisans such as smiths, carpenters, musicians, jewelers, and leatherworkers are separate castes, and believed to have descended from the medieval era slavery.
Their language, called Sosoxui by native speakers, serves as a major trade language along the Guinean coast, particularly in its southwest, including the capital city of Conakry. It belongs to the Niger-Congo family of languages.
In old Susu language, "Guinea" means woman and this is the derivation for the country's name.
They speak a dialect of Susu-Yalunka known to Susu people as Sosoxui, a language belonging to the Mande branch of the Niger-Congo languages. Sosoxui serves as a major trade language along the Guinean coast, including the capital city of Conakry. Other large cities where Susu is spoken include Dubreka, Kindia, Forécariah, Boffa, Kamsar, and Boke. The Susu language is almost similar to the language of the Yalunka people who live near Faranah. The Susu and Yalunka believe they were originally one people group living in the Fouta Djallon region of Guinea.
The Susu are descendants of their Manding ancestors who originally lived in the mountainous Mali-Guinea border. They were once ruled by Sumanguru Kanté – a Susu leader, but after that, they were ruled by the thirteenth century Mali Empire. In the fifteenth century, they migrated west to the Fouta Djallon plateau of Guinea, as the Mali empire disintegrated. Susu people were traditionally animist.
The Fula people dominated the region from the Fouta Djallon. The Fulani created an Islamic theocracy, thereafter began slave raids as a part of Jihad that impacted many West African ethnic groups including the Susu people. In particular, states Ismail Rashid, the Jihad effort of Fulani elites starting in the 1720s theologically justified enslavement of the non-Islamic people and also led to successful conversion of previously animist peoples to Islam. The political environment led the Susu people to convert to Islam in the 17th and 18th-century, along with further westward and southward migration towards the plains of Guinea.
The colonial-era Europeans arrived in the Guinea region of resident Susu people in late 18th-century for trade, but got politically involved during the era of Temne wars that attacked the Susu people along with other ethnic groups. While Temne sought British support, the Susu sought the French. The region split, with Temne speaking Sierra Leone regions going with the British colonial empire, and Susu speaking Guinea regions becoming a part of the French colonial empire in late 19th-century during the Scramble for Africa.
The Susu are primarily farmers, with rice and millet being their two principal crops. Mangoes, pineapples, and coconuts are also grown. The women make various kinds of palm oil from palm nuts. They also make peanut oil and soap. All of the family members, including the children, are expected to do their share of the manual labor necessary for sustaining an adequate lifestyle.
In addition to farming, fishing and salt production are important enterprises to the Susu economy. Salt is produced during the dry season, and it can take up to three months of intense work to produce anything substantial. The Susu are also well known as merchants and craftsmen of leather and metal.
Houses are made of either mud or cement blocks, depending on the resources available. They are generally quite large in order to accommodate extended families. In the cities, roofs are most often made of corrugated iron, while in the rural areas, they are usually still made of thatch. Most cooking is done over open fires. Electricity is available in most places, but clean water is generally lacking. Humanitarian aid organizations are trying to help the Susu by digging wells throughout the area.
Although Western clothes can be obtained in the markets, most Susu women seem to prefer African dress. They usually wear African-style skirts that reach to their ankles. Older men wear loose-fitting cotton robes, but the younger men prefer Western-style clothing.
The extended family is important to the Susu. Polygamy (having more than one spouse) is allowed under Islamic law, but it is only practiced by those who can afford it. Although good relationships are valued, there are many conflicts with neighbors, especially when dealing with money or property. Thus, each village usually has its own "wise man," as well as an elected or appointed leader to help resolve conflicts.
As mentioned earlier, the majority of the Susu practice Islam. They believe in Allah. Their formal worship revolves around five liturgical prayers recited daily at 5:00, 14:00, 17:00, 19:00, and 20:00. These sali (“liturgical prayer”) can be performed anywhere either individually or in group. People can enter a mosque for their prayers, but it is not obligatory. However, most Muslims will typically perform their 14:00 prayer on Fridays in the mosque.
The Susu word xutuba refers to the sermon preached by the imam in the mosque before the 14:00 prayers on Fridays. The imam typically delivers or reads his sermon from a pulpit at the front of the mosque, or from the niche in the eastern wall of the mosque which is reserved for the imam. Frequently he divides the sermon in two parts, and delivers the second part which is usually quite short, after a brief interval. The xutuba plays an important role in religious formation among the Susu, since it constitutes one of the main sources of teaching for the average Muslim.
The Susu people's political organization "assigned an important role to the Simo initiation society of mask cult", and it "dominated" the organization of the Baga and the Landuma people. Initiation and other rites included masks, and of particular importance were fertility rites. The Simo were also one of many secret "cultic groups" (whose priests "possessed immense knowledge of herbs and roots") that practiced medicine to cure specific ailments.
The Susu people also utilizes Bondo society to initiates girls into adulthood, confers fertility, instills notions of morality and proper sexual comportment, and maintains an interest in the well-being of its members throughout their lives.
The Susu live with their extended family. Polygyny is an accepted practice since Islamic law allows men to have as many as four wives. This is not always practiced because having multiple wives requires more means than most men have. The men provide for their families by working the rice fields, fishing, or engaging in trade. The women cook the food and take care of the children. They often engage in small commerce, usually of vegetables they have raised in their garden. Often women will have their room or hut next to their husband's lodging where they will stay with their children.
Over 99% of Susu are Muslim, and Islam dominates their religious culture and practices. Most Islamic holidays are observed, the most important being the celebration that follows Ramadan (a month of prayer and fasting). The Susu people, like other Manding-speaking peoples, have a caste system regionally referred to by terms such as Nyamakala, Naxamala and Galabbolalauba. According to David Conrad and Barbara Frank, the terms and social categories in this caste-based social stratification system of Susu people shows cases of borrowing from Arabic only, but the likelihood is that these terms are linked to Latin, Greek or Aramaic.
The artisans among Susu people, such as smiths, carpenters, musicians, and bards (Yeliba), jewelers, and leatherworkers, are separate castes. The Susu people believe that these castes have descended from the medieval era slaves. The Susu castes are not limited to Guinea, but are found in other regions where Susu people live, such as in Sierra Leone where too they are linked to the historic slavery system that existed in the region, states Daniel Harmon.The Susu castes in the regional Muslim communities were prevalent and recorded by sociologists in late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some Susu combine their Islamic faith with traditional beliefs, such as the existence of spirits who inhabit certain areas, and the belief in sorcerers who have the power to change into animals, cast evil spells on people, or heal people from certain ailments.
The Susu are primarily farmers, with rice and millet being their two principal crops. Mangoes, pineapples, and coconuts are also grown. The women make various kinds of palm oil from palm nuts. Ancient Susu houses were typically made of either mud or cement blocks, depending on the resources available.