Gamergu people

Gamergu / Malgwa

Gamergu / Malgwa / Malgwe (Nigeria and Cameroon)

The Malgwa (formerly known as “Gamergu”)

The Malgwa are considered the original settlers of the northeastern region of Nigeria before Kanembu/Kanuri had migrated increasingly into the area in the 14th and 15th century from the eastern side of Lake Chad. In the course of time, the Kanembu/Kanuri dominated almost all the settled Chadic peoples, strengthened through political power and the introduction of Islam.
The process of so-called "Kanurization" spread over a long period of time not without strong resistance of Chadic ethnic groups. Due to various reasons and exposed to multiple pressures, some Chadic-speaking peoples, over time, declared themselves being Kanuri and adopted the Kanuri language.



The Gamergu are referred to as Malgwe by the Mandara or Wandala. Lohr (E-mail communication 1999) says that that no etymology is known so far. Barth (1857, vol 2: 362) informs us that the ‘Mandara’ or ‘Ur-wandala call the Gamerghu Muks-amalguwa’. He explains that ‘mukse’ is a nickname meaning woman. Although he admits that he did not enquire into the meaning of ‘Amalguwa’, he beliefs that ‘Amalguwa’ is the orignal form of ‘Gamerghu’.

Muller- Kosack (1999) is of the opinion that ‘Amalguwa’ refers to Malgwe. The Gamergu trace an ancestral link to a place called Malgwe which locates them close to the Margi of Malgwe. Barkindo (1989:34) sees the Gamergu both culturally and linguistically intimately linked with the Wandala. Mouchet (1947:125) is of the opinion that ‘Ga-mergu’ is the Kanuri name for the ‘Malguwa’ (Malgwe). Muller-Kosack (1999) reports that Dughwede say that Gamergu means ‘margi people’ (ga = people or group, and mergu=Margi).



The Gamergu live in Nigeria, mainly between the middle Ngada and Yedseram River and the sandy plains north and northeast of the Gwoza Hills. Barkindo (1989:32) names Ishga-Kewe, situated 20km north of Bama along the river Yedseram as the ancestral home of both, the Gamergu and the Wandala. Barreteau (1990:9) identifies Malgwe speakers northeast of Kerawa but still in Cameroon. The Gamergu of Nigeria live in Borno State, Damboa, Gwoza and Konduga Local Government Areas.



Muller-Kosack (1999) estimates on the basis of the projections for 1996 (from census 1963 and census 1991) that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 Glavda altogether. Wolff (1971:69) estimates for 1963 about 20,000 Glavda for Nigeria. SIL also estimates 20,000 for 1963 in Nigeria and 2,800 in Cameroon (1982).



Today's Malgwa settlement area is located in a triangle in Borno State between Maiduguri, Dikwa, and Bama with the alluvial sediments of River Yedzeram in its centre, flowing north through this area towards Lake Chad.. The language area further extends from Bama in a southerly direction via Pulka and Gwoza up to Madagali and the Mandara Mountains. South of Maiduguri-Bama road there are occasional Malgwa settlements in the Sambisa region. Likewise do Malgwa live along the road from Gwoza to Damboa. According to their own estimates, about 30.000 persons are Malgwa speakers.

The Malgwa are settled farmers but also fishermen. Periodically the riverbed dries up, cultivation of onions, groundnuts, and cotton dominates (irrigation farming). Malgwa settlement area encompasses part of the firki, a fertile clayey plain (vertisols) that is flooded during the rainy season leaving only a few sand islands uncovered. A certain planting technique of sorghum bicolour (masákwa) (vd. Zach et al. 1996) that has been documented for the last 150 years, these fertile soils allow a second harvest during the dry season. Formerly they were known as hunters.

Malgwa settlements consist of individual hamlets with few compounds only. Malgwa and Wandala settlements are scattered and look similar, for instance the thatched roofs and their shape. The Malgwa are patrilineally organised; their settlement sequences virilocal. Marriage relationships are of exogamous nature where Malgwa men predominantly marry Kanuri women who traditionally adopt the husband's language or learn it at least and may subsequently be termed "Malgwanised".

Crafts in the past have been hollowing out of calabashes, mat-making, rope-making, weaving, tailoring, shoe-making, smithing, and dying. A considerable part of these crafts are today either not entertained at all or only in negligible quantity. Today the following crafts are executed by men only: building, repairs of calabashes, carving, leather work, making of sleeping and fencing mats, pottery, sewing, iron smelting, smithing, as well as tanning. Malgwa women are responsible for dying, spinning, and beer-brewing. Women and men decorate calabashes and weave. Contrary to rumours still prevailing in Borno about the "pagan" Malgwa, most have meanwhile become Muslims. Although they are considered "non-Islamic", a large number of Mandara and Malgwa had embraced Islam in the seventeenth century already.



Neighbours of the Malgwa In the north and in the west, Malgwa share borders with several Kanuri groups (eg. Mowar). In the southeast they are neighbours of the Lamang (synonym: Waha), Glavda, and Mandara and in the east of Kanuri (Ngumati) and Kotoko. In the southwest they meet Margi and Mulgwe. Apart from villages where only Malgwa reside, there are many settlements with mixed populations especially in the border areas of their sphere of influence.

Malgwa are living predominantly together with Kanuri but one finds them also often in communities together with Mulgwe and/or Margi. There are also some scattered Shuwa villages within the Malgwa settlement area. Often "twin settlements" are founded, two villages very close together where, ethnically divided, Malgwa are living in the one and Kanuri in the other (for instance Ngawuramari and Yale Garua, Ngarno and Gawa). Along the border to Cameroon and in Cameroon there are only a few Malgwa residing, however many Mandara (Wandala).



According to Barreteau (1984:168) malgwa (Gamergu) is to be classified as a dialect of wandala, together with wandala (Wandala) and mura (Mora), under wandala-east. Wandala-east entails two more sub-groups, which are gelvaxdaxa (Glavda) and parekwa (Podokwa). Lohr (1999) provides in her PhD the first description of the language of the Malgwa (Gamergu). The SIL website Ethnologue lists malgwe only under wandala. Muller-Kosack (1999) suggests adding the wandala speaking sections of the Zelidva and Guduf as well as the Vala/Vale to the linguistic sub-group wandala-east.



There is still great unclarity about how Gamergu ethnicity needs to be constructed. What seems to be clear is that the Gamergu are closer to the Mandara than to the Margi, although Dughwede traditions suggest the Gamergu to be Margi. However, the Dughwede suggest at the same time that the Mandara originated from the Gwoza Hills and link them to the Hide/Tur tradition (Muller-Kosack 1996:141).



Barth crosses Gamergu land on his trip to Adamawa in June 1851, telling us that the ‘Gamerghu’, most properly, took possession of land abandoned by the ‘Marghi’ (Barth 1857, vol 2:377). The Gamergu/Malgwe are mostly mentioned in the context of literature about the Wandala. Forkl (1983) discusses most literature referring to the Gamergu. Barkindo (1989) refers to the Gamergu. There is no ethnographic monograph written about the Gamergu/Malgwe so far. However, there is the unpublished B.A. thesis by M.D. Birma from the University of Maiduguri about the early history and the environment of the Gamergu. Abba Isa Tijani, a social anthropolgist from the University of Maiduguri, is currently working on a PhD about the Gamergu.

Futher literature are the works of G. Maziga who informs us about the Gamergu in the context of the Bornu Mandara relations up to 1900, and Cyffer et al, who deal with the Kanurisation of malgwa. For further references on the Gamergu see the literature referred to on the page dealing with the Mandara/Wandala.