Gisiga people

Gisiga / Giziga

Gisiga / Giziga (Cameroon)

Gisiga or Giziga people are one of the Kirdi group. Kirdi (meaning "pagan") is a broad, collective name for a number of people groups living in northern Cameroon, southeastern Nigeria, and southwestern Chad.


The northern Gisiga (Gisiga Marva) live north and west of Maroua Town, where they are ethnically integrated with the Mofu of Dugur (especially Tsere).

The southern Gisiga (Gisiga Lulu and Muturua), live south of Maroua in the plain of Diamare with the Mandara mountains in the west and the towns Mindif and Kaele in the east.

Most of the South Giziga are farmers who raise crops on hillside terraces. Peanuts, maize, and millet are among the main crops. They also raise melons, pumpkins, and beans. Millet and other cereals are usually grown on the mountains or hill slopes, while other crops are raised in gardens near the houses. Cotton, indigo (used for dyeing), and plants that are used for hunting, religious medicines, and other purposes are also grown.

A Giziga man's work includes crafting leather, making baskets, spinning, weaving, and building. Women make clay objects, train the small children, prepare the meals, and do other household activities. A woman may also raise her own crops on a small plot of land. The profits earned from selling these crops belong to the woman. Children take care of the small animals and help their older siblings or parents do other household chores.

Traditionally, South Giziga houses were grouped into small village settlements by clan or lineage. The villages were clustered around mountain peaks that could not easily be accessed by outsiders. They were protected by mud-brick barriers that had been overgrown by thorn bushes.

Giziga people map

Giziga people map

Today, their villages are composed of several round buildings made of mud brick and thatched roofs.

The buildings are connected to one another by woven straw fences or hedges. The buildings are positioned so that there is an open area in the center. Each home has a kitchen, an attic, and a room for the husband; the wife lives in a separate hut. Separate rooms are added to the house when the children reach puberty. Young males are given their own square huts, where they live until they are married.

Although polygamy is permitted among the South Giziga, most men usually have only one wife. Marriages are almost always arranged by the parents; children do not choose their own mates. When they make an agreement, there is payment of a bride-price to the bride's parents and a new homestead begins.

The Giziga culture contains various arts such as vocal and instrumental music. These instruments are played during festivals and at special ceremonies.



Most South Giziga believe in a single god who is the creator of all things and who keeps his creation in order. They believe that this god only intervenes with his creation when order has been disturbed. The Giziga do not pray to this god, but rather to their ancestors, whom they believe will intercede on their behalf.
Each South Giziga clan has its own "therapist-diviner" or medicine man. He benefits the community by supplying various medicines. He also serves as a mediator between the people and the spirits and performs minor surgical operations. The medicine man is paid with modest gifts from the villagers. The Giziga believe that the Earth is the "mother goddess" who has birthed all other "supernatural" beings, including thunder and lightning, black snakes, crocodiles, and certain inanimate objects.



The etymology of the name Gisiga/Giziga remains unclear. First mentioning of the ‘Gisiga’ is by Stumpell (1922:60), who identifies them as the eastern neighbours of the ‘Muffu’ (see page Mofu groups). R. Lukas (1973:46) claims that the name ‘Gisiga, Gizga’ has been given to them by the Fulbe, and that it is also the name for their chiefly clan. J. Lukas (1970:46) informs us that the Gisiga call themselves ‘Marva’, pl. ‘Marvahay’, which lies at the root of the word ‘Maroua’, the town named by the Fulbe, and founded by the ‘Gisiga’ (Marva). Fourneau (1938:171) doesn’t give an etymology of the name ‘Guissiga’, but Pontie (1973:13) points out that ‘Guiziga’ could possibly be derived from: ‘ngi zi ka’, which signifies an insult. Pontie (ibid) does not say what the literal meaning of these Gisiga words is. In Mafa the word ‘zi’ (zay) would refer to any kind of excreta (Muller-Kosack 1999). Pontie (ibid) finally translates ‘Guiziga’ as an ethnonym signifying ‘those who eat any kind of food whatsoever’, and explains that the clan ‘Pedizam’ first referred to themselves as ‘Guiziga Pedizam’. Pontie (ibid) explains that the ‘Pedizam’ were considered as pariah for a long time, and that they are said to have nourished many wizards on their clanly bosom. Muller-Kosack (1999) finds it difficult to believe that the Gisiga would use an insult derived from their own language for an autonym, and tends to agree with R. Lukas (ibid) who proposed that the ethnonym Gisiga is a Fulbe invention.



Lembezat (1961:112) speaks of 44,000 and Podlewski (1966:59) counts 55,000 Gisiga. Podlewski (ibid:108-110) estimates 80,000 Gisiga for 1980. Pontie (1973:17) estimates a population density of about 29 inhabitants per square km.



Barreteau (1984:168f) distinguishes between giziga-north (giziga of Maroua, Dogba, and Tchere/Tsere) and giziga-south (giziga of Loulou, Moutouroua, and Midjivin). They are both closely related dialects of mafa-south and are classified together with dugwor (Dugur and Mikiri), mofu-north (Douroum, Douvangar, Wazang) and mofu-south (Mokong, Gudur, Zidim), etc.



Pontie (1973:35f) informs us that the three Gisiga chieftaincies, Muturua, Lulu (Tsabai) and Bi-Marva (Maroua) had already existed for about one hundred years before the arrival of the Fulbe (see page Fulbe) at the beginning of the 19th century. The most influential ancestor historically of the Gisiga was Bildinguer. Bildinguer and his companions, who were close relatives, came from Gudur (ibid:28f). They founded the chieftancy of Lulu as well as the chieftancy of Muturua. Bildinguer himself founded Rum at his arrival in Muturua. Due to the fact that the Fulbe took Maroua in 1809, it is much more difficult to reconstruct the ancestral links of the Bi-Marva (ibid:32f). Strumpell (ibid) raises doubts whether the Gisiga Marva and the Gisiga of Rum (Muturua) are related. Pontie (ibid) discusses the three known hypotheses that the Gisiga Marva either originated from Lere (in Chad) or from Wandala or from Bagirmi. He is of the opinion that the the chieftancies of Marva, Maturua and Lulu were all founded around the same time at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century. Pontie assumes that the Marva, at their arrival in Marva (Maroua), moved on to intermarry with the Mofu in the north (Mofu-Diamare). Like the Gisiga Muturua and the Gisiga Lulu, the Gisiga Marva absorbed smaller groups of non-Gisiga origin under their rule.



Main ethnograhic literature is Pontie’s monograph on the Gisiga from 1973. Earlier ethnographic writing is Strumpell (1922-23), Cournarie (1935), but especially Fourneau (1938). Also of note is Lembezat (1950, 1961). Oussoumanou (1977) describes marriage in Gisiga. Bello-Pontie (1974) describes Gisiga women. Seignobos & Donfack (1996) document parts of the agro-system of the Gisiga and Peul. J. Lukas (1970) describes the language of the Gisiga. Other linguistic literature is by De Waard (1971) and Beavon & Yonki (1982).