Katana people

Katana / Mama

Katana / Mama / Kantana / Kwarra

Katana peoples, Mama or Kantana, are found in Easter Nigeria and western Cameroon.

The Mama of Nigeria are numbering 67,000 (Peoplegroups.org, 2023). They are part of the Benue people cluster within the Sub-Saharan African affinity bloc.

The Mama live on the plateaus of northern Nigeria, extending from the present-day state of Ebbi to the Cameroon border. Difficulty accessible, this extremely varied region from an ethnic and linguistic point of view, has in the past been the site of numerous migrations and invasions.

Their primary language is Mama. The primary religion practiced by the Mama is animism, a religious worldview that natural physical entities--including animals, plants, and even inanimate objects--possess a spiritual essence.

Katana - Mama People

Geographically isolated, the peoples of the northeast – Montol, Jukun, Koro, Goemai, Mama, etc – have up to present been relatively little studied. Nonetheless, among the majority of these peoples we do find the institution of a chief/priest invested with sacred authority, one responsible for the well-being of the entire community. The political organization of the Mama, however, was quite varied. The plateau region has a long artistic tradition behind it, for it is here that the Nok civilization blossomed – one that has given us the most ancient evidence of terracotta figurative sculpture from West Africa.



Katana peoples first unified in their current location about 200 years ago in response to Fulani expansion from the northwest. Numerous smaller groups and patriclans migrated from the plains of east central Nigeria up into the mountains that today make up the border between Nigeria and Cameroon in order to escape the Fulani jihad. The immigrants joined the peoples who already live in the mountains and beyond, adopting many of their customs. While this transition was relatively peaceful, there are still differences between those who lived in the area prior to the immigrants' arrival and the immigrants themselves. Eurpean colonialism removed the Fulani threat in the beginning of the 20th century, but many Katana elected to remain in their new mountain homes.



Mama, or Kantana, is a Bantu language spoken in Nigeria.

The number of speakers is unclear. A figure of 20,000 was published in 1973. In 2011, "Kantana" (presumably the same language) was said to have 2,000–3,000 speakers, mostly over 25 years old. A partial count of the ethnic community in the 2006 census was 6,000–9,000.



Most Katana are farmers and their primary crop grown for local consumption in guinea corn. Cornmeal is the basis of most meals and is also the essential ingedient used for brewing beer. The drinking of beer plays an important role in daily social exchanges, and offerings of beer are preferred by the ancestors. At one time, it is believed that beer was not sold, that it could only be transferred among people as gifts. Men gave guinea corn to their wives in exchange for beer. In recent years, however, beer production has been commercialized, and women have become the primary marketers. Groundnuts are also grown as a staple crop by men and are sold on the national market. Other crops include taro, sesame, peppers, okra, yams, maize, groundnuts, and pumpkin.


Political Systems

Political divisions are based on membership in a patriclan, although kinship ties between matriclan members also play a part in determining political affiliation. Most villages consist of those who lived in the area prior to the Fulani expansion and of those who migrated in the face of it. Those who lived in the area first were often accorded political privileges, and although intermarrying did occur, affiliation with the former was preferable. People trace their ancestry to the original occupant of village land. Community stability is often further maintained through cult memberships that mirror kinship organization.



Among Katana peoples there is a supreme god who is associated with the sun. They also pay homage and respect to the dead, both those who have died and those who have yet to be born. They are conceived of as being subterranean beings that must be appeased in order to maintain balance for the living. Most cults are directly tied to the deceased ancestors of a given matriclan or patriclan. Religious rituals, including masking ceremonies, are held in an effort to achieve balance between the dead, the god, nature spirits, and the living. The masks themselves represent a composite of nature and the god. Katana cosmology views the world in a basically dichotomous way contrasting the settled area of the village with the wild areas of nature.


Types of Art

Katana carve large wooden masks which are worn atop the head with raffia costumes. They also carve wooden staffs and shoulder crooks that are recognized as prestige items and carried by village leaders.

From an artistic viewpoint, the Mama are producers of rather abstract statuary, as well as masks that are associated with the world of the ancestral spirits – spirits who exercise an important function of social control. One finds the image of the buffalo and the antelope throughout the whole valley of the Shemankar, among the Mama as among the Goemai and the Jucun. These animals are closely related to the material prosperity provided by good harvests. The dance took place within the framework of the mangam cult. Outside the areas reserved for the cult, buffalo skulls, occasionally set in mud walls, prove that the animal, in the form of skulls or masks, played an important role in the Mama’a ancestor cult.