Margi people


Margi / Marghi

The Marghi people live in Nigeria’s provinces of Borno, Adamawa and Gombe. Some live in Cameroon or Chad.

Population is about 284.000. The main language is Kanuri, Yerwa. Largest religion is Islam (98%)


Wente-Lukas (1985:260f) informs us that the

‘Margi babal’ or ‘Plain Margi’ live in the Gwoza and Damboa Districts (Borno State).

The ‘Hill Margi’ live around Madagali, Gulak, Duhu, Isge (Adamawa and Borno State)..

Margi people

Introduction / History

According to some records, the Margi (or Marghi) migrated to the Nile Valley from Yemen together with some tribes such as the Bura, Kilba, Kanakuru, Mandara, Bolewa, Karekare, Ngamo, Ngizzim and Tera due to some certain frictions. They were also forced to move from Sudan in Central Africa to Lake Chad.

Other historical records indícate that parts of these tribes, especially the Marghi, were settled in Kenya, while the majority of Marghi migrated together with the other tribes mentioned to the Lake Chad area before reaching some other places.

Under the pressure of Borno expansion, a large number of Marghi drifted gradually south. From about the fourteenth century they appear to have lived in the region they now occupy.

Madagali was before the arrival of the Fulbe 'a Marghi community, named for the spear (gali) of a Marghi named Margif.



First mentioning of ‘Mergi’ is on Fra Mauro’s map of 1459. Ibn Furtu (Lange 1987) describes Idris Alauma’s military campaigns against the Sao, Margi, Gamergu and Mandara of Kerawa, between 1564 and 1576. The Margi chief ‘Adwa’ had renounced his alliance and Idris Aloma brought him to book. Barth (1857,II:374ff) describes ‘The Border-Country of The Marghi’ obtaining ‘once more a sight of Mount Dalantuba [Zelidva spur], marking out as it were, the beginning of a mountainous region [the Gwoza Hills to his left]’. Barth reaches ‘the outskirts of Molghoy [Malgwe] ... district’ and then the settlement of the same name the following day. The day after he reaches ‘I’sge, or I’ssege’ (Isge). He describes how ‘The whole range of mountains, which forms the western barrier of the little country of Wandala, lay open before me [him] at the distance of about twenty miles [to the east]’. Barth refers here to the western range of the Northern Mandaras. He (ibid 396ff) also mentions ‘Gulug/Guluk’ (Margi-Gulak) and mistakes Rumsiki for ‘Mindif’).



Hoffmann (1963:1) informs us that the Margi refer to themselves and to their language as ‘Margyi’. In Hansford et al (1976:125, 189) he classifies Margi as Central Chadic (Biu-Mandara A) under Bura group, Eastern. Hoffmann (1963) speaks of five Margi dialects: 1. Central, 2. Gwara, 3. South Margi, 4. Mlgwi (Malgwe), and 5. Wurga. SIL (1987) classifies the dialects of ‘Lassa (Babul)’ and ‘Gulak (Dzer)’ under ‘Marghi Central’. Meek (1931:234) sees the Margi language as almost identical with that of Kilba and only little difference to Bura. Blench (1999) classifies Margi under the Bura group of the Bura/Higi major group.



Meek (1931 ibid) informs us that the Margi of Adamawa consist roughly of three strata: (a) indigenous people (in a relative sense), (b) Pabir, and (c) Kanuri. He explains that the indigenous inhabitants belong to the same group as the indigenous Bura and Kilba, which is a group which has fused to some extent with the Higi, Gudur, and Fali. He is of the opinion that the Higi, in particular, show definite linguistic and cultural connection with the Margi. Margi settlements are organised in small chieftaincies, e.g. the chieftaincy of Gulak, which served as place of reference for the tradition of origin among the Hide (see page Hide/Tur).


Socioeconomic Outlook

Marghi people are predominantly farmers and fishermen. They consider farming with the highest esteem. Hence, it is to everyman's pride to be considered a great farmer.

Hunting, crafting and trading are other mainstays of the Marghi community economy.

Marghi people before the arrival of the colonial masters lived in the round and rectangular mud buildings, these were: thatch-roofed and fenced with corn stalks (kadaka), mud walls stone piles (dziga) as in the case of Margi dzurngu some of them fence their compounds with cacti or Widu more especially Margi dzakwa or Margi south.


Sociopolitical Structure

According to documented history, the Marghi Udzurngu, Margi babal and Margi tittim (dzakwa) all cali their chiefs with "Ptil" and their council of elders with "Shilir pathla" while Margi putai cali their chiefs "Mai".

Almost all Marghi people address their council of elders with this ñame, they cali or address the chiefs first son (prince) with " yerima or maina" while the chiefs daughter (princess) with "Ngwatam", the chief priest is addressed with "thluffu", the chiefs assistant is called "Wakir and the chiefs messenger is called "Achama" while the traditional police to the council are called "Dogar".


Traditional meals

Marghi special is a local food popular with the Margi natives of Maiduguri, Borno. It is either cooked with white zobo or the yakuwa and spinach(alayyahu). It is called "Meltuble" by the Marghi natives of Adamawa State.


The Margi Man and some more gist about the Marghis

A good number of Marghi are great warriors. All male children of the age of 10 years and above are taught how to use bows and arrows, Marghi warriors used poisoned arrows to shoot games and their enemies, they always carry small knives on their arms and big knives around their waist, short sword in their armpits, two spears bows and quivers full of arrows. The Marghi man can fight both on foot and on horseback, also he can ambush and attack whether alone or in groups when attacked, Marghi believed in self-confidence, self- reliance, self-sufficiency and being independent.

Marghi men in those days can marry many wives for the purpose of working on the farmlands with their children. As Marghi people consider farming as their top priority among other occupations, before the advent of modern farming techniques and transportation system, Marghi people used to carry out their Guinea corn harvesting, threshing and storing 100% manually, the most tedious work is the transportation of the farm produce from the farmlands which usually covers eight (8) to fifteen (15) kilometres distance, all the family members used to carry guinea corn on their heads with container call ghururu, trekking on foot to a temporary storing cage near the house. This work usually takes one to two weeks to complete, this process is called "Zabga" and songs usually accompany the trekking to encourage them to cover the journeys.

The next stage of guinea corn work in Marghi is very exhausting even in this present days, everyone including children is eager to witness the occasion, this is called "Dugu uhi" means guinea corn threshing. This is usually a great occasion since the farmer invites people like Son in-laws, friends, relatives and neighbours to participate in the work. The man and his wives usually prepare local drinks (umpadlu and cham cham) to entertain the people coming to do the work, while the men will be threshing the guinea corn singing with drum beating, the women are busy fetching water to brew the local drink. A cow, sheep or goat is usually slaughtered for the occasion of the man is rich, young men aged 15-35 who are usually much engaged in this work often demonstrate their strengths and techniques to attract young ladies who usually stand by the sides of the threshing area cheering them. In the end, elderly women usually spend one to three days winnowing "mpiu" and gathering the guinea corn into the family granary "val tsam".


Margi Attire

In 1959-60 Margi women wore as their standard garment a goat skin fringe called dzar with a cloth covering their buttocks called gumbara. The latter by tradition was made of alternating strips of blue and white cotton, but among older women any piece of cloth that caught their fancy was substituted. This woman was typical of a young mother with one exception to be noted below. Unmarried women dressed more elaborately and faddishly, as will be seen in a later photograph of Nggeramu dancing after a beer market wherein she wears numerous plastic ornaments that were the fad of that year.

The traditional apparel of men was the ram skin pizhi, worn here by Makarama Thlama. Outside his compound he would have worn a loose fitting indigo blue gown over the pizhi. However, even by 1959 it was clear that the pizhi was a thing of the past. Young men rarely wore them except on ceremonial occasions, when they were obligatory, and with each returning visit pizhis were rarer.

It is, however, difficult to speak of "traditional" Margi attire, because their society has been so dynamic that there is no bench mark. When I spoke to older women about dzar they told me that in their youth it had been entirely different, and during our 1959-60 field work several of the young women affected different fashions. It is not surprising then that with encroaching modernity everything changed. In 1987 one only saw dzar and bare breasts in remote hamlets, and I saw no men wearing pizhi. When men dressed for an occasion, the style was the generic robes of Northern Nigerian Muslims, but most often both men and women wore a mix and match of used garments of western manufacture.

Finally, it is necessary to say a word about the unusual red coloring of Margi mothers in many of the following pictures. When a child was born and first shown in public, traditionally the mother and child were covered with a mixture of oil and red ochre called yinsidu. In some instances, however, a mother who had had several miscarriages or some similar misfortune may have wished to break that sequence, and she would not wear yinsidu. That is the case of the woman in the photograph above.

Margi Woman

Margi men wearing pizhi