The Mandara, (also referred to as Wandala), is an ethnic group located south of Lake Chad in both northern Cameroon and Nigeria. Their native language, called Wandala (or Mandara), belongs to the Chadic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. The Mandara occupy areas of the savanna in which mounds of rocks can be seen high above the plains. They also occupy a mountainous area, where the Gotel and Mandara Mountains meet. This hot, tropical region has only 30 inches of rainfall each year. Baboons, chimpanzees, eagles, and giant hawks are among the animals that can be found there. They can be found in Gombi, Gwoza, Biu, Mubi, Michika LGAs of Adamawa and Borno states.
The Mandara is among other the other ethnic groups of Sudanic herdsmen who migrate seasonally with their animals, in search for fresh grazing pasture lands. In contrast, the ethnic groups of southern Cameroon live in permanent villages in the forests. The northern ethnic groups are predominantly Muslim, whereas the people of the southern areas follow either traditional beliefs or Christianity.
The Mandara Economy
The Mandara people are mostly farmers and view farming as their source of livelihood. Although their farming activities are characterized by the use of rudimentary equipment rather than modern, they still maintain high productivity. They produce crops with their hoes such as corn and millet, which are their staple crops. Other crops they farm includes beans, peas, yams, pumpkins; and tobacco is also grown. North African and Egyptian influences can also be seen by the use of irrigation, manure fertilizer, and the cultivation of garlic, melons, onion, and wheat. Animal production is another important part of the life of Mandara people. Most families raise cattle, small horses, goats, sheep, dogs, chickens, and bees, all of which contribute to their livelihood.
In addition, they have a buoyant local market located just outside their villages. Specialized craft items are sold, and strips of cotton and cowrie shells are used as a means of exchange. Caravans travel through the region, transporting cotton fabrics, leather goods, and kola nuts from a neighboring province. These and other items are exchanged for dried fish, ivory, and ostrich feathers.
Among the Mandara, the men hunt, fish, clear the land for cultivation, herd the large animals, and trade with the caravan merchants. The women’s responsibilities include milking the animals and engaging in petty trade at the local markets. Some women also care for the smaller animals and do the agricultural fieldwork.
The Soco-Cultural Aspects of the Mandara people
The Mandara live in compact villages that are grouped in rectangular compounds. Each compound, which contains several small huts, is surrounded by a dirt wall. The huts have straw thatch roofs and walls made of woven grass mats. A headman lives in the centre of the village and oversees the entire community. An Islamic mosque is also located in the centre of the village, and the religious leader assists the headman in the decision-making.
The Mandara live in a patriarchal (male-dominated) society. All inheritances are passed down from fathers to their eldest sons. Their society is also patrilocal, which means that newlywed couples live among the groom’s family. A marriage usually involves the payment of a bride-price in the form of livestock or money. Polygyny (having multiple wives) is a common practice among the Mandara. The first wife, who is considered to be the “chief” wife, has authority over the other wives.
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