On a plateau in the Mandara Mountains, above the village of Sukur in Magdali Local Government Area of Adamawa State, there is a site of naturally terraced fields and structures dating back to 500 years. It is the Sukur Cultural Landscape, which in 1999 became Africa’s first to be inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. UNESCO described it as “a remarkably intact physical expression of a society and its spiritual and material culture.”
The name “Surku” is reported to mean “vengeance” in the Margi and Libi languages, and “feuding” in the Bura language. But the site feels different from that denotation, with its dry stone structures, sacred trees, stone pave walkways, and terraces of farmlands.
There is proof of Iron Age activities in Sukur—furnaces, ore, and grindstones—evidence dating back to the Neolithic period. The present settlement, however, began in the 17th century, with the establishment of the Dur Dynasty. Sukur subsequently became notable for supplying raw materials for iron manufacturing, and continued up till the 20th century.
The cultural settlement comprises upper and lower parts. Its most notable feature, the Hidi’s Palace, is in the upper part. It is the residence of the Hidi, the local chief: a circular structure of local granite made into dry stone walls, a horse stable, a bull pen, granaries, threshing floors, and a harem in ruins. Its entrance is gated at several points and the path paved with granite stone slabs. The lower settlement includes circular village huts enclosed within low walls; the huts have clay walls, woven floor mats, and thatched rooves. Near the Hidi Palace are burial grounds.
A trio of ethnographic films by the British ethnoarchaeologist Nicholas Davids—The 13 Months of Sukur, Regenerating Sukur, and Black Hephaistos—documents the culture of Sukur people, focusing on their landscape, iron production, and male initiation custom.
In 2014, Boko Haram raided the site, damaging structures and part of the Hidi’s Palace. Because of the attacks, in 2018, the World Monuments Fund placed the Sukur Cultural Landscape on its Watch List.
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.