Buwal - Gavar people

Buwal and Gavar

Buwal and Gavar (Cameroon)

The Buwal think of themselves as a collection of about 25 clans all speaking the Buwal language.

They usually marry amongst themselves, although it is possible to marry someone from outside of the village. It is naturally forbidden to take a bride from within your own clan.

Their language is part of the Central Chadic group of languages, and is somewhat related to the Hausa of Nigeria, and more distantly related to other Afro-Asiatic languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, and the Berber languages.

Buwal people map

When the sun peeks between the hills of Cameroon's "Far North," Gavar speakers leave the huts that provide shelter for sleeping and storage for their few material goods. They spend most of their day outside, and in the cooler rainy season, field work is always waiting. Using familiar hand tools, they must harvest the vegetables and staples that will feed their families throughout the rest of the year.

A field plowed early in the season behind a donkey or a cow yields a little cotton the family can market for essential cash. Soon enough, temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit will shrivel whatever vegetation is left in this sub-Saharan Sahel Desert.

Gavar people map

The Buwal people reside in the Mandara Mountains, in the Far North region of Cameroon. They live in neighbourhoods set around a mountain that they call Mse. Together, these neighbourhoods are known in the wider region as the village of Gadala, south of the administrative center of Mokolo, to the west of the regional capital of Maroua. Each neighbourhood has a sub-chief, which together are presided over by the Buwal village chief.

In past centuries, even up to around the time of Cameroon independence in 1960, the Buwal were fearful of the Fulbe, who were strong horsemen and would capture the local people as slaves. As such, the Buwal lived on the Mse mountain, which gave them protection. Since independence, the threat has ceased as the government has maintained a peaceful rule. At the government's insistence, the Buwal came down to live on the plain around the mountain rather than live on the mountain.

Most Buwal are subsistence farmers. They are reliant upon the seasonal rains to grow their millet, beans and peanuts. Other crops have been introduced such as corn, soya, onions and rice. The main cash crop is cotton. Nearly all Buwal families now grow cotton to some extent.

The Buwal are a unique people with their own customs, language, system of naming their children, musical instruments, dances, and festivals.

The Buwal have traditionally followed what is typical of African religion, believing in the animistic spirits of animals, rocks, and trees. They pray to and honour their deceased ancestors, and are fearful of sorcery, which is practiced by some. Above these, they know of the sky God, who is above all of these spirits, whose name is Galzavay (also their word for sky.) Because of the animosity between them the Buwal were resistant to Islam, the religion of the Fulbe, though this has now changed in that the Buwal have become far more open to more outside influences. The Buwal now have a chief who is Muslim. This is not unusual for the area, even for those villages where there is not a Muslim majority.



Zimmermann (1906) mentions ‘Gauar (Fulla)’ as the most important intersection between Madagali and Maroua. Strumpell (1922-23) mentions the ‘Gauar’ (Gavar) as an ethnic group who occupy the mountains northeast of the Fulbe settlement ‘Gouar’. Haillaire (1991:26) refes to the Buwal as ‘Galdala’ or ‘Bual’. Barreteau (1984:168) refers to the Buwal as ‘Gadala’ and to the Gavar also as ‘Gawar’ or ‘Kortchi’. It remains unclear whether ‘Buwal’ is an ethnonym or the name of a dialect spoken by the Galdala or Gadala. ‘Kortchi’ and ‘Gawar’ are place names. Van Beek (1987:ix) puts ‘Kortchi’ as a Kapsiki settlement on his map. Gawar is the name of a Fulbe lamidat.



The Gavar and Buwal or Gadala/Galdala are the eastern neighours of the Kapsiki, and the southern neighbours of the so-called Bulahay groups. The Buwal are situated in canton Matakam-South, arrondissement Mokolo. According to Boutrais language map (1984:175) the Gavar (Kortchi) are the by far larger group, whereas the Buwal (Galdala) appear as a very small group southeast of Cuvok. The southern neigbours of the Gavar are the Hina, which Muller-Kosack identifies already as an ethnic group of the Southern Mandaras. Most important settlement is Gawar.





According to Barreteau (1984:168) buwal (gadala) and gavar (kortchi) are two close dialects classified together as daba-north. Daba-south consists of hina and daba. SIL classifies ‘Gavar’ and ‘Buwal’ together with ‘Daba’, ‘Mbedam’ and ‘Mina’ (Hina?).



Zimmermann (1906) mentions the ‘pagans of Gauar’ fighting the ‘Fulla’ (Fulbe), and Strumpell (ibid) identifies the ‘Gouar’ (Gavar) as an ethnic group, and refers to them as the norhern neighbours of the Hina. However, it remains unclear whether the Buwal must be seen as a sub-group of the Gavar or wheher they form an ethnic group on their own. Moisel’s map of 1912-13 identifies a Gadala massif (south of Mohour) and a Gadala river. The map also identifies the ‘Gauar’ (Gavar) as living on the ‘Hossere Gauar’ (meaning Gauar massif) as well as the Fulbe settlement Gauar southeast of the ‘Hossere Gauar’. The SIL website Ethnologue informs us that Gavar is spoken around the town Gawar (canton Mogode, arrondissement Mokolo)., According to SIL one group of ‘Gavar Hossere’ live among the ‘Gavar- Fulbe’, and another in relative isolation in the mountains around ‘Kortchi village. SIL reports that Gavar can understand Buwal, but that they see them as being different from them. According to SIL, the ‘Buwal (Bual, Gadala)’ live around Gadala.



Zimmermann (1906), Moisel (1912-13) and Strumpell (1922-23) are the first who mention the Gavar (Gauar) as an ethnic group, but no ethnographic survey on where they came from and how they see themselves in relation to their neighbours has been conducted so far. However, Mouchet’s (1966) study of the Daba needs to be mentioned here, as well as van Beek’s references to the founders of ‘Kortchi’ (Gavar) as being of western origin (1981:115). There seem to be even less ethnographic references on the Buwal or Gadala/Galdala. Lavernge (1944:19f) refers to a place name ‘Gadala’, and of course, in the context of the history of Fulbe, to the ‘plain of Gaouar’, and ‘Emir Laoual’ who arrived in person at ‘Gaouar’ around 1850. Strumpell (1912:64f) refers to ‘Gauar’ (Gawar) in the context of the history of ‘Adamaua’ (Adamawa), saying that Adama disciplined the ‘pagan of Gauar’. Mohammadou (1988) has published in great detail on the history of the Fulbe lamidats in the Northern Mandaras (including Gawar).