Chamba people


Chamba / Dakas / Samas / Sambas / Jamas / Nakanyares / Deng

The Chamba are a significant ethnic group in the north eastern Nigeria. The Chamba are located between present day Nigeria and Cameroon.

The Chamba (Chamba-Dakas, Dakas, Samas, Sambas, Tchambas, Tsambas, Jamas, Nakanyares, and Dengs), not to be confused with the Basari people of Togo and Ghana who sometimes call themselves Chamba.

Chamba people

In Nigeria, they live primarily in Gongola State, especially in the Verre, Wafanga, and Binyeri districts of Adamawa División, the Leko, Jada, Mbulo, Sugu, Yelwa, and Toungo dis­tricts of Ganye División, and the Dakka, Jalingo, Mutum Biu, Bakundi, and Gassol districts of Muri División. Their population today is approximately 250,000 people, and about 15 percent of them are Muslims (James S. Olson 1996)

They are one of the so-called "grasslands" peoples of northwestern Cameroon. Most of them are farmers, raising a variety of cereal crops and vegetables, along with cocoa and coffee in some locations. They are well known regionally for their skill at sculpture, pottery, and metalworking. Closely related are the Chamba-Lekos, who live in Wukari división of Gongola State.

The closest Chamba neighbours are the Mumuye, the Jukun and Kutep people. In Cameroon, the successors of Leko and chamba speakers are divided into several states: Bali Nyonga, Bali Kumbat, Bali-Gham, Bali-Gangsin, and Bali-Gashu. The are two ethnic groups in Ghana and Togo also called Chamba, but they are ethnically distinct. The Chamba are identified through their own language, beliefs, culture, and art.



The Chamba people, also known as Samba, Tchamba, Tsamba, Daka and Chamba-Ndagan, are an African ethnic group found in the Gongola State of east-central Nigeria and neighboring parts of north Cameroon. They speak two distantly related languages: Chamba Leko, of the Leko–Nimbari languages, and Chamba Daka, of the Dakoid languages, both of which are Niger-Congo languages.

Boyd says that the “Chamba Leko speakers are restricted to the easternmost part of the central area, for the most part on the Cameroon part of the modern border. The remainder of the Chamba are Daka-speaking”. The Chamba speakers still speak various other dialects that are different from place to place. The central area is where the Chamba Daka (Sama Nnakenyare) live. That area is found in North east of Nigeria on the Cameroon border in Adamawa State.

Germany was the original colonial power that annexed the Chambaland, but when Germany lost the First World War, this territory in Africa was divided by the League of Nations between British and France.



The Chamba people have their own particular religious beliefs. The traditional religion of the Chamba is premised on a creator solar God (Su) and ancestor spirits who live with this creator. The sun god does not interact with living beings, but the ancestor spirits do. The dead (wurumbu) are believed to continue living, but they live below the ground. They follow the same style and sophistication as humans, but they are believed to be wiser and with supernatural power. Special people among the Chamba are believed to be able to interact with these ancestral spirits and they are revered by the Chamba people.

The Chamba people were one of the targets of Fulani jihads in the 18th and 19th century. They were enslaved, and many migrated south into the mountains. They retaliated by becoming raiding bands who attacked slave and trading caravans. A minority, or about 15%, of the Chamba people adhere to Islam.


Society and Culture

The Chamba traditionally live in grassland areas, farming cereal staples, and cash crops such as cocoa and coffee. One main crop that the Chamba farm is guinea corn. The Chamba are composed of different clans that can have varying styles of chiefdoms. Some are led by women, men, or both. These clans work based on the collective belief in "the authoritative masculinity of relatively older men and women."

The Chamba live in villages. Outside of the villages is an uninhabited forest region called the bush. The areas of the bush closest to the village are places that the Chamba collect materials for building fires, making utilitarian objects like baskets and mats, hunting, and gathering. These areas of the bush are accessed both by men and women. The inner bush is considered more dangerous and associated with the male gender.


Economy (of Chamba-Dirim Nigeria)

The Dirim-Chamba are farmers, growing such crops as millet, sorghum, onions, maize, and sweet potatoes. They are known to practice crop rotation and to sometimes leave the land fallow. Many of the Dirim also possess a few cattle, which are valued for their ability to fertilize the land. Most also keep goats, sheep, dogs, and chickens. Men hunt, tend to the livestock, and do most of the fishing. The women help the men with the agricultural work and also perform domestic duties, which include preparing the meals and caring for the children.

Dirim-Chamba villages are compact and surrounded by walls or hedges for protection. Within the villages are groups of enclosed family compounds, each containing several huts. Individual huts are round with mud walls and have cone-shaped, thatch roofs. Each village is led by a headman, whose office is hereditary. He settles disputes within the village and oversees village ceremonies.

The Dirim-Chamba differ from other groups in their area in that their clans are matrilineal, tracing ancestry through the females. In addition, their clans are exogamous, meaning that they are free to marry outside their own clans. To the Dirim, it is taboo to marry someone from their mother's clan. Also unique to the Dirim is their practice of having monogamous marriages (one spouse), as compared to most other tribes in Africa, which commonly have two or more spouses. Adultery and divorce are rare among the Dirim, since the women live under close supervision with little opportunity to commit adultery.

A young man who desires to marry a certain girl gives her a ring and a bracelet, which she shows to her mother. The mother then discusses the eligibility of the suitor with her husband and brother. If they agree on the suitor, the girl is allowed to wear the jewelry that the young man gave her. When the girl reaches puberty, the young man moves into the compound of the girl's family and begins building a hut for her. Upon completion of the hut, the couple begins to live together as husband and wife.



One form of Chamba social control is through the use of cults. Chamba Daka refer to cults as jup. Each jup is connected with misfortune or disease. These cults can control these misfortunes and cure diseases based on how the members perform rituals and make payments. Each jup is individualized and runs uniquely based on their own rules and practices. There are both men's and women's cults that an individual may only gain membership through an initiation process. Cult members are expected to keep the rituals, rites, and practices secret. Membership in cults can provide protection and security from misfortunes and illnesses.

Initiation processes are different for each gender's cult. Circumcision is a part of the men's cult initiation, through which the process allows boys to enter into manhood. For women, their marker of transition into womanhood is not through initiation but marriage. Often, women do not join cults until they are married. For women's cults, sometimes tooth evulsion is part of initiation. However, tooth evulsion is less practiced now and varies by region and particular group.



According to Chamba history, the Bata drove them from their original hometown in Lamurde Jongum to Chamba, a town at the base of the Alantika Hills. From there, the Chamba were once again driven out by the Bata, who forced them to the hills south of Chamba. From that point, the Chamba split into two groups, assimilating into areas inhabited by other tribes. One group became known as the Chamba of Donga, due to the region into which they moved. The other group became known as the Dirim, as a result of intermarriage and cultural influence from the Dirim tribe. The native Dirim so intermingled with the Chamba that the two groups are now considered one.



They are skilled artists known for their pottery, metalwork and sculpture. In addition, the Chamba make masks that are performed at special occasions.

Masking Tradition

Masks representing the wild are typically composed of a wooden mask and a costume made of long fibers. The complete look is supposed to give the illusion of one complete entity with the mask, costume, and performer becoming a single unit.

One specific type of mask is called a buffalo or bushcow mask. Each clan of the Chamba usually has at least one bushcow mask. These masks are painted different colors to determine whether the mask is male or female. Some clans will have both a female and male bushcow mask. The features of the mask are composed of both animal and human attributes. The horns of the bushcow mask refer to the "female bushcow ancestor." The mouth is often compared to that of a crocodile. These masks are supposed to represent the power of the bush. The masks function in conjunction with Chamba events like circumcision, initiation of chiefs, and funerals. These masks are stored in the bush. When they perform for special occasions, the masks leave the bush and enter into the village. During performances, the masquerader will dance. Some liken the style of dance to that of a buffalo charging.


Chamba statues are figural, usually depicting a male, a female, or both a male and female. The figures usually appear in a single form or a double form in which two figures are attached to a base. These statues are typically made of wood or iron. These statues have been divided into two categories based on their visual form. The first group is characterized by its volume. These statues often carved from a single piece of wood. The arms have bent arms and crouching legs. The arms come away from the body. One interpretation of these poses is that the figures may be dancing. In volumetric double form statues, two upper bodies share one pair of legs. The second group is characterized by its column-like form. The figure's arms and legs are attached to the body.

Some of these statues were thought to be used in cult rituals. The function of these statues is widely unknown. The little records of what the function may be have come from a few ethnologists during the colonial-period.



Although some of the Chamba-Dirim have converted to Islam due to Muslim Fulani influence, the majority still practice their traditional ethnic religion. Diviners exist among the Dirim and are said to know the future, communicate with the spirits, understand supernatural truths, and explain omens. Religious rites are performed in honor of deceased ancestors, and family members of the deceased form cults or religious sects.