The terraced hills, iron-works, and well-planned layouts of Sukur reveal the existence of an advanced traditional society in Nigeria. The Sukur Cultural Landscape became Nigeria’s first United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site, inscribed as such in 1999. The site has survived multiple centuries, and it is one of the most elaborate testaments to the country’s cultural heritage.
5. Description and History -
The Sukur settlement thrived in the 17th Century due to iron smelting expertise, its lucrative trade transactions, and its strong political and spiritual institutions. The Dur dynasty facilitated the growth of Sukur by establishing the region as a primary source of iron in northeastern Nigeria. The settlement declined after several invasions, and it was spared from damage during British colonization. The Sukur landscape is situated in the Mandara Mountains in Madageli, Adamawa state. The cultural landscape consists of the Palace of the Hidi (Chief) dominating the settlement below, terraced fields of dry stones and granite which are decorated with sacred symbols and the remnants of a medieval flourishing iron industry. The Hidi Palace reflects the exceptional dry stone architecture and the Hidi’s spiritual supremacy is cemented in the numerous shrines, some ceramic, built around his palace. The low-lying settlements consist of mud-walled houses enclosed by low stone walls, with characteristic thatched roofs, granaries, and sunken animal pens. Wells are also present in the settlement, and they are surrounded by a wall and surmounted by conical stone structures. Shaft-type furnaces blown with bellows for use in iron-smelting remain in ruins across the landscape and are often situated close to the houses of their owners. Numerous stone graves also litter the landscape.
4. Tourism and Education -
The Sukur Cultural Landscape, being a heritage site in Nigeria, attracts a significant amount of tourist attention and traffic throughout the year. The naturally paved walkways provide trails while its location in the Mandara Mountains is an added advantage. The iron works remnants in the settlement have assisted archaeologists in the Iron Age study. The settlement also provides invaluable insight into medieval social hierarchies, economy, and religious landscape in African dynasties.
3. Uniqueness -
The Sukur Cultural Landscape remains intact even as other similar traditional settlements are threatened globally. The scene reflects robust and ongoing spiritual and cultural practices and traditions. The ingenuity of medieval African settlements is on full display in the landscape, as locally available materials such as granite were used to create enduring architecture. No other settlement in the world resembles the Sukur landscape in regards to its terraces, stone structures, and naturally paved walkways. The landscape serves to preserve the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Sukur people, and it is a testimony to society’s relations with spirituality and material culture.
2. Nature, Sights, and Sounds -
The Sukur Cultural Landscape lies on a plain in the Mandara Mountains. The region is characterized by an abundance of avian fauna and many unidentified plant species. The site is a living one, and it is inhabited by the Sukur community to this day.
1. Threats and Conservation Efforts -
The medieval buildings of the landscape are susceptible to degradation over time. In 2014, the settlement bore the brunt of terrorism following Boko Haram’s vandalism of the living hilltop heritage. The terrorist group looted the houses and set fire to some of them, including the significant Hidi Palace and subsequently compromised the site’s integrity. Since its inscription in 1999, the landscape has been preserved by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments alongside the Sukur Community. Since it has been continuously inhabited, the buildings are adequately maintained.