The Sukur Cultural Landscape, with the Palace of the Hidi (Chief) on a hill dominating the villages below, the terraced fields and their sacred symbols, and the extensive remains of a former flourishing iron industry, is a remarkably intact physical expression of a society and its spiritual and material culture.
Sukur is located in Madagali local government area of Adamawa state of Nigeria along Nigeria/ Cameroon border, some 290 km from Yola, the Adamawa state capital of north eastern Nigeria. It is a hilltop settlement which stood at an elevation of 1045 m. The total land area covered by the site is 1942.50 ha with core zone having 764.40 ha and the buffer zone 1178.10 ha respectively. Sukur is an ancient settlement with a recorded history of iron smelting technology, flourishing trade, and strong political institution dating back to the 16th century.
The landscape is characterized by terraces on the farmlands, dry stone structures and stone paved walkways.The terraced landscape at Sukur with its hierarchical structure and combination of intensive and extensive farming is remarkable. In addition, it has certain exceptional features that are not to be found elsewhere, notably the use of paved tracks and the spiritual content of the terraces, with their ritual features such as sacred trees.
The revered position of the Hidi as the political and spiritual head of the community is underscored by the magnificent dry stone architectural work of his palace, in and around which is a concentration of shrines, some ceramic. The villages situated on low lying ground below the Hidi Palace have their own characteristic indigenous architecture. Among its features are dry stone walls, used as social markers and defensive enclosures, sunken animal (principally bull) pens, granaries, and threshing floors. Groups of mud walled thatched roofed houses are integrated by low stone walls. Of considerable social and economic importance are the wells. These are below-ground structures surmounted by conical stone structures and surrounded by an enclosure wall. Within the compound are pens where domestic animals such as cattle and sheep are fattened, either for consumption by the family or for use as prestige and status symbols used in gift and marriage exchanges.
The remains of many disused iron-smelting furnacescan still be found. These shaft-type furnaces, blown with bellows, were usually sited close to the houses of their owners. Iron production involved complex socio-economic relationships and there was a considerable ritual associated with it.
Criterion (iii): Sukur is an exceptional landscape that graphically illustrates a form of land-use that marks a critical stage in human settlement and its relationship with its environment.
Criterion (v): The cultural landscape of Sukur has survived unchanged for many centuries, and continues to do so at a period when this form of traditional human settlement is under threat in many parts of the world.
Criterion (vi): The cultural landscape of Sukur is eloquent testimony to a strong and continuing spiritual and cultural tradition that has endured for many centuries.
The boundary contains all the key elements of the cultural landscape.
The traditional terraced system of agriculture and its associated ritual systems are still flourishing. However, the traditional buildings are vulnerable to changes in materials and techniques – particularly the thatched roofs that require frequent maintenance.
The key features of the cultural landscape have not been significantly modified since they were laid down. The way in which they have been maintained since that time has been in traditional form using traditional materials and techniques.
The cultural components are still actively present among the community since they are part of their living culture. The stone structures in form of houses, farm terraces and walkways still remain the most distinct feature of Sukur landscape. The regular observance of festivals and ceremonies are evidence of cultural continuity. These events have become more attractive due to the involvement of local and state governments.
Protection and management requirements
The Sukur Cultural Landscape is a National Monument as determined by the Joint Instrument of Federal Decree No. 77 of 1979 (now NCMM ACT, Cap 242 of 2000) and the subsequent legal authority of the Adamawa State Government as in Gazette No. 47 Vol. 7 of 20 November 1997, and the written consent of the Hidi-in-Council.
In 1998, the Madagali Local Government, the Sukur Development Association, the State Council for Arts and Culture, and Adamawa State Government have agreed to work with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments towards the development of a sustainable preservation and cultural education programme.
In February 2010, the Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation inaugurated a Management Committee. Integrating customary law and Nigeria’s decree No. 77 of 1979, the Site Management Plan for the period 2006-2011 is being used by the Committee as the guiding principle for site conservation, management and protection.
Since inscription in 1999, all physical remains have been properly conserved by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in collaboration with Sukur community. Annual restoration work has been carried out using traditional construction materials. Along with shrines and other sacred places, the Hidi Palace Complex is properly maintained because they are currently in use.
Domestic farmlands are continually being expanded with the creation of stepped level benches adapted to hill farming. The age long tradition of communal labour is still used to maintain paved walkways, gates, graveyards, homesteads and house compounds.