The Acipu people

The Acipu people live in northwest Nigeria. They are perhaps 20,000 in number, although it is impossible to be sure since there is no reliable census data. Their heartland (see maps and scenery for detail) is divided between Sakaba Local Government Area in Kebbi State, and Kontagora Local Government Area in Niger State. The area is remote and much of the region can be inaccessible by car in the rainy season - partly because of swollen rivers, and partly because there is no path through the corn wide enough.

Most Acipu are farmers and do not live in towns - the few towns in the area are populated by Hausas (and also by people who are ethnically Acipu but no longer have Cicipu as their mother tongue). Instead the Acipu live in smaller villages and hamlets. Marriage to non-Acipu is rare, and although Acipu villages are interspersed with those of the Ava'di Kambari in particular, mixed-tribe villages do not seem to be common. A significant number of Acipu have migrated far into Niger State to the south-west, since farmland is plentiful there.

Seven hills of Acipuland

Each of the major divisions of the Acipu is centred around a particular hill. In the past people lived on these hills for safety from the slave-raiding which took place in the 19th century (The notorious Nagwamatse of Kontagora campaigned in this area). Korisino hill (Hausa Karisen) is shown on this map. Korisino is the seat of the Womo 'chief' (also referred to as Daa 'king'), who lives on the highest point of the hill, accompanied only by his wife and his constant companion/advisor the Mallu 'teacher' (Hausa mallam). First and foremost the king is the head of the Orisino division of the Acipu, but he also seems to have precedence in certain matters over the leaders of the other divisions. Korisino used to be inhabited in living memory, and many of today's older generation were born there. Eleven villages (including two Wuu'bo 'shrine') are still maintained on the hilltop, each corresponding to specific settlements/clans in the valley. Generally they are only used during festivals, although an old man may decide to return there to die, in which case his wife will accompany him, and family members will continue to visit and care for them.

The other divisions each have their own hilltop settlements, although they are not as large and well-maintained as Korisino. The only other hill I visited was Ukula, which belongs to the Akula division of the Acipu and is located just north of Maburya in Niger State. The Akula have almost all converted to Islam, and houses are no longer maintained on the hill. Only the elderly continue to carry out religious observances there.


The Acipu are mostly peasant-agriculturalists. They grow guineacorn for subsistence, and sell any excess along with cash crops including beans, groundnuts, and soya beans. Farming is generally done by hand, although ploughing with oxen is becoming more common. The most common livestock are chicken and goats, and sheep are also kept. Some Acipu do own a few cows, which are generally tended by Fulani. Camels are a common sight around harvest time (December), when they are brought down from the north by Hausas in return for a share of the harvest. Horses and pigs are not kept, although the former seem to have been more common in the past. A small amount of rice is grown by women, and some dry-season gardening is done. Crops are grown in the fields next to and radiating out from the villages, and so livestock are tethered during the rainy season. There are occasional confrontations over land use with Fulani pastoralists, whose settlements are interspersed with those of the Acipu, but usually relations are peaceful. Some men enjoy hunting, which is done at night with locally-made guns. Most of the big game has now disappeared, but monkeys are a fairly common sight in more remote areas and occasional sightings of leopards and hippos are reported. There are crocodiles on Korisino, but these are considered sacred and are not to be molested.


Traditionally huts are round, although these are now giving way to rectangular huts. Thatched roofs still seem to be the norm, but wealthier individuals are beginning to purchase zinc roofing sheets. Guest huts (Hausa zaure) are round, with opposing doorways to allow a cross-breeze. Compounds are fenced rather than walled, and can be entered without going through the zaure. Men's and women's granaries are still built using the traditional method, moulding the mud by hand in successive layers rather than using blocks.

Religion and festivals

The majority of the Acipu are Muslims, although above a certain age the traditional religion (korinno) is still dominant, particularly in the Tirisino dialect area. Traditional worship is still observed (Okiso, Hausa Maigiro). Each Acipu division has its own festivals held on their particular hill. At Korisino there are five major festivals, the most spectacular of which is the Kazzeme festival held towards the end of the dry season. As part of their initiation into adulthood, youths of about thirteen endure beatings by a line of younger boys armed with spiked sticks. Some youths end up with heavily-lacerated backs, although serious injury seems to be rare.

Muslims also attend festivals on Korisino, although they do not take part in religious ceremonies. The influence of the Hausa culture long pre-dates actual conversion to Islam, and the vast majority of people go by a Hausa name.

Christians make up a small minority, and most are relatively young. They will have nothing to do with the traditional religion, and this is a major source of conflict and persecution within families.

Origin of the Acipu

The story of the initial settlement of the Acipu hills is well-known. The outline of the story (first recorded by the anthropologist A. B. Mathews in 1926) is that the first ruler of the Acipu, Damasa son of Damerudu son of the magician-king Kisra, fled from his original home far to the east after war with the Prophet Mohammed. When they had travelled as far as the foot of Korisino, Damasa's wife was pregnant and they decided to settle on the hilltop. The existing inhabitants, the 'true' Acipu (talakawa, Hausa for 'commoners'), invited Damasa to become their king and Korisino was founded. Damasa's people are therefore the ancestors of the royal clan, the Odondo. The details of the story (particularly names and kinship relations) vary from dialect to dialect, both in Mathews' day and the present. Other nearby groups tell similar stories, and the names of Damerudu and Kisra also appear in Yoruba and Bussawa folk histories.

For more ethnographic details see the introductory chapter in Gender and person agreement in Cicipu discourse.