The Mambila Notes of C K Meek


The Mambila tribe in so far as the British Cameroons is concerned, numbers about 13,000 people (about 15,000 - 1939) and occupies the major part of the Plateau west of Banyo, which is known as the Mambila Plateau.

The term 'Plateau' is hardly suitable as it is anything but flat. It is hilly country with deep gullies and the traveller is constantly passing from one panoramic view to another. According to Captain Izard, who has surveyed the District, the plateau has a mean level of about 200' above the sea. But most of the villages are situated on hills which must be at least 6000 ft above sea level and the highest hills probably attain an altitude of 9000'.

The Mambila Plateau presents a distinct contrast to the Bauchi Plateau in that it is completely covered with soil, outcrops of granite occurring only at long intervals of travelling. The subsoil is of a heavy broken dour laterite type, and in certain areas is composed of chalk.

The infertility of the soil forces the native to use fertilizing agents in the form of a leguminous pigeon pea plants ('Yum') specially cultivated for the purpose. But the Plateau is eminently suitable for the grazing of cattle, and on this account and also on account of the absence of noxious flies, is well patronized by the cattle owning Fulani. It is covered with bracken, and there is a great variety of flowers, including orchids.

There is a complete absence of trees except in the gullies and the lack of firewood entails a great hardship on the inhabitants who have not yet become accustomed to the use of clothing. The Mambila men wear a loin covering of cloth; the women are completely nude. Strong winds prevail throughout the day and the rainy season lasts from mid-March until the close of December. The severity of the climate has taught the Mambila peoples primitive as they are, to evolve a technique of house building superior to anything seen in the Northern Provinces of Nigeria.

The term Mambila is stated generally to have been conferred by the Fulani. But this can hardly be accepted. The Mambila themselves pronounce the word as Mabila, which is probably a variant of Mbula, a common tribal title in Nigeria. On the form of Mowa, Bwa, etc) meaning "the Men".

The title has long been applied by neighbouring tribes to the group classed as Mambila and it is no doubt from them that it was adopted by the Fulani of Banyo who succeeded in reducing many of the Mambila groups during the latter half of the XIXth Century.

The Mambila have no common title for themselves. Each village group calls itself by the name of its own locality or by that of the founder of the village or by that of some specially distinguished chief. There was and is no tribal organisation, and the next door neighbour was usually the principal enemy in spite of intermarriage. (Intermarriage commonly creates hostility. Indeed, a Mambila if ask who was his traditional enemies, will answer: "the member of such-and-such a village for we marry their daughters and they marry ours.")

The only common title that the Mambila admit to is that of "Nov" , i.e. "the Men" a term which was formerly sufficient to describe all the people they knew, viz those who inhabited the Mambila Plateau and spoke the same dialect. But this generic term is now seen to be unsuitable as the Mambila have now come to know other "men" than those who share their culture.

Certain groups describe themselves collectively as the 'Torbi', and it was asserted that the Torbi are quite distinct from the Mambila, all the Torbi having a common dialect and customs. Investigation, however, showed that the so-called Torbi (i.e. the villagers of Kuma, Labu, Gikan Jeka, Titon, Kabo, Bawat, Mbaso, Yirum, Wa, Nyaga, Ngubin, Tam and Gembu) had not a uniform dialect or customs and that not all the villages so described accepted the term of Torbi. Moreover, the term appeared to be applied to the villages which had accepted the suzerainty of the Fulani, those described as Mambila being those who had maintained their independence.

In view of the Fulani-sounding suffix of the term Torbi it seemed probable that this term was invented by the Fulani to describe those groups who had accepted their domination.

It was suggested, therefore, (by me) that the term 'Torbi' was a Fulani term, and in most of the villages visited this suggestion was, after discussion, accepted. [The blacksmith groups who are an immigrant caste describe the Mambila as 'Tu-Tura'. The Fulani may have adopted this term from them, dropping the prefix 'Tu' and adding their suffix 'bi'.]

The Mambila groups all speak dialects of the same language; but there are variations by which we can make a rough classification into two groups, North and South. The N. group uses the words Mwandi for Sun and Nama for God, whereas the Southern group uses Lo and Chang. There are other variations which will be seen by a study of the vocabularies 9.e.g. that wuni = head in the N. group and gur in the S. group), and it will appear later that there [are] cultural differences (e.g. in house-building).

In some cases (e.g. at Kabri) there is a fusion between the two groups. On this basis we may include the following villages in the N. group: Jabu, Gileau, Kuma, Mbese, Yimum, Ngubin, Dembi, Tam, Titon, and Kabri. The S. group would include (a) Warwar, Vokkude, Tamnya and Mbamnga: and (b) We (name) Gembu, Mverep, Bon, Barr, Tep and San (Yamba). This latter group is known collectively as Taybo (Lagubi) or Tongba.

All these groups are administered by the Emir of Adamawa, though the D.H. Gashaka, who is also a Fulani. But formerly the Mambila had no relations either with Gashaka, or with the Emirs of Adamawa. Those who became subject to the Fulani acknowledged only the Fulani governors of Banyo, now in the Fr. Cameroons (but the Fulani of Banyo were to some extent subordinate to Adamawa).

It is stated that there are other groups of Mambila in the Fr. Cameroons, i.e. at Sangkola, Shone, Ata, Lingam and Kakara, and also in Bamenda Division, i.e. at Nyoro, Gongka and Birpa.

Closely connected with the Mambila though not described as Mambila are the villagers of Kamkam (Kakara) and Magu. This group formerly occupied the site of the present Hausa-Fulani settlement of Ngwoje. When attacked by the Fulani of Banyo one group fled westwards to Magu and the other southward to Mambila country. Their language is intimately related to that of the Mambila, though it can hardly be described as a Mambila dialect.

Culturally they can scarcely be distinguished from the Mambila having the same religious cults and the same methods of house-building, etc. They were formerly a matrilineal people, lacking the exchange system of marriage which among the Mambila has coupled with the so-called 'purchase' system, resulted in a bilateral form of social organization (as will be explained later).

Reference has been made to the presence among the Mambila of groups of blacksmiths. These groups, who are known as Kira, speak a language of their own which is intimately connected with the Bute and Wawa languages of the Fr. Cameroons. It has some affinities with Mambila which belongs to the same linguistic group as Butet Wawa. The fact that the blacksmiths have preserved their own language would indicate that their immigration is of recent date and this is borne out by the Mambila tradition that formerly the Mambila had no iron weapons, their arrows being wooden pointed and their agricultural work being carried out by means of digging sticks. Their bow-strings, it is said, were made of fibre and not leather. On the other hand, it is difficult to square this tradition with the Mambila claim to have been a spear-using people from ancient times and the fact that they possess a short unpointed cutting sword of scimitar type unknown in Nigeria. It would appear to be probable that the Mambila have long been accustomed to the use of iron, but that when iron was unobtainable they had resort to the instruments described. They say that if they had no knives they cut up meat with a piece of guinea-corn stalk, the back of the stalk serving as a blade. This primitive form of knife is still used by children among Nigerian tribes which had attained a high standard of civilization.

A feature of the blacksmith group is their insistence that all male children born to one of their caste, whether male or female, shall become blacksmiths. For this reason blacksmiths are commonly endogamous. But they are not averse, when associated with matrilineal peoples to allow their daughters to marry outside their own group. Among the Mambila, therefore, they are quite ready to allow their daughters to marry Mambila men on the 'purchase' (but not on the exchange) system, for under the purchase system the children (according to Mambila rules) belong to the mother's group.

The social system of the Mambila is of great interest and must be thoroughly understood if the tribe is to be properly administered. As already stated, there is no tribal organization nor is there any clan organization.

A number of villages might form a confederacy for fighting purposes [e.g. the villagers of Wa, Gembu, Mverep, Bon, Ban, Tep and Yamba would assist each other in repelling the Fulani or in beating off an attack by the villagers of Kuma, Mbasa, Gubin and Tam. Mbamnga, Tamnya, Mbamp and Vokkude also united for purposes of defence.] This confederacy was based on the possession of common territory and dialect, or on a common origin from some parent village, but each village group considered itself politically independent of any other village groupand intervillage fights were of frequent occurrence. There was and is no banding together of villages for marriage purposes, for the exogenous unit is merely the kindred. At the present time, since the people are more widely scattered than formerly, the separate villages may be composed of two branches of a single kindred, and this will produce the impression that local exogamy is the rule; but in larger villages where there may be two or more kindred occupying a single village, intermarriage between the kindred is permitted, though in practice it is unusual. It may be noted that the taboo against marriage with close relatives (e.g. second cousins) applies to both sides of the family, and that greater care would be taken by a man contemplating marriage to ascertain that the woman he proposed to marry was not a close relative if she and her parents were members of his own village, than would be taken if she were a member of another village. In fact it was stated that a man might marry his second cousin if her parents belonged to another village, whereas he could not do so if they belonged to his own village, the underlying idea being that the introduction of new blood into the stock was desirable.

There is no totemism connected with the exogamy, nor should we expect it. But there are a number of family taboos against eating the flesh of certain animals at all times or on special occasions. To this reference will be made later.

The social unit is thus the family group which we may call the kindred. This group is bilateral, that is to say, it is composed of both patrilineal and matrilineal relatives. This condition is produced by a dual system of marriage. A man may obtain a wife (a) by exchanging one of his own female relatives, or by buying a slave girl, or (b) by paying a small brideprice. In the former case the children of the marriage belong to the family group of the father, in the latter they belong to the family group of the mother. An exchange wife is regarded as absolute property, whereas a wife obtained by brideprice is regarded as merely lent by her family group. This exemplifies the misleading character of the term "purchase" where a brideprice is payable. But on the other hand it is a mistake to suppose that in Negro society the wife is never regarded as "bought", for among the Mambila the exchange wife does not differ as regards social status from a slave wife. As many fake views on this subject are being put forward by anthropologists it may be pointed out that among some tribes (e.g. the Bade of Bornu) there is a system of marriage by which a bride is obtained by (a) a large brideprice, or (b) a small brideprice. Under the former the woman is regarded as bought out of her own group: under the latter as loaned. Under the former the children belong to the father's group under the latter to the mother's. Among the Mambila an exchange wife loses her freedom, dissolution of the marriage being practically impossible. Her property at her death becomes the property of her husband, and her relatives have no influence with [or] a concern in her children. But a woman married under the purchase system is free to leave her husband when she pleases, and can take her children with her. Her children are in fact at the disposal of her relatives. Her property (and Mambila women acquire property, so much so that in former times a Mambila woman might be the owner of several slaves) cannot be taken on her death by her husband: it is claimed by her own relatives. A woman married under the exchange system loses contact with her own relatives. A woman married under the purchase system remains in constant contact with them. Indeed, she spends much of her time in her father's or maternal uncle's home. She bears her children there. She will assist her husband on his farm, but she will also in the same year carry on a farm of her own in her father's village. For if she has reason for leaving her husband she is unwilling to be dependent on her relatives for her food.

It will be seen therefore that the Mambila are both a patrilineal and matrilineal people. Captain Izard has stated that formerly there was no other system of marriage than exchange, but this is clearly incorrect, as the whole of the social system is based on the dual form of marriage. Captain Head reports that the Mambila are wholly patrilineal. It is very easy to be misled in these matters, as tribes who still adhere to matrilineal practices are averse to admitting it. The reasons are obvious. They think that a claim by a man on his sister's children will be construed by the govt. as an infringement of the laws against slavery, for during the Fulani regime a man could sell his sister's child (if she had been married under the purchase system) in order to redeem himself. Under the British, therefore, we usually find that (a) matrilineal and semi-matrilineal peoples are forced to abandon their customs as regards children's custody, as the father will threaten an action in court if they are taken from him, and (b) that the exchange system is automatically dropped, as girls will threaten a court action if they are forced to marry against their will.

The Mambila have accommodated themselves to the new system (i) by abandoning marriage by exchange, and (ii) by making it optional whether the offspring of a marriage by purchase join their mother's group or not. Formerly the offspring of a marriage by exchange inherited property patrilinearly, while those of a 'purchase' marriage inherited matrilineally. Now that marriage by purchase is the only form of marriage, inheritance should be wholly matrilineal, but there is a tendency towards revising this rule. For it is illogical that a man should inherit from his maternal uncle if he has lived with his father and has rendered no services to his maternal uncle.

The following account of the former system of marriage will assist in making the position clearer.

(a) Marriage by exchange. In this form of marriage 2 men agreed to exchange as wives one of their female relatives.

When the arrangement has been made one of the men invites the other to his house, having made preparations to celebrate the occasion. The host introduces his friend to the girl and the young couple become friendly. A few days later the other man likewise invites his friend to come to his house to meet his future wife. A date is then fixed for the exchange, and each man then performs the following rites in order that his sister (in the classificatory sense) may remain happily with her husband: the man takes his sister to the family shrine in the bush. (If he is himself the son of a woman married under the purchase system, the shrine will be that of his mother's family). The shrine consists of 3 stones, 1 large and 2 small. The large stone represents the senior ancestor of the family, the smaller ones the deceased grandfather and grandmother. The man then produces fire (by drilling) and lighting a bundle of grass, places it on the large stone, saying: "My forefathers, I follow the custom of ancient times. From you we derive all welfare in life. My sister's daughter is about to go to her husband's house. Do you care for her there. Grant that she may reside there happily, protected from witchcraft and other evils." He then places another bundle of smouldering grass on the other stones and offers a similar prayer. The couple now close their eyes and place their hands on the smouldering grass, extinguishing the fire, the man blowing an antelope's horn and shouting "Kankan" - 'good luck'.

The idea of the fire is to give warmth to the ancestors, and of blowing the horn is to drive the ancestral ghosts to accompany the girl. The man then takes a chicken, slits its lips with a knife, and presses its bleeding mouth against each of the stones, repeating his former prayer. He holds the chicken to the mouth of the girl, who licks a little of the blood and he then holds its mouth against her forehead and each temple. Plucking 3 small feathers from the chicken's head he sticks one on each of the bloody patches on the girl's face. He also pulls out 2 larger feathers and sticks 2 on the larger stone, 1 on each of the smaller. The girl now goes home and prepares some porridge which she brings back to the shrine, the man in the meantime killing the chicken by twisting its neck, and poaching it over a fire which has to be produced by drilling. He takes some of the flesh and porridge and, closing his eyes, throws it to the west, saying: "May our forefathers who have gone west, look after this girl in her married life". A similar offering is thrown eastward with a similar prayer. He closes his eyes to avoid looking on the ancestors as they take the offerings. The rite is concluded by the man binding two iron anklets on each of the girl's legs.

The girl is then escorted to her husband's home by an aged female relative. On arrival she is given a chicken and a hoe as an inducement to her to enter the compound. She must be given another hoe before she enters his hut, another before she sits down, another before she partakes of food, and 2 before she permits him to have sexual relations. Before she washes next morning she must be presented with a chicken. Each morning for a month she is smeared with red earth and oil by female relatives of her husband. During this month she does no work of any kind, the intention being to make her contented with her new surroundings. She is given the best of fare.

There are certain points about the exchange form of marriage which deserve attention. The first point is that the girl cannot be used as an exchange by her mother's relatives if her mother was herself an exchange wife, because the children of an exchange wife belong to the father's and not the mother's group. Vice versa, a girl cannot be used by her paternal relatives as an exchange wife if her mother has been married under the purchase system. Secondly, a father cannot use his own daughter as an exchange wife for himself even if the girl's mother had been married under the exchange system. Thirdly, a man may not elope with an exchange wife. But elopement with wives married under the purchase system is permitted, and is a regular practice.

Children born under the exchange system of marriage reside with the father and inherit from him.

(b) Marriage by Purchase. If a man sees a girl in the market who takes his fancy and finds that she is free to marry, he buys some beer and calls the girl aside. He ascertains from her the names of her relatives, and if one of them accompanied the girl to market he invites her to join them in drinking beer [in drinking beer, it is the Mambila custom for 2 friends or acquaintances to drink simultaneously from the same calabash]. The girl's guardian leaves the girl and the young man to talk and drink together - in due course the man proposes marriage. The girl replies that she will have to consult her father and mother [but it is only the mother who can prevent her daughter marrying under the purchase system]. After a few days interval the young man sends his friends to the girl's home with a gift of 5 hoes, 2 chickens, and a spear. The girl is asked if she agrees, and if so the present are handed to her father, the spear being given to her brother. She is then escorted to her husband's home without any further formalities, except the religious rite already described, which may, however, have been previously performed by the girl's father when she reached marriageable age. The girl stops at frequent intervals on the road to her husband's home and is given a gift of a hoe on each occasion; and on entering her husband's home she receives numerous gifts as already described. Whereas an exchange wife remains idle for the first month of married life, a 'purchase' wife remains idle 2 months. This difference is said to be due to the greater consideration owing to her. Under the purchase system the woman can end her marriage at will and take her children with her. The brideprice is only refunded if she has not borne a child to her husband. This seems an anomalous rule in view of the fact that children born under the purchase system belong to the mother's group, but actually the father derives certain advantages from children even though they are at the disposal of the maternal uncle. For the father is entitled to the first game killed by his son and he is entitled to brideprice of a daughter on her first marriage (by purchase system). (Game animals subsequently killed by sons must be given to their maternal uncle, and maternal uncles also claim the brideprice of all subsequent marriages contracted by their sister's daughters.)

It is not an absolute rule that all children born under the purchase system must go and live in their maternal uncle's home. They can continue to live with their father if they please, or they may alternate. But they usually gravitate towards the maternal uncle's home for the reason that they cannot inherit from their father, and they cannot obtain an exchange wife from their father's group. Female children born under this system can be used as marriage exchanges by their mother's relatives but not by their father's. A son who is happy in his father's home may be provided with a wife by his father under the purchase system (but not under the exchange system). But a son who elects to remain with his father is liable to perform farm or other work for his mother's relatives when called upon. Female children may remain in their father's home until claimed by their mother's relatives to be used as exchange. But if there are several female children the father may be allowed to keep one or two or give them in marriage by purchase), receiving the brideprice. But when these girls themselves bear female children those children can be claimed by the mother's relatives to be used as exchanges.

It may be noted finally that in former times a man could redeem himself from slavery by giving to his enslaver a child born to his sister under the purchase system of marriage. He might even use for this purpose a sister's daughter who was married (purchase). The husband, if he were devoted to his wife, might in such a case offer one of his own female relatives instead. If this offer were accepted the status would be altered to that of exchange wife, i.e. all the children borne by her would become his, and she herself could not contract a secondary marriage.

Husbands can inherit from wives who had been married under the exchange system, but not from wives married under the purchase system. The property of the latter is claimed by the wife's maternal relatives. Widows are heritable by brothers, sons, and sister's sons; but widows married under the purchase system cannot be inherited against their will. Widows who had married under the exchange system can of course only be inherited by a man who is the son of a woman who had married under the exchange system, or of a woman who has married as a slave.

A further point as regards the inheritance of property is that if the deceased had a son by an exchange marriage and a sister's son whose mother had been married under the purchase system, the property would be divided between them, both being entitled to inherit.

As regards inheritance of the chieftainship, it was apparently the Mambila rule that no one could become a chief who was not the offspring of an exchange marriage.

The question of the mode of inheritance of witchcraft will be dealt with later.
Reference may be made to the Mambila custom, probably common either in other pagan tribes, though I have only observed amongst the Malabu and Jirai, N. of the Benue. By this custom it is permissible for a man to have sexual relations with the wife of any senior member of his father's or mother's group. The custom is carried so far that a husband who has to absent himself from home, will call upon a younger relative to sleep with his wife during his absence. I have discussed this subject at some length in my report on the Malebu and it need only be mentioned here that among the Mambila there is no organization, as among the Malabu, by which a number of kindred have a community of wives. But the Mambila observe the rule that no one may have sexual relations with the wife of a brother or half-brother, or with the wife of a father or maternal uncle. Sons frequently have sexual relations with their father's wives, but these are improper and sub rosa.

Brief illustration of the constitution of a family group: a family at Kuma, the present head of which is WONDEM.

1. WONDEM, son of Wambonga (deceased) by a slave wife.
2. TISO, son of Chambira (deceased) by a slave wife. Chambira was a first cousin paternal of Wambonga.
3. SHOMO, son of Chambira, by a woman married under the purchase system. These 3 with their wives and children occupy a single compound.
4. KUNU, son of Wambonga by a different slave wife.
5. BIKE, son of Wankunip (deceased) by a woman married under the exchange system. Wankunip's father was a brother of Wambonga. These 2 with their wives and children occupy a single compound.
6. TAM, son of Midur, a daughter of Wambonga's younger brother, Jedi. Midur was married under the purchase system.
7. WANEME, son of Wambonga's daughter, who was married under the purchase system. These 2 share a single compound.
8. NYINE, son of Wambonga, by a woman married under the purchase system. He has a compound of his own.

It will be seen that this household includes 5 patrilineal relatives and 3 uterine relatives. The family group is thus bilateral. Of the uterine relatives the presence of TAM and WANEME is normal as the mothers of both were married under the purchase system. But it might be thought that Shomo and Nyine should for the same reason be resident in the mother's group. Both were until recently. Shomo and his 2 brothers and 1 sister had all joined their mother's group at Titon. Shomo's maternal uncle had, however, come to the conclusion that it would be but fair to Shomo's aged father, Chambira, that one of his children should be returned to him to look after him in his old age. For Chambira had only 1 other son, TISO, by a slave wife. This is an illustration of the native point of view that legal rights should be modified by equity. Actually, however, Chambira died before Shomo's maternal uncle had carried out his intention. Tiso succeeded to Chambira's estate as Tiso's mother was a slave woman. Shomo's maternal uncle then sent Shomo to keep Tiso company. Shomo is older than Tiso, but Tiso nevertheless as his father's inheritor takes precedence over Shomo, and Shomo must respect Tiso's wishes in all matters as long as they continue to reside together. Tiso in a sense has become the legal father of Shomo and will assist him in the same way as a father will his son. If Shomo e.g. wishes to obtain a second wife, he will look to Tiso for assistance.

It is important to bear in mind that in Negro society social status is not entirely governed by age. I have pointed this out in numerous reports and drawn attention to the fact that in some tribes a person may have to address another younger than himself as 'father'.

NYINE was until recently resident in the village of his mother's father but owing to a violent quarrel with his mother's relatives he left the village and joined his father's group at Kuma.

It is hardly necessary to add that there are a number of children of Wambonga and Chambira who are not residing with their paternal relatives as they have joined their mother's group, the mother having been married under the purchase system. Thus Wambonga's son, Kumake, is living with his mother's group. Shomo is at liberty to return to his maternal uncle at any time.

Wambonga was formerly head of the household. He had inherited from his father, as his mother had been married under the exchange system. On his death Chambira inherited, as he was entitled to do, his mother having been a slave wife. Chambira became responsible for such children of Wambonga as did not belong to the mother's group. On Chambira's death Wondem succeeded, as he was the son of a slave wife and not of a woman married under the purchase system. On Wondem's death Kunu will succeed. It may be noted that Wandem's present wife was inherited from Chambira. She is the mother of Tiso.

List of Relationship Terms

KOO: is applied to father, his brothers and maternal uncles. A senior Koo is described as Koo Ngitane ('big father') and a junior as Koo Buwe.

Descriptive terms are used when necessary to distinguish a father's brothers from a mother's brothers. They may also be addressed, if the speaker is grown up, by the title WAN DIKKA, 'my big brother'. Fa. 'fathers' and elder brothers are classed together and a young person will address a grown up elder brother as Koo.

It is surprising to find that a young man might address a paternal uncle by the same term as he addressed an elder brother, but it was stated that any grown man could drink from the same calabash of beer as a paternal or maternal uncle. This would be shocking to most Nigerian tribes. The Mambila do not show an excessive respect for elders and a Mambila youth may, without offence, sit down beside his seniors and join in the conversation, a practice that would never be permitted by e.g. the Fulani or Hausa. Another Mambila custom which in the majority of Nigerian tribes would be considered a sign of insanity, is that by which a man may drink beer simultaneously from the same calabash as a woman.

It is not permissible to address any 'Koo' by his personal name, but apart from an actual father a perversion of the personal name may be used. Thus if a 'koo's' personal name is Shoga he may be addressed as Gaga (!).

A mother is addressed as 'Dee' and referred to as 'Me Ndikha'. There is a special term, 'Ada', for a father's sister (elder or younger) and this term is also applied to a mother's younger sister. But a mother's elder sister is addressed as 'Baba', a term which normally carries the significance of 'father'. Just as a father's and mother's brothers are classed with elder brothers, so a father's sisters and mother's young sisters are classed with elder sisters, for an elder sister is called 'Ada'.

Younger brothers and sisters (and cousins) are addressed by their personal names, and if very junior may be described as 'Buwa nya', my little son. This is logical, for elder brothers are ranked with fathers.

Nya = son: ngou = daughter.

It may be noted that elder brothers may not be addressed by their personal names. The reason is obvious when we remember they rank as fathers. But the reason given is that if a younger brother addressed an elder brother by his personal name, his son might follow suit.

Male grandparents are addressed as 'Tamtam' and female as 'gogo', this latter term being used by the Fulani for 'father's sister'. But grandparents may also be described as 'Koom ngitane' (big father), or 'me ngitane' (big mother). Grandchildren may be addressed by their personal names or as 'Tandu'. A grandmother may playfully call her grandson 'my husband' and a grandfather his granddaughter ('my wife'), or vice versa. But there is no potential intermarriage.

Parents-in-law and children-in-law address each other as "guna', but it is usual for a woman to address her father-in-law as 'Takurindi', i.e. 'father of the house', and her mother-in-law as 'makurindi', 'mother of the house'. Just as elder brothers are classed as fathers, so elder brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law are classed as parents-in-law, and are addressed as 'guna'. Younger brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law are addressed as 'Nyini', and this term also applied to the wife of a maternal uncle and is used by her towards her husband's nephew or niece.

Husbands and wives address each other by their personal names and refer to each other as 'ndakha shi' and 'ndakha bwen' respectively.