Susu men with traditional musical instruments in 1935
|~2.2 million |
|Regions with significant populations|
|Susu, French, English|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Yalunka people, Kouranko people, Mikhifore people, Mandinka people|
The Susu people, also spelled Soosoo, Sossoe, Sosoe, Soso, Sossé, Sosso, Sousou, Susa, Susoo, Susso, Sussu, Suzée, or Soussou, are a West African ethnic group, one of the Mandé peoples living primarily in Guinea and Northwestern Sierra Leone, particularly in Kambia District. Influential in Guinea, smaller communities of Susu people are also found in the neighboring Guinea-Bissau, Senegal.
The Susu are a patrilineal society, predominantly Muslim, who favor endogamous cross-cousin marriages with polygynous households common. They have a caste system like all Manding-speaking peoples of West Africa, where the artisans such as smiths, carpenters, musicians, jewelers, and leatherworkers are separate castes, and believed to have descended from the medieval era slavery.
Demographics and language
Their language, called Sosoxui by native speakers, serves as a major trade language along the Guinean coast, particularly in its southwest, including the capital city of Conakry. It belongs to the Niger-Congo family of languages.
The Susu are descendants of their Manding ancestors who originally lived in the mountainous Mali-Guinea border. They were once ruled by Sumanguru Kanté – a Susu leader, but after that, they were ruled by the thirteenth century Mali Empire. In the fifteenth century, they migrated west to the Fouta Djallon plateau of Guinea, as the Mali empire disintegrated. Susu people were traditionally animist.
The Fula people dominated the region from the Fouta Djallon. The Fulani created an Islamic theocracy, thereafter began slave raids as a part of Jihad that impacted many West African ethnic groups including the Susu people. In particular, states Ismail Rashid, the Jihad effort of Fulani elites starting in the 1720s theologically justified enslavement of the non-Islamic people and also led to successful conversion of previously animist peoples to Islam. The political environment led the Susu people to convert to Islam in the 17th and 18th-century, along with further westward and southward migration towards the plains of Guinea.
The colonial-era Europeans arrived in the Guinea region of resident Susu people in late 18th-century for trade, but got politically involved during the era of Temne wars that attacked the Susu people along with other ethnic groups. While Temne sought British support, the Susu sought the French. The region split, with Temne speaking Sierra Leone regions going with the British colonial empire, and Susu speaking Guinea regions becoming a part of the French colonial empire in late 19th-century during the Scramble for Africa.
Society and culture
The Susu live with their extended family. Polygyny is an accepted practice since Islamic law allows men to have as many as four wives. This is not always practiced because having multiple wives requires more means than most men have. The men provide for their families by working the rice fields, fishing, or engaging in trade. The women cook the food and take care of the children. They often engage in small commerce, usually of vegetables they have raised in their garden. Often women will have their room or hut next to their husband's lodging where they will stay with their children.
Over 99% of Susu are Muslim, and Islam dominates their religious culture and practices. Most Islamic holidays are observed, the most important being the celebration that follows Ramadan (a month of prayer and fasting). The Susu people, like other Manding-speaking peoples, have a caste system regionally referred to by terms such as Nyamakala, Naxamala and Galabbolalauba. According to David Conrad and Barbara Frank, the terms and social categories in this caste-based social stratification system of Susu people shows cases of borrowing from Arabic only, but the likelihood is that these terms are linked to Latin, Greek or Aramaic.
The artisans among Susu people, such as smiths, carpenters, musicians, and bards (Yeliba), jewelers, and leatherworkers, are separate castes. The Susu people believe that these castes have descended from the medieval era slaves. The Susu castes are not limited to Guinea, but are found in other regions where Susu people live, such as in Sierra Leone where too they are linked to the historic slavery system that existed in the region, states Daniel Harmon. The Susu castes in the regional Muslim communities were prevalent and recorded by sociologists in late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some Susu combine their Islamic faith with traditional beliefs, such as the existence of spirits who inhabit certain areas, and the belief in sorcerers who have the power to change into animals, cast evil spells on people, or heal people from certain ailments.
The Susu are primarily farmers, with rice and millet being their two principal crops. Mangoes, pineapples, and coconuts are also grown. The women make various kinds of palm oil from palm nuts. Ancient Susu houses were typically made of either mud or cement blocks, depending on the resources available.
Notable Susu people
- Soumaoro Kanté, was a Thirteenth-century king of the Sosso Empire
- Lansana Conté, former president of Guinea from 1984 to 2008
- Dala Modu Dumbuya, was an Important Sierra Leonean-Susu trader during the colonial era
- Manga Kindi Camara, founder of Kindia
- Manga Soumba Toumany, founder of Dubréka
- Fodé Katibi Touré, founder of the kingdom of Morya in the prefecture of Forécariah
- Kandeh Yumkella, Sierra Leonean politician
- Ibrahima Kassory Fofana, former Finance minister of Guinea
- Mamadou Sylla, Guinean politician
- Facinet Touré, Guinean politician and former soldier of the French colonial army
- Kerfalla Yansané, Minister of Economy and Finance of Guinea
- Naby Youla, former Ambassador to the Republic of France
- Sekou Mouké Yansané, Professor, Ambassador-Diplomat to the United Nations
- Mamady Youla, Guinean businessman, politician, and former prime minister of Guinea
- Makalé Camara, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guinea
- Arafan Camara, former Guinean defense minister
- Eugène Camara, former prime minister of Guinea
- Souleymane Oularé, Guinean footballer
- Kamil Zayatté, Guinean footballer
- Ibrahima Sory Conté, Guinean footballer
- Naby Yattara, Guinean footballer
- Momo Sylla, Guinean footballer
- Ibrahima Yattara, Guinean footballer
- Issiaga Sylla, Guinean footballer
- Oumar Kalabané, Guinean footballer
- Kanfory Sylla, Guinean footballer
- Souleymane Youla, Guinean footballer
- Henri Camara, Senegalese footballer
- Kémoko Camara, Guinean footballer
- Ismaël Bangoura, Guinean footballer
- Ibrahima Camara, Guinean footballer
- Bouba Menguè, Guinean musician
- Maciré Sylla, Guinean musician
- Sayon Camara, Guinean musician
- Lévi Bobo, Guinean musician
- Takana Zion, Guinean-reggae musician
- Soul Bang's, Guinean musician
- Mousto Camara, Guinean musician
- Fodé Fekangni Camara, Guinean comedian and musician
- Instinct Killers, Group of musical artist and dancers
- Les Espoirs de Coronthie, Guinean musical group
Prince Modupe, Guinean actor, Hollywood technical advisor on Africa and author of the autobiography, A Royal African (Praeger: New York, 1969) (published in 1957 by Harcourt, Brace & World as I Was a Savage)
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- Susu people, Encyclopædia Britannica
- Bankole Kamara Taylor (2014). Sierra Leone: The Land, Its People and History. New Africa Pres. p. 147. ISBN 978-9987-16-038-9.
- Tal Tamari (1991). "The Development of Caste Systems in West Africa". The Journal of African History. Cambridge University Press. 32 (2): 221–250. doi:10.1017/s0021853700025718. JSTOR 182616.
- Susu: A language of Guinea, Ethnologue
- Jamie Stokes (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East. Infobase Publishing. p. 266. ISBN 978-1-4381-2676-0.
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- David C. Conrad; Barbara E. Frank (1995). Status and Identity in West Africa: Nyamakalaw of Mande. Indiana University Press. pp. 78–80, 73–82. ISBN 0-253-11264-8.
- Daniel E. Harmon (2001). West Africa, 1880 to the Present: A Cultural Patchwork. Infobase. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-7910-5748-3.