Susu people

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Susu men with traditional musical instruments in 1935
Total population
c. 2.98 million
Regions with significant populations
 Guinea2,730,114 (21.2%)[1]
 Sierra Leone203,779 (2.9%) [2]
 Senegal49,000[citation needed]
 Guinea Bissau5,318 (0.36%) [3]
Susu, French, English, Krio
Predominantly Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Mandé-speaking peoples, especially the Yalunka people, Soninke people, Mikhifore people, Kuranko people, and Mandinka people

The Susu people are a Mande ethnic group living primarily in Guinea and Northwestern Sierra Leone, particularly in Kambia District.[4][5] Influential in Guinea, smaller communities of Susu people are also found in the neighboring Guinea-Bissau and Senegal.[citation needed]

The Susu are a patrilineal society, predominantly Muslim, who favor endogamous cross-cousin marriages with polygynous households.[4] They have a caste system like all Manding-speaking peoples of West Africa. The artisans such as smiths, carpenters, musicians, jewelers, and leatherworkers are separate castes and believed to have descended from the medieval era of slavery.[4][6]

The Susu people are also referred to as Soosoo, Sossoé, Sosoe, Sosso, Soso, Sousou, Susso, Sussu, or Soussou.[7]

Demographics and language[edit]

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.[8]

In the old Susu language, "Guinea" means woman and this is the derivation for the country's name.[9]


The meaning of the name "Soso or Susu" apparently derived from "Susuwi," meaning "horse" or "horseman" in the Susu language. The terms "Sawsaws," "Souses," and "Sussias" are all English corruptions of "Susu," rarer variants of their name are also encountered such as Souzo, Sossé, Suzées, Socé, Caxi, Saxi, Saxe, and even as Sexi.[10][11][12]


An ethnic map of the Upper Guinea Coast in the 19th century, drawn by Élisée Reclus. The Susu people region is marked "sou-sou" in red.

The Susu are descendants of their Manding ancestors who lived in the mountainous Mali-Guinea border.[13] They are said to have originally been a section of the Soninke people that migrated out of Wagadou and were initially a clan of blacksmiths who displayed their clear intentions to object converting to Islam. In the twelfth century, when Ancient Ghana was in decline, they migrated south and established a capital city of Soso in the mountainous region of Koulikoro. The Susu were once ruled by Sumanguru Kanté, 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.[14][15] The close familiarity with the Yalunka people suggest a hypothesis that they were once members of the same group in the Fouta Djallon, separated by Fula invaders, and that the Susu moved southward absorbing other people in the process.[16] The Susu people were traditionally animist[citation needed].

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.[17][18][19] 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.[20] The political environment led the Susu people to convert to Islam in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, along with further westward and southward migration towards the plains of Guinea.[20][21][22]

The colonial-era Europeans arrived in the Guinea region of resident Susu people in the late eighteenth century for trade, but got politically involved during the era of Temne wars that attacked the Susu people along with other ethnic groups.[23] 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 the late nineteenth century during the Scramble for Africa.[24]

Society and culture[edit]

A Susu yeliba playing a three-string bolon in 1905.

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.[25]

The artisans among the 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.[4][6] 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.[26] The Susu castes in the regional Muslim communities were prevalent and recorded by sociologists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[26]

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.[citation needed]

The Susu people also utilize practices of the Bondo secret society which aims at gradually but firmly establishing attitudes related to adulthood in girls, discussions on fertility, morality and proper sexual comportment. The society also maintains an interest in the well-being of its members throughout their lives.[27] [28][29][30]

The Susu are primarily farmers, with rice and millet being their two principal crops.[31] Mangoes, pineapples, and coconuts are also grown. The Susu are also known as skilled traders and blacksmiths.[31] 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.

Susu patronyms[edit]

Some common Susu surnames are:

  • Conté
  • Yansané
  • Fofana
  • Sylla or Sillah
  • Soumah
  • Bangoura
  • Yattara
  • Sankhon
  • Youla
  • Daffé
  • Cissé
  • Camara
  • Touré
  • Diarso
  • Diarisso

Notable Susu people[edit]

Political figures[edit]






Other notable people[edit]

Musical groups[edit]


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  2. ^ "Sierra Leone 2015 Population and Housing Census National Analytical Report" (PDF). Statistics Sierra Leone. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  3. ^ "Recenseamento Geral da População e Habitação 2009 Características Socioculturais" (PDF). Instituto Nacional de Estatística Guiné-Bissau. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 November 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
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  5. ^ Bankole Kamara Taylor (2014). Sierra Leone: The Land, Its People and History. New Africa Pres. p. 147. ISBN 978-9987-16-038-9.
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  13. ^ Diagram Group (2013). Encyclopedia of African Peoples. Routledge. p. 194. ISBN 978-1-135-96334-7.
  14. ^ Ofosuwa Abiola (2018). History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional Mandinka Dance. Routledge, 2018. ISBN 978-0-4297-6784-5.
  15. ^ Eric Charry (2000). Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music of the Maninka and Mandinka of Western Africa. University of Chicago Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-226-10161-3.
  16. ^ Harold D. Nelson (1975). Encyclopedia of African Peoples. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 62.
  17. ^ Ramon Sarro (2008). Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast: Iconoclasm Done and Undone. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 27–29. ISBN 978-0-7486-3666-2.
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