Susu people

Susu (Soso, Soussou)

Susu people with musical instruments in 1935
Total population
(2.2 million)
Regions with significant populations
99% Islam
Related ethnic groups
Yalunka people

The Susu people, also called Soso or Soussou, are a West African ethnic group, one of the Mandé peoples living primarily in Guinea.[1] Influential in Guinea, smaller communities of Susu people are also found in the neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.

The Susu are a patrilineal society, predominantly Muslim, who favor endogamous cross-cousin marriages with polygynous households common.[1] 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.[1][2]

Demographics and language

Main article: Susu 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.[3]

In old Susu language, "Guinea" means woman and this is the derivation for the country's name.[4]


The Susu are descendants of their Manding ancestors who lived in the mountainous Mali-Guinea border. They were once ruled by Sumunguru – a Susu leader, but thereafter they were ruled by the thirteenth century Mali Empire. In the 15th century, they moved to Fouta Jalon plateau of Guinea, as the Mali empire disintegrated.[5] Susu people were traditionally animist.

The Fula people (Fulani) 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.[6][7][8] 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.[9] 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.[9][10][11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

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 commerce. The women cook the food and take care of the children. They often engage in a small commerce, usually of vegetables they have raised in their own garden. Often women will have their own 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.[14]

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.[1][2] 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.[15] The Susu castes in the regional Muslim communities were prevalent and recorded by sociologists in late 19th and early 20th centuries.[15]

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.

Susus people


  1. 1 2 3 4 Susu people, Encyclopedia Britannica
  2. 1 2 Tal Tamari (1991). "The Development of Caste Systems in West Africa". The Journal of African History. Cambridge University Press. 32 (2): 221–250. JSTOR 182616.
  3. Susu: A language of Guinea, Ethnologue
  4. Jamie Stokes (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East. Infobase Publishing. p. 266. ISBN 978-1-4381-2676-0.
  5. Diagram Group (2013). Encyclopedia of African Peoples. Routledge. p. 194. ISBN 978-1-135-96334-7.
  6. 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.
  7. David Robinson (2010). Les sociétés musulmanes africaines: configurations et trajectoires historiques (in French). Karthala, Paris. pp. 105–111. ISBN 978-2-8111-0382-8.
  8. Jonathan M. Bloom; Sheila S. Blair (2009). The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press. p. 130. ISBN 978-0-19-530991-1.
  9. 1 2 Ismail Rashid (2003). Sylviane A. Diouf, ed. Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies. Ohio University Press. pp. 133–135. ISBN 978-0-8214-1517-7.
  10. Jamie Stokes (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East. Infobase Publishing. pp. 270–271. ISBN 978-1-4381-2676-0.
  11. Kevin Shillington (2013). Encyclopedia of African History 3-Volume Set. Routledge. p. 922. ISBN 978-1-135-45669-6.
  12. Kevin Shillington (2013). Encyclopedia of African History 3-Volume Set. Routledge. p. 923. ISBN 978-1-135-45669-6.
  13. Alexander Keese (2015). Ethnicity and the Colonial State: Finding and Representing Group Identifications in a Coastal West African and Global Perspective (1850–1960). BRILL Academic. pp. 15, 164–183, 300–301. ISBN 978-90-04-30735-3.
  14. 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.
  15. 1 2 Daniel E. Harmon (2001). West Africa, 1880 to the Present: A Cultural Patchwork. Infobase. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-7910-5748-3.
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