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Sukur Cultural Landscape added to to the World Monuments Fund 2018 Watch List.

David and Sterner greet friends as they climb the famous paved way up Sukur mountain (left), A Sukur house largely destroyed and plundered by Boko Haram in 2014 (Right) Nic David

By Nic David
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Anthropologists return from the field but the communities amongst and with whom they work stay with them. Nic David, director of the Mandara Archaeological Project (1984-2008) in Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria, and Judy Sterner, his wife and colleague, first visited Sukur, a picturesque agricultural mountain community in the Mandara mountains of northeast Nigeria, in 1991. Over the next sixteen years they returned whenever they could, staying for weeks or months at a time. While publishing on Sukur’s history, archaeology, material culture and society (, they became deeply involved in Sukur life. In 1996 they collaborated with the Hidi (chief) in writing the first draft of a citation that in 1999 brought Sukur recognition as Nigeria’s first UNESCO World Heritage site and Africa’s first WH cultural landscape. In 2010 they made a film The 13 Months of Sukur, now on YouTube  (, portraying the community’s seasonal and ceremonial rounds.

Then in 2014, after years of unease, the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency brutally and viciously assaulted Sukur and their neighbors, killing, raping and kidnapping, and burning and stealing their crops, livestock and goods (DSC-03930). On the mountain they inflicted major damage on 170 houses, including the megalithic and monumental residence of the Hidi (chief). David and Sterner responded by creating a Canadian non-profit corporation and a Boko Haram Victims Relief website. (The non-profit failed — a crowdfunding attempt raised a mere $350 of the $180,000 sought! — but the website survives [].)

A new initiative began when they decided, in collaboration with the Sukur chief and Nigerian authorities, to nominate the Sukur Cultural Landscape to the World Monuments Fund 2018 Watch List. This consists of sites, settlements and landscapes, old and new and from all over the world, endangered by conflict, disaster or climate change or representative of important social movements. On October 16th David and Sterner learned they had been successful and that Sukur was one of 25 such sites selected from 170 nominees, and one of only two from sub-Saharan Africa.

The WMF states that: “The biennial World Monuments Watch aims to protect history, preserve memory, and strengthen social bonds by bringing these sites and their challenges to an international stage and identifying opportunities for local communities to collaborate with preservation agencies, governments, and corporate sponsors.” Over the next two years David and Sterner will assist in such efforts in every way they can, but is sadly ironic that their special project, mapping cultural features at Sukur to generate the database needed for conservation and tourism, may well not be feasible for fear of Boko Haram retaliation against the Sukur people and its friends.