News The African Way

Tangale Cultural Heritage: Snake As A Totem (I)

By Rambi Ibrahim Ayala



There has been an ongoing discourse on the place of Snake as a Totem in the history and heritage of the Tangale Nation. This submission is by no means about the entire history of the Tangale Nation to which I admit that other eminent scholars within our fold have done justice to it, I have listened to and read a number of such discourse on our most cherished heritage as a people and thought I should also add my voice to the avalanche of literatures on the various aspects of our culture. I have in the past written about the Sociological Implications of Certain Rites Associated with Tangale Marriage; here I have chosen to write on 


An academic engagement of this nature will require that we briefly define certain basic concepts so as to clearly elucidate on the subject matter.


Various definitions by several authors have been ascribed to it, a look at some of them reveal that Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.

The Center for Advance Research on Language Acquisition goes a step further, defining culture as shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs and understanding that are learned by socialization. Thus, it can be seen as the growth of a group identity fostered by social patterns unique to the group. 

De Rossi posits that, “Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things,”

The summation of these definitions in my view is that culture is the totality of a people’s way of life handed down from generation to generation and as a student of Anthropology I am not unmindful of the fact that Culture is dynamic but not withstanding it retains certain basic elements of its being.


According to an online dictionary, Totem is a natural object or an animate being, as an animal or bird, assumed as the emblem of a clan, family, or group. It is an object or natural phenomenon with which a family or sib considers itself closely related. Totem is a representation of such an object serving as the distinctive mark of the clan or group.

 A Brief History Of Snake As A Tangale Totem

Notable Tangale Authors/Historians such as Rev. Samaila Kure, Ankale Tilling Yelyel, Sariel, Usaini Gwani and Dr.Tadi among others in addition to oral tradition are ubiquitously unanimous on the belief that the Tangale people migrated from Yemen through what is now Borno State.  Due to constant tribal wars, they had to keep on moving from one place to another.  They settled in seven different places before they came to their present location.  Some of the places where they settled include Sanum Kude (Big San) near Ngazargamu and Kupto. At Kupto they were together with the Bolewa, Waja, Songom, Kare Kare, Tera, Longuda, and some of the present neighboring tribes.  It was at Kupto that the tribes parted ways to search for new land and shelter.  Many of them moved into mountainous areas because they were safer places to settle, this development brought the Tangale Nation to its present empire.

The main thrust of this discourse is the Snake which serves as the Tangale Totem. Oral tradition has it that on these migratory paths our Ancestors were guided, guarded and directed by this totem, it forms an integral part of the Tangale heritage hence becomes synonymous to the identity of people, just as no one could repudiate the ascriptions of names such as Ballin, Molsurou, Kelthu, Shiton, Kalya, Tongou, Bome, Ashiyo, Yila, Mela, Kulong, Lamela, Melendu and so on as names synonymous or exclusively Tangale in origin or Kolbitbit as our dance so also the Snake as a Totem.

I don’t want to go into the latter day postulations/assaults being ferociously waged by some religionists in our land against the Totem which I consider very offensive as well as misleading to our essence as a people and an insult to our TANGLENESS, as you may have observed, I have tried to limit the discussion to the identity of  Tangle prior to the advent of “civilization”, the coming of other religions in this case Christianity and Islam with their different beliefs on the Tangale soil but should I be somersaulted into that, be rest assured that I will be ever more than ready to share my thoughts on that as well. Let me conclude that we have a responsibility to preserve and protect our cultural identity or else we shall wake up tomorrow and find out that Tangale and all that makes us unique as a people become extinct and confined into the dustbin of history and I say, YAN KAYE!,

Tangle Sabte Ta Kodmum!!

Yamb Wok Tangle!!!


Hon. Rambi Ibrahim Ayala

     (Gamzakin Tangale)

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  16. Daniel Jesse Moleh says

    Nice piece Honorable

  17. Anonymous says

    Good work need more

  18. Joseph Namaska says

    good.but what type of snake is our totem?

  19. Anonymous says

    i like it!!!

  20. Anonymous says

    Nice piece quite educative.

  21. Daniel ehud says

    Good one my honourable.

  22. Joel Joshua Lakwas says

    Nice piece honourable! More grace i pray

  23. virginia shuaibu says

    i find this piece very informative and interesting, i look forwarding to reading more of such information about our people.

    1. Mancha damion joseph says

      Absolutely honorable more grace

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