TheKanuri (Kanouri, Kanowri, alsoYerwa, Bare Bari, and several subgroup names) are an African ethnic group who live primarily in the former Kanem and Bornu Empires’ lands in Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Kanuri include several subgroups and dialect groups, some of whom consider themselves distinct from the Kanuri. Most are descended from ruling families of the medieval Kanem-Bornu Empire, its client states, or provinces. Unlike neighboring Toubou or Zaghawa pastoralists, Kanuri groups have traditionally been sedentary, engaged in farming, fishing in the Chad Basin, trade, and salt processing.
Names and subgroups
The Sheikh of Bornou’s ceremonial bodyguard in full regalia, based on a drawing by a British visitor in the 1820s. The mounted knight was important in Bornu, and many Kanuri people still value horsemanship and horses.Kanuri peoples are divided into several subgroups that go by different names in different parts of the country. The Kanuri language was the major language of the Bornu Empire and is still spoken in southeastern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, and northern Cameroon, but it is only spoken by a few people in urban areas in Chad.The majority of Kanuri live in the northeast corner of Nigeria, where the ceremonial Emirate of Bornu descended directly from the Kanem-Bornu empire, which was founded around 1000 CE. There are approximately 3 million Kanuri speakers in Nigeria, not including the approximately 200,000 Manga or Mangaridialect speakers. The Nga people of Bauchi State are descended from a Kanuri diaspora.The Kanuri are known as Bare Bari (a Hausaname) in southeastern Niger, where they make up the majority of the sedentary population.The 400,000 Kanuri population in Niger includes the Manga or Mangari subgroup, which numbers around 100,000 (1997) in the area east of Zinder and considers itself distinct from the Bare Bari.Around 40,000 (1998) Tumari subgroup members, also known as Kanembu in Niger, are a distinct Kanuri subgroup living in the N’guigmi area, distinct from the Chadian Kanembu people. The Kanuri are further subdivided into the Bla Bla subgroup in the Kaour escarpment oasis of eastern Niger, where they number around 20,000 (2003) and are the dominant ethnic group in the salt evaporation and trade industry of Bilma.
Kanuri are people who speak Kanuri, a Nilo-Saharan language. The Manga, Tumari, and Bilma dialects of Central Kanuri, as well as the more distinct Kanembu language, are divided.Kanuri peoples are predominantly Sunni Muslim, having inherited the religious and cultural traditions of the Kanem-Bornu state.Kanembu speakers in Chad distinguish themselves from the larger Kanuri ethnicity. The Kanembu are concentrated in Lac and southern Kanem Prefectures. Although Kanuri was the dominant language of the Bornu Empire, there are only a few dozen Kanuri speakers in Chad. Kanuri is still widely spoken in southeastern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, and northern Cameroon.In the early 1980s, the Kanembu made up the majority of the Lac Prefecture’s population, but some Kanembu also lived in the Chari-Baguirmi Prefecture. The Kanembu were once the core ethnic group of the Kanem-Borno Empire, whose territories included northeastern Nigeria and southern Libya, and their ties extend beyond Chad’s borders. Close family and commercial ties, for example, bind them to the Kanuri of northeastern Nigeria. Many Kanembu in Chad’s Lac and Kanem prefectures identify with the Alifa of Mao, the region’s precolonial governor.The Kanuri, originally a pastoral people, were one of many Nilo-Saharan groups indigenous to the Central South Sahara, beginning their expansion in the late 7th century in the area of Lake Chad and absorbing both indigenous Nilo-Saharan and Chadic (Afro-Asian) speakers. According to Kanuri legend, Sef, son of Dhu Ifazan of Yemen, arrived in Kanem in the ninth century and established the Sayfawa dynasty. This tradition, on the other hand, is most likely a result of later Islamic influence, reflecting their Arabian origins during the Islamic era. At Zilum, evidence of indigenous state formation in the Lake Chad region dates back to around 800 BCE.
In the 11th century, the Kanuri converted to Islam. Kanem became a center of Muslim learning, and the Kanuri soon controlled the entire area surrounding Lake Chad, as well as a powerful empire known as the Kanem Empire, which ruled much of Middle Africa in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Following the fall of the Bornu Empire and the Scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century, the Kanuri were divided among the British, French, and German Empires.Despite the loss of the Kanuri-led state, the Bornu Emirate is still led by the Shehu of Bornu. This traditional Kanuri/Kanembu state maintains a Kanuri ceremonial rule, based in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, but recognized by the 4 million Kanuri in neighboring countries. Bornu’s Shehu (“Sheikh”) derives his authority from the Kanem-Bornu Empire, which was founded before 1000 CE.The current ruling line, the al-Kanemi dynasty, dates from Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi’s accession in the early nineteenth century, displacing the Sayfawa dynasty, which had ruled since around 1300 CE. Mustafa Ibn Umar El-Kanemi, the 19th Shehu, died in February 2009, and was succeeded by Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai El-Kanemi.
Kanuri leaders in Nigeria include politicians Kashim Ibrahim, Ibrahim Imam, Zannah Bukar Dipcharima, Shettima Ali Monguno, Abba Habib, Muhammad Ngileruma, Baba Gana Kingibe, former GNPP leader Waziri Ibrahim, and former military ruler Sani Abacha. Kanuri political leaders in Niger include former Niger Prime Minister Mamane Oumarou and former Niger President Mamadou Tandja.
Kanuri regionalism in Nigeria
In the 1950s, a small Kanuri nationalist movement emerged in Nigeria, centered on Bornu. Some “Pan-Kanuri” nationalists claimed 532,460 square kilometers (205,580 square miles) for the territory of “Greater Kanowra,” which included the modern-day Lacand Kanem Prefectures in Chad, the Far North Region in Cameroon, and the Diffa and Zinder Regions in Niger.The Borno Youth Movement (BYM) was founded in 1954 and served as a mass regionalist political party until the end of colonialism, though it faded after independence.
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