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Kanuri people


Kanuri people

Kanuri people
Ali Modu Sheriff, a Kanuri politician and governor of Borno State, Nigeria, 2007
Total population
10 million (2013 estimate)
Regions with significant populations
Nigeria, southeast Niger, western Chad and northern Cameroon.
Does not include Mangari[1]
 Chad 1,100,000 (2013)
most of which are Kanembu subgroup[2]
 Niger 850,000 (2013)
Includes Mangari, Tumari, Bla Bla[3]
 Cameroon 56,000 (1982)[4]
Kanuri language
Related ethnic groups
Kanembu people, Zaghawa, Hausa, Shuwa

The Kanuri people (Kanouri, Kanowri, also Yerwa and several subgroup names) are an African ethnic group living largely in the lands of the former Kanem and Bornu Empires in Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon. Those generally termed Kanuri include several subgroups and dialect groups, some of whom feel themselves distinct from the Kanuri. Most trace their origins to ruling lineages of the medieval Kanem-Bornu Empire, its client states or provinces. In contrast to neighboring Toubou or Zaghawa pastoralists, Kanuri groups have traditionally been sedentary, engaging in farming, fishing the Lake Chad basin, and engaged in trade and salt processing.[5]


  • Names and subgroups 1
  • Religion 2
  • Traditional state 3
  • Political leaders 4
  • Kanuri regionalism in Nigeria 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Names and subgroups

Extent of the five main Kanuri language groups today.
The farthest extent of the medieval Kanem-Bornu state.
Ceremonial bodyguard of the Sheikh of Bornou in his full regalia, after a drawing by a British visitor in the 1820s. The mounted knight was central to the Bornu state, and many Kanuri people still value horsemanship and horses.

Kanuri peoples include several subgroups, and identify by different names in some regions. The Kanuri language, which derived from Kanembu, was the major language of the Borno Empire Kanuri remains a major language in southeastern Niger, northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon but in Chad it is limited to handfuls of speakers in urban centers.[6]

The largest population of Kanuri reside in the northeast corner of Nigeria, where the ceremonial Emirate of Borno traces direct descent from the Kanem-Bornu empire, founded sometime before 1000 CE. Some 3 million Kanuri speakers live in Nigeria, not including the some 200,000 speakers of the Manga or Mangari dialect.[1] The Nga people in Bauchi State trace their origins to a Kanuri diaspora.[7]

In southeastern Niger, where they form the majority of the sedentary population, the Kanuri are commonly called Beri Beri ( a Hausa name).[5] The 400,000 Kanuri population in Niger includes the Manga or Mangari subgroup, numbering some 100,000 (1997) in the area east of Zinder, who regard themselves as distinct from the Beri Beri.[5]

Around 40,000 (1998) members of the Tumari subgroup, sometimes called Kanembu in Niger, are a distinct Kanuri subgroup living in the N'guigmi area, and are distinct from the Chadian Kanembu people.[8] In the Kaour escarpment oasis of eastern Niger, the Kanuri are further divided into the Bla Bla subgroup, numbering some 20,000 (2003), and are the dominat ethnic group in the salt evaporation and trade industry of Bilma.[9]

Kanuri speak the Kanuri language, or one of its related languages a member of the Nilo-Saharan language family. Divisions include the Manga, Tumari, and Bilma dialects of Central Kanuri, and the more distinct Kanembu language.[10]

Inheriting the religious and cultural traditions of the Kanem-Bornu state, Kanuri peoples are predominantly Sunni Muslim.

In Chad, Kanembu speakers differentiate themselves from the large Kanuri ethnicity. The Kanembu are centered in Lac Prefecture and southern Kanem Prefecture. Although Kanuri, which derived from Kanembu, was the major language of the Borno Empire, in Chad Kanuri language speakers are limited to handfuls of speakers in urban centers. Kanuri remains a major language in southeastern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, and northern Cameroon.[11]

In the early 1980s, the Kanembu constituted the greatest part of the population of Lac Prefecture, but some Kanembu also lived in Chari-Baguirmi Prefecture. Once the core ethnic group of the Kanem-Borno Empire, whose territories at one time included northeastern Nigeria and southern Libya, the Kanembu retain ties beyond the borders of Chad. For example, close family and commercial ties bind them with the Kanuri of northeastern Nigeria. Within Chad, many Kanembu of Lac and Kanem prefectures identify with the Alifa of Mao, the governor of the region in precolonial times.[6]

Originally a pastoral people, the Kanuri were one of many Nilo-Saharan groups indigenous to the Central South Sahara, beginning their expansion in the area of Lake Chad in the late 7th century, and absorbing both indigenous Nilo-Saharan and Chadic (Afro-Asiatic) speakers. According to Kanuri tradition, Sef, son of Dhu Ifazan of Yemen, arrived in Kanem in the ninth century and united the population into the Sayfawa dynasty. This tradition however, is likely a product of later Islamic influence, reflecting the association with their Arabian origins in the Islamic era. Evidence of indigenous state formation in the Lake Chad area dates back to the early first century B.C. (ca. 800 B.C.) at Zilum.


Kanuri became Muslims in the 11th century, Kanem became a centre of Muslim learning and the Kanuri soon controlled all the area surrounding Lake Chad and a powerful empire called Kanem-Bornu Empire which reached its height in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when they ruled much of Middle Africa.

Traditional state

Following the downfall of the Kanem-Bornu Empire and the Scramble for Africa in the 19th century, the Kanuri were divided under the rule of the British, French and German African empires.

Despite the loss of the Kanuri-led state, the Shehu of Borno continues as ruler Emirate or Sultanate of Borno. This traditional Kanuri/Kanembu Emirate at Borno maintains a ceremonial rule of the Kanuri people, based in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, but acknowledged by the 4 million Kanuri in neighboring countries. The Shehu ("Sheikh") of Borno draws his authority from a state founded before 1000 CE, the Kanem-Bornu Empire.[12]

The current ruling line, the al-Kanemi dynasty, dates to the accession of Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi in the early 19th century, displacing the Sayfawa dynasty which had ruled from around 1300 CE. The 19th Shehu of Borno Mustapha Umar El-Kanemi, died in February 2009, [13] and was succeeded by Alhaji Kyari Garbai.[14]

Political leaders

In Nigeria, famous post-independence Kanuri leaders include the politicians Kashim Ibrahim, Ibrahim Imam, Zannah Bukar Dipcharima, Shettima Ali Monguno, Baba Gana Kingibe, former GNPP leader Waziri Ibrahim, and the former military ruler, Sani Abacha. In Niger, Kanuri political leaders include the former Prime Minister of Niger Mamane Oumarou, and the former President of Niger, Tandja Mamadou.

Kanuri regionalism in Nigeria

The flag of the Kanuri people.

A Nigeria specific small Kanuri nationalist movement emerged in 1950s, centred on Bornu. Some "Pan-Kanowri" nationalists claimed an area of 532, 460 km² for the territory of what they called "Greater Kanowra", including the modern day prefectures of Lac and Kanem in Chad, Far North Province in Cameroon and the departments of Diffa and Zinder in Niger.[15]

In 1954, the Borno Youth Movement (BYM) was founded, and played a role as a mass regionalist political party up through the end of colonialism though it petered out at independence.[16][17]


  1. ^ a b Ethnologue Nigeria overview.
  2. ^ [3]
  3. ^ [4]
  4. ^ Ethnologue Cammeroon
  5. ^ a b c Decalo, Samuel (1997). Historical Dictionary of the Niger (3rd ed.). Boston & Folkestone: Scarecrow Press.  :pp.69, 178, 206
  6. ^ a b Thomas Collelo, ed. Chad: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1988. This text, created by the United States federal government for official purposes, is in the Public Domain. As such, elements are used here verbatim.
  7. ^ History: Ngas-Kanuri Link. News Tower (Nigeria) Vol. 1, No. 7 (2006).
  8. ^ Ethnologue KRT.
  9. ^ Ethnologue BMS.
  10. ^ Kanuri language cluster:Ethnologue.
  11. ^
  12. ^ al-Kanemi dynasty: Sultanate of Borno
  13. ^ Nigeria: Five Jostle for Shehu's Throne - Yar'Adua, Sultan, Governors Attend Funeral. Isa Umar Gusau and Ahmad Salkida, The Daily Trust. 23 February 2009
  14. ^ The intrigues, power play behind the emergence of new Shehu of Borno. The Guardian. Naija Pundit. March 6th, 2009
  15. ^ Minahan, J. (1996). Nations Without States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-28354-0.
  16. ^ Billy J. Dudley. Parties and Politics in Northern Nigeria. Routledge, (1968) ISBN 0-7146-1658-3 pp.86-89
  17. ^ Richard L. Sklar. Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation. Africa World Press, (2004) Original edition, 1963. ISBN 1-59221-209-3 pp. 338-44
  • Kanuri. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed 2 April 2009.
  • Martin J. Malone. Society-Kanuari. Ethnographic Atlas: University of Kent at Canterbury and University of Durham (England, UK). (No date). Accessed 2009-04-02.
  • Lange, Dierk: "Ethnogenesis from within the Chadic state", Paideuma 39 (1993), 261-277.
  • Rüdiger Köppe Verlag online (2008) (27. November 2008)
  • Peter Fuchs. Fachi: Sahara-Stadt der Kanuri. 2 vols, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden (1989)
  • Peter Fuchs. Fachi: Das Brot der Wüste. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden (1983)

External links

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