The Kanuri are a cluster of peoples speaking related Nilo-Saharan dialects which were absorbed by the Bornu empire and merged into a complex heterogeneous society. Kanuri live in Bornu and Yobe States in northeastern Nigeria, Diffa and Zinder provinces in the southeast Republic of Niger, Lac Prefecture and southern Kanem Prefecture in western Chad and northern Cameroon.

                             Kanuri women from Borno State, Nigeria

 The Kanuri people who are tall and very dark in appearance, with a stately and dignified look include several subgroups and dialect groups, some of whom feel themselves distinct from the Kanuri.

                                       Kanuri people from Chad

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 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.
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 4 million Kanuri speakers live in Nigeria, not including the some 300,000 speakers of the Manga or Mangari dialect. The Nga people in Bauchi State trace their origins to a Kanuri diaspora.

                                Kanuri woman from Nigeria

In southeastern Niger, where they form the majority of the sedentary population, the Kanuri are commonly called Beri Beri ( a Hausa name). The 550,000 Kanuri population in Niger includes the Manga or Mangari subgroup, numbering some 300,000  in the area east of Zinder, who regard themselves as distinct from the Beri Beri. Around 60,000 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. In the Kaour escarpment oasis of eastern Niger, the Kanuri are further divided into the Bla Bla subgroup, numbering some 27,000, and are the dominat ethnic group in the salt evaporation and trade industry of Bilma.

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.
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.

                            Kanuri children.

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.
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 (Shuwa) woman

Kanem-Bornuo Empire
The Kanem Empire originated in the ninth century A.D. to the northeast of Lake Chad. It was formed from a confederation of nomadic peoples who spoke languages of the Teda- Daza (Toubou) group. One theory, based on early Arabic sources, suggests that the dominance of the Zaghawa people bound the confederation together. But local oral traditions omit the Zaghawa and refer instead to a legendary Arab, Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan--believed by some to have been a Yemeni-- who assumed leadership of the Magoumi clan and began the Sayfawa dynastic lineage. Historians agree that the leaders of the new state were ancestors of the Kanembu people. The leaders adopted the title mai, or king, and their subjects regarded them as divine.
File:Kashim Ibrahim.jpg
Sir Kashim Ibrahim, Kanuri politician leaving London Airport at the start of his five-day visit to the United Kingdom. c.1910

One factor that influenced the formation of states in Chad was the penetration of Islam during the tenth century. Arabs migrating from the north and east brought the new religion. Toward the end of the eleventh century, the Sayfawa king, Mai Humai, converted to Islam. (Some historians believe that it was Humai rather than Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan who established the Sayfawa lineage as the ruling dynasty of Kanem.) Islam offered the Sayfawa rulers the advantages of new ideas from Arabia and the Mediterranean world, as well as literacy in administration. But many people resisted the new religion in favor of traditional beliefs and practices. When Humai converted, for example, it is believed that the Zaghawa broke from the empire and moved east. This pattern of conflict and compromise with Islam occurs repeatedly in Chadian history.

                                 Kanuri people off to market

Prior to the twelfth century, the nomadic Sayfawa confederation expanded southward into Kanem (the word for "south" in the Teda language). By the thirteenth century, Kanem's rule expanded. At the same time, the Kanembu people became more sedentary and established a capital at Njimi, northeast of Lake Chad. Even though the Kanembu were becoming more sedentary, Kanem's rulers continued to travel frequently throughout the kingdom to remind the herders and farmers of the government's power and to allow them to demonstrate their allegiance by paying tribute.

               Tandja Mamadou., former president of Niger and Kanuri tribe man.

Kanem's expansion peaked during the long and energetic reign of Mai Dunama Dabbalemi (ca. 1221-59). Dabbalemi initiated diplomatic exchanges with sultans in North Africa and apparently arranged for the establishment of a special hostel in Cairo to facilitate pilgrimages to Mecca. During Dabbalemi's reign, the Fezzan region (in present-day Libya) fell under Kanem's authority, and the empire's influence extended westward to Kano, eastward to Wadai, and southward to the Adamawa grasslands (in present-day Cameroon). Portraying these boundaries on maps can be misleading, however, because the degree of control extended in ever-weakening gradations from the core of the empire around Njimi to remote peripheries, from which allegiance and tribute were usually only symbolic. Moreover, cartographic lines are static and misrepresent the mobility inherent in nomadism and migration, which were common. The loyalty of peoples and their leaders was more important in governance than the physical control of territory.
Mamane Oumarou, is a Nigerien political figure who served two brief periods as Prime Minister of Niger during the 1980s. He has been Mediator of the Republic since 2008. A Kanuri from the eastern part of the country.

Dabbalemi devised a system to reward military commanders with authority over the people they conquered. This system, however, tempted military officers to pass their positions to their sons, thus transforming the office from one based on achievement and loyalty to the mai into one based on hereditary nobility. Dabbalemi was able to suppress this tendency, but after his death, dissension among his sons weakened the Sayfawa Dynasty. Dynastic feuds degenerated into civil war, and Kanem's outlying peoples soon ceased paying tribute.

                                  Kanuri girl

By the end of the fourteenth century, internal struggles and external attacks had torn Kanem apart. Between 1376 and 1400, six mais reigned, but Bulala invaders (from the area around Lake Fitri to the east) killed five of them. This proliferation of mais resulted in numerous claimants to the throne and led to a series of internecine wars. Finally, around 1396 the Bulala forced Mai Umar Idrismi to abandon Njimi and move the Kanembu people to Borno on the western edge of Lake Chad. Over time, the intermarriage of the Kanembu and Borno peoples created a new people and language, the Kanuri.

But even in Borno, the Sayfawa Dynasty's troubles persisted. During the first three-quarters of the fifteenth century, for example, fifteen mais occupied the throne. Then, around 1472 Mai Ali Dunamami defeated his rivals and began the consolidation of Borno. He built a fortified capital at Ngazargamu, to the west of Lake Chad (in present-day Niger), the first permanent home a Sayfawa mai had enjoyed in a century. So successful was the Sayfawa rejuvenation that by the early sixteenth century the Bulala were defeated and Njimi retaken. The empire's leaders, however, remained at Ngazargamu because its lands were more productive agriculturally and better suited to the raising of cattle.

Kanem-Borno peaked during the reign of the outstanding statesman Mai Idris Aluma (ca. 1571-1603). Aluma (also spelled Alooma) is remembered for his military skills, administrative reforms, and Islamic piety. His main adversaries were the Hausa to the west, the Tuareg and Toubou to the north, and the Bulala to the east. One epic poem extols his victories in 330 wars and more than 1,000 battles. His innovations included the employment of fixed military camps (with walls); permanent sieges and "scorched earth" tactics, where soliders burned everything in their path; armored horses and riders; and the use of Berber camelry, Kotoko boatmen, and iron-helmeted musketeers trained by Turkish military advisers. His active diplomacy featured relations with Tripoli, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire, which sent a 200-member ambassadorial party across the desert to Aluma's court at Ngazargamu. Aluma also signed what was probably the first written treaty or cease-fire in Chadian history. (Like many cease-fires negotiated in the 1970s and 1980s, it was promptly broken.)

                                  Kanuri women from Chad

Aluma introduced a number of legal and administrative reforms based on his religious beliefs and Islamic law (sharia). He sponsored the construction of numerous mosques and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he arranged for the establishment of a hostel to be used by pilgrims from his empire. As with other dynamic politicians, Aluma's reformist goals led him to seek loyal and competent advisers and allies, and he frequently relied on slaves who had been educated in noble homes. Aluma regularly sought advice from a council composed of heads of the most important clans. He required major political figures to live at the court, and he reinforced political alliances through appropriate marriages (Aluma himself was the son of a Kanuri father and a Bulala mother).

Kanem-Borno under Aluma was strong and wealthy. Government revenue came from tribute (or booty, if the recalcitrant people had to be conquered), sales of slaves, and duties on and participation in trans-Saharan trade. Unlike West Africa, the Chadian region did not have gold. Still, it was central to one of the most convenient trans-Saharan routes. Between Lake Chad and Fezzan lay a sequence of well-spaced wells and oases, and from Fezzan there were easy connections to North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea. Many products were sent north, including natron (sodium carbonate), cotton, kola nuts, ivory, ostrich feathers, perfume, wax, and hides, but the most important of all were slaves. Imports included salt, horses, silks, glass, muskets, and copper.

Aluma took a keen interest in trade and other economic matters. He is credited with having the roads cleared, designing better boats for Lake Chad, introducing standard units of measure for grain, and moving farmers into new lands. In addition, he improved the ease and security of transit through the empire with the goal of making it so safe that "a lone woman clad in gold might walk with none to fear but God."

The administrative reforms and military brilliance of Aluma sustained the empire until the mid-1600s, when its power began to fade. By the late 1700s, Borno rule extended only westward, into the land of the Hausa. Around that time, Fulani people, invading from the west, were able to make major inroads into Borno. By the early nineteenth century, Kanem-Borno was clearly an empire in decline, and in 1808 Fulani warriors conquered Ngazargamu. Usman dan Fodio led the Fulani thrust and proclaimed a jihad (holy war) on the irreligious Muslims of the area. His campaign eventually affected Kanem-Borno and inspired a trend toward Islamic orthodoxy. But Muhammad al Kanem contested the Fulani advance. Kanem was a Muslim scholar and non-Sayfawa warlord who had put together an alliance of Shuwa Arabs, Kanembu, and other seminomadic peoples. He eventually built a capital at Kukawa (in present-day Nigeria). Sayfawa mais remained titular monarchs until 1846. In that year, the last mai, in league with Wadai tribesmen, precipitated a civil war. It was at that point that Kanem's son, Umar, became king, thus ending one of the longest dynastic reigns in regional history.

Although the dynasty ended, the kingdom of Kanem-Borno survived. But Umar, who eschewed the title mai for the simpler designation shehu (from the Arabic "shaykh"), could not match his father's vitality and gradually allowed the kingdom to be ruled by advisers (wazirs). Borno began to decline, as a result of administrative disorganization, regional particularism, and attacks by the militant Wadai Empire to the east. The decline continued under Umar's sons, and in 1893 Rabih Fadlallah, leading an invading army from eastern Sudan, conquered Borno. Follow this link to read more elaborate history here:http://www.dierklange.com/pdf/fulltexts/kanem/003_Kanem-Bornu-Neu-Ethogenesis_Chadic_state_0106.pdf

Islam in Kanem-Bornu Empire
Kanem-Bornu in the 13th century included the region around Lake Chad, stretching as far north as Fezzan.  Kanem today forms the northern part of the Republic of Chad.  Islam was accepted for the first time by the Kanem ruler, Umme-Jilmi, who ruled between 1085-1097 C.E., through a scholar named Muhammad B. Mani, credited for bringing Islam to Kanem-Bornu.  Umme-Jilmi became a devout Muslim.  He left on a pilgrimage but died in Egypt before reaching Makkah.  Al-Bakri also mentions that Umayyad refugees, who had fled from Baghdad following plans to liquidate their dynasty at the hands of the Abbasids, were residing in Kanem .

               General Sani Abacha., former President of Nigeria and a Kanuri tribe man

With the introduction of Islam in Kanem, it became the principal focus of Muslim influence in the central Sudan and relations were established with the Arab world in the Middle East and the Maghrib.  Umme’s son Dunama I (1092-1150) also went on a pilgrimage and was crowned in Egypt, while embarking at Suez for Makkah, during the third pilgrimage journey.  During the reign of Dunama II (1221-1259), a Kanem embassy was established in Tunisia around 1257, as mentioned by the famous Andalusian historian Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406 C.E.).  It was almost at the same time that a college and a hostel were established in Cairo, named Madrasah Ibn Rashiq.  Toward the end of the 13th century, Kanem became a center of Islamic knowledge and famous teachers came from Mali to teach in Kanem.  By the middle of the 13th century, Kanem established diplomatic relations with Tuat (in the Algerian Sahara) and with the Hafsid state of Tunis at embassy level.  The Kanem scholars and poets could write classical Arabic of a very high standard.  We have evidence of this in a letter written by the Chief scribe of the Kanem court dating from 1391 to 1392.

The historian Ibn Khaldun calls Dunama II as the ‘King of Kanem and Lord of Bornu,’ because his empire had expanded as far as Kano in the west and Wadai in the east.  It is said that Dunama II opened a Talisman (Munni or Mune), considered sacred by his people, and thus brought a period of hardship to his people.  It was because of his enthusiasm for the religion of Islam that he committed this ‘abomination’ (perhaps the talisman was a traditional symbol of divine (kingship) and alienated many of his subjects).

In the late 14th century, a new capital of the Kanem empire was established in Bornu at Nigazaragamu by ‘Ali b. Dunama, also called ‘Ali Ghazi, who ruled during the period 1476 to 1503.  This thriving capital continued until 1811. ‘Ali revived Islam.  He was keen on learning its principles.  He used to visit the chief Imam ‘Umar Masramba to learn more about the Islamic legal system.  He, by his own example, persuaded the nobility and Chiefs to limit the number of their wives to only four.

The Islamization of Bornu dates from the time of Mai Idris Alooma (1570-1602).  We come to know about him through his chronicler, Ahmad bin Fartuwa.  In the 9th year of his reign, he went on a pilgrimage to Makkah and built a hostel there for pilgrims from Bornu.  He revived the Islamic practices and made all and sundry follow them.  He also set up Qadhis courts to introduce Islamic laws in place of the traditional system of customary law.  He built a large number of brick mosques to replace the existing ones, built with reeds.

In 1810 during the period of Mai Ahmad the glories of the Empire of Bornu came to an end, but its importance, as a center of Islamic learning, continued.
                       Kanuri Horseman from Maiduguri

The Kanuri are sedentary hoe agriculturists, although almost all of the men practice some other occupation as well. The economy is complex, with commerce, transportation, and construction constituting the other main elements of the private business sector. Government and public-service jobs provide another major source of employment today; manufacturing and industry are still relatively unimportant.

Millet is the staple food crop, supplemented by guinea corn (sorghum). Groundnuts (peanuts) are grown for sale. Hunting is of minor significance, but fish are an important resource to villages along the shores of Lake Chad and the Yobe River. Horses are symbols of prestige. Most households use donkeys as draft animals. Sheep and goats are commonly kept. For beef, most Kanuri rely on the pastoral Shuwa and Fulbe (Fulani, Peul) cattle herders, with whom they exchange grain and craft work for the beef they need. In a few areas, the Kanuri keep large herds of cattle.

                                       kanuri people

The Kanuri diet consists of large quantities of millet, served either as porridge or as dumplings. A vegetable soup, also containing meat, groundnut oil, salt, and other condiments —especially red peppers—is poured over the millet. The diet is universal, but the soup contents vary according to socioeconomic class. Cooked foods are sold in the markets, and a wide range of canned foods are available to city dwellers. Goats and sheep are slaughtered for religious ceremonies. Islamic food taboos are observed.

Socio-Political structure
The basic unit of Kanuri social organization is the compound. It is a domestic unit that may go through a séries of phases in cycle, an économic unit, and a political one as well. Starting with a couple who ideally live near the compound of the husband's father, father's brother(s), or male sibling(s) of the husband, the household can develop through the addition of wives, children, clients, son's wives and children, adopted children, returned divorced women and/or their children, and an aging mother of the compound head. This organization can easily grow into a séries of closely linked neighboring households that hâve split ofï from the original, and if successful they can come to resemble a ward of the town with the senior man as the ward head. The household is and was traditionally the basic political unit, whether or not the cycle complètes itself (so that from one original couple an expanding ward is created). Compound heads are the authoritative leaders of the compound, and each relates the individuals in the résidence to higher échelons in the political hierarchy.

                        Kanuri girl
The entire political System in its basic outlines was (and still is to a large extent) a séries of links between household heads, from the monarch right down to the lowliest peasant. To obtain a powerful position in the 19th century political organization of Bornu, a person had to be attached to one of the important households of the titled nobles. Even today this is still considered an advisable route for recruitment into the political hierarchy.
Each household had usufruct rights to some of the land around the village granted by hereditary claims or by the village head. A person who cleared new land paid a fee to the village head, who shared it with the local représentative of the fief-holder. Each household had at least one non-agricultural économy activity either in craft-work or in trade. Membership in thèse occupations and the acquisition of technical training necessary for their practice was obtain-able only through households. Thus a man who wished to become a trader but had none in his own family sought out—or often his father or older brother sought out—someone who was in this occupation. The recruit was then placed in the new compound, learned the new skill and made the social contacts necessary for him to enter the occupation.
Most Kanuri would probably hâve maintained this System through time by use of the principles of descent as a recruitment device, and thus Ego would hâve obtained his potential position and his économic rôles in the society as thèse were ascribed to him at birth.
People hâve always been forced to acknowledge that social relationships, even those of kinship, may not be permanent and, more importantly, not the most necessary for personal security and advancement. Divorce always has been a fréquent occurrence in Bornu (Cohen: 1961) so that nuclear family cohésion and persistence is not highly predictable, and although compound life is comparatively more secure, it has always been possible to change compounds. Even if this involves changing a membership in a viri-local résidence association to one in which Ego is a client-subordinate, the advantages may be very great for the individual doing the moving. The clientship may mean that the new compound head is a powerful political or économic leader of the state, thus furthering Ego's chances for advancement. Parents often foster such moves by naming a child after a "great" man so that the child may possibly become a protégé of this person later in life and be taken into his compound.

For thèse reasons, Kanuri compounds hâve always involved non-kin members who are subordinates of the compound head; if they are of non-slave backgrounds, they are called tada njima, "sons of the house," and they refer to the compound head as their aba njima, "father of the house." The mode of interaction is taught to a child as the proper relationship between a father and his son. Later this berzum relationship is shown to the young child, but most especially to boys, to be the thing that must be used between himself and ail superiors. He is told that his koranic teacher surpasses his father in "fatherliness," as does his chief, and the Emir surpasses all. To all of thèse supervisors he must use some aspects of bdrzum or discipline-respect.
The relationship has three chief components, each of which adds to the depth of the interaction. First there are simply superficial outward signs of respect shown by ail socially inferior persons to higher status persons. In speaking Kanuri, the socially inferior must greet the superior "upward," while the superior returns the greeting "downward." Secondly there is the act of visiting a superior at his compound, or paying one's respects. Hère the inferior goes to the house of the superior and gives him nona or respectful visiting. This may be purely formai or it may be the beginning of a deeper interaction desired by one or both of the parties which is the third component. This last quality is called aman, "trust." Even when ascribed by birth into a kinship unit, aman must be continually validated through reciprocal services provided by each of the parties to the relationship, even when thèse in volve a real father and son. The superior, whether a real father or not, must provide a position in the community for the subordinate, which he does by associating the subordinate to his compound. He represents the subordinate to the political hierarchy, accompanies him to adjudication procédures, helps him to get a wife, land, a non-agricultural économie pursuit, and gives him food, clothing and shelter.

                 General Sani Abacha., former President of Nigeria and a Kanuri tribe man

In return the subordinate must give the compound head loyalty and obédience, run messages for him, eut grass for his horse (if there is one), tend his sheep, work on his fields, fix his fences around the compound, and never discuss the secrets of the compound with anyone outside the organization of the compound. Again, thèse are the idéal ingrédients of the father-son relationship. However, thèse features actually operate better, i.e. more ideally, in the client relationship because the only thing holding the superior and subordinate together is aman. In other words, only the satisfactory nature of the goods and services exchanged or the promise of such satisfaction can maintain a non-kin relationship. A son can take much more from his father and vice versa than either would take from a stranger. Even so, sons do leave their fathers in Bornu, and always hâve, to seek new "fathers" because they feel their own parent was not giving them enough for their services. Indeed, ambitious parents sometimes initiate this movement. The biological link is never for-gotten, but its social and cultural components are utilized for more gêneral purposes.
Judging by Kanuri history, and by évidence of the mobility resulting from warfare, slave-raiding, famines, etc., as well as by évidence of the heights to which non-kin clients could rise (even if they were slaves), this custom seems to be an ancient and important one in Bornu society. Naturally, if the client is, or was, an extremely able one and moves into a long term relationship of trust, he may even marry one of his superior's daughters, thus creating a kinship link where none had existed. Again, if the relationship is successful, there is a tendency for it to become hereditary, so that members of one descent group become more permanently associated as subordinate or potential subordinates from among whom the most worthy are chosen for closer association.
Kanuri girl

To a Kanuri the most valuable "asset" economically, politically, and socially, is not dollars, or bullocks, or money-stuff of any kind. Rather it is valuable and profitable social relations, and this means primarily, berzum relations. Social status is judged on a number of counts (Cohen: 1959; Rosman: 1959), but perhaps the most important one is the number of people who are dépendent upon you and subordinate to you.  Most of the money gained by Kanuri big men are used to strengthen and enlarge compound membership and therefore power by gaining extra wives, supporting kinsmen and clients. Thèse would in turn increase the political, économic and social status of the person providing the financial support. As the head of a well-to-do compound in Bornu, men would often come to me and call me father, then ask to join my compound; or they would ask for an initial gift, usually clothing, in order to begin thinking of themselves as potential clients who could now begin giving me berzum.

               Tandja Mamadou., former president of Niger and Kanuri tribe man.

Marriage (Wedding)
The Kanuri wedding is one event that is colorful and exciting. It is an occasion that brings the people’s culture to life through music, dance and other colorful cultural activities. Living mainly in the large city of Maiduguri, which is the capital of Borno State, North-East Nigeria, the Kanuris are the dominant ethnic group in the state as well as the neighbouring Yobe State.

kwedding 1In Kanuri culture just as in other ethnic groups throughout the world there are norms and values. Even though most of their culture find its origin from the Islamic religion, yet they have a couple of traditions that are peculiar to the tribe. One of such traditions is how they conduct their marriage ceremony.

Marriage being the sacred union between a man and a woman, this for the Kanuris is done at an early age. The men marry in their twenties and the girls in their teens. In accordance with Islamic law, polygyny is permitted and in tandem with Islamic principles they permitted to marry up to four (4) wives and the marriage is effected through a ceremonial event. Concubinage is also practiced, although far less commonly than polygyny. Ideally, married Kanuri women are secluded. This practice is rare in rural areas, where the economic role of women is vital, but it is rather common in large cities, such as Maiduguri.

For men, their first contact with marriage usually takes place at age of about 20, when according to tradition, the groom's parent would marry a young maiden for him. The bride is often between the age of 10 to 14 years. Among the Kanuris, it is preferred for a young man marrying for the very first time to marry a young virgin. That way with women gaining weight quicker and thus ageing faster than the men, that they can easily catch upon the age difference and so both would grow old gracefully together. But marrying a young virgin is a very expensive form of marriage. The North-Eastern people place a high value upon young girls who have never been married before. Since girls of this age have very little, if any, to say in their choice of marital partners, for the suitor to be acceptable to her parents, he must either be a relative, have been known to her family, has established some kind of relationship with one member of her extended family or has taken the trouble to create one between his own family and her’s, most especially her “Luwali”  i.e. guardian, the man is usually responsible for dispensing her marriage rights.

After the groom-to-be has established such a trust and therefore enjoys some level of acceptance from her family, the next step would be for him to intimate his parents so that arrangements would be made by them to formalize his interest in seeking the bride's hand in marriage, thus officially declaring his intention. Here, an elderly man or men from the groom’s side would go and seek for an appointment, thereby fixing a meeting between the two families. Subsequent to which the wedding procedures would then be planned.
Kanuri bride. bellanaija

The major activities that would lead to the marriage union include the following:

1-    Confirming the bride’s consent to the groom (i.e. to send his party to her family)

2-    Fixing a meeting appointment by parents or guardians

3-    Seeking for bride’s hand in marriage by elders. This usually involves presenting a carton of candy, chewing gum and a bag of cola-nuts. After receiving this, the bride's family will then distribute the mixture to relatives and well-wishers.

4-     “Ra'aki” meaning “Declaration of Interest” is a phase where luggages full of clothes, shoes, bags and cosmetics are presented on behalf of the groom to the bride. This task is usually executed by the groom's sisters, female cousins and other relatives. This, again involves presenting another set of candy, chewing gum and cola-nuts to break the engagement news. And it is worthy to note that, at most times the Ra'aki is a half of the “Kususuram” which is the main wedding gifts that are presented to the bride by the groom after the marriage. Thus if the Ra'aki is two boxes, then the Kususuram will be four or more boxes.kwedding 3

5-     The third coming by the groom's relatives would be to discuss and agree on the dowry, which in Kanuri culture is paid in gold coins.

6-     The fourth coming is to fix the date for the wedding, even though in recent times the dowry and the date fixing are merged as one event.
Aisha Mohammed Sheriff & Ibrahim Abdullahi Atta Kalawa  - January 2013 - BellaNaija149
                        Kanuri bride and her family. bellanaija

Among the Kanuris, the marriage dowry is mandatory. This is given by the groom with the help of his paternal relatives to the girl through her “Luwali” or guardian, usually a senior male paternal relative of the bride. If the union is between a non-cousin and a maiden bride, a preliminary payment the “Kwororam” (literally meaning payment for asking the bride’s hand in marriage), is given to the luwali by an intermediary from the groom. This payment is passed on to the bride’s mother or her mother’s senior female relatives living close by. The bride might also get a gift for herself. In the case of a marriage between cousins, this payment is not applicable. The reason for such a waiver is that, for a marriage like that to be conducted within a family, it has since been established and acknowledged, only waiting for the time of its execution. During courtship, money and gifts are often given to the proposed bride by the groom to demonstrate his love and the ability to cater forher financial needs. Now, if the marriage should take place, such presents or gifts are considered as part of goodwill from the groom to his bride. It is however important to note that such graciousnesss are never returned whether the marriage takes or not, most especially in a marriage proposal involving a virgin.
Aisha Mohammed Sheriff & Ibrahim Abdullahi Atta Kalawa  - January 2013 - BellaNaija039
Kanuri wedding bride. bellanaija

If all goes well with the above mentioned steps, the dowry can either be paid immediately during the third coming or it could be paid to the bride's Luwali between one to three months later. Due to the fact that son-in-laws have a shy relationship with his bride’ luwali, intermediaries are used and haggling is often permitted in the situation.

It is not always easy to assess the exact point at which either party to an engagement has legal claims upon the marriage intentions of the other. Most informants agreed that any initiatory payments given prior to the big payment to the girl's luwali (the luwaliram) are not returnable if arrangements break down at this stage. The luwaliram is returnable if the girl or her family back out of the agreement.
Aisha Mohammed Sheriff & Ibrahim Abdullahi Atta Kalawa  - January 2013 - BellaNaija006
                              kanuri bridal maids. bellanaija

As regards the wedding, the main activities start on Thursday with “Nalle or Lalle”. Lalle literally means “Henna”, which is used by the bride and other females in attendance to decorate their hands and legs. This signifies the opening for the wedding events. Here, a sack or two of 50kg of Henna leaves are taken to the bride's residence on a Thursday (usually around 2pm,) a task usually performed by the groom's sisters, cousins and Aunts.kwedding 5

Friday evening (7pm prompt) is the “Wushe-wushe” night. This is a very colorful and exciting event that takes place on the eve of the wedding day usually at the bride's residence.  There is a lot of music and dance performed by everybody, including the aged. The groom is invited to the bride's residence, where he sits on a makeshift throne, alone with his bride before the whole invitees. Usually the male “Lorusa” is accompanied by his friends and relatives. Wushe-wushe is the second most entertaining event of the entire wedding. It is the gala night of the celebrations and lasts all through night till dawn.kwedding 8

Saturday is the D-Day. Usually in the morning between 7-11am, the groom with his friends, relatives and well-wishers converge at a meeting point, from where they go to the bride's residence for the Wedding Fatiha. Here an Imam (Islamic scholar) will preside over the occassion and assisted by other fellow scholars and well wisher would conduct the rites of marriage involving offer and acceptance of the bride’s hand in marriage by their Luwalis, announcement of the dowry paid, witnessing the nuptial union, offering of prayers/supplications and finally declaring them as husband and wife in front of all as witnesses.kwedding 6

From there the groom and his entourage would go to a scheduled venue, where a special reception follows immediately. The whole day is usually filled with joy, feasting and merry-making until about 2:00pm when preparations are made by the groom's aunt to take the “Kususuram” to the bride's residence. The Kususuram as stated earlier is the main gift the groom presents to the bride. And like the ra'aki, it also comes in luggages but is usually twice more than the ra’aki, usually from three (3) upwards depending on the financial status of the groom. In Kanuri culture, the bride's side tends to reciprocate the groom's efforts by also presenting him with gifts of clothes, shoes, perfumes and a lot more. It is this gift the groom shares among his friends, a sort of a "Thank you for being there for me." thing.
Aisha Mohammed Sheriff & Ibrahim Abdullahi Atta Kalawa  - January 2013 - BellaNaija076
                        Kanuri wedding, Nigeria.bellanaija

Sunday morning, which is the penultimate event  witnesses the “Kisai lewa” meaning “Greeting of in-laws”. Here, the groom and selected friends of his go to greet his in-laws, which gives the bride's parents an opportunity to advice the groom about being patient and tolerant with his new bride and so on.

Many people outside the Kanuris are very curious to know; why are gold coins demanded as dowry for a Kanuri bride instead of its cash equivalent? What could be suspecial about Kanuri women to make them so regarded, dignified, so cherished and appreciated?
Aisha Mohammed Sheriff & Ibrahim Abdullahi Atta Kalawa  - January 2013 - BellaNaija093
                            Kanuri wedding. bellanaija

To answer this all important question, one must first understand how the Kanuri people regard their women. To the Kanuris, their women are nugget pearls. They are well brought up religiously, to respect, obey and please their husbands. They are taught the art of creating a conducive home. Kanuri women are so good at being wives, that other women fro mother cultures dread ever having to be married to the same husband in a polygamous setting. Most often she tend to be come the favourite wife of the husband. The Kanuri wife is mostly gorgeous, elegant, beautiful and highly refined with culture.
Aisha Mohammed Sheriff & Ibrahim Abdullahi Atta Kalawa  - January 2013 - BellaNaija133
                              Kanuri wedding tradition. bellanaija

Now, the Kanuri culture is mostly influenced by Islamic traditions and the wedding dowry is not an exception. Islamically, it is ordained that the bride price must be weighed to meet a minimum of ¼ of the gold coin and above. Some give the bride 12 coin of pure gold, others present 18, 24 pieces or even more. And because gold has a universal value and its exchange rate is stable and harmonized throughout the world, the bride price (dowry) of a Kanuri woman is therefore tied to the precious gold and thus she is always justly valued.
Aisha Mohammed Sheriff & Ibrahim Abdullahi Atta Kalawa  - January 2013 - BellaNaija022
                                    Kanuri people. bellanaija
The Kanuri have been Muslims since the eleventh century. Law, education, and social organization are the parts of their culture that have been most affected by Islam. The Malakite version of Islamic law is administered by an alkali (judge) who has been trained at the Kano Law School. Traditional education is in the Quran. Social organization emphasizes the importance of the nuclear family and the supreme authority of the father.

Today Islam is the central ideological force in the daily lives of the Kanuri, affecting the thinking and behavior of the people in every way. The full ritual calendar of the Muslim year is followed, the fast is faithfully kept by all who are required to do so by traditional laws, and the other pillars of Islam are religiously followed by the great majority. Despite the strength of this orthodoxy, a few superimposed superstitious practices, such as the wearing of charms and amulets, are considered by most of the populace as acceptably Islamic. Of the various Sufi brotherhoods in Nigeria, the dominant one in Borno appears to be that of the Tijaniya.

                                 Kanuri kids, Maiduguri

Kanuri Dress
There are several types of Kanuri garments and caps. Sheriff (2004) identified as many as thirty types of garments for the males and eight for the females.
There is a strong contention among the Kanuri people that when one is in Western dress, he is as good as naked. Most Western, or as it is sometimes called, English, dress exposes parts of the body. Many types of garments are tighter and smaller compared to the Kulwu, Gəmaje and
Dankiki of the Kanuri people. According to Baba Liman Amsami, who is about eighty five (85) years old, if a man is not completely dressed in his Kulwu, Gəmaje or Dankiki, Yange, and Zawa, he is considered deviant in Kanuri society.
Furthermore, (1) he is not a trustworthy person, (2) he is not allowed to lead people during the five daily prayers, or any activities for that matter, and (3) such a person is not even allowed to stand in the front row when
performing the five daily prayers. If a person in T-Shirt or a shirt stands in the front row, elders would quickly drag him out or order him back to the last row. One could hear the elders saying:
gəmajenəm ngurnenəmma zaksənyi. ‘Your shirt has not even covered your wrist’. And some often says: Kazəmunəm anyi datəbewonya ngutəbe gənyi. Abinəmma gəraata bade. ‘Your clothes are not for you to just keep standing but for prostration. Your whole body is exposed. Our observations in a mosque situated in Mairi village, near Gate Four, University of Maiduguri, for a good nine calendar months ‘Between’ 28th January, 2009 to 2nd October, 2009 have confirmed such an attitude among the Kanuri people.

The Male Garments
Four major types of traditional Kanuri male garments are worn. These are the Kulwu, Gəmaje Dankiki (the Hausas have ‘yar ciki’ which is of the same type and use as the Kanuris) and Yange. Under each are several sub-types, some of which, as rightly observed in Sheriff (2004), are: Kulwu Kajibe. Kulwu Kajibe is a type of hand made Kanuri gown made of strips of gawaa. It is heavy and very strong.
Kororopci. The Kororopci type of Kanuri gown is black and shiny, and can be worn by all persons.
Kulwu Nashibe. A light blue gown. Any one who wears it notices his body, especially his arms, coloured by the indigo from the gown.
Təwuski. A type of gown with round neck and two pockets in front.
Kulwu indi dawu tiloa. This is a double gown with a single neck, worn on social occasions.
Kulwu Dawungasho. This type of gown derives its name from the style of dying. It is dyed to resemble the two-colour shape of the neck of a stork.
The Gəmaje. This is a kind of dress (mufti) that covers from the neck to the shin. Like the Kulwu or gown, Gəmaje are also of different types in Kanuri. Some of these are: gəmaje ambuka, gəmaje diwadiwa, gəmaje səre, etc. Both Gəmaje ambuka and Diwadiwa have long sleeves covering the wrists. Their difference lies in the end of the sleeves. For the ambuka, the end of the sleeve holds tightly to the wrist with buttons or clips, while the sleeve of the Diwadiwa is flat. The səre is a double garment. It has one neck. Preferably, the inner one could be plain cloth and the one on top a decorative fabric.
The Dankiki. Described as a sleeveless Kanuri traditional garment. It is distinguished from other Kanuri garments by its sides always being half open, like a window without cover. Like the Kulwu and Gəmaje, Dankiki are seen in several types, some of which are Dankiki kumbam and Dankiki janaaa. They are distinguished by their decorations and style of sewing.
The Yange: The word Yange is generally translated as ‘trousers’. Traditional Kanuri trousers are
exceptionally large. They are made up of at least four to six yards of a fabric and worn without pants. Two types of trousers are identified, namely yange dərwali and yange cirtanaa, which are distinguished by the type of embroidery used on them. The cirtanaa type has beautiful embroidery made on the lower end of the leg with a thread called cirtana, while the dərwali type has no embroidery made on it. It is a plain and flat trouser. 


  1. Exactly the blog I am looking for... and you really surprised me in this post as a Sudanese with mixed ancestors of Hausa Fulani and Kanuri as well.
    we have been debating about appearance of Sudanese people whom I dentify themselves as a certain ethnicity while other refer them to one or mixture of the (tri-tribal) amalgamation or at least to be among others the composition of that current Sudanese blood. Here I am not about whom I identify themselves as Hausa/Fulani/Kanuri together or alone.
    some contributes have shown photos of different Nigerian people pointing to some similarities between them and large group of Sudanese not identified of course as people have relations with them/
    this very post would be astonishing if not shocking for both contribute of that online debate and for readers of blogs and forums contain that as well.
    Thanks a lot I should have a cup of coffee. did deep into your blog a lot here will realty satisfy my crasy eagerness of reading

  2. Hello again Mr. Kweudee, Something was a bit hard to swallow for me. I feel that as is some confusion happened to you.. The people with cows and bride, are you they are Kanuri or Fulani, might you understood something wrong, the bride is Aisha Abdullahi Northern Nigeria

    1. As most Africans are aware Kanuri ethnicity is very different from the tall Fulani people also called Bororo. Hausa are different than both of these though Fulani and Hausas have long intermingled with each other. Kanuri are also mixed with Hausa and Tuareg as seen in this blogpost.


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