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Kanuri people gather to promote their culture, unity, peace, history, traditions and language

9 January 2023
Reading time: 6 minutes

High-profile personalities, traditional leaders and citizens gathered in Maiduguri on Saturday, December 31, to attend the annual Kanuriya Dineya, an event to promote the culture, unity, peace, history, traditions and language of the Kanuri people.

Visitors from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and the Benin Republic joined Nigerians at the gathering.

The Shehu of Borno State, Abubakar Umar Shehu Garbai El-Kanemi, was among those present.

Attendees told RNI that it was a significant event aimed at bringing the Kanuri people together to uphold and preserve their heritage. The Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS), better known as Boko Haram, insurgency had put a stop to what had always been an annual event.

Dr Bulama Abbagana, the president of Kanem-Bornu from Damagaram in Niger, said: “I am very happy to be here with my brothers and sisters – this is a special opportunity to bring the Kanuri people together.

“I am grateful to His Royal Highness, the Shehu, and the people of Borno State for the warm reception and the hospitality. I hope I see many more gatherings of this sort in my lifetime. We should not allow artificial boundaries to divide the unity of our people. Political boundaries are nothing; we are one big Kanuri family and we must work hard to ensure peace, love and unity among all the Kanuri people around the world.

“I am very optimistic that if the Kanuri people are fully united, we will reclaim our lost glories and we will be stronger than ever before,” Abbagana said.

Aboubakar Kattima Usman from Chad said: “I am a senior police officer in the Republic of Chad. During the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency in Chad, many of our people suffered a lot. They were detained, killed or went missing, never to be seen again.

“Once you were identified as a Kanuri person, you were in big trouble. It got to the point when people couldn’t identify themselves as being Kanuri. It was a very difficult time for us. But, even then, I stood up for Kanuri people in Chad. I freed more than 200 of our people who were in detention and today I am very proud that things have changed for the better. I am and always will be there for the Kanuri people.”

Alhaji Abba Mahamat, the president of the Kanuri Development Association in Cameroon, said: “I am delighted to be here in Borno State today. Borno is the home of all Kanuri people around the world. I urge everyone to enrol their kids in Western schools because that is the only way to stop the spread of extremist ideologies.

“As Kanuri people, we have always been known for our Islamic education but that’s not enough in the contemporary world. The growth of the Boko Haram insurgency was a result of the low number of our people who attended Western schools. Now it is imperative for all our children to be enrolled in Western education schools so that we can compete anywhere in the world.”

Mahamat said Borno State was the custodian and the foundation of Kanuri people worldwide. “If the foundation is not solid enough, it becomes useless. I urge the public to ensure a solid foundation.”

Dr Babakura Mamman Gadai, spokesman of Borno Emirate Concerned Citizens Forum, blamed colonialism for the breakdown of the Kanuri people, saying it had created a huge vacuum and had divided people putting artificial boundaries in the way.

“But we believe that by coming together from across nations this will be the starting point for harnessing and promoting Kanuri heritage around the world.

“Colonialism, the insurgency and neglect of our traditions have contributed to the lost glory of the culture as recorded in history.

“Because Boko Haram started in Borno State, Kanuri people were sidelined because they were believed to be members of Boko Haram. No Kanuri should feel intimidated by that statement because it is a generalisation and it is dangerous.

“I call on local and traditional leaders to join hands and ensure peace is brought back in our society. We have natural resources, our traditions teach us unity and our system embraced such. I call on the public to come together and do away with the ideology of violent extremism because peace is all we need.”

Professor Khalifa Dikwa, the dean of the Borno Elders Forum, said that it was during the colonial era when Arabic and English powers took over that the culture of the Kanuri people first became degraded, adding that this had caused a setback in the way Kanuri people were regarded and had changed the way many people lived.

“Now, credence should be given to the Kanuri language. Teaching and learning should be promoted and encouraged. The media must play a greater role, too, to improve the Kanuri heritage by researching, developing and publishing the works of our intellectuals, who have great knowledge about our culture and our heritage. This will help to make us a more cohesive group and will promote unity and peace.”

He praised Radio Ndarason for promoting the heritage of Kanuri people within the Lake Chad region and promoting peaceful coexistence.

Dikwa said the dignity of the Kanem-Bornu Empire should be preserved and called on Kanuri people not to allow others with negative intentions to weaken the group’s heritage.

“We commend the efforts made by the federal and Borno State governments and the Nigerian Army in their fight against the insurgency within the Lake Chad region and for restoring the peace and glory of the Kanuri people. We have high hopes that very soon the violence will be over and peace will reign again.”

  • According to Countries and their Cultures, contemporary Kanuri people are the descendants of the ruling Saifawa family of the Kanem Empire. As a result of civil war, this family left Kanem in the 14th century and, after nearly a century of internal strife, established a new empire southwest of Lake Chad.

This empire was and is known as Bornu, although Borno is now its official name. The area to which the Saifawa moved was inhabited by various peoples about whom little is known. Now they are known collectively as the Sayf – reputedly a race of giants.

For a period of several centuries, the efforts of the Saifawa to consolidate their power and expand their kingdom’s boundaries led to the incorporation of many distinctive groups within Kanuri society. This process has not ended. Intermarriage, commerce, politics and other factors have combined to produce a people who are culturally heterogeneous.

The Kanuri have had a strong influence on surrounding peoples, which include the Budum of Lake Chad, the Mandara and Kotoko (or Mogori) who live southeast of the Kanuri, the Marghi of the Damboa district, the Babur in the hills south of the Kanuri, the Bolewa in the southwest of the Kanuri and the Bede of Gashua, within the Kanuri territory. All of these groups have acquired various aspects of Kanuri culture, mainly the Kanuri language and Islam.


About the author

Aisha Sd Jamal