Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Kanuri constitute the largest population of Borno state in northeastern Nigeria. They are also found in large numbers in southeastern Niger. The Kanuri language belongs to the Saharan branch of the Nilo-Saharan family. Kanuri are the descendants of the ruling Saifawa family of the Kanem Empire (846-1893) which controlled trade routes linking North and West Africa. They converted to Islam in 1087. The Kanuri are primarily sedentary hoe agriculturalists, although today many work in commerce, transportation, and construction sectors, as well as in government and public-service jobs.


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Africa --Western Africa




OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and the eHRAF document number.

The Kanuri file consists of eleven works, nine of them by the ethnographer Ronald Cohen. Cohen wrote the classic monograph on the Kanuri (Cohen 1967, no. 1), as well as, articles on various aspects of their culture and history, including sociopolitical organization (1960, no. 3), attempts to change agricultural practices (1961, no. 4), nineteenth century political economy (1965, no. 8), marriage instability (1961, no. 10; 1971, no. 6), kingship (1968, no. 9), processes of political incorporation (1970, no. 11), and status distinctions and social stratification (1970, no. 12). Rosman (1962, no. 2) has written on the relationship between acculturation and social structure among urban Kanuri. Peshkin (1972, no. 7) wrote about the affect of Western-style education on social change in rural and urban Borno. The file is strong on Kanuri social and political organization up to the 1960s, while it is less so on religion, arts and recent social change between 1970 and the 1990s. For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary was based on the article, "Kanuri," by Martin J. Malone, in Sixty Cultures: A Guide to the HRAF Probability Files. 1977. Robert O. Lagacé, ed. New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files, Inc. The sections on commercial activities, trade, division of labor, land tenure, political organization, conflict, religious practitioners, ceremonies, arts, medicines, and death and afterlife were added by Ian Skoggard, 1996.

ABBA NJIMA--patron--571

ARZIYI--good fortune--777

BARZUM (BERZUM)--discipline-respect--577, 571

DANDAL--main street--363

LUWALI--marriage ward--583, 429

MALLAM (MALAM)--Islamic teacher and ritual specialist--793

SHARI'A--Islamic law--671, 779

SADAQ (SADA'A)--bride price--583

TATA NJIMA--client--571

WAZIRI--chief minister--645

ZOWER--divorced woman--586, 589

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