Unreached People of the Day: Kanuri, Yerwa, Beriberi of Nigeria
Introduction / History
The Kanuri tribes consist of the Yerwa Kanuri, the Manga Kanuri, and several other sub-tribes. The majority of the Kanuri live in the Borno province of northeastern Nigeria, where they are the dominant people group. They are also located in the countries of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, and areas around Lake Chad. This region was once the powerful Borno Empire, ruled by the ancestors of the Kanuri. Others can be found in western Sudan.
The Kanuri began losing power in this region when the British took control in 1914. Nevertheless, they have remained politically active and still have much influence on the surrounding people groups. In fact, aspects of Kanuri culture, language, and religion have been adopted by many of the neighboring tribes.
The Kanuri are tall and very dark in appearance, with a stately, dignified look. This signifies their pride and appreciation for their past as rulers, as well as their present position of leadership and influence. Many Kanuri speak Hausa, Arabic, or another area language in addition to Kanuri.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Kanuri are farmers; however, they usually practice some other occupation during the dry season. Those who farm raise millet as their staple crop, and supplement it with sorghum, corn, and peanuts. They raise sheep, goats, and some horses. Among the Kanuri, horses are a symbol of prestige.
The Kanuri who live in cities are involved in government jobs, public service, construction, transportation, and commerce. The Kanuri who have occupations that are related to politics or religion have a very high social status; whereas, those who work as blacksmiths, well-diggers, or butchers have a low social status. The majority of the Kanuri, however, are farmers, craftsmen, and merchants.
Kanuri settlements vary in size; but most contain walled-in compounds surrounding several mud or grass houses with thatched, cone-shaped roofs. These houses are very cool during the hot months. Farmland surrounds each settlement.
Towns serve as local markets and administrative centers for the Kanuri. They contain a local school and mosque. Attached to the mosque are smaller schools for religious teachings.
The household (not the family itself) is an important economic unit to the Kanuri. The greater the number in a family, the more prestige the family head is given. For this reason young men are often “loaned” to households to help with field labor, to provide support, and to help in defending the family. In return, the head of the household will clothe the young man, feed him, pay his bride price, and possibly provide a bride for him. At that time, he will leave and start his own household. This type of relationship is widespread in Kanuri society. It is similar to the father-son relationship in that supreme loyalty and respect is given to the head of the household at all times.
Like most children, the young Kanuri children often play games with each other. Even before puberty, children learn the roles they will take on when they reach maturity.
Kanuri men marry while they are in their early twenties. Polygamy is common and a man may have as many as four wives. Young girls marry while they are in their teens. Ideally, a man wants his first wife to be a young virgin. However, the bride price for a virgin is quite expensive, so men often take divorced women as their first wives. The divorce rate among the Kanuri is extremely high, with eight out of ten marriages ending in divorce.
The traditional Kanuri dress consists of large robe-type garments that are worn with turbans or brightly embroidered caps. The large robes provide protection from the consistent heat. This attire is never worn while working out in the fields, but rather at festivals and Islamic ceremonies.
What are their beliefs?
The Kanuri have been Muslims since the eleventh century. The Koran emphasizes the importance of the family and the supreme authority of the father. Women are considered inferior to men in the Islamic scriptures, and are treated as such in Kanuri society.
Some superstitions are still practiced in conjunction with Islam. Charms and amulets are worn around the neck or in pockets for various reasons. There is a charm to ensure a good pregnancy for a mother. There is also one to keep the ghost of the dead from haunting its descendants.
What are their needs?
Among the nearly five million Kanuri, there are several thousand known believers, mostly among the Ngizim. Additional Christian materials and laborers are desperately needed.
* Ask God to call people who are willing to go to Africa and share the love of Jesus with the Kanuri.
* Pray that God will use the small number of Kanuri believers to share the Gospel with their friends and families.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Kanuri towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through intercession.
* Pray that God will grant favor to the missions agencies that are currently ministering to the Kanuri.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Kanuri.
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