Bassari people



The Bassari people are an African people living in Senegal, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. The total population is between 10,000 and 30,000. Most of the Bassari are concentrated on either side of the Senegal-Guinea border southwest of Kedougou, Kédougou Region. This areas is referred to in French as Pays Bassari, or liyan in the Bassari language.

The Bassari speak a Tenda language, o-niyan. They refer to themselves as a-liyan, pl. bi-liyan. Most of the group are animists, with a significant minority of Christians (both Catholic and Protestant). Very few Bassari are Muslims. They have close relations with the Fula people centered locally in the nearby hills of the Fouta Djallon.

The Bassari are subsistence farmers for the most part, growing rice, millet, earth-peas and fonio. They also migrate to the cities and towns of Senegal and Guinea in the dry season in search of wage-labor, using the money they earn to buy household equipment, clothing and other necessary items.

The mythology of the Bassari is centered on the creation god Unumbotte


The Bassari people of Senegal are located in Southeast, Upper Casamance, Eden area; border areas, Kedougou, Tambacounda (Source: Ethnologue 2010).

In senegal, the territory inhabited by the Bassari is administratively classified as the Région de Tambacounda, Département de Kédougou, Arrondissement de Salémata.

Since the late 1950s, the Bassari have been migrating to large cities in Senegal, including Kédougou and Tambacounda. Some Bassari people have lived in these cities for a long time.

In Guinea, they are located in the Koundara region and around Youkounkoun, extending to the border of Senegal. Bassari in Guinea Bissau are mostly located in the northeast of the country whilst some aggregate portion also resides in the Gambia and Mauritania.


Bassari people speaks a Tenda language known as Oniyan (Onian, Onëyan, Ayan, Biyan, Wo). It is a Senegambian language which belongs to the larger Niger-Congo language group. Bassari is spoken in Senegal, Guinea, Guinea Bissau and in some parts of the Gambia and Mauritania.



The Bassari arrived in their area of occupation between the 11th and 19th centuries, establishing their settlements in the hills. Judging from their name "basa" which means "They are lizards," given to them by Manding people in an answer to Fulani peoples` query, one can clearly make a deduction that the Bassari came to meet these two tribes as well as other Tenda people.

Oral history amongst Bassari claim that the Bunang are considered the oldest nung (family). People say that the Bunang own all Bassari land. some also fear the Bunang, who they believe possess supernatural powers.

The bassari settlements on the hills provided defensible vantage points overlooking the plains below, and were made up of groups of circular thatched huts congregated around a central space. The area remains remote and many of the cultural adaptations of the people, including their agro-pastoral, social, ritual, and spiritual practices, persist to this day.



Bassari are cultivators! They are agro-pastoralist. they are farmers. They grow a variety of crops, using very basic tools. Their staple crops are millets degaf (Sorghum vulgare), earthpeas (also called Bambara groundnut) uyal (Voandzeia subterranea), peanuts utika (Arachis hypogaea), corn maka (Zea maïs), rice malu (Oryza sativa), fonio millet funyan (Digitaria exilis) and manioc.

 However, squash, melons, sweet potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes are also grown. Major tree crops include bananas, coconuts, mangoes, and papayas. They raise cattle, sheep, and goats but do not use their milk.

Dogs and chickens are seen in almost every village. They also engage in fishing, hunting, and beekeeping, among other activities. Hunting is of less importance than agriculture, but there is considerable gathering of wild fruits and roots, berries, and nuts (kola, shea, and palm).


Socio-political structure and culture

They live in extended family compounds, each consisting of a cluster of huts usually arranged in a circle around an open space. Often, the entire compound is surrounded by a fence, a hedge, or a wall.

The compounds usually adjoin to form compact villages. In general, the dwellings are round with mud walls and cone-shaped, thatched roofs. However, many local variations exist.

In the community men hunt, fish, clear the land, and tend the cattle. The women do the gathering and help in the agricultural work. Chiefs exercise political authority in the villages. Succession usually passes to the next brother or to the oldest son of the deceased chief's oldest sister.

Circumcision of males is practiced and some female circumcision is also continued. These practices are mainly associated with initiation ceremonies at puberty, and typically involve a period of instruction in an isolated "bush school."

They tolerate premarital sexual freedom for girls and prefer cousins as marriage partners. A bride-price in livestock, commonly pigs, is paid, and often, premarital bride-service is also required. Polygyny (having more than one wife) occurs to only a limited extent. In such cases, however, each wife has her own hut, and the husband spends a fixed period with each on a rotation basis.