Kanembu People



The Kanembu are an ethnic group living mainly in Chad, but also in Nigeria and Niger.

Globally, this group totals 1,146,800 in 3 countries. (Peoplegroups.org, 2924)

The Kanembus ofg Chad live in Kanem Province. They are concentrated on the northern shore of Lake Chad and in and around the city of Mao. The Kanembu region then extends north to Chitati and south into northern Nigeria and Niger.

Kanembu People

They are closely related to the Tebu groups of the Sahel and Sahara.

The Kanembus claim that they originated with Tubba Lawal, an Arab leader who was converted to Islam by the Prophet Mohammed.



The Kanembu language is part of the cluster of Eastern Saharan languages. They speak the Kanembu language, which the Kanuri language is closely related to, with many speaking Arabic and sometimes nowadays French as a second language.



The word Kanembu means "the people [bu] of Kanem.



The Kanembu are Chad's merchant tribe. 75 to 80% of all merchants in Chad are Kanembu, making them, one of Chad's wealthiest groups. They are a sedentary group who also engage in agriculture and raising livestock. Wheat, millet and corn are raised near the lake, but as the country is landlocked and has a poor road system, little agricultural trade has developed. As they live on the edge of the Sahara, famine is also a frequent threat to them with rain only coming during July, August and part of September.



The Kanembus are divided into dozens of subgroups based on lineages; those groups include the Dalatoa around Mao, the Kadjiji around Bol, the Ngigim near Dininentchi, the Ngaltuku near Ngelea, the Kubri near Liwa, the Tumagri near Ngigmi in Niger, and the Magimi across the border in Nigeria.



Most Kanembus are farmers and herders. Those living in the northern reaches of Kanembu territory are a semi-nomadic people, herding their cattle to pasture, while the central and southern Kanembus are settled farmers, raising livestock and millet. The Kanembus living near Lake Chad are also fishermen. Because of the isolation of the regiĆ³n and the lack of good roads, the Kanembu economy remains highly localized.



According to one study, just one (R1b) Y-DNA haplogroup brougt by Baggara Arabs makes up 50% of the Kanembu.



For over a thousand years the Kanem-Bornu Empire was a dominant power over central North Africa. Its sphere of influence covered Eastern Nigeria and Niger, the Northern half of Chad, Cameroon, and Libya. Its inhabitants traded with Egypt and sponsored Islamic schools as far as Alexandria. Its camel caravans reached the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Until the beginning of the 1900s and the French conquest of this area, the Kanem-Bornu Empire was the major power in the heart of central North Africa.

At the end of the twelfth century, the Kanembu moved into what is today Kanem Prefecture. They gradually became sedentary and established a capital at Njimi; at the same time, they continued military expansion establishing the Kanem Empire. The peak of this early kingdom came with the rule of Mai (King) Dunama Dabbalemi of the Sayfawa dynasty, who reigned from 1221 to 1259. He was the first of the Kanembu to convert to Islam, he declared jihad against the surrounding tribes and initiated an extended period of conquest. After consolidating their territory around Lake Chad they struck north at the Fezzan and west at the Hausa lands.

By the end of the fourteenth century, however, internal division had severely weakened the Kanem empire, forcing the Sayfawa dynasty to relocate to Borno on the western shore of Lake Chad. The intermarriage of the Kanem with the local people of this area created a new ethnic group, the Kanuri; the Kanembu retain close family ties with the Kanuri to this day.

Today the Kanembu people are one group of the descendants of this once highly successful empire, and their sultans and traditional rulers are still more influential than government authorities. Along with the related language group Kanuri, they make up the majority population found in a band between the Northern shores of Lake Chad and the Sahara Desert. Their culture of housing and clothing hasn't changed much since the imperial period.