Culture, Traditions, History and Origin of Borno

Nuelson Penuel Friday, February 16, 2024 Basis



Borno State, located in northeastern Nigeria, has a fascinating history that dates back centuries. This blog post aims to delve into the historical origins of Borno State, exploring the ancient empires that once thrived in the region, shaping its culture and heritage.

The Kanem Empire:

The history of Borno State begins with the rise of the Kanem Empire in the 9th century. The empire was established by the Sefuwa Dynasty, a powerful ruling family that brought together various tribes under their leadership. The Kanem Empire flourished as a trade hub, benefiting from its strategic location between the Sahara Desert and the savannah region. The empire's capital, Njimi, served as a center for Islamic scholarship, commerce, and governance. The influence of Islam in the empire contributed to the development of a unique Kanuri culture that still permeates the region today.

The Kanem-Borno Empire:

In the 13th century, the Kanem Empire merged with the Borno Kingdom, forming the Kanem-Borno Empire. Under the rule of Mai Idris Alooma, the empire reached its zenith in the 14th century. Mai Alooma introduced military innovations, expanded the empire's territories, and established a well-structured administration that solidified its power. The empire was known for its economic prosperity, agricultural innovations, and a renowned palace at Ngazargamu, which became the center of government and served as a cultural and intellectual hub.

European Exploration and Colonization:

In the 19th century, European explorers, including British and German missionaries and traders, began to venture into Borno State. The region experienced external influences, such as the establishment of Christian missions and European trade networks. Borno State became part of the British protectorate in Nigeria and later joined the Federation of Nigeria upon independence in 1960.

Independence and Creation of Borno State

After Nigeria gained independence from British colonial rule on October 1, 1960, the country faced the challenge of governing and managing its diverse regions. The initial regional division was based on cultural and administrative considerations to ensure effective governance. However, there were still calls for further reorganization to better represent the varied needs and interests of different regions. The creation of states in Nigeria gained momentum in the late 1960s as a means to enhance local administration and development. This was spurred by various factors such as the need for equitable distribution of resources, ethnic and cultural representation, and efficient governance. In response to these demands, a commission was set up in 1967, led by Chief F.J. Nwokedi, to assess and recommend the creation of new states. The commission conducted a thorough study, considering factors such as population density, ethnic composition, economic viability, and geographical contiguity. On May 27, 1967, General Yakubu Gowon, the then Head of State, announced the creation of 12 states in Nigeria. These new states aimed to address the socio-political and economic imbalances while promoting regional autonomy. One of the states created was the North-Eastern State, which encompassed a large portion of what is now modern-day Borno State. The North-Eastern State comprised the regions of Bornu, Adamawa, and Sardauna provinces. However, the people of the Bornu region felt a need for their own distinct representation and administration. This led to continued agitation for the creation of an independent state for the Bornu people. Eventually, on February 3, 1976, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who was the Head of State at the time, announced the creation of seven new states in Nigeria. One of these states was Borno State, carved out of the former North-Eastern State. Borno State became an entity in its own right, with Maiduguri as its capital. This decision was made to ensure effective governance, promote local development, and address the unique interests and aspirations of the people in the Bornu region.

Islamic Influence and Scholarship:

Islam played a significant role in the history and culture of Borno State. The arrival of Arab traders and scholars from North Africa brought Islamic teachings, customs, and governance to the region. The Kanem-Borno Empire embraced Islam and developed an Islamic legal system that coexisted with traditional practices. Islamic scholarship thrived in Borno State, attracting scholars from neighboring regions and establishing Borno as a center of Islamic learning.

Modern Challenges and Resilience:

Despite its illustrious past, Borno State faces various challenges in the present. The rise of Boko Haram, an extremist group, has led to widespread insecurity and displacement of communities. It is crucial to acknowledge the resilience of the people of Borno State as they strive to overcome these challenges, rebuild their communities, and preserve their cultural heritage.

Borno People Language

The main language spoken in Borno State is Kanuri. Kanuri is a West Saharan language and is part of the Nilo-Saharan language family. It is spoken not only in Borno State but also in parts of neighboring states and even across the border into Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. Kanuri is widely used in everyday communication, commerce, and administration in the state. Apart from Kanuri, other major languages spoken in Borno State include: 1. Fulfulde: This language is spoken by the Fulani ethnic group, who are primarily nomadic pastoralists. Fulfulde is widely spoken across different regions of Nigeria and is also used within the Fulani community in Borno State. 2. Hausa: Hausa is a widely spoken language in Nigeria and serves as a lingua franca for communication between different ethnic groups. It is also spoken by a significant population in Borno State. 3. Marghi: The Marghi ethnic group has its own language, also called Marghi. It is spoken by the Marghi people who predominantly reside in the southern part of Borno State. 4. Shuwa Arabic: The Shuwa Arab people have their own distinct variety of Arabic, known as Shuwa Arabic. It is influenced by the local Kanuri language and is spoken by the Shuwa Arab community in Borno State.


As of the most recent estimates, Borno State has a population of approximately 7.8 million people. The population of the state has been growing steadily over the years, fueled by factors such as natural population growth and migration from other parts of Nigeria and neighboring countries.

Custom and Traditions

The people of Borno, primarily comprised of the Kanuri ethnic group, have a rich cultural heritage with unique customs and traditions that have been passed down through generations. These customs and traditions play a significant role in shaping their way of life, social interactions, and celebrations. Here are some key aspects of the customs and traditions of the Borno people: 1. Traditional Dress: The traditional attire of the Borno people consists of flowing robes called "babban riga" for men and "zanna" for women. These robes are typically made from colorful and intricately designed fabric, often adorned with embroidery or embellishments. They also wear traditional caps, known as "fula" or "gele", along with matching accessories. 2. Courtship and Marriage: Courtship in Borno culture involves various traditional practices, including the exchange of gifts and dowry negotiations between families. Marriage ceremonies are grand affairs, with elaborate celebrations that include traditional dances, music, and feasting. Polygamy is common in Borno society, and marriages are often arranged by parents. 3. Social Hierarchy and Protocol: The Borno society follows a hierarchical structure, with a strong emphasis on respect for elders and authority figures. Elders are revered and their wisdom is highly regarded. Proper greetings and protocol are essential in social interactions, with individuals expected to show deference to those of higher social status. 4. Festivals and Celebrations: Borno people celebrate several cultural festivals throughout the year. One of the most prominent is the Durbar festival, which is held after the Islamic festival of Eid-el-Fitr. During this festival, the Kanuri horsemen showcase their riding skills and perform traditional military maneuvers, accompanied by music, dance, and colorful costumes. 5. Music and Dance: Music and dance are an integral part of Borno culture and play a significant role in various social gatherings and celebrations. Traditional musical instruments like the kakaki (a long trumpet), the kutangufu (a type of drum), and the kuka (a small xylophone) are commonly used. Traditional dances such as the shicirka and hajjama are performed during special occasions. 6. Cuisine: The Borno people have a distinct culinary tradition. A staple food is tuwo, which is a thick porridge made from grains like millet or cornmeal. It is typically served with various flavorful soups, such as miya kuka (made with dry powdered baobab leaves) or miya gazawa (made with spinach). Traditional snacks like kosai (bean cakes) and masa (rice cakes) are also popular. 7. Art and Craftsmanship: Borno is known for its skilled craftsmen and artisans. Traditional crafts include leatherwork, pottery, weaving, and embroidery. Intricate designs and patterns can be seen in their artwork, adding beauty and cultural significance.

Land Mark

Borno State in Nigeria is home to several notable landmarks that hold historical, cultural, and natural significance. Here are some prominent landmarks in Borno State: 1. Shehu's Palace: Located in the heart of Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State, Shehu's Palace is the official residence of the Shehu (traditional ruler) of Borno. This palace, with its impressive architecture and historical value, represents the traditional authority and cultural heritage of the Borno people. 2. Lake Chad: Borno State shares a border with Lake Chad, the largest lake in the Sahel region. The lake is a vital water source for the region and supports an ecosystem rich in biodiversity. It is a significant natural landmark, attracting tourists and serving as a fishing and trading hub for local communities. 3. Kanem-Borno Empire Ruins: The Kanem-Borno Empire was a medieval empire that existed in present-day Borno State and surrounding regions. The ruins of its former capital, Ngazargamu, are archaeological sites that provide insights into the history and civilization of this once influential empire. 4. Maiduguri Monday Market: Known as the largest traditional market in West Africa, the Maiduguri Monday Market is a bustling hub of commerce. It offers a vibrant atmosphere filled with various goods such as textiles, spices, local crafts, and agricultural products. The market is an essential economic landmark and a center of cultural exchange. 5. University of Maiduguri: The University of Maiduguri is a renowned educational institution located in Maiduguri. It serves as a landmark in the field of higher education, offering a wide range of academic programs and fostering research and intellectual development in the region. 6. Gashaka-Gumti National Park: Although not directly in Borno State but adjacent to it, Gashaka-Gumti National Park is one of the largest national parks in Nigeria. It covers parts of Borno, Taraba, and Adamawa states. The park is a landmark for biodiversity conservation, housing a diverse range of flora and fauna and providing opportunities for wildlife viewing and ecotourism.


Borno State in Nigeria is bordered by several states and countries. Here are the boundaries of Borno State: 1. Niger State: Borno State shares a border with Niger State to the west. The boundary between the two states is marked by a line running approximately from the northwest to the southeast. 2. Yobe State: Borno State borders Yobe State to the northeast. The boundary between the two states is primarily delineated by the Komadugu Yobe River, which flows from northeast to southwest. 3. Bauchi State: Borno State shares a short border with Bauchi State to the southeast. The precise boundary line between the two states is delineated. 4. Gombe State: Borno State has a boundary with Gombe State to the south. The exact boundary line is delineated and varies in certain areas. 5. Cameroon: Borno State shares an international border with the Republic of Cameroon to the east. The boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon in this region is delineated and marked by border posts and checkpoints.

Ethnic Groups

Borno State is home to various ethnic groups, each with its unique cultural heritage and languages. The major ethnic groups in Borno State include: 1. Kanuri: The Kanuri people are the largest ethnic group in Borno State and are predominantly found in the northern and central parts of the state. They have a distinct language called Kanuri and are known for their rich cultural traditions, including music, dance, and arts. 2. Fulani: The Fulani people, also known as Fulbe, are primarily nomadic pastoralists and can be found across many parts of Nigeria, including Borno State. They are known for their cattle-rearing and tend to move around in search of grazing lands. The Fulani language, known as Fulfulde, is widely spoken among the Fulani community. 3. Shuwa Arab: The Shuwa Arab people are a sub-ethnic group found in Borno State. They have a mixed heritage of Arabic and African cultures. They primarily inhabit the northeastern part of the state and maintain their distinct language and cultural customs. 4. Marghi: The Marghi people are found in both Borno and Adamawa States. They occupy the southern part of Borno State and have their own language and customs. 5. Babur: The Babur people are primarily found in the southern part of Borno State, close to the border with Cameroon. They have a distinct language called Babur-Bura and are known for their agricultural practices and cultural traditions.

Economic Activities

The economic of Borno State is primarily based on agriculture and trade. The state has a rich agricultural sector, with crops such as sorghum, millet, maize, rice, wheat, vegetables, and fruits being cultivated. Livestock rearing, including cattle, sheep, and goats, is also an important activity in the state. Trade also plays a significant role in the economy of Borno State. The capital city, Maiduguri, serves as a major trading hub in the northeast region of Nigeria. The city's markets, such as the Baga Road Market and the Monday Market, attract traders from within and outside the state. These markets deal in various commodities, including foodstuffs, clothing, household items, and livestock. Borno State is also known for its artisanal industries, such as weaving, pottery, leatherwork, and metalwork. These industries provide employment opportunities and contribute to the local economy. However, the ongoing insurgency by Boko Haram has severely impacted economic activities in Borno State. The security challenges have disrupted farming activities, led to the displacement of people, and caused the closure of many businesses. This has resulted in a decline in agricultural production and a significant decrease in trade and commerce. Efforts are being made by the government and international organizations to revitalize the economy of Borno State and provide support to farmers, entrepreneurs, and traders affected by the insurgency. These initiatives aim to diversify the economy, improve infrastructure, promote entrepreneurship, and provide vocational training to create employment opportunities and stimulate economic growth in the state.

Wrapping up:

Borno State's history is woven with the threads of ancient empires, Islamic influence, European exploration, and modern challenges. The region's heritage is a testament to the resilience and rich cultural tapestry of its people. By understanding and appreciating the historical background of Borno State, we gain insights into its cultural diversity, traditions, and the challenges it faces. It is essential to promote stability, security, and economic development while preserving the historical significance that has shaped Borno State into the vibrant region it is today.

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