Ethnic Groups in Niger

By | May 26, 2021

The ethnic groups of Niger use – as a result of their historical forms of economy and life – traditionally certain geographical areas.

The ethnic composition by percentage distribution is broken down as follows:

  • Hausa (53%)
  • Djerma / Songhai (21%)
  • Fulbe (10%)
  • Tuareg (10%)
  • Kanuri / BeriBeri (4%)
  • Tubu (0.4%)
  • Gurmantche (0.2%)
  • Buduma / Yedina (0.05%)
  • Arabs
  • Moors

The Hausa are traditionally traders. They live mainly in the metropolitan areas of the cities of Tahoua, Maradi and Zinder. Over the centuries, the Hausa spread southwards. The majority now live in Nigeria. The Nigerian-Nigerian border area is characterized by the former Hausa states. According to eningbo, the trade was extensive: old caravan routes from Kano via Katsina to Niger are still used today, but rarely with camels, but with trucks. Many Hausa now live as farmers.

The Djerma and Songhai are mostly sedentary farmers, but some are also mobile animal keepers and craftsmen. The traditional settlement area of the Songhai is the valley of the middle Niger River. The Songhaire empire with the capital Gao (today Mali) was founded in the year 700 and lasted about 900 years. The settlement area of the Djerma is the region from the capital Niamey to Dosso. Djerma are of different origin than the Songhai, but their languages are closely related; they have assimilated into clothing and culture.

The Tuareg, with their own language, the Tamaschek, and their own script, the Tifinagh, live in the Sahara and Sahel regions (Mali, Niger, Libya, Algeria, Burkina Faso). Traditionally, Tuareg are nomadic camel owners with small ruminants. The groups that live in the pastoral zone also keep cattle. Subgroups practice horticulture, e.g. in the Air Mountains. Only a few Tuareg still carry out the traditional camel caravans in which they went to the coastal countries to deliver salt and dates and to take grain back to the Sahara (e.g. Fachi, Bilma). Trucks became unbeatable competitors. The Tuareg society(female Targia; male Targi) is organized according to the matriarchy. The traditional caste-like structure of Tuareg society is still there, albeit – depending on living conditions and region – softened. The enthronement of a new ‘Chef du Canton’ is a sign of the strong focus on tradition; traditional wedding etc.. The contacts between the Tuareg and the Europeans are quite good because of the desert tourism that flourished until the beginning of the 2000’s; a number of support organizations emerged from this.

Fulbeand Fulbe Woodaabe (in Niger the French name Peulh is mostly used) live in the southern part of the pastoral zone up to the arable farming zone, in the southeast of Niger, as well as in the west in the Tera region (former Fulani emirate Liptako). They are traditional cattle farmers with small ruminants, some also cultivate fields and are active in the animal trade. The approximately 100,000 Woodaabe nomads of Niger belong to the Fulbe family, which includes more than nine million people in West Africa. While part of the Fulbe settled down and founded states even before the colonial era, the Woodaabe and other nomadic Fulbe stuck to their way of life as cattle nomads. The rhythm of life of these people is based entirely on the needs of their cattle – their need for water and pasture. For nomadic livestock keepers, traditional hiking trails have been cut up by national borders – fortunately there are now agreements between states on the “transhumance transfrontaliere”. Tariffs hinder trade, trucks compete with the camel caravan trade. With the expansion of sedentary agriculture in the semi-arid Sahel zone, nomadic groups have been pushed further north over the past few decades.

The Tubu (Daza and Teda) live as nomadic pet owners in the eastern parts of the country and towards the Tibetan Mountains. The majority of this 350,000 Tubu live in northern Chad and part in Libya. In contrast to the Tuareg, they have an egalitarian form of society and resisted all attempts at colonization by the French. They used to trade in caravans across the Bornu Strait from Lake Chad to Tripoli.

The Kanuri live east of Tanout / Zinder and in Mangaland. The majority live in northeast Nigeria in the Bornu area. Often they are oasis farmers (e.g. Oase Fachi), specializing in salt works, date cultivation and caravan trade.

The Yedina (own name) or Buduma, as they are called by the neighbors, are the “people of the tall grass”. They live in the Lake Chad area, on the banks and on the islands and are mainly cattle farmers, but also engaged in fishing and trading. The characteristic feature is the Kouri cattle with its large ‘amphibian horns’. A special example is exhibited in the National Museum in Niamey.

Gurmantche mostly live as farmers. The Gurmantche (language: Gurmancema) are one of the oldest autochthonous peoples in West Africa. The largest proportion of the population of their people live in Burkina Faso, but also in Benin, Ghana and Togo. Many hold onto their traditional religion, but there are also Christians and Muslims among them.

Arabs have been heavily involved in trade for a long time (the Lebanese own most of the supermarkets): The (partially) nomadic Arabs – formerly from North Africa – live in the pastoral zone and are intensively involved in trade there, especially with animals.

Moors mostly live as (semi) nomadic animal keepers.

Cultural characteristics

Due to the similar or the same type of economy, the lifestyles of the ethnic groups are similar, sedentary farmers of the Songhai and Haussa or Kanuri, mobile animal keepers of the Fulbe and Tuareg, but all peoples have very specific ethnic characteristics. The ethnic groups are linked through joke relationships or joke affinities, which ensure relaxed interaction with one another. These are often conflict avoidance and regulation mechanisms. For example, in a conflict between Tubu and Fulbe, a Kanuri, who holds the position of a ‘cousin’ in the joke relationship between the Fulbe and the Tubu, is used as a mediator. The cousinage shows up mainly in daily life, ie the daily jokes that one hand out and receive with the sole aim of making the other laugh and not offending him. In the joke relationships, neither gender, age nor class are significant. These joke relationships mostly apply between the four nomadic ethnic groups (Tuareg, Fulbe, Tubu and Arabs) and the four sedentary ethnic groups (Hausa, Djerma-Songhai, Kanuri and Gurmantche).

Ethnic Groups in Niger