It was a deterrent to slave hunters
The Kanuri ethnic group live primarily in Nigeria, Niger, Sudan, and Cameroun. Their origin can be traced to the former Kanem-Bornu Empire and its neighboring regions.
Traditional Kanuri occupations include farming, fishing, trading, and salt production. The Kanuri have their largest population in Nigeria’s northeast (Borno and surrounding states) and they became mostly Sunni Muslims after inheriting the Kanem-Bornu empire’s religious beliefs.
The Kanuri tribal mark
Individuals traveling outside the Kanem-Bornu empire were given the Kanuri facial mark as a means of international identification and protection. This was due to the profitable nature of the slave trade at the time; people were attacking cities and kidnapping others to sell as slaves. Thus, the Kanuri people (a powerful tribe) used their tribal marks to warn invaders and kidnappers that they were from a powerful tribe, and that if they were kidnapped or attacked, their people would go to war.
As a result, the slaves were largely citizens from smaller kingdoms that were weak and easily destroyed, or persons traveling without any proof that they were from a powerful nation. A traveller’s identity as a member of the Kanem-Bornu dynasty was verified by the Kanuri facial tribal Mark. People who had the mark went outside the empire with pride and no fear.
There were, however, some non-Kanuri individuals in the Kanem-Bornu dynasty. When these individuals left the empire, they were susceptible to slave hunters. To combat this, they attempted to carve the entire nine Kanuri tribal marks on their faces. Others carved the marks on their foreheads and on both sides of their faces.
To this day, the Kanuri people still utilize their tribal insignia to identify themselves and trace their ancestry. They are, without a doubt, one of Northern Nigeria’s most gorgeous tribes. The mark served not only as a means of identification and security, but also as a symbol of beauty.
Kanuri was a significant language of the Bornu Empire, and it is still spoken throughout Nigeria’s north-eastern region.