Introduction / History
The Bilma Kanuri inhabit the oasis town of Bilma and some of the other oases in the Djado plateau of the Sahara Desert. They cultivate date palms in the oases, and also use a method of evaporation to produce salt from saline fields in the area that they mold into oblong “loaves” for easy transport. The town of Bilma finds its greatest importance because of its location which is important as a crossroads for two major trans-Saharan trade routes which have been used by merchants, pilgrims and bandits for centuries. Tuareg traders crossing the Sahara in a westeast direction come from the city of Agadez with large camel caravans to trade dried meat, cloth and other goods for the dates and salt of Bilma. Each Bilma Kanuri family “adopts” a specific trader, cultivating a friendly relationship with him, and even placing orders for goods from year to year. The north-south trade route still connects the metropolis of Maïduguri, Nigeria, with the Libyan and Tunisian coast.
Though the Bilma Kanuri are the majority in the oasis towns, they have regular dealings with the Teda nomads in the area, as well as with the Tuareg, Hausa and Arab traders. Formal education is not very important to the Bilma Kanuri; few children attend school. Those students who desire higher learning, must travel across the desert to unfamiliar surroundings in order to attend grades 7 through 12.
The identity of the Kanuri is firmly intertwined with Islamic beliefs and practices. Authority is first of all with God, then with the father of the family. Supreme loyalty and respect is given to the father of the family at all times. The harsh environment surrounding the Bilma Kanuri has made the families into tightly knit units who have close dealings with each other, but limit their contacts with strangers. As far as it is possible to know, the Bilma Kanuri have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ from any source.
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