In the words of Marcus Gravey, “a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”  The Bariba people holds an important place in the history of Benin Republic. They are the principal inhabitants of Borgou and Alibori Departments of Benin Republic.

The Bariba are also co-founders of the Borgu kingdom, which is now northeast Benin and west-central Nigeria. In Nigeria, they are found spread between western Kwara State and the Borgu section of Niger State. There are perhaps a million Bariba, 70% of them in Benin, where they are the fourth largest ethnic group and comprise approximately 1/11 of the population (9.2%).

The Bariba are concentrated primarily in the north-east of Benin Republic, especially around the city of Nikki, which is considered the traditional capital of the Bariba people. At the end of the 18th century they became independent from the Yoruba of Oyo and formed several kingdoms in the Borgou region.

The colonization of Benin (then Dahomey) by the French at the end of the 19th century, and the imposition of an Anglo-French artificial border, ended Bariba trade in the region. During the late 19th century, Bariba was known to constitute independent states and kingdoms in cities like Nikki and Kandi in the northeast of the country. In the town of Pehunko there are approximately 200,000 Bariba people out of 365,000 inhabitants.

Agriculture is the dominant occupation for the Bariba. They grow corn, sorghum, rice, cotton, cassava (tapioca), yams, beans, palm oil, peanuts with some poultry and livestock. One of their noted festivals is the annual Gani festival of which horse riding is a prominent element.

The Bariba society consists of a higher-ranking official as chief of the town and their subordinate chiefs. Social status and titles are inherited in families, but the status of a person may be given by the families’ nature of work. Notable subdivisions of the Bariba include the ruling Wasangari nobles, Baatombu commoners, slaves of varying origin, Dendi merchants, Fulbe herders, and other divisional ethnic groups.

As Rita Mare Brown rightly noted “language is the roadmap of culture, It tells you where its people come from and where they are going” The Bariba language is spoken mostly in Borgou, Alibori and part of Atacora in northern Benin. The Bariba language was once classified as an outlier of the Gur family, but is now agnostically placed as an isolate within the Savanna languages. It is a tone language with noun classes. It has been written since about 1970.

Religion plays an important role in Bariba tribes and they are primarily Islamic. However, a number of Bariba communities have their own indigenous beliefs. In the words of Robert Alan “cultural differences should not separate us from each other but rather, cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity.” The Bariba culture is such a unique one that has in recent years found expression in both Benin Republic and parts of Nigeria.

Compiled by OLA OGUN


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