The far north eastern corner of Nigeria and adjacent areas of Cameroun and Chad are today best known for Islamist insurgency but were once the centre of a powerful kingdom known to historians as Kanem-Bornu that grew rich through controlling the southern end of one of the most important trans-Saharan trade routes. The Kanuri rulers maintained close links with both other trade centres in the Sahel such as Kano and Timbuktu and with north African trading centres and as a result developed a distinctive material culture that today is little known. Among the most spectacular features were these embroidered tunic that formed a key part of ceremonial attire for high status Kanuri women.
Made from imported trade cloth hand embroidered with brightly coloured silks these duriya tunics seem to have been quite varied in style during the nineteenth century, as indicated by examples in museum collections in Berlin and Paris, but to have become more standardised during the first half of the C20th. Our example, shown above, which was collected during the 1950s, is very similar to the single tunic in the British Museum that David Heathcote obtained in the early 1970s (British Museum #Af2008,2025.22) Tunics with embroidered decoration all over were known as sharwan kura (Lyndersay, Nigerian Dress, 2011), while those with more restricted decoration as below were called kura.
As the sketch below indicates in use they formed part of an elaborate outfit combined with a headcloth, waist wrapper and a large wrapper called a leppaye that could be either locally woven or imported cloth.
From: Dani Lydersay, Nigerian Dress, the Body Honoured (2011, CBAAC, Lagos.)
This photo from the Bella Naija website shows a modern version at an elite Kanuri wedding.
To visit our gallery of West African robes clock here.