The meaning of the word kirdi

The ethnic groups of the Northern Mandaras are often generally referred to as Kirdi. Kirdi is a word of Kanuri origin and is translated by Cyffer (1994:130) as pagan (kerdi/krdi=pagan).The ethnonym Kirdi has a derogatory connotation, but is also used by montagnards to refer to their ethnic pride. Ela (1994:8-14) e.g. speaks of ‘Kirditude’ meaning the attitude of a Kirdi.

The historical meaning of the word is possibly best translated as ‘all those who were non-Muslims and who could therefore be subjected to enslavement (Muller-Kosack (1999), which was in accordance with the Qur’anic law against the enslavement of free persons, after which Muslims could only be enslaved under clearly defined circumstances (Rihill 1996:106).

In this context the word Kirdi can also be interpreted as a social ideology of resistance against Islamization and the holding on to a traditional local religious system.The first mentioning of Kirdi is by Denham 1826 (1985:145) who translates the word ‘Kerdies’ as ‘Negroes who have never embraced the Mohammedan faith’.

Denham used the word Kirdi not only for montagnards, but for all pagan groups of the mountains and of the plains. The fact that the ethnonym Kirdi was later only applied to montagnards must be seen in the context of the integration of the ethnic groups of the plains into the Muslim community since the late nineteenth century.