The Gwari


The Gwari have a number of different names: Gbari, Gbarri, Agbari, Gwali, Gba-gyi, and Gwarri Baris, though they tend to use Gbagyi or Bagyi more. The word Gwari seems to come from the Hausa word mean-ing “slave,” possibly because the Gbagyi have a long history of persecution by both the Hausa and the Fulani (Fulbe). The Gba-gyi live primarily in the Niger Plateau in the Niger State in Nigeria near the new capital Abuja. They are also found in Kaduna and other northern states in Nigeria. The Gbagyi language is part of the Benue division of the Niger-Congo phylum, though it is broken into a large number of dialects. They num-ber around 700,000 people today.

The Gbagyi trace their origins to the region of Bornu, though not to the Bornu people who inhabited the region. They are divided into three main religious groups: Muslims, who make up around one-third of the total; Christians of differ-ent sects; and traditional animists. Most are still small farmers and did not form into a unified, central political state despite years of being raided by the Hausa and Fulani for slaves; however, slave raid-ing did produce a group Gbagyi identity.

With Nigerian independence, the Gba-gyi have felt they were singled out for persecution when the new capital city of Abuja was built in 1991. Gbagyi were for-cibly removed and settled elsewhere, which they see as part of the larger Hausa-Fulani conspiracy against them. Nonetheless, one Nigerian president has been Gbagyi, General Ibrahim Babangida, who governed from 1985 to 1993.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Falola, Toyin. Culture and Customs of Nigeria. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.

“Gbagyi.” _language.asp?code=gbr (accessed May 10, 2010).

Olson, James. The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.