The Kanuri are the dominant ethnic group of Borno Province in northeastern Nigeria. They number over 3 million in Nigeria, about 500,000 in Niger, 100,000 in Chad, and 60,000 in Cameroon. They are called "Beri-beri" by the Hausa, but they seldom use the term themselves. Bornu Emirate, the major division of the province and the Kanuri homeland, has a history as a political entity that stretches back at least 1,100 years. It has been a Muslim emirate since the eleventh century. Bornu Emirate is located between 11°00′ and 13°00′ N and 11°00′ and 13°30′ E. It is bordered on the north by the Republic of Niger, on the northeast by Chad, and on the east by Cameroon. Kanuri may be found in all of the major cities of northern Nigeria and in the neighboring sections of Chad and Niger. The southwestern section of the Republic of Niger is predominantly Kanuri.
The Kanuri language has the largest number of speakers of the Central Saharan Language Family, which has speakers from northern Nigeria to the Central Sudan. Kanuri is unrelated to Hausa, which is the most commonly spoken language in northern Nigeria. Most Kanuri can speak some Hausa.
The climate of the Kanuri region is typical sub-Saharan savanna. Rainfall averages 56 to 69 centimeters per year, nearly all of it falling from June to September. The harmattan, the wind off of the Sahara, blows cool from mid-December to mid-March, and then may heat up to 38° C. The temperature may remain that high for weeks at a time, until the rains start in June. Most of Borno is flat, except for the southwest, where the rugged Bauchi plateau rises steeply. The eastern part, on the shores of Lake Chad, is marshy. Because of the flatness of the terrain, the summer rains create swamps, and travel becomes impossible. The soil is sandy and is covered with scrub brush, scattered thorny trees, and occasional baobabs. There are also large flat surfaces of hard green clay at the bottoms of ridges, which provide material for buildings and pottery.