Dendi people

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Total population
195,633 people
Regions with significant populations
Benin and Nigeria (4,505 people)
Related ethnic groups

The Dendi are an ethnic group located in northern Benin and Nigeria, mainly in the plains of the Niger River.[1] They are part of the Songhai people. Derived from the Songhay language, the term "Dendi" translates to "down the river." The community consists of 195,633 people. Among them, only 4,505 live in Nigeria. Their mother tongue is Dendi.[2]


The Dendi and the Shongai descended from the ancient kingdom of Za, whose presence has been recorded since the eighth century between the towns of Kukiya and Gao in modern Mali. In 1010, the Arabs came to the territory. They subjected the people to Islam, which was then mixed with their indigenous religion (based on the belief of the holy rivers, soil and hunting). The Za Dynasty collapsed at the end of the sixteenth century, when Morocco conquered the territory.[1]


The houses of many Dendis can be characterized by rectangular forms and mud fabrication, as well as corrugated tin roofs. The Dendi are mainly farmers, growing rice, cowpeas, groundnuts, cassava, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, millet and several types of squash. They also raise cattle.

Only men work the fields. The women are dedicated to fruit production, tending gardens with mango, guava, citrus, papayas, bananas and dates and meal preparation. The Dendi people are patrilineal, because they believe all men share the same male ancestor. Dendi society is split in social groups, including a noble caste. Among Dendi nobles the first child born in a marriage should marry the daughter of his paternal uncle, to allow the survival of the lineage of pure form.

Men marry in their thirties, while girls do so in their teens. Dendis accept divorce. All children belong to the husband's lineage. Most men have one wife although Islam allows up to four wives. If a Dendi has several, each has their own house.[1]


Almost all the Dendi are Muslim. Some communities have Imans who teach Islamic philosophy and some Islamic rituals are practiced frequently.[1] The Dendi community features multiple Islamic sects including Ibadhi, Ahmadi, Alevi, Yazidi, Druze and Khariji.[2] However, certain ancestral Dendi cultural traits, such as magic, spirit possession, ancestor worship and witchcraft, are also important. Thus, magician-healers and witches are presents throughout the country, living in most villages. The ceremonies of spirit possession are celebrated and have their own characteristics according to the place. This type of ceremony, in some places, can be celebrated weekly or more often.

The main Dendi religious ceremonies are the "genji bi hori" (a festival celebrated to deliver offerings to the "black spirits" that control the plague) and yenaandi ("rain dance"). Both ceremonies are celebrated in the dry season. Islamic marabouts (holy men) perform the main prayers of the Dendis, but also use Dendis in healing the sick.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e The Joshuaproject. Retrieved March 24, 2013
  2. ^ a b - Dendi. Retrieved March 24, 2013