Kingdom of Kanem

Kingdom of Kanem

The Kingdom of Kanem (aka Kanim) was an ancient African state located in modern-day Chad, which flourished from the 9th to 14th century CE. With its heartland in the centre of the African continent on the eastern shores of Lake Chad, the kingdom was formed by a confederation of nomadic peoples and then ruled by the Saifawa dynasty. The city prospered thanks to its position as the hub of trade connections with central African peoples, the Nile Valley, and North African states on the other side of the Sahara Desert. The kingdom adopted the Islamic religion after long contact with Muslim clerics and traders from the 11th century CE onwards. In the 1390s CE Kanem's king was forced to flee the invading Bulala people and so set up a new state on the other side of Lake Chad, which would become the Bornu Empire, sometimes known as the Kanem-Bornu Empire, which lasted until the late 19th century CE.

Origins & Formation

The Kingdom of Kanem, located just to the east of Lake Chad in Central Africa, may derive its name from the Teda and Kanuri term for 'south' (anem) which refers to its position in relation to the better-known states to the north. Perhaps, too, the name reflects the oral tradition that the people of Kanem had once migrated from the Sahara Desert following that region's increased desiccation. The process which saw the formation of the kingdom of Kanem is here summarised by the historian P. Curtin:

Kanem passed through a process of state-building different from that of the western Sudan. The nucleus was a nomadic confederation of peoples speaking separate languages of the Teda-Daza group, probably formed in the 9th century. Nomadic confederations of this kind are common enough in history; the unusual thing is that this one held together. Sometime before the early twelfth century it had become sedentary itself, with Njimi as its permanent capital. (75)

The first mention of Kanem in texts dates to 872 CE and the work of the Arab historian and geographer al-Yaqubi (in his Kitab al-Buldan). Even if the state may have been formed a century earlier, it confirms the above political process as we are informed that the population is still at that time mostly composed of nomads who live in huts of reeds and who have not yet formed permanent settlements. We are also told that the kings of Kanem (here and in other Arab sources called Zaghawa) also ruled over other kings, likely the tribes they had conquered in the region north and east of Lake Chad. The Arab historian al-Muhallabi, writing in the 10th century CE, notes that the kingdom now has two towns and its wealth is evidenced by large herds of cattle, sheep, camels, and horses.

The Kings of Kanem

From c. 1075 CE Kanem was ruled by the Saifawa (aka Sefawa) dynasty over a population which became dominated by the Kanuri people. The king had the title of Mai. One of the greatest kings was Mai Dunama Dibbalemi (r. c. 1221-1259 CE) who expanded the kingdom further north and northeast into the desert, largely thanks to the use of cavalry. Military commanders were rewarded for their service by the award of governorship of conquered regions, and intermarriage between royal houses was a tried and tested strategy to cement new chieftains into the Kanem kingdom. Subjugated tribes were obliged to pay the Kanem kings tribute, typically in the form of slaves.

They exalt their king and worship him instead of God. They imagine that he does not eat any food. There are persons who have charge of this food secretly, and bring it to his house. It is not known where it is brought from. If it happens that one of his subjects meets the camels carrying provisions, he is killed instantly on the spot. He drinks his beverage in the presence of his select companions…Their religion is the worship of their kings, for they believe that they bring life and death, sickness and health.

(quoted in Fage, 681)

Adoption of Islam

It is not clear when the kingdom adopted Islam and under what circumstances except that is was probably not until the early 13th century CE that it was practised widely by the general populace as Arab sources covering before that time specifically state the kingdom was still pagan. The first Kanem ruler who is recorded as being a Muslim was, however, much earlier, one Hu (aka Hawwa, r. 1067-1071 CE) who may actually have been a queen. Thereafter, many Kanem rulers made pilgrimages to Islam's holy sites in North Africa and Arabia. In addition, one king founded a Muslim educational institution (madrasa) at Fustat in Egypt in 1324 CE.

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The most likely explanation for the kings adopting Islam is that, as in other Sub-Saharan states, this gained them favour with Muslim traders and greater riches with which to impress their people and hold on to power. Alternatively, a new dynasty may have been bolstered in its claims of legitimacy by also adopting a new religion. The dates for the adoption by rulers and the change to the Saifawa dynasty do more or less match. Certainly, there were Muslim clerics who travelled as missionaries - the first visited Kanem as early as the 11th century CE - and so the trade explanation does not provide the full picture of the spread of this religion. Further, the missionaries were well received, at least according to Arab sources, and often given gifts for teaching the Koran such as camels, slaves, and gold and silver coins. Kanem was unusual in that a high number of the ordinary population eventually adopted the religion along with the ruling elite, something which was not the typical case elsewhere.

A Trade Hub

From c. 900 CE the kingdom was the end of a camel caravan route that crossed the Sahara Desert passing trade goods between Tripolitania (modern Libya) and Cairo in North Africa down to Central Africa. This trans-Saharan route was one of the best as it was well-served by the regular oases that dotted the Fezzan region. There was also a route to the east and the Nile Valley via the Kawar salt pans. Salt, copper (also used as a currency), tin (from Nigeria), cotton, hides, kola nuts, ivory, ostrich feathers, camels, and gold passed through the kingdom, as did slaves which were actively seized from neighbouring chiefdoms by the kings of Kanem, or given as tribute as mentioned above. The elite of Kanem spent their accumulated wealth on such imported luxuries as embroidered cloth, silk, jewellery, and iron weapons. Not only material goods but also ideas passed along these trade routes, chief amongst them, as we have seen, was the Islamic religion.

The Bornu Empire

The Bornu Empire was founded by an exiled king of Kanem, Uma b. Idris, who had been forced to flee following the takeover of that kingdom between 1390 and 1400 CE by the Bulala, a mysterious group who may have been a single tribe or clan group of pastoralists. A contributing factor to the defeat at the hands of the Bulala was the incessant civil wars that had blighted Kanem as the royal family got ever bigger and relations fought over the right to rule.

The ruling dynasty of Kanem, in effect, became the kings of Bornu, although how they imposed themselves on the indigenous So people who inhabited the western shores of Lake Chad is unclear. The So people did eventually assimilate the Kanuri language and culture, and the move was not without its advantages for the Kanem kings as the region west of Lake Chad was much richer in iron deposits. The Bornu Empire, sometimes referred to as the Kanem-Bornu Empire or Borno Empire, had its capital at Gazargamo and grew to control both sides of Lake Chad from the 16th century CE by eventually taking over the old Kanem territory. The empire would endure until the late 19th century CE when it was taken over by the French as they ambitiously sought to build a horizontal line of colonies across Africa.

The Empire of Kanem-Borno: the Kanembu and Kanuri peoples

The core of the ethnicity of Kanuri/Kanembu is a mixture of Nilotic and Chadic roots- Nilotic because the mother-clan, according to some serious research among academics in Sudan, the Magumi descended from the same strain as many ethnic groups in Africa from the Nile bassin, most specifically from the ancient kingdom of Meroe and Makuria, and who lived along the Nile in southern Egypt and northern Sudan before they completely left the Nile region to settle in southern ancient Libya in Tou (Tibesti), or more specifically in the town Berdoa according to ancient Roman and Greek historians (which is called today Barday in Chad before their migration southward to settle in Kanem).

They are Chadic because of the mixture of the Magumi clans with the native Chadic clans who lived around Lake Chad in Kanem. It is also noteworthy that there were other non-Magumi Nilotic clans who settled in Kanem such as the Mundang, the Moussey and the Toupouri. Those clans who kept their ancient pagan ways were called by the generic term in classical Kanembu, the SAO clans/peoples, who refused to adopt the new faith of Islam that was introduced by the two Magumi dynasties of Dugua and Sefua , most notably by the Mai Dunama Tchuluma Dabbilami (also misspelled Sélmama by Arab historians, which means Black in Kanembu language) who established a policy of forced islamisation in the Empire through the doctrine of Jihad.

it is also very important to note that in order to explain the birth of Kanuri/Kanembu from these Nilotic and Chadic origines across the centuries, we should imagine that in the past dynastic wars, including the civil wars during the reign of Mai Dunama Tchulumami, which we find until the arrival of European forces the examples, women and children were often sacrificed, killed in battle or often subjected to slavery man alone with his horse or camel, kept the resource to flee when the war was lost. He therefore finds new women in the tribes to which he had fled to. Therefore, it is not surprising that once Kanémites clans were greatly troubled by internal wars and that Borno, Kanem, eastern Niger and northern Cameroon offer this prodigious ethnic mix that is the Kanembou/kanuri of today.

The situation in Kanem after the arrival of Magumi
The situation may well be characterized by that of several clan-based kingdoms or entities. For instance, there were independent political entities of the Badde, the Toupouri, the Sao , the Buduma and other entities. As I said, many of these clans either forced to leave or voluntarily left Kanem because of the forced Islamisation policy by Mai Dunama Dabbalémi of the Seyfua dynasty, to settle in Mayo Kebbi region of Chad, Cameroon and further beyond in Congo . Note that , in Burkina Faso, the Mossi also trace their origin to Kanem.

The Magumis quickly made strong alliances with the indigenous clans that were mostly Chadic. Over time, most of these clans have adopted the language of the Magumi (the classic Kanembou) as a lingua franca, except for the Buduma who jealously guarded their language with the help of their isolation in the islands of the lake. These indigenous clans have retained their political independence until the reign of Mai Idriss Allauma, who followed a strict policy of concentration of power in the new capital of Ngazargamu. Allauma (which literally means the person of Allah, i.e. the pious) waged wars against the clans who refused Islam until the destruction of their stronghold in the city Amsaksa after a long siege. Allauma also waged a definitive war against the Bulala clan who controlled Kanem for several decades. This strict policy of centralization of power has also led many clans to completely flee Kanem.

Three families have ruled the kingdom of Kanem, and later the empire of Kanem-Borno:

  1. The Dugua Dynasty (ca 600 AD – 1200 AD), with a strong alliance, with the Bulala and the Tubu nomadic clans in the north. This dynasty is sometimes mistakenly called by some Arab historians, Zaghawa, and thus confusing the Dugua with the modern Zaghawa ethnic group in eastern Sudan and western Chad, who prefer to be called Beri. The Zaghawa term is probably given by the Tuareg, a term that means camel-rider. The Dugua exist today as a small minority in the town of Ngouri along with their cousins ​​and allies the Keyi (also Koyom) and the Kafa. The Tuareg up to these days call the Kanuris in Niger, Izaghan – a term that follows from Zaghawa.
  2. The Sefua Dynasty (ca 1200 – 1800 AD): This dynasty was founded by Mai Tchuluma and later by his son Dunama Tchuluma Dounama after the introduction of Islam and the creation of the empire of Kanem-Borno. The most powerful Mais of this dynasty are: Dounama Dabbilami, Idriss Allauma, Idriss Katakarambe and Ali Gadjedi.
  3. The Shehua Dynasty (ca 1800 – to present): The founder of this dynasty is none but Shehu Muhammed Al-Amin Al-Kanemi, a son of a father from the Kuburi clan and a mother from the Arab tribes of Fezzan in Libya. He successfully raised up an army of Kanembu warriors and archers to regain the province of Borno from the Fulani occupation.

The language

Both Kanuri and Kanembu belong to ancient language called Classical Kanembu. Linguistically, this language belongs to the same Nilo-Saharan language family as the Tubu languages of Dazaga the tedaga, and the Zaghawa language, known as the Beria which is found in eastern Chad and western Sudan. Kanuri and Kanembu are today spoken in many dialects in Chad, Niger, cameroon and Nigeria. The standard Kanembou language was known as Classical Kanembu – click here to read my article in French about Classical Kanembu). This language is almost extinct and survived only by a literal language called Tarjumo, which is used by scholars to work on Quranic exegesis.

The extinction of this language is due to many factors such as the Arabization (replacement of the written old Kanembou with classical Arabic) the colonial policies that inhibited indigenous African languages, and the decreasing literacy culture among the Kanuri/Kanembu, most notably among the Kanembu in Kanem due to displacement of the capital of the empire (the center of knowledge) from Kanem (The town of Njimi, currently known as Mao) to Borno, whic led highly literate people and Islamic scholars to settle in the new capital in Borno, Ngazar Gamu. These Kanembou clans who moved to Borno are known today as the Kanuri (which means enlightened people, i.e. enlightened by the knowledge of Islam, i.e. « kam » man and « nouri » light).

Historically, this language belonged only to the Magumi clans who migrated from the north to settle in Kanem, but was later adopted by the other clans living in Kanem after a long islamisation process to constitute what is now called the Kanembu and the Kanuri peoples. Thus the Kanembu and Kanuri are the result of mixing between different clans which was caused by islamisation over the centuries, and were organised under a single political entity, the Empire of Kanem-Borno, to forge an identity based on common traditions, history and customs.

An exception to this rule is that some clans, who were originally Magumi or Chadic and who lived under the empire, but fell out of the fold because of historical processes. For instance, The Nguizim and Badde of Yobe retained their Chadic language, but their brethren the Badde and Nguizim of Kanem are today completely Kanembu in language, customs and traditions. We have also a clan such as Babaliya, which was completely arabised and became Arabs – they live today in the Chadian region Hadjer Lamis. There are Magumi clans such as the Sunna/Sunda, Tomaghra, Medella, Saalme, etc who adopted the language of the nomadic people of Tubu and became culturally and linguistically assimilated with the Tubu. We also have the ones mighty Magumi clan of the Bulala who have completely lost their ancestral language of Kanembu after having settled in Fitri in Chad and conquered the Kuka people.

The Kanembu Alphabets (preserved in Kanem since the time of Mai Dunama Tchuluma Dabbalemi until today), also known as « Ba-ta-ta »:

  1. A ( ٱ ) – Aliu
  2. B (پ) – Bah
  3. T (ت) – Tah
  4. Ŝ ( ث ) – Thuma-tholodu
  5. G ( ج ) – Djum
  6. H ( ح ) – Hah ngandu
  7. Ĥ ( (خ ) – Ha Inchia
  8. D ( د ) – Daal
  9. Ď ( ذ ) – Zal
  10. R ( ر ) – Rah
  11. Z (ز ) – Zay
  12. S ( س ) – Suni Ngandou
  13. Ĉ (ش ) – Suni Inchia
  14. Ŝ (ص ) – Saddu
  15. Ś (ض ) – Daddu
  16. Ť ( ط ) – Tamuska
  17. Ž (ظ ) – Zadumuska
  18. Ā ( ع ) – Aayne
  19. Ġ ( غ ) – Ga-guine
  20. F ( ف )- Fah
  21. Q ( ق ) – Kowmi
  22. K ( ك ) – Kolossur
  23. L ( ل ) – Langatu
  24. M ( م ) – Muguri
  25. N ( ڽ ) – Nonowdu
  26. Ħ (ه ) – Hadjara
  27. W ( و ) – Wow
  28. Y ( ي ) – Yakissu

The myth of Yemeni/Arab origins

Many Arab historians, ironically never visited the region themselves, attributed to the medieval Kanembu/Kanuri people, including the clan of Bulala before their immigration to Fitri, a Yemeni, thus Arab origin. This is known and admitted by all who were introduced to the history of the Empire of Kanem-Bornu. In their books, they report traditions certifying that in a remote epoch the Kanembou clans were connected to Yemen through a legendary ancestor, know as Seyf Ibn Dhi-Yazan. The great Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun remain the only Arab historian who depart from this view in his book Al-Muqadimah. Ibn Khaldun refute the authenticity of this affiliation, which is based on false assumptions, which are in turn completely illogical and defies factual historical events and processes. He asserts that it is impossible for a huge Arab/Yemeni army to cross the huge distance from Yemen to the heart of Africa without facing the mighty armies of Egypt, Nubia or Abyssiniya. For a such army to cross all this distance, the army would might need a huge amount of food and water.

I will addd to Ibn Khaldun refutation my own refutation, which based on the following arguments:

  • It is logically contradictory because the medieval clans of Kanembu existed in the region long before the Arabs, who first entered African after they had conquered Egypt in 640 under the commander Amr Ibn Aaas. It took the Arab tribes to wait 600 years before they began to settle in Kanem and everywhere in the empire, that is, during the rule of May Dounama Tchulumami in about 1200 A.D. The Arabs were busy fighting the Berbers in North Africa and met with huge resistance in the ancient Christian Kingdom of Dongola in northern Sudan. This means the Arabs never entered subsaharan African until they have completely settled in North Africa and conquered all the lands.
  • All the historical sources, such as the original books of Girgam and Idriss Allauma&rsquos grand Imam, Ibn Fortu&rsquos book, point to that the myth originated during the time of Mai Dounama Tchulumami, i.e. the beginning of forced islamisation (through Jihad) and the penetration of Arab tribes southward towards Kanem from the Libyan Fezzan. There is no doubt that Mai Dunama Tchuluma was aware of the existence of powerful Arab sultanate to the north of his empire – a fact that is documented by his envoy of diplomatic emissaries to the Arabs and his pilgrimage through Egypt towards Mecca. Thus, it is completely reasonable to deduce that Mai Dunama created the myth and used it skilfully to legitimise his throne in the eyes of the powerful Arabs and his policy of complete Jihad against those who refused Islam. This strategy culminated in the destruction of the old relic or temple of « Mune » in the empire. This myth proved very useful in terms of sparing the empire from being invaded and subjugated by the Arabs, who completely decimated all ancient Berber kingdoms in North Africa, which let the Arab tribes to settle peacefully throughout the empire. A fact that is witnessed to this day in the existence of many Arab tribes among the Kanuri and Kanembu peoples.
  • The legendary Sayf Ibn Dhi-Yazan died in 570, but all historically and archeological facts prove that the ancestors of the Kanembu and Kanuri people lived in Southern Libya together with their neighbours the Gramentes and were known as the Berdoan since the times of ancient Greek, that is long before Sayf Ibn Dhi-Yazah himself was born. How could then this person be the father of a nation that existed long before him and attested by ancient Greek sources, such as the historian Ptolemy.
  • The Kanuri/Kanembu showed a great literacy during medieval time and their language (Classical kanembu) was known to be a lingua franca which was referred to by Arabs themselves as the language of Kanem, or as in Arabic « lughat biladu Kanem). This indicates clearly that the Kanembu/Kanuri spoke an African language which was completely different from Arabic. They also showed a great level consciousness in protecting and safeguarding their language by naming everything in their language, for instance « dandal » (mosque), « Mbodu » (Mohammed), « Kashim » (Qassim), « Shua » (Arabs), « Kinin » (Tuareg), and so forth. Simply put, they were conscious enough that they either created their own words for things that are new or assimilated foreign words and names by creating their own words.
  • Unfortunately, this myth was also reproduced by European scholars, who refused to accept the ancient Kanembu as purely Black Africans for reasons concerning the racial assumptions at the time. There was a common understanding among European scholars that Black people could not found any civilisation without the intervention of external sources, i.e. from the ancient Middle East, that is by light-skinned people.

Unfortunately, this myth was transmitted from generation to generation and perceived as the ultimate truth. There are also other reasons that helped propagate this myth, such as misconceived belief that being an Arab equals to being a true Muslim or that being of an Arab origin bestows upon the person a refined and esteemed origin. This myth exists beyond the empire of Kanem-Borno in all Black African Islamic Kingdoms from the Sudan (Funj Sultanate), through Chad (Ouaddai Sultanate, to West Africa (Songhai, Mali, Ghana, Hausa.Fulani Sultanates), etc. Those sultanates are in fact authentically Black African and they all trace their civilisational roots to that of all Black civilisations in the Nile Belt, i.e. Nubia, ancient Egypt, Abyssinia, Azania, Kush and so forth.

Who is a Kanembu today

Geographically, the Kanembus and their cousins the Kanuris, inhabit today the following regions: Kanem, Bahr Alghazal, Hadjer Lamis and Lac (in Chad) Zinder, Diffa and Agadez (Niger), Borno, Yobe and north eastern states (Nigeria) and the extreme north of Cameroun, including the Kanuri/Kanembou diaspora in Sudan and Arabie Arabia.

A Kanembou is a person who speaks the Kanembu language in its dialectical variants, that is the dialects of Ngouri-Massakory, Kogono, Kouriye and Toumari Niger and Nigeria. Tumari dialect is commonly considered as the limit where the kanembu language stops and the Kanrui dialects begin. The Kanembus adhere to common traditions and customs governing marriage, war and the relationship with the various traditional chiefs, district chiefs and the Alifa of the city of Mao, which is the heart of the administration of Kanem before the fall of the empire.

Today, the Kanembus, the descendants of this great ancient empire together with the Kanuri, put great respect and esteem to traditional to their traditional leaders, who are still more influential than government authorities. With their cousins ​​the Kanuri, they make up the majority population in a strip between the northern shores of Lake Chad and the Sahara desert. Remaining in their homes of mud brick, culture and traditional clothing, they have not changed much since ancient times and the names of several clans such as Kuburia, Badde, Konkou, Kouuria, Nguizim remain the same as since ancient times and as documented in the old books.

The favorite profession of the Kanembus is trade, so one could say that they are the largest ethnic group in Chad that controls trade and commerce. All this stems from the fact that the Kanembou traditions abhor laziness (ndusku), being poor (or Talqa in Kanembu) and encourage that man should be industrious and resourceful, and a real man is supposed to leave something behind for his family before his death, a remarkable roof over their heads. 75% to 80% of all traders in Chad are Kanembu, making them, in a relative way, one of the most powerful economic groups in Chad. They are sedentary and also involved in agriculture and livestock. Wheat, millet and maize are grown around the lake, but the country is without ports and having a poor transport system, low agricultural trade has developed. Living on the edge of the Sahara, famine is still a common threat because it rains only during the months of July, August and September, sometimes for a few weeks.

The meaning of Kanembu

From a historical point of view, the use of the term to denote a group is relatively new. We should practice caution when describe events that occurred in the past, i.e. before the Shehu Dynasty, and use the term Kanemites or Kanjis, instead of Kanembu or Kanuri, to describe the people who were mainly organised along tribes and clans. Therefore, the use of Kanembu or Kanuri to designate an ethnic group cannot go beyond 150 to 200 years, i.e. after the mixing of tribes and clans to forge common identities. This is largely true to the Kanembus who are still clan-based in Kanem as in ancient time, as the Kanuri started to forge the nucleus of non clan-based identity a century earlier than the Kanembus.

Linguistically, the term is composed of « Kanem » and « Bu », which means the man of Kanem and it took its present ethnic sense after the interbreeding that took place between the clans to forge a common identity, that is the modern Kanembou. The first use of the term to denote a group of people goes back to the 17th and 18th, i.e. to the time of the expansion of Fulani rule under the leadership of Osman Dan Folio, whose son managed to occupy briefly Borno and its capital Ngazagamu. A noble Kanembu man by the name of Mohammed Al-Amin Mustapha Al-Kanemi, who belonged to the Kuburu clan of the Kanembu through his father and whose mother was an Arab from the Fezzan region (Libya), managed to build up an army composed mainly of Knembu warriors, Arab Shua leaders, and together with the help of the mighty archers of Kanem, to regain Borno. Al-Kanemi established a new dynasty, the Shehua Dynasty, who is still present until today in Maiduguri in Borno.

There are many hypotheses about the meaning of the word Kanembu:

  • some say the term means simply southerners (Kam-anumbiyé in Kanembu language),
  • some say it means the Man of Kanem, that is Kanem-bu, bu is a suffix that was used in classical Kanembou language to denote man, but the suffix « bu » is not used today in most of the Kanembu dialects. The Kanembu refer to the Tubu in their dialects as Tu-uo, the letter B is dropped instead of the Classical Kanembu Tu-Bu, Tu means the modern region of Tibesti in classical Kanembu, which means the Man of Tu. The kanembu also say Kanum-uo, instead of Kanem-bu to designate all the Kanembu clans in northern Kanem who were assimilated to the Tubu.
  • Another hypothesis says that the term was coined after the annexation of Borno to Kanem to form the empire, meaning Kanem-Bornu, so Bu in Kanembu stands for Bornu.

The structure of the ethnicity Kanembu

I use the term ethnic in its anthropological sense and wisely here for the following reason: the Kanembus are not tied together by purely blood relations or origins, but by culture, language and historical social ties. The Kanembus do not have a political consciousness that they belong to a nation or people in the true sense of the term, but affiliations are today are closely tied to clan-ship. Except for the Kanuris, who have created relatively a common sense of identity that goes beyond clan divisions due to their proximity to the cultural and administrative center of the empire. As in ancient times, The Kanembus have remained organised in clans because of the socio-political factors in Chad, clan warfare before and after independence of Chad, their distance from the center of the empire, the continuous marginalisation of Kanem from the heart of the empire in Borno because of the Bulala wars and the demographic change after the massive arrival of the nomadic Tubu tribes from the north which made Kanem ungovernable, and finally the arrival of the French colonization which introduced an administrative system based on clan differentiation to divide and rule, and to cut ties with Borno.

We can divide Kanembou in the following categories:

  • The Magumis: These are the clans that descended directly from the clan-mother, the Maîyi, spelled also as Magui, Mami, etc. It should be noted here that the current Magui or Maîyi clan in Kanem descends itself from the former mother-clan and who retained the original name. They spoke a language, which is now called the Classic Kanembu by linguists after the discovery of some old Koranic manuscripts by researchers from the London School of Oriental and African Studies in Niger and Nigeria. The Magoumi clans are believed to have descended from the north (the oases of Fezzan in Berdo) long before the conquest of the Arab and before settling in Kanem it there&rsquos 1000 years.
    Old books such as Girgam (the chronology of the Mais of Kanem-Borno), the wars of Borno (written by Ibn Furtu in 1575), the testimonies of Al-Yaghoubi (930), Leo Africanus and other testimonies assert that Magumi had a close commercial relationship with the ancient Greeks and Phoenicians through the Berber kingdom of the Garamantes. A fact that is now shown, for instance, by the loan Greek words in the language Kanuri and Kanembou, for example the word « Nguila » which derived from the word « anggelos » and means beautiful, good or good. Desertification and the arrival of the Arab conquerors led the Berbers to the mountains (except Touareg) and the Magumi to settle in Kanem through Tibesti ( or Tu in classic Kanembou). However, throughout its history, all the kings of Kanem-Borno resulted from only two dynastic Magumi families, the Dugua and the Sefua until the reign of Shekhu Al-Kanemi and the arrival of the colonial forces of England (Nigeria), France (Chad and Niger), Italy (Fezzan) and Germany (Cameroon). The Magumi clans are today numerous and we could mention just a few: the Kogono families Mao, the Kalkalaoa, the Ndjoloûa, the Rudôwa, The Kafa, the Kuburi, the Kuuri, the Kaidi, the Keyi/Koyom, the Sounda the Kénguina, the Sugurti, the Tumari,the Blaa, the Boromaya, the Kafa, the Malawaru, the Artianaoa and many others.
  • Chadic: These are the natives of the land long before the arrival of Magoumi clans. However, unlike other indigenous clans who were not Islamized (collectively known as Sao), they have established strong ties and military alliances with the Magumi clans to first establish a united kingdom under the Dugua and later the Empire of Kanem-Borno under the ruling dynasty, the Sefoua. Intermarriage was so intense that they adopted the Kanembu language to form their own dialects Kanembou over time. Today they are considered an integral part of the Kanembou identity. We cite as examples the followings: the Buduma (they always keep their Chadic language), the Bade, the Nguizim, the Biriwa, the Diwu, and so on.
  • The Konuma: This is a relatively modern term for Magumi clans who by intermarriage with the Tubu clans adopted the Dazagha language and their customs. We can cite, for example, the following clans: The Medella and the Saalmé. Although they speak Dazagha as a first language, their status as Kanembou is not disputed today by any Kanembu clan in Kanem.
  • The Artisans, fishermen and hunters: This category is known colloquially by the term Duu (in Kanembu) and Haddad (in Chadian Arabic). They speak Kanembu and share with other Kanembu clans villages, customs and culture, with the exception of marriage which is considered taboo. However, each clan Kanembou is linked directly through a military alliance with a clan from this category. Unlike other clans in Chad, the Kanembou show relatively high levels of social tolerance to this category by sharing land and social visits/events. They are found today in all the Kanembu villages and towns.

The ties between the Kanembus and the Kanuris have weakened dramatically since the arrival of colonial forces to the region and the dismemberment of the provinces of the Empire of Kanem-Borno among the modern states of Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon. However, some familial ties still persist among the Kanembu of Chad and their cousins the Kanembus and Kanuris of Niger, and to a lower degree with those of Nigeria. The last attempt to resurrect imperial ties was by the hands of Borno Youth Movement (BYM) in 1950s which sought to unite the Kanembu and Kanuris.

The Kanem-Bornu Empire

About personal security in Medieval Kanem-Bornu:

“a lone woman clad in gold might walk with none to fear but God.”

The Kanem-Bornu empire is the name given by historians to the longest African empire to exist in the Common Era. At 1900, towards the end of the empire, only a smaller state called the Bornu empire remained in north-eastern Nigeria, which represented the territories from the late 18 th century to 1900. Few would know that this later empire that modern Europeans encountered started in 700 CE (700 AD) and existed for a thousand and two hundred years.

In comparison, the Eastern Roman Empire, a contemporary state to the Kanem-Bornu empire lasted 1,123 years until 1282 CE from 330AD when it was established under Constantine. Likewise, the Holy Roman Empire established under Charlemagne as an imitation of the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire) in 800 CE lasted only 1,006 years until its desolution in 1806.

The Kanem-Bornu Empire was remarkable for a few reasons:

At its peak, the Kanem-Bornu empire controlled an area of 776,996 square kilometres (300,000 square miles), west of Lake Chad. For 2018, that would have covered Chad, Niger, north-eastern Nigeria, Libya, northern Cameroon and parts of Sudan. In comparison, the Eastern Roman Empire, a contemporary state, had a population of 5 million and covered an area of 1.050 million square kilometres.

The Kanem-Bornu Empire had a sense of history and, unlike the usual erroneous presumption about Africa, left us a large amount of records about its history including a Kings list. The early history of the Empire is mainly known from the Royal Chronicle or GIRGAM discovered in 1851 by the German traveler Heinrich Barth.

The Kanem-Bornu Empire produced a string of effective and talented rulers over a one-thousand-year span. One ruler for instance, Idris Aluma/ Alooma fought 349 wars and won 1,000 battles. Under his rule, highway robbery was tackled masterfully and rule of law became so reliable, it was said about travel in the empire:

“a lone woman clad in gold might walk with none to fear but God.”

Flag of Bornu Empire

Population of Bornu Empire

The population was about 5,000,000 people.

Kanem Empire

1085 The kingdom converts to Islam under the influence of Zaghawa.

Abd al-Djel Selma 1193 – 1210

Dunama II Dabbalemi 1210 – 1224

Ibrahim I Nikale-1281 – 1301

1314 Increased aggression from Egypt and internal discord leads to the collapse of the neighbouring kingdom of Dongola in Nubia.

1370 – 1389 Internal struggles and external attacks tear Kanem apart. Six mais reign in this period, but Bulala invaders (from the area around Lake Fitri to the east) kill five of them. This proliferation of mais results in numerous claimants to the throne and leads to a series of internecine wars.

Abu Bakr Lagatu-1371 – 1372

Idris Dunama III / Umar Idrismi-1372 – 1380 Moved the capital to Bornu.

c.1380 the Bulala force Mai Umar Idrismi to abandon Njimi and move the Kanembu people to Bornu on the western edge of Lake Chad.

Bornu Empire

Othman Kalinuama -1421 – 1422

Idris II Katakarmabe 1507 – 1529

Aissa Kili N’guirmamaramama 1573 – 1589 Queen.

Idris III Alaoma / Idris Aluma 1580 – 1617 The empire peaked at this time.

Mohammed VI Bukalmarami 1617- 1632

Mid-1600s, sustained by the reforms of Idris III (1580-1617), the empire now begins to fade.

Dunama VIII Gana -1751 – 1753

late 1700s, Bornu’s rule now extends only westwards, into the land of the Hausa of modern Nigeria.

Dunama IX Lefiami- 1808 – 1811

1814 – 1846 When the semi-nomadic alliance of Muslim tribesmen take over the empire under Mohammed, the Sayfawas return to the old capital of Kanem under Dunama IX to remain titular monarchs.

Mohammed el Amin I 1814 – 1835 Non-Sayfawa dynasty ruler.

Dunama IX Lefiami 1814 – 1817 Sayfawa ruler restored at Kanem.

Ibrahim IV 1817 – 1846 Sayfawa ruler at Kanem.

Omar / Umar 1835 – 1853 Son of Mohammed.

‘Ali IV Dalatumi 1846 Sayfawa ruler at Kanem. The last of the Sayfawas.

1846 Ali V takes part in a civil war in league with Ouaddai tribesmen. He is defeated by Omar and one of the longest ruling dynasties is ended. The title of mai is dropped for a more modest one.

1890 – 1893 The empire is conquered by Great Britain.

Sanda Limananbe Wuduroma 1893

1893 The Bornu empire is conquered following an invasion from eastern Sudan by a warlord

Origins of Kanem

The accepted origins of the empire start when a nomadic community of Tebu-speaking Kanembu settled in Njimi and established a capital there under the first Mai (king) known as Sef or Saif. The area already had inhabitants living in walled city-states these were autochthons called the Sao culture. The Sao culture dates back to 600 BC. The earliest kings pre-date the foundation of Islam.

The Sao culture already had skilled workers in bronze, copper and iron. The city-states had patrilineal societies united into one polity with one language and a common religious system. This contradicts the ludicrous ideas of Hamitic theory published as scientific work during the Trans-Atlantic Slave era that suggests all kings and organized political systems in Africa were the remains of Middle Eastern, Asiatic or Indo-European people that conquered black Africans.

KANEM was located at the southern end of the trans- Saharan trade route between TRIPOLE and the region of Lake Chad. This strategic location was both lucrative and attracted attacks from Northern neighbours for control of the Kanem economic role.

Housing in Kanem-Bornu Empire

The Bornu Empire built houses that were different to certain other African cultures. Due to the temperature of their location, they elected to construct buildings using red bricks.

Shift of the SAYFUWA court from KANEM to BORNU

By the end of the 14th century, internal struggles and external attacks had torn KANEM apart. Between 1359 and 1383, seven MAISREIGNED, but BULALA invaders (from the area around Lake FITRI to the east) killed five of them. This proliferation of MAIS resulted in numerous claimants to the throne and led to a series of internecine wars. Finally, around 1380 the BULALA forced MAI UMAR IDRISMI to abandon NJIMI and move the KANEMBU people to Bornu on the western edge of Lake Chad. Over time, the mix of the KANEMBU and Bornu, people created a new language, the “Kanuri.”.



MAI GHAJI ALI has been described in many quarters as one of the major kings under the KANEM-BORNU EMPIRE. This status was based on his achievements and leadership skills. Some Historians and interest group make reference to him as the founder of the “BORNO THE 2ND KANURI EMPIRE”.


With control over both capitals, the SAYFAWA dynasty became more powerful than ever. The two states were merged, but political authority still rested in Bornu. KANEM-BORNU peaked during the reign of the statesman MAI IDRIS ALUMA(1571–1603).


The emergence of Idris Aluma was characterized by some development before him.

Some accounts recorded the reign of a woman known as AISSA KILI N’GUIRMAMARAMAMA. She was said to be the daughter DUNAMA MOHAMMAD. Some other accounts, mainly Islamic accounts, tend to give the credit to Abdullah who was also the son of DUNAMA MOHAMMAD. After the death of DUNAMA MOHAMMAD, his son Abdullah reigned for about a year after which AISSA KILI N’GUIRMAMARAMAMA took control of the Empire. She stood in for some years, as the heir to the throne Idris Aluma was believed to be too young to ascend. She reigned before Idris Aluma was mature enough to ascend to the throne in 1569.

The details of his ascension to the throne are not clear but Idris Aluma’s reign has been characterized as the best in the KANEM-BORNU Empire. BORNU EMPIRE reached its peak during the reign of Mai Idris Aluma.

Aluma went after the elements creating instability in the Empire and also those challenging his authority. He turned his military power on those non-Islamic groups that were revolting against BORNO EMPIRE.

He killed many of the Sao and the NGIZIM people, sold some of them into slavery in exchange for horses, arms and goods which the Empire got from the Arab world.

The remnant among those considered stubborn had no choice than to integrate, pledge and show loyalty to the Empire. This achievement brought a high level of internal stability in the empire.

Aluma knowing that the strength of any political entity during his time relies on the military, decided to strengthen the army. He re-organized and re-equipped the army for effective operation. He re-equipped the army with modern weapons.

Some accounts credited him to be the first Mai to introduce the use of fire-arms into the Empire. He got fire-arms from Ottoman Empire, Tripoli and the Arab world. He purchased MUSKETS, BUNDUG and other available weapons with which he equipped the army.

He employed some TURKISH MUSKETEERS and some MULLATO SLAVES to teach and drill his army on the use of the new weapons. The establishment of a Musketry Corps in the BORNO EMPIRE army helped to strengthen the army.

Aluma is remembered for his military skills, administrative reforms, and Islamic piety.

Aluma introduced a number of legal and administrative reforms based on his religious beliefs and Islamic law (Sharia).

He sponsored the construction of numerous mosques and made a pilgrimage to mecca, where he arranged for the establishment of a hostel to be used by pilgrims from his empire.

Trade Routes Map of Medieval Saharan Trade (1400) by T L Miles


KANEM-BORNU under Aluma was strong and wealthy.

Government revenue came from tribute, sales of slaves and duties on and participation in trans-Saharan trade.

Unlike the Kingdoms of Mali and Songhai in West Africa, the Chadian region did not have gold.

Still, it was central to one of the most convenient trans- Saharan routes. Between Lake Chad and Fezzan lay a sequence of well-spaced wells and oases, and from Fezzan there were easy connections to North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

Many products were sent north, including natron (sodium carbonate), cotton, kola nuts, ivory, ostrich feathers, perfume, wax, and hides, and slaves.

Imports included salt, horses, silks, glass, muskets, and copper.

Aluma took a keen interest in trade and other economic matters.

He is credited with having the roads cleared, designing better boats for Lake Chad, introducing standard units of measure for grain, and moving farmers into new lands.

In addition, he improved the ease and security of transit through the empire with the goal of making it so safe that “a lone woman clad in gold might walk with none to fear but God.”

KANEM’S expansion peaked during the long and energetic reign of MAI DUNAMA DABBALEMI (1203–1242) and the empire’s influence extended westward to Kano (in present-day Nigeria) and thus included Bornu, eastward to OUADDAI, and southward to the Adamawa grassland.

Decline of the Bornu Empire

The administrative reforms and military brilliance of Aluma sustained the empire until the mid-17th century, when its power began to fade.

By the late 18th century, Bornu rule extended only westward, into the land of the Hausa of modern Nigeria

The last Mai before the Fulani jihadist attacks was Mai Ahmad b. Ali (1791-1808). He was said to be extremely weak and later got blind. He had to relinquish power to his son DUNAMA when he could not hold on to it again.

The weakness of Ahmad did not help the Empire in the face of the Fulani attacks. The jihadist attacks completely reduced the strength of the Empire and triggered another development in the Empire.

Towards the end of the empire, the capital of Bornu Empire moved to “ GAZARGAMO”. In 1800s, the area covered was 129,499 sq. km (50,000 SQ mi) and by 1892 it was 50,000 km^2(19,000 SQ mi).


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The rise and fall of the Kanem-Bornu empire: A brief history

Few empires in medieval Africa have persevered for so long like the Kanem-Bornu empire.
Spanning about 777,000 km² at its greatest extent, Ahmad al-Ya’qubi, a historian of the Abassid Caliphate, called it one of the greatest empires of Sudan.

Kanem Bornu Empire Map source: afrolegends

The history of the Kanem-Bornu empire is one of endurance, military prowess, and economic ventures that would be seen today as cruel.
It played crucial roles in the history of Africa, being the major transaharan route to Tripoli –a slave trading empire and a constantly warring state.


The origin of this empire is unclear but several scholars propose that Kanem was formed by Tebu nomads seeking fertile lands and driven away by political pressure. These nomads took the area from the Sao though war between them and Sao continued well into the 14th century.

The Duguwa Dynasty

Before Islam was introduced, Kanem was ruled by the Duguwa dynasty which lasted for about 300 years (700Ad to 1086Ad). This dynasty ruled the Kanuri, which included the Ngalaga, Kangu, Kayi, Kuburi, Kaguwa, Tomagra and Tubu. The kings of this dynasty were believed to be gods that were so powerful that they had power over life and death.

According to Kanuri tradition, Dhi Yazan was the first Mai of Kanem but this is widely contested by several historians.
Richard palmer, a well informed colonial administrator, called Dhi Yazan a myth and alleged that Dugu Bremmi was the first Mai of Kanem.

The empire of Kanem at this period was described by Al Yaqubi as filled with huts made of reeds and having a powerful calvary and they were mostly nomadic.

Advent Of Islam (Rise Of The SAYFAWA Dynasty

In the 9th century, the Kanuri speaking muslims seized power from the Duguwa’s establishing their own dynasty called the Sayfawa. Slavery peaked under Muslim rule. The Kanem empire sold at least 5000 slaves a year from the initial 1000 slaves benchmark. The first Muslim king, Mai Humai, was less popular than his successor Dunama Dabbalemi.

Mai Dunama (1098-1151) was a fervent Muslim. Known by Tunisian Historiographers as King of Kanem and Lord of Bornu, he established ties with the kingdoms of North Africa, declared a Holy war on his neighbors and expanded the empire to the Fezzan region. A Kanem embassy was established in Tunisia around 1257, as mentioned by the famous Andalusian historian Ibn Khaldun.
Despite his military successes, his rule brought strife in the empire, especially with his hardline stance against pre-islamic beliefs. His destruction of an Ancient artifact called the Mune was problematic and he assigned the conquered regions to the general who conquered them creating a nepotistic tendency which persevered even after his death.

Decline Of Kanem

By the end of the 14th century, the Kanem empire was greatly weakened by civil strife and attacks from the Sao and Bilala people. A total of four kings were killed by the Sao and another four by the Bilala.
By 1387, the Bilala had Conquered most of Kanem and drove the Sayfawa dynasty to Bornu (present day northeast Nigeria) where they established the Bornu empire.

After their defeat, the house of Sayfawa, which ruled Kanem and now Bornu, divided into two rival branches constantly vying for power. This led to constant palace strife within the court. the struggle was so fierce that up to 15 kings occupied the throne at the beginning of the 15th century. However, in 1460, this came to an abrupt end when king Ali Gazi killed his rivals and ascended to the throne. His reign played a significant role in Bornu’s history. He built a new capital called Ngazargamu, an area far more suited for agriculture and grazing than their former capital, and went to war with the Bilala nomads once more, recapturing Njimi.

Despite seeing agriculture as profitable, the Bornu empire still relied heavily on slavery as a source of revenue. They traded mostly with the Ottoman empire and their major source of slaves were the tribes on the south of Lake Chad who were referred to as infidels. Along its slave routes are thousands of skeletons belonging to dead slaves. It is estimated that about two million slaves were shipped off from Bornu to Tripoli (the largest slave market in the Mediterranean).

Kanem Bornu Empire Art source: Pinterest

Brief History of The Kanem-Bornu Empire

Studying the history of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, one would discover and come to the conclusion that its people are peculiar to various startings, therefore, making their origin unclear.

There are diverse opinions on where the people of the Kanem-Bornu empire truly originated from. Although, in the midst of these uncertainties, one thing is clear which is that at its peak, the Kanem-Bornu empire existed as an area under Chad and Nigeria.

The empire was known to the Arabian geographers as the independent kingdom of Bornu until 1900. The dominance of the Kanem-Bornu empire is not limited to Chad and Nigeria but also included parts of southern Libya (Fezzan ) eastern Niger, northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon. Also, their early history is mainly known from the Royal chronicle discovered in 1851.

Kingdom of Kanem - History

(Did you know that Africa is not a country but a continent with a unique history?)

It was founded to the 7 th century by the dynasty Teda, black population originally established in northern Chad. Its capital was the city of Njimi. Population were Muslims from May Oumé reign (around 1085). The kingdom reached its zenith with Dounama Dibalami (1220-1259), who extended to the Fezzan and the Nile and tied relationships with Berber kingdoms, especially the Almohads. On the death of Dounama, the kingdom was parceled out quickly. In the 14 th century, it was threatened by Saos and Boulala from the east. The rulers of Kanem had to take refuge on the western shore of Lake Chad, where they founded the kingdom of Bornu in 1395. Bornu reconquered Kanem and became the Kanem-Bornu in the 16 th century. The empire reached its zenith under the reign of Idriss Alaoma III (1571-1603). At the end of the 18 th century, Bornu regained some power and extended its influence onto the people of the Benue average. The kingdom was then prosper. At the end of the 19 th century, the region has experienced upheaval due to conflict Finally, this kingdom declines with the arrival of the French army in 1900.

(Saviez-vous que l'Afrique n'est pas un pays mais un continent avec une histoire exceptionnelle?)

Il a été fondé vers le VII ème Siècle par la dynastie Teda, population noire chamelière originellement établie au Nord du Tchad. Sa capitale fut la ville de Njimi. Les populations étaient de confession musulmane à partir du règne Mai oumé (vers 1085). Le royaume atteignit son apogée avec Dounama Dibalami (1220-59), qui l’étendit vers le Fezzan et le Nil et noua des relations avec les royaumes berbères, en particulier avec les Almohades. A la mort de Dounama, le royaume se morcela rapidement. Au XIV e siècle, il fut menacé par les Saos et les Boulala venus de l'est. Les souverains du Kanem durent se réfugier sur la rive ouest du Lac Tchad où ils fondèrent le royaume de Bornou en 1395. Le Bornou reconquit le Kanem et devint le Kanem-Bornou au XVI e siècle. L'empire atteint son apogée sous le règne d' Idriss III Alaoma (1571-1603). À la fin du XVIII e siècle, le Bornou a retrouvé une puissance certaine et étend son influence jusque sur les peuplades de la Bénoué moyenne. Il est alors prosper. À la fin du XIX ème Siècle, la région a connu des bouleversements suite à des conflits Enfin, ce royaume s'éteint avec l'arrivée des armées françaises en 1900.


The Kanem/Kanem-Bornu Empire (700 AD – 1893 AD) existed for over a thousand years. It was first known as the Kanem Empire (700 AD – 1617 AD) and later came to be known as the Kanem-Bornu Empire (1617 – 1893 AD).* At its height, the Empire was located in the areas known today as modern day western Chad, north eastern Nigeria, southern Libya, eastern Niger and northern Cameroon. It was located at the southern end of the trans-Saharan trade route between Tripoli and the region of Lake Chad. We know about the history of this empire from the ‘Girgam,’ a royal artefact of the Kanem Empire. The Girgam has provided a written historical record of the Empire, which includes the names of Kings and Queens, the length of their reigns and the major events within the Empire.


While the Empire’s official dates run from 700 AD – 1893 AD, we can actually trace its roots to 300 AD, under the Nomadic Tebu-speaking Kanembu. The Girgam claims that the Kanembu people moved from their lands to the land around Lake Chad for 2 key reasons. First, the lands around Lake Chad were fertile unlike their previous lands, which suffered from dryness and second, because there was political pressure. The lands around Lake Chad were also attractive because of the existing infrastructure. There were walled cities that belonged to the Sao civilisation. (The Sao civilisation, were one of the first civilisations to have lived in the territory that is now known as Cameroon.) The bounties of the land around Lake Chad caused the Kanembu to abandon their nomadic lifestyle. They founded a capital here around 700 called ‘ N’jimi,’ under the first Kanembu King, Saif. The Kanembu were led by the Duguwa dynasty and they eventually dominated the Sao civilisation war continued up to the late 16 th century.


The Kings of Kanem were known as ‘Mai’. The Duguwa Dynasty was the first Dynasty to rule the Empire. The ‘Mais’ of the Duguwa were regarded as divine Kings and belonged to the ruling establishment, the Magumi. Although Saif was the first King of the Empire, it was under his son King Dugu, the third King of the Empire that N’jimi grew in power and influence. Under the ninth King’s leadership, King Arku in 1023 AD, that the Kingdom expanded northwards into the Sahara and took over the trading routes of the African Muslims in the area. This would prove to be a turning point for the Empire because Islam would now have a significant influence in the Royal Court. King Arku’s successor, Queen Hawwa was important for 2 reasons. First she was the first female ruler of the Empire and second she was the first member of the Royal Family to embrace and convert to Islam. She ruled the Empire from 1067 AD for 4 years and had set the precedent for Islamic rule. Her successor was also an Islamic ruler, King Abd Al-Djalil (1071-1075) and his successor, King Hume Julmi (1075 AD) founded the Sefuwa dynasty, which would not only become the ruling class of the Kingdom, but more importantly one of the most powerful Islamic African Kingdoms at the time.


The Sefuwa dynasty (1075 AD – 1846 AD) is one of the longest reigning African dynasties of all time. Under this dynasty, the Empire grew extremely wealthy. They controlled 12 vassal states (subordinate states) that were in addition to their own lands. They also took control of the salt deposits within the region of Bilma, located in what we know today as Niger and they increased their trade with North Africa. They obtained horses, fabrics and glassware in exchange for salt. They also exported ostrich feathers, elephant tusks and tin from the Hausa region of northern Nigeria.

Mai Dunama II (1210 AD – 1248 AD) (also known as Mai Dunama Dibalami), was an important King within the Empire. Not only was he a devout Muslim, like many of his predecessors, but he also had the ability to command an army of 40,000 men on horseback. He expanded the size of the Empire. Moreover, he was a great diplomat and developed key relationships with the sultans of North Africa. He established an embassy for the Kanem Empire in Tunisia along with both a school and hostel in Cairo for those Muslims taking their pilgrimage to Mecca. Under various Mai’s, the Royal court had a keen interest in the study of the Qu’ran and the development of Qu’ranic studies. They also encouraged the study of astronomy, mathematics and science.

Interestingly, the historian Dr Fagan has argued that although the Mais were Muslim and devoted to Islam, the political structure of the Kingdom retained some of the pre-Islamic elements. These pre-Islamic elements were inherited from the Zaghawa or Duguwa dynasties. An example of one such element is that 2 women held the highest positions in the Kingdom – the Queen Mother and the Queen sister both of whom had their own court and officers.


Borno was an area that lay southwest of Lake Chad. The Kanem Empire temporarily moved here after their wars with the Bulala had restarted as the Bulala had taken control of the Kanem capital, Njimi and the surrounding regions. Borno proved to be important for the relocated Kanem Empire, as the lands here were more fertile than in Kanem. This land allowed for the cultivation of crops. Moreover, when the King Mai Ali Ghaji rose to power in 1472 AD, he established strong trade links with some of the Hausa Kingdoms (modern day northern Nigeria). He also constructed the city of Ngazargamu near the River Yobe, which subsequently became the capital of the Kanem Empire in Bornu. Other towns, such as Difa, Yo, Duji and Wudi also developed nearby and they specialised in pottery, clothing, weaving and leatherwork. By 1497, Mai Ali Ghaji had developed the Empire in Bonru to such a great extent, that he had enough resources to retake the city of Njimi from the Bulala. Once this was done, the Kanem Empire became the Kanem-Bornu Empire and went from strength to strength. Trade was conducted as far off as the Ottoman Empire in modern day Turkey.


King Idris Alooma is one of the most famous Kings of the Kanem-Bornu Empire. He came to power in 1564 AD, and was around at the same time as the famous Caliphs/Sultans of other Islamic Empires from Baghdad (Iraq), Cairo (Egypt) and Songhai (Mali). As a devout Muslim, he not only went on his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1571 AD, but also brought back with him scholars from the Middle-East and Northern Africa. He, like Mai Dunama II also constructed a hostel in Mecca for the Muslims of Kanem to stay at when they went on their pilgrimage to Mecca. He imported camels from the Sahara that replaced the donkeys and oxen that had been used as transportation previously. He was a great military leader and he conquered surrounding territories. He firmly solidified the Empire as the Kanem-Bornu Empire, as he kept the potential invaders at bay. He controlled and protected the Empire from invasions by the Huasa to the West, the Bulala to the East and the Tuareg to the North.


The Kanem-Bornu Empire was officially known as the Kanem-Bornu Empire by 1617 AD. This date marks the unification of the Kanem and Bornu regions. Mai Idris Alooma had 3 sons all of whom followed in their father’s footsteps and further increased the prosperity of the Empire. Mai Muhammed (1617-1632 AD), Mai Ibrahim (1632 – 1639 AD) and Mai Oman (1639 – 1657 AD) expanded education and learning in the Empire. Security and peace also characterised their reigns. In fact, the Kanem-Bornu Empire continued to flourish well into the 1800’s. The German explorer Gustav Nachitagal, visited the Empire in 1850 and has remarked on how the Empire had ‘great beauty’ and had ‘prosperous development.’

Kingdom of Kanem - History

The Kanem Empire originated in the ninth century A.D. to the northeast of Lake Chad. It was formed from a confederation of nomadic peoples who spoke languages of the Teda- Daza (Toubou) group. One theory, based on early Arabic sources, suggests that the dominance of the Zaghawa people bound the confederation together. But local oral traditions omit the Zaghawa and refer instead to a legendary Arab, Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan--believed by some to have been a Yemeni-- who assumed leadership of the Magoumi clan and began the Sayfawa dynastic lineage. Historians agree that the leaders of the new state were ancestors of the Kanembu people. The leaders adopted the title mai, or king, and their subjects regarded them as divine.

One factor that influenced the formation of states in Chad was the penetration of Islam during the tenth century. Arabs migrating from the north and east brought the new religion. Toward the end of the eleventh century, the Sayfawa king, Mai Humai, converted to Islam. (Some historians believe that it was Humai rather than Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan who established the Sayfawa lineage as the ruling dynasty of Kanem.) Islam offered the Sayfawa rulers the advantages of new ideas from Arabia and the Mediterranean world, as well as literacy in administration. But many people resisted the new religion in favor of traditional beliefs and practices. When Humai converted, for example, it is believed that the Zaghawa broke from the empire and moved east. This pattern of conflict and compromise with Islam occurs repeatedly in Chadian history.

Prior to the twelfth century, the nomadic Sayfawa confederation expanded southward into Kanem (the word for "south" in the Teda language). By the thirteenth century, Kanem's rule expanded. At the same time, the Kanembu people became more sedentary and established a capital at Njimi, northeast of Lake Chad. Even though the Kanembu were becoming more sedentary, Kanem's rulers continued to travel frequently throughout the kingdom to remind the herders and farmers of the government's power and to allow them to demonstrate their allegiance by paying tribute.

Kanem's expansion peaked during the long and energetic reign of Mai Dunama Dabbalemi (ca. 1221-59). Dabbalemi initiated diplomatic exchanges with sultans in North Africa and apparently arranged for the establishment of a special hostel in Cairo to facilitate pilgrimages to Mecca. During Dabbalemi's reign, the Fezzan region (in present-day Libya) fell under Kanem's authority, and the empire's influence extended westward to Kano, eastward to Wadai, and southward to the Adamawa grasslands (in present-day Cameroon). Portraying these boundaries on maps can be misleading, however, because the degree of control extended in ever-weakening gradations from the core of the empire around Njimi to remote peripheries, from which allegiance and tribute were usually only symbolic. Moreover, cartographic lines are static and misrepresent the mobility inherent in nomadism and migration, which were common. The loyalty of peoples and their leaders was more important in governance than the physical control of territory.

Dabbalemi devised a system to reward military commanders with authority over the people they conquered. This system, however, tempted military officers to pass their positions to their sons, thus transforming the office from one based on achievement and loyalty to the mai into one based on hereditary nobility. Dabbalemi was able to suppress this tendency, but after his death, dissension among his sons weakened the Sayfawa Dynasty. Dynastic feuds degenerated into civil war, and Kanem's outlying peoples soon ceased paying tribute.

By the end of the fourteenth century, internal struggles and external attacks had torn Kanem apart. Between 1376 and 1400, six mais reigned, but Bulala invaders (from the area around Lake Fitri to the east) killed five of them. This proliferation of mais resulted in numerous claimants to the throne and led to a series of internecine wars. Finally, around 1396 the Bulala forced Mai Umar Idrismi to abandon Njimi and move the Kanembu people to Borno on the western edge of Lake Chad. Over time, the intermarriage of the Kanembu and Borno peoples created a new people and language, the Kanuri.

But even in Borno, the Sayfawa Dynasty's troubles persisted. During the first three-quarters of the fifteenth century, for example, fifteen mais occupied the throne. Then, around 1472 Mai Ali Dunamami defeated his rivals and began the consolidation of Borno. He built a fortified capital at Ngazargamu, to the west of Lake Chad (in present-day Niger), the first permanent home a Sayfawa mai had enjoyed in a century. So successful was the Sayfawa rejuvenation that by the early sixteenth century the Bulala were defeated and Njimi retaken. The empire's leaders, however, remained at Ngazargamu because its lands were more productive agriculturally and better suited to the raising of cattle.

Kanem-Borno peaked during the reign of the outstanding statesman Mai Idris Aluma (ca. 1571-1603). Aluma (also spelled Alooma) is remembered for his military skills, administrative reforms, and Islamic piety. His main adversaries were the Hausa to the west, the Tuareg and Toubou to the north, and the Bulala to the east. One epic poem extols his victories in 330 wars and more than 1,000 battles. His innovations included the employment of fixed military camps (with walls) permanent sieges and "scorched earth" tactics, where soliders burned everything in their path armored horses and riders and the use of Berber camelry, Kotoko boatmen, and iron-helmeted musketeers trained by Turkish military advisers. His active diplomacy featured relations with Tripoli, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire, which sent a 200-member ambassadorial party across the desert to Aluma's court at Ngazargamu. Aluma also signed what was probably the first written treaty or cease-fire in Chadian history. (Like many cease-fires negotiated in the 1970s and 1980s, it was promptly broken.)

Aluma introduced a number of legal and administrative reforms based on his religious beliefs and Islamic law (sharia). He sponsored the construction of numerous mosques and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he arranged for the establishment of a hostel to be used by pilgrims from his empire. As with other dynamic politicians, Aluma's reformist goals led him to seek loyal and competent advisers and allies, and he frequently relied on slaves who had been educated in noble homes. Aluma regularly sought advice from a council composed of heads of the most important clans. He required major political figures to live at the court, and he reinforced political alliances through appropriate marriages (Aluma himself was the son of a Kanuri father and a Bulala mother).

Kanem-Borno under Aluma was strong and wealthy. Government revenue came from tribute (or booty, if the recalcitrant people had to be conquered), sales of slaves, and duties on and participation in trans-Saharan trade. Unlike West Africa, the Chadian region did not have gold. Still, it was central to one of the most convenient trans-Saharan routes. Between Lake Chad and Fezzan lay a sequence of well-spaced wells and oases, and from Fezzan there were easy connections to North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea. Many products were sent north, including natron (sodium carbonate), cotton, kola nuts, ivory, ostrich feathers, perfume, wax, and hides, but the most important of all were slaves. Imports included salt, horses, silks, glass, muskets, and copper.

Aluma took a keen interest in trade and other economic matters. He is credited with having the roads cleared, designing better boats for Lake Chad, introducing standard units of measure for grain, and moving farmers into new lands. In addition, he improved the ease and security of transit through the empire with the goal of making it so safe that "a lone woman clad in gold might walk with none to fear but God."

The administrative reforms and military brilliance of Aluma sustained the empire until the mid-1600s, when its power began to fade. By the late 1700s, Borno rule extended only westward, into the land of the Hausa. Around that time, Fulani people, invading from the west, were able to make major inroads into Borno. By the early nineteenth century, Kanem-Borno was clearly an empire in decline, and in 1808 Fulani warriors conquered Ngazargamu. Usman dan Fodio led the Fulani thrust and proclaimed a jihad (holy war) on the irreligious Muslims of the area. His campaign eventually affected Kanem-Borno and inspired a trend toward Islamic orthodoxy. But Muhammad al Kanem contested the Fulani advance. Kanem was a Muslim scholar and non-Sayfawa warlord who had put together an alliance of Shuwa Arabs, Kanembu, and other seminomadic peoples. He eventually built a capital at Kukawa (in present-day Nigeria). Sayfawa mais remained titular monarchs until 1846. In that year, the last mai, in league with Wadai tribesmen, precipitated a civil war. It was at that point that Kanem's son, Umar, became king, thus ending one of the longest dynastic reigns in regional history.

Although the dynasty ended, the kingdom of Kanem-Borno survived. But Umar, who eschewed the title mai for the simpler designation shehu (from the Arabic "shaykh"), could not match his father's vitality and gradually allowed the kingdom to be ruled by advisers (wazirs). Borno began to decline, as a result of administrative disorganization, regional particularism, and attacks by the militant Wadai Empire to the east. The decline continued under Umar's sons, and in 1893 Rabih Fadlallah, leading an invading army from eastern Sudan, conquered Borno.

Kingdom of Kanem - History

The kingdom of Buganda was the kingdom of the 52 clans of the Baganda people, the largest of the traditional kingdoms in Uganda today. The name Uganda, the Swahili word for Buganda was adopted by the British authorities in 1894 when they created the Protectorate of Uganda, centered in Buganda. Buganda borders are marked by Lake Victoria South, the White Nile to the east and Lake Kyoga in the north. Originally a vassal state of Bunyoro, Buganda quickly took over power in the 18 th and 19 th century to become the dominant kingdom in the region. Buganda has never been conquered by colonial armies. Instead, the powerful Kabaka Mwenga agrees to obtain the status of British Protectorate. Mwenga arose as the ruler of all territories to Lake Albert. He considers agréement with the British as an alliance between equals.

The Kingdom of Rwanda is a kingdom that existed within the current Rwanda. According to some sources, this small kingdom started with a small chiefdom, revolving in the orbit of Bugesera and where the king was only primus inter pares, Rwanda buitl in the 16 th century a complex royal ideology and built a military organization. Various improvements are made to the 16 th and 17 th centuries in this organization, but major changes are introduced only in the 19 th century, especially during the reign of RWAABUGIRI. In the 16 th century, Rwanda detached from Bugesera and conquers the Nduga. In the 17 th century, the region of Astrida was incorporated and colonization attempts were made in the Bwishaza. In the 18 th and 19 th centuries, the kingdoms of Mubari, Ndorwa, Bugesera and Gisaka were submitted. At the same time deep penetration is done in Kinyaga and the first Tutsi elements from the centre settled in the northern regions, which are gradually occupied by Gahindiro, Rwoogera and Rwaabugiri. The Kingdom of Rwanda attempted conquests to east and west. Eastern conquests were assimilated quickly, but not the northern and western conquests eventually failed. This is due to cultural differences between the center of Rwanda and its northern and western. regions.

Le royaume du Buganda est le royaume des 52 clans du peuple Baganda, le plus grand des royaumes traditionnels de l'Ouganda actuel. Le nom d'Ouganda, le mot swahili pour Bouganda a été adopté par les autorités britanniques en 1894 quand ils créèrent le protectorat ougandais, centré au Bouganda. Les frontières du Bouganda sont marquées par le lac Victoria au Sud, le Nil blanc à l'est et le lac Kyoga au nord. À l'origine un état vassal du Bunyoro, le Buganda a rapidement pris plus de pouvoir au XVIII e et au XIX e pour devenir le royaume dominant dans la région. Le Buganda n'a jamais été conquis par les armées coloniales. Au contraire, le puissant Kabaka Mwenga donne son accord pour obtenir le statut de Protectorat britannique. Mwenga se pose comme le souverain de tous les territoires jusqu'au Lac Albert. Il considère l'agréement avec les Britanniques comme une alliance entre égaux.

Le royaume du Rwanda est un royaume qui a existé dans les limites du Rwanda actuel. Selon certaines sources, ce petit royaume est parti d' une petite chefferie, gravitant dans l'orbite du Bugesera et où le roi n'était que primus inter pares, le Rwanda acquiert au XVIe siècle une idéologie royale complexe et se construit une organisation militaire. Différents perfectionnements sont apportés aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles à cette organisation, mais des changements majeurs n'y sont introduits qu'au XIXe siècle, surtout sous le règne de Rwaabugiri. Au XVIe siècle, le Rwanda se détache du Bugesera et conquiert le Nduga. Au XVIIe siècle, la région d'Astrida est incorporée et des tentatives de colonisation sont faites dans le Bwishaza. Aux XVIIIe et XlXe siècles, les royaumes du Mubari, Ndorwa, Bugesera et Gisaka sont soumis. En même temps une pénétration en profondeur se fait au Kinyaga et les premiers éléments tutsi du Centre s'installent dans les régions septentrionales, qui sont occupées graduellement sous Gahindiro, Rwoogera et Rwaabugiri. Le royaume du Rwanda tenta des conquêtes vers l'est et vers l'ouest. Les conquêtes orientales furent assimilées rapidement, mais pas celles du nord et les conquêtes de l'ouest finirent par échouées. Ceci est attribuable aux différences culturelles existant entre le Rwanda central et ses régions septentrionales et occidentales.

Epic World History

Hummay ruled around 1075 and marked the appearance of Islam as a major force. In Africa as in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Islam was fostered as much by traders and wandering imams, or clerics, as it was by holy war, or jihads of conquest.

Living in a semiarid region, trade, as seen in the use of vast caravans, was the way to wealth, since agriculture in this forbidding climate was a challenge at best. Therefore Hummay, and the following kings of his Sefuwa dynasty, carried on a protracted struggle to gain control of the caravans and trade routes from their capital at Njimi, northeast of Lake Chad.

Of course, waterborne trade on the lake was also an object of their mercantile ambitions. Trade in gold grew to become a major source of wealth—and conflict—in the entire region. It was first spurred by Arab traders, who shipped it to North Africa, where a mint to make dinars had been opened in Kairouan in today’s Tunisia.

Later, as John Reader wrote in Africa: The Biography of the Continent, “the trans-Saharan trade [in gold] was further boosted when Europe began minting gold coins for the first time since the disintegration of the Roman empire” in the 13th century.

During their struggles for trade, the Sefuwa kings, especially in the region of the Fezzan, in what is now southern Libya, came into conflict with the Berber warriors from the Sahara. However while pursuing trade, the rulers of Kanem Bornu also realized that making alliances with more sedentary, agricultural peoples would provide them with a steady source of food and thus kept good relations with the farming peoples of the Lake Chad region.

Another source of wealth for the Sefuwa kings was in the form of slavery, which under them became a major part of their economy. The height of the power of Kanem Bornu came in the reign of Hummay’s descendant Dunawa Dibilani (r. 1210󈞜).

There had been a diluting of Islamic influence in the decades following Hummay, and Dunawa set about restoring Islam. He also carried out a series of jihads between the Fezzan and Lake Chad, which not only increased the power of the kingdom, but also provided him with a lucrative income from the sale of slaves in the Muslim markets to the north.

The death of Dunawa brought with it nearly two centuries of internal unrest and external invasions, at the same time as the Hausa peoples from what is now Nigeria attempted to expand their territory in the same general region. Ali Gaji (c. 1497�) finally succeeded in establishing the old Kanem Bornu kingdom again, with a new capital at Ngazargamu. The kingdom would flourish for nearly 300 more years until, as the Hausas, it fell under the power of the imperialistic Fulanis.

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