Empire Kanem

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Kanem is a former empire that arose east of Lake Chad, but also had an impact on history west of Lake Chad . From the 13th century onwards, the empire was called Kanem-Bornu due to its documented expansion west of Lake Chad .

Army leader of the Kanembu (after Barth, Reisen , 1857, III, 110)

Establishment of the state of Kanem

Information on the written sources

The authoritative source on the origin of the Kanem Empire is the Dīwān , the Kanem-Bornu Empire chronicle from the 13th century AD. According to the information in the Arabic chronicle, which - according to Dierk Lange - is based on a Hebrew model, and other related sources, the founders of the empire came from Baghdad and had the biblical patriarchs as ancestors. Without going into the assumed migration of the founders of the empire from the Middle East, the chronicle provides the important clue with regard to the 16th mentioned ruler, Salema (1176-1203), the father of Dunama Dibbalemi, that he was black and himself so it was very different from all his ancestors, who are described as "red like the Arabs". Since similar observations were made by French observers of the early colonial period in relation to the ruling clan of the Magumi, this statement can be regarded as entirely credible. In connection with investigations into the authenticity of the Dīwān and the early onomastic statements of the Chronicle, these statements clearly point to a foreign origin of the founders of the Empire of Kanem. According to the early Arab historian al-Ya'qūbī of 823, the founders of the empire of Kanem and other West African states came from Babylon, a clue that points to an emigration from the ancient Near East in the pre- Achaemenid period .

Immigrants from Syria-Palestine

According to Dierk Lange, the Dīwān , the historical chronicle of Kanem-Bornu, shows that immigrants from the Middle East around 600 BC. Founded the state of Kanem east of Lake Chad. The rulers' names from Sef (1) to Arku (9) denote ancient oriental rulers from Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279), the founder of the Akkadian Empire, to Assur-uballit II (612-609), the last Assyrian king. The Akkadian name of the chronicle - girgam from girginakku "library" (Arabic: Dīwān ) - and the Assyrian king title of the founding hero Sef "ruler of the four world regions" provide evidence of a connection between the collapse of the Neo-Assyrian empire at the end of the 7th century BC . And the founding of the state of Kanem. According to the Dīwān , the oldest dynasty of the Duguwa derived their descent from Dugu , who is said to have lived after Sef and the biblical Abraham (Arabic: Ibrāhīm). The emphasis on the descent of the Duguwa from the Dugu identified as Hammurabi indicates the primary role that the Babylonians - and not the Assyrians - played in the establishment of the state and the early exercise of rule in Kanem. In addition, the Dīwān mentions all biblical patriarchs up to Adam with one exception. This amazing list of names cannot have been adopted by Muslim scholars as it contains details from the pre-canonical lore of Israel that were unknown to the Arabs. It cannot be ruled out that the founding of states by the Duguwa and other ruling groups in the Lake Chad area is related to the spread of the Chadian languages, a subfamily of Afro-Asian, with later partial overlap with the Nilo-Saharan Kanuri.

During the Islamic period, the court chroniclers of Kanem believed they recognized a connection between their own tradition and the ideas of a far-reaching pre-Islamic Yemeni empire of the Arab historians. They therefore suspected that the name of their founding hero Sef was that of the late pre-Islamic Yemeni freedom hero Sayf b. Dhi Yazan corresponded. Despite its little historical role, Sayf b. Dhi Yazan therefore today as the founder of the Sefuwa dynasty , which first ruled over Kanem and then over Bornu.

Establishment of cities and introduction of iron technology

Archaeological research in recent years south of Lake Chad in Zilum and other sites has shown that the beginning of social complexity in the Lake Chad area dates back to around 500 BC. Is to be set. The introduction of iron technology in the Lake Chad region belongs to the same time . According to Dierk Lange , the traditions of the presumed descendants of these town planners and craftsmen, the Sao-Kotoko , are still tangible and point to origins in Syria-Palestine. Although the sites examined so far lay outside the realm of the early Kanem, they allow valuable conclusions to be drawn about assumed parallel developments. In particular, it can be assumed that following the establishment of cities and states in the Lake Chad area, a sporadic trans-Saharan trade arose, benefiting from the guarantors of Fessan .

Kanem under the rule of the Duguwa: 600 BC Chr. –1068 AD

State structure: sacred kingship

The pre-Islamic state of Kanem was characterized by its sacred kingship. An important feature was the king's seclusion, which was already described by al-Muhallabi in the 10th century. In 1351 Ibn Battuta heard while passing through Takedda , on the edge of the Air, that the King of Bornu remained invisible to visitors during state receptions because he was hidden behind a curtain. Denham observed the same custom in the first half of the 19th century in Birni Kafela, south of Kukawa . Another characteristic is the great power of the Queen Mother. The divan mentions that a 12th century magira imprisoned the king for violating an Islamic law. Although this is obviously an etiological tale, the story suggests that the king was fundamentally under the control of the Queen Mother.

Ancient sources: The Agisymba Empire

At the end of the 1st century AD, the Roman Iulius Maternus traveled to Agisymba , accompanied by the king of the Garamanten , who wanted to consolidate his rule there against the rebellious inhabitants of the country. Ptolemy , to whom we owe this news, leaves no doubt that Agisymba was exactly south of Fezzan. It is therefore to be regarded as a neighboring or precursor empire of Kanem in the Lake Chad region. Because of the extremely sporadic trans-Saharan trade relations, the Kanem Empire remained outside the horizon of other ancient authors.

Dynasty History: The Duguwa as Zaghawa

In Kanem, east of Lake Chad, the Duguwa dynasty has been in power since the state was founded. Arab geographers call it Zaghawa from the 9th century AD . It is wrong to conclude from this name an identity with today's semi-nomads of the Zaghawa. In reality, the Duguwa / Zaghawa were just as sedentary as the Sefuwa , who later succeeded them in the rule. In contrast to the presumably Assyrian Sefuwa, however, they formed a thin, foreign ruling class of Babylonian origin, who relied on native warrior nomads and participated in the exercise of power. The language change from a Hamito-Semitic to a Nilosahran language, the Kanuri, can be ascribed to the rise of the clans of the warrior nomads.

Expansion of the empire

After the destruction of the rule of the Garamanten by the Arab general Uqba ibn Nafi around 666 AD, the Duguwa slowly expanded their power to the north to ensure the security of the trans-Saharan trade connections. In the middle of the 11th century their empire extended into the Fessan. To the west of Lake Chad, they exerted a strong influence on the house states .

Kanem under the rule of the Sefuwa: 1068–1381

Islamization and dynasty change

North African merchants spread Islam south of the Sahara. However, due to the sacred institutions of their state, which are deeply anchored in the population, Islam made little progress among the inhabitants of Kanem from the 7th to the 11th centuries. By the middle of the 11th century, however, the continued pressure had become so strong that a Muslim representative of the Duguwa, Abd al-Jalil (approx. 1064-1068), came to power. In the Dīwān it says succinctly: "This is what we have to report from the story of the Banu Duku (= Duguwa). Then we turn to the story of the Banu Hume, the confessors of Islam". Hume al-Sayfi (1068-1080), the first Muslim king of Kanem, belonged to the Sefuwa (actually Sefuwa-Humewa). In contrast to the Duguwa, which were derived from Dugu, Hume and all his successors traced their ancestry back to Sef until the 19th century , who had been associated with the Yemeni hero Sayf b. Dhi Yazan has been identified. According to the chroniclers of the Dīwān , the oldest patriarchs of the Chad Empire lived in the order Sef, Abraham , Dugu . According to their ancestry, the Duguwa and the Sefuwa were not two successive dynasties, but two clans referring to the ancestors of the ancient Near East. In the 1060s, the Duguwa had tried to adapt to Islam, but it soon turned out that the Sefuwa were closer to Islam due to the special properties of the sound gods of their group. Hume and his Sefuwa comrades did indeed seize power, relegating the Duguwa to second place in the state.

Sefuwa rule over Kanem

At the beginning of the Sefuwa rule , Kanem was already a powerful empire. The Dīwān attributes the unbelievable number of 120,000 soldiers to Dunama I (1080–1133), but then emphasizes emphatically that none of the other Sefuwa kings has ever achieved the same power. In addition, Dunama made the pilgrimage to Mecca twice , the second time being said to have drowned in the Red Sea . Another important message in the royal chronicle concerns Salema ibn Abd Allah (1176–1203). He is said to have been the first black-colored king of the Sefuwa, while all of his ancestors were lighter-colored. Due to recent research on the origin of the founders of the Kanem state, it can be ruled out that the claim points to a Berber origin of the Sefuwa, as is sometimes assumed. What is certain is that the rulers of Kanem already had a great deal of power in the 12th century and that at the latest from this time they were regarded as black Africans despite their alleged Yemeni origin. The thesis of a slow settling down of the former nomad rulers of Kanems must therefore be rejected as unfounded.

Expansion of the empire to Bornu

In particular, the Sefuwa ruled over parts of the Bornu west of Lake Chad, which was only mentioned later, from the earliest times . Ibn Said tells of the incorporation of the Berbers of Air into the empire and of the importance of the province of Kagha west of Lake Chad, which must have been part of Bornu. The Dīwān also shows that the Sefuwa resided alternately in Kanem and Bornu since the rule of Dunama Dibalemi (1203–1248). This explains the commonly used realm name Kanem-Bornu . The destruction of the national shrine Mune by Dunama Dibalemi thus had an impact on both Kanem and Bornu. In the north, the empire extended beyond the Fezzan to the vicinity of the Mediterranean coast. In the east it reached Darfur and in the west the area beyond the Niger. Only in the south did the border remain largely unchanged. Even Islam made little progress here for centuries, as the peoples of these areas were regularly haunted by slave raids from Kanem. There were exceptions to the small states on the southern periphery of Kanem: the Kotoko city-states, Fika-Bolewa, Mandara and Bagirmi were spared as long as they regularly delivered the slave tributes imposed on them.

Rule of the Bulala over Kanem: 1381–1577

Revolt of the Bulala - expulsion of the Sefuwa to Bornu: 1381

Under the surface of general Islamization, the old contradictions between the Sefuwa and the Duguwa lived on. There were first open conflicts between the two groups when Dunama Dibalemi destroyed the national shrine of the state, the Mune , in the first half of the 13th century . Ibn Furtu reports two centuries later of a seven-year civil war between the central power and the Tubu that this triggered . Dunama II emerged victorious from the fighting, but the indignation about the lack of respect for the pre-Islamic tradition formed a dangerous explosive in society. During Dunama's lifetime, some of his sons took over the leadership of opposing parties. One of these parties that refused to accept giving up its own tradition in favor of Islam was the Bulala . These had temporarily withdrawn to the area of Lake Fitri south of Kanem. Reinforcing the Arabs who immigrated from the Nile Valley area and taking advantage of dynastic conflicts among the Sefuwa since the rule of Dawud b. Ibrahim (1359-1369) they attacked the Sefuwa. From 1369 to 1375, four successive kings of the Sefuwa fell fighting the Bulala. The twentieth king of the Sefuwa, Umar b. Idris (1376-1381) finally decided to give up Njimi, the old capital in Kanem. He withdrew with his royal court to Kaga in Bornu, the western province of the empire.

Precarious rule of the Bulala over Kanem: 1381–1577

After the Sefuwa withdrew from Njimi, the Bulala ruled over Kanem. With the help of the immigrant Arabs, they pursued the Sefuwa as far as Bornu. In the north they settled in the Kawar in order to control the trans-Saharan trade on the Bornus Strait . The Sefuwa, however, offered bitter resistance and tried for their part to recapture the ancestral seat of their forefathers in Kanem. Under Idris Katakarmabe (1487–1509) they briefly occupied their old capital Njimi . But the Bulala managed to drive the invaders out of Kanem again.

Submission of the Bulala by Idris Alauma: 1577

From 1574 to 1578, the King of Bornu Idris Alauma undertook seven military campaigns to Kanem with the aim of recapturing the old ancestral land of the Sefuwa . At the height of these undertakings described by the chronicler Ibn Furtu , he also succeeded in decisively defeating the Bulala in the course of his 5th campaign to Kanem in 1577 in the battle of Kiyayeka and in appointing a king from the Bulala dynasty as Bornus' vassal.

Kanem as a province of Bornu: 1577–1900

Vassal king of the Bulala: 1577 – approx. 1600

Idris Alauma appointed Muhammad b. Abd Allah, a member of the Bulala royal family, to his viceroy in Kanem. However, this was so hostile by his relatives of the Bulala dynasty that he could not hold on to power.

Rule of the Dalatoa vassal dynasty over Kanem: approx. 1600–1846

Since the solution did not prove a viceroy of Bulala in the long run to be viable, Idris Alauma put itself or more likely one of his successors, the king slaves Dalatu AFNO ( "the Hausamann Dalatu") as governor with a suitable force in Mao , the new capital Kanems, a. After that, rule over Kanem remained in the hands of his successors, who came to be known as Dalatoa ("People of Dalatu"). They still hold traditional rule in Mao to this day . The Bulala, for their part, retreated to Fitri Lake beyond the reach of the Sefuwa, where they can still be found today.

Lieutenancy of Awlad Sulayman in Kanem: 1846–1900

Driven out of Tripolitania by the Ottomans , the nomadic Awlad Sulayman settled in Kanem. Here the Arabs won the support of the al-Kanemi ruler Bornus, who did not really trust the Dalatoa because of their close ties to the Sefuwa. The Dalatoa then behaved so cautiously that the Arabs continued their shadow dynasty in Mao. Kanem's renewed dependence on Bornu, which was ultimately only symbolic, remained until the beginning of the colonial period around 1900.



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  • Barth, Heinrich: "Chronological table, containing a list of the Sefuwa", in: Travel and Discoveries in North and Central Africa , Vol. II, New York, 1858, 581-602.
  • Brenner, Louis: The Shehus of Kukawa , Oxford 1973.
  • Breunig, Peter, "Groundwork of human occupation in the Chad Basin, 2000 BC-1000 AD", in: A. Ogundiran (ed.), Precolonial Nigeria , Trenton, NJ, 2005, 105-131.
  • Connah, Graham: Three Thousand Years in Africa , London 1981.
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  • Ibn Furṭū: "The Kanem wars", in: Herbert R. Palmer: Sudanese Memoirs , Vol. I, Lagos 1928, pp. 15–81.
  • -: "The Bornu wars", in: Lange, Sudanic Chronicle , pp. 34-106.
  • Lange, Dierk: Le Dīwān des sultans du Kanem-Bornu , Wiesbaden 1977.
  • -: "The Chad region as a crossroads", in : M. Elfasi (ed.), General History of Africa (UNESCO), 3rd vol., London 1988, 436-460.
  • -: A Sudanic Chronicle: the Borno Expeditions of Idrīs Alauma , Wiesbaden 1987.
  • -: "Immigration of the Chadic-speaking Sao towards 600 BCE" (PDF; 7.3 MB) Borno Museum Society Newsletter , 72–75 (2008), 84–106.
  • -: "Biblical patriarchs from a pre-canonical source mentioned in the Dīwān of Kanem-Bornu" (PDF; 196 kB), Journal for Old Testament Science , 12 (2009), 588-598.
  • -: "An introduction to the history of Kanem-Borno: The prologue of the Diwan" (PDF; 308 kB), Borno Museum Society Newsletter 76–84 (2010), 79–103.
  • -: The Founding of Kanem by Assyrian Refugees approx. 600 BCE: Documentary, Linguistic, and Archaeological Evidence (PDF; 1.6 MB), Boston, Working Papers in African Studies N ° 265.
  • Le Rouvreur, Albert: Saheliens et Sahariens du Tchad , Paris 1962 (new edition, Paris 1989).
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  • Urvoy, Yves: Histoire de l'empire du Bornou , Paris 1949.
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Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ H. Carbou, La région du Tchad , Paris 1912, 43, 71; Lange, Dīwān , 65, 71.
  2. ^ Lange, Founding , 3-18.
  3. ^ Levtzion / Hopkins, Corpus , 21.
  4. Lange Founding of Kanem (PDF; 1.6 MB), 13–15. For the previous interpretation see Smith, "Early states", 166-8.
  5. ^ Van de Mieroop, History , 266-7; Lange Founding of Kanem (PDF; 1.6 MB), 12–13.
  6. Lange Founding of Kanem (PDF; 1.6 MB), 13, 27–31.
  7. Lange, "Biblical patriarchs" (PDF; 196 kB), 590-7.
  8. Magnavita et al. , "Zilum", 153-169; Breunig, "Groundwork", 117-123.
  9. Lange, "Immigration" (PDF; 7.3 MB), 88–91; id., Founding of Kanem (PDF; 1.6 MB), 23–27.
  10. ^ Levtzion / Hopkins, Corpus , 171, 302 <; Denham, Travels , I, 104-8; Brenner, Shehus , 35-36.
  11. Lange, Diwan , 69–71.
  12. Desanges, Recherches , 177–197.
  13. Lange Founding of Kanem (PDF; 1.6 MB), 31–38.
  14. Urvoy, Histoire , 21-26; Smith, "Early States", 164-7; Barkindo, "Early states," 225-9.
  15. Palmer, Memoirs , I, 69-71.
  16. ^ Lange, Dīwān , 76.
  17. ^ Levtzion / Hopkins, Corpus , 347.
  18. Palmer, Memoirs , I, 17-18.
  19. Palmer, Memoirs , I, 50-71.

See also