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Bornu Empire extent c.1750
|-||1381-1382||Said of Bornu|
|Historical era||Middle Ages|
|-||1800||50,000 km² (19,305 sq mi)|
|-||1892||129,499 km² (50,000 sq mi)|
|Density||38.6 /km² (100 /sq mi)|
Part of a series on the
|History of Northern Nigeria|
The Bornu Empire (1380–1893) was a state of what is now northeastern Nigeria from 1380 to 1893. It was a continuation of the great Kanem Empire founded centuries earlier by the Sayfawa Dynasty. In time it would become even larger than Kanem, incorporating areas that are today parts of Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
Exile from Kanem
After decades of internal conflict, rebellions and outright invasion from the Bulala, the once-strong Sayfawa Dynasty was forced out of Kanem and back into the nomadic lifestyle they had abandoned nearly 700 years earlier. Around 1380, the Kanembu finally overcame attacks from neighboring Arabs, Berbers and Hausa, to found a new state in Bornu. Over time, the intermarriage of the Kanembu and Bornu peoples created a new people and language, the Kanuri.
Even in Bornu, the Sayfawa Dynasty's troubles persisted. During the first three-quarters of the 15th century, for example, fifteen mais occupied the throne. Then, around 1455, Mai Ali Dunamami defeated his rivals and began the consolidation of Bornu. He built a fortified capital at Ngazargamu (in present-day Nigeria), to the west of Lake Chad. This was the first permanent home a Sayfawa mai had enjoyed in a century. So successful was the Sayfawa rejuvenation that by the early 16th century Mai Ali Gaji (1455–1487) was able to defeat the Bulala and retake Njimi, the former capital. The empire's leaders, however, remained at Ngazargamu because its lands were more productive agriculturally and better suited to the raising of cattle.
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 Alooma (c. 1571–1603).
Idris Alooma is remembered for his military skills, administrative reforms, and Islamic piety. His main adversaries were the Hausa to the west, the Tuareg and Tubu to the north, and the Bulala to the east. His innovations included the employment of fixed military camps (with walls); permanent sieges and "scorched earth" tactics, where soldiers 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. Alooma also signed what was probably the first written treaty or cease-fire in Chadian history.
Alooma 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 (hajj) to Mecca, where he arranged for the establishment of a hostel to be used by pilgrims from his empire. As with other dynamic politicians, Alooma'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. Alooma 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. (Alooma himself was the son of a Kanuri father and a Bulala mother.)
Kanem-Bornu under Alooma 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.
Alooma 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."
Most of the successors of Idris Alooma are only known from the meagre information provided by the Diwan. Some of them are noted for having undertaken the pilgrimage to Mecca others for their piety. In the eighteenth century Bornu was affected by several long-lasting famines.
Decline and Fall
The administrative reforms and military brilliance of Alooma 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 empire was still ruled by the mai who was advised by his councilors (kokenawa) in the state council or "nokena".
Around that time, Fulani people, invading from the west, were able to make major inroads into Bornu. By the early 19th century, Kanem-Bornu was clearly an empire in decline, and in 1808 Fulani warriors conquered Ngazargamu. Usman dan Fodio led the Fulani thrust and proclaimed a holy war (the Fulani War) on the allegedly irreligious Muslims of the area. His campaign eventually affected Kanem-Bornu and inspired a trend toward Islamic orthodoxy, but a Muslim scholar-turned-statesman, Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi, contested the Fulani advance.
Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi was a Muslim scholar and non-Sayfawa commander who had put together an alliance of Shuwa Arabs, Kanembu, and other seminomadic peoples. He eventually built in 1814 a capital at Kukawa (in present-day Nigeria). Sayfawa mais remained titular monarchs until 1846. In that year, the last mai, in league with the Ouaddai Empire, precipitated a civil war. It was at that point that Kanemi's son, Umar, became king, thus ending one of the longest dynastic reigns in international history.
Although the dynasty ended, the kingdom of Kanem-Bornu survived. Umar 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). Bornu began a further decline as a result of administrative disorganization, regional particularism, and attacks by the militant Ouaddai Empire to the east. The decline continued under Umar's sons. In 1893, Rabih az-Zubayr led an invading army from eastern Sudan and conquered Bornu. Following his expulsion shortly thereafter, the state was absorbed by the British ruled entity which eventually became known as Nigeria. From that point on, a remnant of the old kingdom was (and still is) allowed to continue to exist in subjection to the various Governments of the country as the Borno Emirate.
- Kanem Empire
- Kanem-Bornu Empire
- Sayfawa dynasty
- Chronology of the Sayfawa (Kanem-Bornu)
- Dīwān (Girgam)
- Ibn Furtu
- History of Nigeria
- List of Sunni Muslim dynasties
- Oliver, page 12
- Hughes, page 281
- Lange, Chronicle, 38.
- Lange, Diwan, 81-82.
- Brenner, Shehus, 46, 104-7.
- Brenner, Louis: The Shehus of Kukawa, Oxford 1973.
- Cohen, Ronald: The Kanuri of Bornu, New York 1967.
- Hughes, William (2007). A class-book of modern geography (Paperback). Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. p. 390 Pages. ISBN 1-4326-8180-X.
- Lange, Dierk: Le Dīwān des sultans du Kanem-Bornu, Wiesbaden 1977.
- -- A Sudanic Chronicle: The Borno Expeditions of Idris Alauma (1564-1576), Stuttgart 1987.
- -- "Ethnogenesis from within the Chadic state", Paideuma, 39 (1993), 261-277.
- Nachtigal, Gustav: Sahara und Sudan, Berlin, 1879-1881, Leipzig 1989 (Nachdruck Graz 1967; engl. Übers. von Humphrey Fisher).
- Oliver, Roland & Anthony Atmore (2005). Africa Since 1800, Fifth Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 405 Pages. ISBN 0-521-83615-8.
- Urvoy, Yves: L'empire du Bornou, Paris 1949.
- Zakari, Maikorema: Contribution à l'histoire des populations du sud-est nigérien, Niamey 1985.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bornu". Encyclopædia Britannica 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 265–266.
- The Story of Africa: Kanem-Borno — BBC World Service