Wadai Empire

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Wadai Empire
Wadai and surrounding states in 1750.
Wadai and surrounding states in 1750.
Capital Abeche
Common languages Arabic,Maban
Government Monarchy
• 1603–1637
Abd al-Karim
• 1902–1909
Dud Murra of Wadai
Historical era Early Modern Period
• Established
• Disestablished
Preceded by
Succeeded by
French Equatorial Africa
Today part of  Central African Republic Chad
Part of a series on the
History of Chad
Insigne Tzadiae.svg
Flag of Chad.svg Chad portal

The Wadai Empire or Sultanate (Arabic: سلطنة وداي‎, French: royaume du Ouaddaï; 1635–1912) was a kingdom located to the east of Lake Chad in present-day Chad and in the Central African Republic. It emerged in the seventeenth century as an offshoot of the Sultanate of Darfur (in present-day Sudan) to the northeast of the Kingdom of Baguirmi.


In 1635, the Maba and other small groups in the region rallied to the Islamic banner of Abd al-Karim, who led an invasion from the east and overthrew the ruling Tunjur group. Abd al-Karim became the first Kolak or Sultan of a dynasty that lasted until the arrival of the French. During much of the 18th century, Wadai resisted reïncorporation into Darfur.


Wadai sultanate east of Lake Chad around 1890, from an American map

After 1804, during the reign of Muhammad Sabun (r. 1804 - c. 1815), the sultanate of Wadai began to expand its power as it profited considerably from its strategic position astride the trans-Saharan trade routes. A new trade route to the north was found, via Ennedi, Kufra and Jalu-Awjila to Benghazi, and Sabun outfitted royal caravans to take advantage of it. He began minting his own coinage and imported chain mail, firearms, and military advisers from North Africa. Sabun's successors were less able than he, and Darfur took advantage of a disputed political succession in 1838 to put its own candidate in power in Ouara, the capital of Wadai. This tactic backfired, however, when Darfur's choice, Muhammad Sharif, rejected Darfur's meddling and asserted his own authority. In doing so, he gained acceptance from Wadai's various factions and went on to become Wadai's ablest ruler.

Sharif conducted military campaigns as far west as Bornu and eventually established Wadai's hegemony over Baguirmi and kingdoms as far away as the Chari River. In Mecca, Sharif had met the founder of the Senussi Islamic brotherhood, a movement that was strong among the inhabitants of Cyrenaica (in present-day Libya) and that was to become a dominant political force and source of resistance to French colonization.


Last charge of the cavalry. Armed with spear, bow and sword, and accompanied by deafening music, Wadai's forces held to the old methods- mass cavalry charges followed by the infantry. These were insufficient against modern weapons.
View of Abéché, with buildings constructed by the last sultan of Wadai, Ali Kolak. Photo after French annexation, c.1918

Sultan Dud Murra of Wadai opposed French domination until being overcome on June 6, 1909, with the occupation of the capital Abéché by French troops where a puppet sultan was installed. Resistance continued until the last independent sultan was captured in 1912 bringing the sultanate to an end. It became part of the independent Republic of Chad on that country's independence in 1960. The Ouaddaï Region of modern Chad covers part of the area of the old kingdom. Its chief town is Abéché.

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 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/. - Chad

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