London. Ibadan. Nairobi: Oxford University Press. 1967. 312 p.
Kanem-Bornu has already been mentioned as one of the four great empires of the Sudan which preceded the Empire of Sokoto. As a Moslem power of long standing, which saw no need for reform, it naturally became the principal adversary of the Fulani reformers and so it has a prominent part to play in this history.
The accounts of the origins of the Kanuri (as the people of Bornu are called) and the Kanembu go back to the shadowy period of the first millennium and are more than ordinarily contradictory and confusing. There is no doubt, however, that like the Hausas they were the products of a mingling of races. The region round Lake Chad which they inhabited was connected by caravan routes to both Tripolitania and the Nile Valley from as early as the eighth century 1 and Arab strains from the east as well as Berber strains from the north seem to have entered into their makeup. In fact, there is reason to think that, like the Gobirawa, their ruling classes and common people had different origins, that the commoners evolved out of a union of Berber immigrants and Sudanic tribes, and that subsequently they absorbed another wave of immigrants, this time of Arab blood, whom they accepted as an aristocracy 2.
Whatever their precise origins, the Kanembu seem to have emerged as a distinct people two or three hundred years before the Hausas. Certainly Kanem was mentioned by the historian Yakubi, writing at the end of the ninth century 3, and the people are said to have embraced Islam as early as the last decade of the eleventh century, again two or three centuries sooner than the Hausas 4.
It was in the twelfth century that Kanem's expansion began. Under a vigorous ruler the Kanembu extended their influence southwards to obtain better control of the staples of the trans-Saharan trade gold, ivory, and of course slaves-and northwards to prevent the nomads of the desert from plundering their caravans 5. In the following century they pushed their settlements to the west until the whole northern shore of the Lake was in their grip 6. Next, dissident members of their ruling family, who had previously broken away to the east and founded the Bulala Dynasty in the new kingdom of Gaoga, returned to challenge their authority in Kanem. In the civil war which followed the Bulala were completely victorious and in about 1390 7 the legitimate ruler and the loyalists were compelled to abandon the capital of Njimi and seek refuge in the new settlements to the west of the Lake. This shift marked the emergence of Bornu as a State distinct from Kanem and the Kanuri as a people distinct from the Kanembu.
During the ensuing period the Mais, as the Sultans of Bornu were called, gradually rebuilt their strength. In this they were greatly assisted by their success in winning the allegiance of the Shuwa Arabs, a fresh wave of immigrants who had poured into the central Sudan after the destruction of the Christian kingdom of Nubia, about a century earlier, and settled in fairly large numbers in the region south of the Lake.
By about A.D. 1430, little more than a generation after losing Kanem to the Bulala, the Mais of Bornu were able to establish their hegemony over the Hausa States. At about the same time the reopening of the caravan route from Egypt to Chad, again as a result of the extinction of the Christian power in Nubia, and its extension to the gold bearing districts of Ashanti, must have brought new trade and wealth to Bornu 8. This was reflected in the decision of Mai Ali Ghaji, in about A.D. 1488, to build a fine new capital at Ngazargamu 9.
When Idris succeeded as Mai in A.D. 1503 he felt strong enough to attempt the reconquest of Kanem. Soon afterwards, therefore, he led an army round the Lake and a great battle took place at Garni Kiyala. The Bulala usurper was completely defeated and forced to retire to the east. His successor later tried to recover Kanem, but he, too, was defeated and driven back. The wheel had now come full circle and, instead of Bornu's being a province in the Empire of Kanem, Kanem. had become a tributary State in the Empire of Bornu 10. But the Bulala, despite the loss of all their western possessions, refused to submit and from their original base in the east they continued to harry the Kanuri intermittently for the rest of the century 11.
Mai Idris was already embroiled in the struggle with the Bulala when the Songhai army invaded Hausaland in 1513. This probably explains why he allowed his rights as a suzerain to be wrested from him by Askia Muhammad and why he and his successors subsequently made such a poor showing against Muhammadu Kanta of Kebbi.
Bornu is usually regarded as having reached the height of its power under Mai Idris Alooma, who reigned from 1571 to 1603. But he too had to expend most of his energy in expeditions against the Bulala and he did not attempt to reconquer the Hausa States. In the century that followed his death the Kanuri, no less than the Hausas, were on the defensive against the Jukuns, and so it was not until 1734 that they re-established their sway over Hausaland. But soon afterwards, under the weak Mai Ali Ajimi, their power declined again 12, with the result that some of the Hausa States, as has already been mentioned, were able to throw off their allegiance although others seem to have remained loyal.
In the organization of Bornu there was a wide measure of decentralization. The tributary States, as we have already seen, were left to rule themselves with only Residents stationed in their capitals to watch over imperial interests. Nearer home the marches of Bornu proper were ruled by Wardens or Constables chosen from the ruling family. Their functions were the preservation of law and order, the conduct of diplomacy with neighbouring peoples, if necessary through war or punitive expeditions, and the collection of tax and tribute. The Warden of the West, the Galadima, had his headquarters at Nguru and from there he wielded his very considerable authority 13.
Exactly when the first Fulani reached Bornu we do not know, but it was probably at about the same time as the arrival in Birnin Konni of Shehu's ancestor, Musa Jakollo, that is to say in the middle of the fifteenth century 14. Even if the majority came much later, there is no doubt that by the beginning of the nineteenth century they had been living among the Kanuri for generations.
Such, then, was the setting of the scene in Bornu when the jihad began in Hausaland.
The Mai of Bornu, as ruler of the most powerful Moslem State in the central Sudan, had long been known by the Islamic title of Commander of the Faithful. It was natural, therefore, that as soon as the Mai of the day, Ahmed ibn Ali, heard that the reformers had conferred this style upon their leader, he should have sent a peremptory message to Shehu demanding to know by what right he had accepted the title and taken it on himself to declare a holy war 15. In his reply Shehu asserted that the Hausa Chiefs were no better than infidels and called on the Mai, as he was a good Moslem, to support the jihad. At the same time he sent an order to the Fulani in Bornu to stay their hand and accept a peaceful settlement if one was offered. But the Mai took offence at Shehu's message and instead of offering peace started preparing for war 16.
When the fighting started in Hausaland it is unlikely that Gobir and Katsina, having previously renounced their allegiance, appealed to Bornu for help. Kano, and Daura probably did so, however, for the Mai seems to have ordered the Galadima to go to their rescue. But before he could make any effective move he found that he had his own hands full 17.
At that time there were a number of small principalities Auyo, Bedde, Shira, and Tashena lying between Bornu and Hausaland. They were under the jurisdiction of the Galadima and it was there that the reformers now rose against the authority of Bornu. First of all a pastoral Fulani called Abdure, or Abduwa, threw off his allegiance and declared for Shehu. Although he himself died very soon afterwards, his two sons, Umaru and Sambo, obtained a flag and a commission to subdue the principality of Auyo. This they very soon did. Next they took possession of the town of Hadeija, which they enlarged and strengthened, and from there they proceeded to extend their authority over the intervening and surrounding towns and villages. One of these, incidentally, was Garun Gabas, the only one of the original Hausa Bakwai which had failed to develop into even a principality. This territory became the nucleus of the Emirate of Hadeija 18.
Meanwhile, another Fulani, Ardo Lernima, had also joined the jihad. He lived near Nguru and, before the war, had been the agent appointed by the Galadima to collect tax and tribute from the pastoral Fulani in the district. Although the Galadima had given him a daughter in marriage he declared for Shehu and urged the Fulani to rise. In the first clash Lernima was defeated, but later, when he had been reinforced by Sambo of Hadeija and Ibrahim Zaki of Shira, whom we shall meet again later, he was completely victorious. The Bornu forces were defeated, Nguru sacked, and the Galadima killed 19. The destruction of Nguru and the consolidation of Hadeija meant that in the northern sector of Bornu's western frontier the reformers had been completely successful.
In the central and southern sectors of the frontier operations were in the hands of three men, all of whom were Fulani. The first, Ibrahim Zaki, was the son of the Imam of Shira. His family was influential in the little principality and he himself had been given a daughter of the Chief in marriage 20. The second, Gwani Muktar, also came of a family which had been settled in Bornu for many generations. He himself had studied under Shehu and indeed had been one of his most gifted pupils 21. The third, Buba Yero, came from the Lower Gongola, where his father had settled and taken a daughter of the local Chief in marriage. He too had studied under Shehu as a young man and ever afterwards had remained one of his most devoted and trusted followers. Unlike the other Fulani, however, he had not waited for the jihad to start before asserting his authority but by 1798 had already made himself master of the greater part of the valley of the Lower Gongola. When the war came, therefore, he was already a force in his own right 22.
News of the jihad and of the Mai of Bornu's reaction to it caused Ibrahim Zaki and Gwani Muktar to renounce their allegiance and declare for Shehu. They were not yet strong enough to risk a battle, however, and so at the start they fell back to the south and joined forces on the Gongola with Buba Yero 23. Fortunately for them, Mai Ahmed was notoriously feeble and irresolute. Had he possessed vision and moved with speed, he could have crushed the local risings of the Fulani before they had become dangerous or had had the chance of coalescing. He might also have saved the Hausa rulers of Kano, Daura, and Zazzau. As it was, however, he did nothing to help his Hausa vassals or reinforce the Galadima. Even the fall of Nguru did not stir him out of his lethargy and he tamely permitted the numerically much weaker Fulani to seize and keep the initiative.
After the destruction of Nguru and the capture of Hadeija, the Fulani made their next move against Shira, which Ibrahim Zaki, whose adopted country it was, invaded and occupied in 1807. The three leaders then met near Damaturu and agreed upon a concerted plan of campaign 24. While Ibrahim Zaki attacked Tashena and Buba Yero operated in south-western Bornu, Gwani Muktar was to drive up through the centre and try to capture Ngazargamu, the capital 25.
This plan was put into effect in the dry season of 1807-8, nearly a year after the capture of Katsina and at about the same time as the final attack on Kano city. It was a complete success and, on 12 March 1808, Gwani Muktar seized the capital of the Bornu Empire 26.
Nineteen days previously, Mai Ahmed, who was old and blind, had abdicated in favour of his son, Muhammad Lefiami. The new Mai succeeded in escaping from the city and making his way to the east but, even so, it looked as if the Empire was shattered and as if the kingdom too might disintegrate. At that moment, however, a new figure suddenly appeared upon the scene who in his way was hardly less remarkable than the Fulani leaders and who made a worthy opponent for them. This was Sheikh Muhammad el-Amin el-Kanemi.
El-Kanemi was the son of Skeikh Ninga, a well-known scholar and divine of Kanembu origin who had settled in the Fezzan 27. After Visiting Egypt and making the pilgrimage to Mecca, El-Kanemi had returned to Kanem and there established a great reputation for learning and piety. It was to him that the fugitive Mai now turned for help. El-Kanemi was especially influential with his own Kanembu, who had the same reputation as pikemen as the Swiss had enjoyed in Europe a few centuries earlier, and with the Shuwa Arabs of southern Chad. By mustering these two elements as a stiffening for the Sultan's own Kanuri, he was able to turn the tide of war 28.
The easy triumph which the Fulani had enjoyed in occupying the whole of western Bornu and capturing the capital seems to have made them over-confident. Certainly, they were unprepared for El-Kanemi's counter-attack when it was launched in October 1809. Buba Yero and his followers were in the south, consolidating their conquests, while in the west Ibrahim Zaki was occupied in annexing Tashena and merging it with Shira. The blow therefore fell on Gwani Muktar, whose forces were inadequate to withstand it. He himself was killed in the fighting and his people were driven out of Ngazargamu, which the Kanuri under El-Kanemi then reoccupied 29.
Three or four years of indecisive fighting followed. In the dry season of 1811-12 the Fulani captured Ngazargamu for the second time. After this both sides seem to have realized that the sands and swamps of western Bornu were hardly worth fighting for. The Kanuri therefore abandoned Ngazargamu for good and fell back on Lake Chad while the Fulani consolidated their gains in the south and west 30.
Although the Fulani had failed to crush Bornu, as before the emergence of El-Kanemi had seemed likely, they had nevertheless made substantial gains at Boron's expense. In the north-west Sambo Digimsa had established the new Emirate of Hadeija. In the west Ibrahim Zaki had welded Shira and Tashena together to form the new Emirate of Katagum. In the south Buba Yero had carved the new Emirate of Gombe out of pagan lands over which Bornu had previously held sway. All these leaders had received flags from Shehu during the fighting and were now recognized by him as the rulers of the territory which they controlled.
By 1812, among all the Fulani who had taken the leading parts in the war against Boron, only the family and followers of Gwani Muktar were still unrewarded. They had striven for the greatest prize of all, the whole of western Bornu, and had lost it. When Gwani Muktar had been killed in the Bornu counter-attack of 1809, the leadership had passed to his son, Mamman Manga. For a time he was able to maintain a foothold in southern Bornu in the Gujba-Damaturu area, but later he was driven out by El-Kanemi. In recognition of what he and his father had done for the cause, however, Shehu conferred the title of Sarkin Bornu upon him and later Bello, when he became Sultan, ordered the Emir of Bauchi to cede to him the town of Misau together with the country round it 31. The little kingdom of Misau, which was thus brought into existence, completed the quarter-circle of Fulani Emirates that now lay round the western and southern boundaries of Bornu.
After eight years of war the Kanuri were as ready for peace as the Fulani 32. Although the Mais were still the nominal rulers of Bornu, all effective power had by now passed to El-Kanemi. It was he who decided to abandon Ngazargamu and in the space of three years he first deposed Mai Lefiami and then restored him to the throne 33.
In 1814, after the withdrawal to the region round Lake Chad, El-Kanemi obtained two concessions from the Mai which strengthened his position still further. First he was appointed head of all the Kanembu who had settled to the west of the Lake and then he was given the land round Kukawa, or Kuka as it later came to be called, for the purpose of establishing an administrative headquarters 34. As no new capital was built for the Mais, who lived at a number of different places in the neighbourhood, Kuka came to be regarded more and more as the capital of the kingdom and El-Kanemi as its real ruler.
So ended the first phase of the struggle between the new Empire and the old. The peace which came in 1812 was only an armistice, however, not a genuine reconciliation, and thirteen years later the war was to be resumed.
1. Mauny, op. cit. p. 42.
2. Palmer, op. cit. vol. 1, pp.11-12, and Note 12 in Appendix I.
3. Ibid. p. 7.
4. Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. p. 309.
5. Barth, op. cit. vol. II, p. 279, and Stenning, op. cit. pp. 27-28.
6. Gazetteer of Bornu Province, 1929, p. 10.
7. Palmer, op. cit. vol. I, p. 17.
8. Mauny, op. cit. pp. 429-37.
9. Gazetteer of Bornu Province, p. 11.
10. Palmer, op. cit. vol. I, p. 17.
11 Ibid. pp. 18-72.
12 Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. p. 318.
13. Stenning, op. cit. p. 28.
14. K Ch (Palmer, p. 111).
15. Belle, Inf M (Arnett, p. 100).
16. S tenning, op. cit. p. 30.
17. Ibid. pp. 100-1.
18. Ibid. pp. 30-31.
19. Stenning, op. cit. pp. 30-31.
21. Alhaji Abukar, op. cit. p. 49.
22. Gazetteer of Vola Province, pp. 12-13. Confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu.
23. Stenning, op. cit. pp. 31-32.
24. Gazetteer of Bornu Province, p. 18.
25. Stenning, op. cit. p. 32.
26. Gazetteer of Bornu Province, p. 18.
27. Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. p. 320. Further back El-Kanemi is said to have been of Moorish descent. See Denham, Glapperton, and Oudney, Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa, London, 1828, vol. II, p. 179.
28. Gazetteer of Bornu Province, p. 20.
29. Stenning, op. cit. p. 32.
30. When Denham visited this area a dozen years later, he found it almost deserted but studded with the ruins of former towns. See Travels, vol. 1, p. 348.
31. Gazetteer of Kano Province, pp. 33-34, and Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. P. 498. Confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu.
32. Apart from being exhausted by the war, the Kanuri had reason to be apprehensive of the latent enmity of Baghirmi and Wadai in their rear. This was soon to lead to war on their eastern front. See Denham, Travels, vol. I, P. 456 and vol. II, p. 182.
33. Gazetteer of Bornu Province, p. 21.