WEEK 4: THE ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE KANEM – BORNU EMPIRE
Kanem – Bornu Empire was one of the oldest kingdoms in the world. It was founded in Eighth century AD and survived till the twentieth century. This empire flourished in the Lake Chad basin. The Chad basin, according to Dr. C.C. Ifemesia, “has for long been one of the great cross roads of African culture and history”. Its geographical features have for centuries made the movement of people and animals easy in the directions.
It became therefore the “Melting Pot” of several races. From whom the Kanuri have emerged as the most dominant group. The Kanuri who inhabit the Chad basin are descended from a mixture of Negroid, Berber and Arab stock. They founded the great Kanuri empires of Kanem & Bornu east and west of Lake Chad respectively.
THE FIRST KANEM – BORNU EMPIRE
The first Kanuri state, popularly known as the kingdom of Kanem, existed to the east of Lake Chad in what is now the northern section of the Chad Republic.
According to tradition, the kingdom was founded about the eight century by Saif, or Sef, who was probably of Berber origin.
The Sef dynasty of the Mais, or kings, which he founded, is believed to be one of the longest in the world (A-D 800 – 1846) and certainly the longest in Africa.
The Mais of Kanem established their capital at Njimi. There was considerable contact between kanem and North Africa. In the Eleventh century, about 1090, Mai Umme Jilmi (1085-97) was converted to Islam. With its acceptance of Islam, Kanem became an influential Muslim state in central Sudan.
END OF THE FIRST KANEM – BORNU EMPIRE
After the reign of Dunama II (13th century) the power of the first Kanuri empire was in decline.
One of the factors responsible for this decline was dynastic feuds. The system of entrusting the post of provincial governor to members of the royal family had an inherent weakness. It meant the delegation of great powers to the governors who used them to organize intrigues & revolts against the Mais.
The second factor was the menace of external enemies – the So and the Bulala. The struggle with these two peoples was the chief feature of the history of the empire from the middle of the 13th Century to the end of the 14th century. The So, a neighbouring tribe to the east of Kanem, fought for long with the Kanuri and defeated and killed four of them Kings in succession. The Bulala, another neighbouring tribe to the south east of Kanem, took advantage of the weakness of the empire and attached it. So effectively that the ruling Sef dynasty was forced to move to Bornu, west of Lake Chad, to found a new state.
Why did the Sefawa Dynasty last for so long?
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