Kanem Empire

Kanem Empire

Infobox Former Country
native_name =
conventional_long_name = Kanem Empire
common_name = Kanem Empire
continent = Africa
region =
country = Chad
era = Middle Ages
status =
status_text =
empire =
government_type = Monarchy
year_start = 700
year_end = 1387
event_start =
date_start =
event_end = Invaded and forced to move, thus establishing new Bornu Empire
date_end =
p1 = Zaghawa
flag_p1 =
s1 = Bornu Empire
flag_s1 =

flag_type =

image_map_caption = Location of Kanem Empire around 1200 AD
capital = Njimi
common_languages = Teda
religion = Islam
currency =
leader1 = Sef
leader2 = Omar I
year_leader1 = c. 700
year_leader2 = 1382-1387
title_leader = King (Mai)

The Kanem Empire (700 - 1376) was located in the present countries of Chad and LibyaFact|date=April 2008. At its height it encompassed an area covering not only much of Chad, but also parts of southern Libya (Fezzan) and eastern Niger. The history of the Empire from the 13th century onwards is mainly known from the Royal Chronicle or "Girgam" discovered in 1851 by the German traveller Heinrich Barth.


The empire of Kanem began forming around 700 AD as a result of a migration of nomadic peoples called the Zaghawa who spoke languages of the Teda–Daza (Toubou) group. Originating in the northeast, they were forced by desiccation and political pressures to travel into the more fertile area northeast of Lake Chad. When the Zaghawa (whom the "Diwan" refers to as the Duguwa) arrived, a settled people called the So were already there and had formed a sophisticated though non-centralized society of city-states protected by walls. The Zaghawa would eventually dominate the So but not before adopting many of their customs and fighting numerous wars with them right up to the late 16th century.

One theory proposes that the lost state of Agisymba mentioned by Ptolemy in the middle of the 2nd Century AD was the antecedent of the Kanem Empire. [ [http://dierklange.com/pdf/contents/12Mune-Symbol_as_the_Ark.pdf "The Mune as the Ark of the Covenant between Duguwa and Sefuwa (in ancient Kanem)"] Borno Museum Society Newsletter 66-67 (2006), 15-25. (The article has a map (page 6) of the ancient Central Sahara and proposes to identify Agisymba of 100 CE with the early Kanem state).]

Duguwa Dynasty

Kanem was located at the southern end of the trans-Saharan trade route between Tripoli and the region of Lake Chad. The Zaghawa eventually abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and founded a capital in 700 AD under the first documented Zaghawa king ("Mai") known as Sef of Saif. The capital of N'jimi (the word for "south" in the Teda language) grew in power and influence under Sef's son, Dugu. This transition marked the beginning of Duguwa Dynasty. The mais of the Duguwa were regarded as divine kings and belonged to the ruling establishment known as the Magumi. Despite changes in dynastic power, the Magumi and the title of Mai would persevere for over a thousand years.

ayfawa Dynasty

The major factor that influenced the history of the state of Kanem was the early penetration of Islam. North African traders, Berbers and Arabs, brought the new religion. In 1085, a Muslim noble by the name of Hummay removed the last Duguwa king Selma from power and thus established the new dynasty of the Sayfuwa.

The introduction of the Sayfuwa dynasty meant radical changes for the Kanem Empire. First, it meant the Islamization of the court and state policies. Second, the identification of founders had to be redressed. After the 13th century, the empire began associating Mai Sef with the legendary Yemenite hero Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan. Hence, it became customary to call the new ruling dynasty the Sayfawa instead of the Sefuwa.

Islam and Kanem

Islam offered the Sayfawa rulers the advantage of new ideas from Arabia and the Mediterranean world, as well as literacy in administration. But many people resisted the new religion favouring traditional beliefs and practices. When Hummay had assumed power on the basis of his strong Islamic following, for example, it is believed that the Duguwa/Sayfuwu began some kind of internal opposition. This pattern of conflict and compromise with Islam occurs repeatedly in Chadian history.

By the 12th century, the Sayfawa ruled all over Kanem. At the same time, the Kanembu people drew closer to the new rulers and increased the growing population in Njimi. Even though the Kanembu became the main power-base of the Sayfuwa, Kanem's rulers continued to travel frequently throughout the kingdom and especially towards Bornu, west of lake Chad. Herders and farmers alike recognized the government's power and acknowledged their allegiance by paying tribute.

"Mai" Dunama Dabbalemi

Kanem's expansion peaked during the long and energetic reign of "Mai" Dunama Dabbalemi (ca. 1221–1259), also of the Sayfawa dynasty. Dabbalemi initiated diplomatic exchanges with sultans in North Africa and apparently arranged for the establishment of a special hostel in Cairo to facilitate pilgrimages to Mecca. During his reign, he declared "jihad" against the surrounding tribes and initiated an extended period of conquest. After consolidating their territory around Lake Chad the Fezzan region (in present-day Libya) fell under Kanem's authority, and the empire's influence extended westward to Kano (in present-day Nigeria), eastward to Ouaddaï, and southward to the Adamawa grasslands (in present-day Cameroon). Portraying these boundaries on maps can be misleading, however, because the degree of control extended in ever-weakening gradations from the core of the empire around Njimi to remote peripheries, from which allegiance and tribute were usually only symbolic. Moreover, cartographic lines are static and misrepresent the mobility inherent in nomadism and migration, which were common. The loyalty of peoples and their leaders was more important in governance than the physical control of territory.

Dabbalemi devised a system to reward military commanders with authority over the people they conquered. This system, however, tempted military officers to pass their positions to their sons, thus transforming the office from one based on achievement and loyalty to the "mai" into one based on hereditary nobility. Dabbalemi was able to suppress this tendency, but after his death, dissension among his sons weakened the Sayfawa Dynasty. Dynastic feuds degenerated into civil war, and Kanem's outlying peoples soon ceased paying tribute.

Fall of Kanem

After the death of Dunama II, Kanem quickly fell into a downward spiral. By the end of the 14th century, internal struggles and external attacks had torn Kanem apart.

o Resurgence

Between 1342 and 1352, the So whom had dominated Kanem prior to the Zaghawa killed four mais in battle. This proliferation of "mais" resulted in numerous claimants to the throne and led to a series of internecine wars.

Bulala Invasion

The death knell of Sayfawa power in Kanem was dealt by the Bulala, invaders from the area around Lake Fitri to the east. By 1376, the Bulala had driven the Sayfawa from their capital. By 1388, they had taken Kanem altogether. The Kanuri were forced back into their nomadic ways and migrated west of Lake Chad eventually establishing a new empire in Bornu.


*Barkindo, Bawuro, "The early states of the Central Sudan: Kanem, Borno and some of their neighbours to c. 1500 A.D.", in: J. Ajayi und M. Crowder (Hg.), "History of West Africa", Bd. I, 3. Ausg. Harlow 1985, 225-254.
*Lange, Dierk, "Ancient Kingdoms of West Africa: Africa-Centred and Canaanite-Israelite Perspectives", Dettelbach 2004. (the book suggests a pre-Christian origin of Kanem in connection with the Phoenician expansion)
*Urvoy, Yves, "L'empire du Bornou", Paris 1949.

External links

*Lange, Dierk: [http://dierklange.com/pdf/fulltexts/UNESCO_III.pdf "The Chad region as a crossroads"] , in: M. Elfasi (Hg.), "General History of Africa", vol. III, UNESCO, London 1988, p. 436-460.
*Lange, Dierk, [http://dierklange.com/pdf/fulltexts/UNESCO_IV.pdf "The kingdoms and peoples of Chad"] , in: D. T. Niane (ed.), "General History of Africa", vol. IV, UNESCO, London 1984, p. 238-265.

ee also

*Bornu Empire
*Sayfawa dynasty
*Kingdom of Baguirmi
*Ouaddai Empire

External links

* [http://www.rulers.org/nigatrad.html Timeline of rulers]

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