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Started by Dan-Borno, August 01, 2007, 02:37:05 PM

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The Kanem Empire existed in modern Chad and Libya. It was known to the Arabian geographers as the Kanem-bornu Empire from the 9th century AD onward and lasted, in some form, until 1893. At its height it encompassed an area covering not only much of Chad, but also parts of modern southern Libya and eastern Niger. Its succeeding state, the Bornu Empire, would dominate these lands as well as northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon. 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 Kanem Empire originated at an unknown period to the northeast of Lake Chad. It was located at the southern end of the trans-Saharan trade route between Tripoli and the region of Lake Chad. Besides its urban elite it included a confederation of nomadic peoples who spoke languages of the Teda–Daza (Toubou) group. One theory, based on early Arabic sources, suggests that the dominance of the Zaghawa people bound the confederation together. The Diwan refers to the Zaghawa as Duguwa. The Sayfuwa, often thought to have been the only dynasty of Kanem, only took power in the process of Islamization. Their ancestor Sef was since the thirteenth century identified with the legendary Yemenite hero Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan, hence it became customary to call the second ruling dynasty Sayfawa instead of Sefuwa. Both, the Duguwa and the subsequent Sayfawa, seem to have belonged to the same ruling establishment of the Magumi. Also the royal title Mai would appear to have been shared by the Duguwa and the Sayfawa. In the pre-Islamic period the subjects regarded their king as divine.

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. Towards 1068, Hummay, a member of the Sayfawa establishment, who was already a Muslim, discarded the last Duguwa king Selma from power and thus established the new dynasty of the Sayfuwa. 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/Zaghawa began some kind of internal opposition. This pattern of conflict and compromise with Islam occurs repeatedly in Chadian history.

When the ruling dynasty changed, the royal establishment abandoned its capital of Manan and settled in the new capital Njimi further south of Kanem (the word for "south" in the Teda language). By the 13th century, Kanem's rule expanded. At the same time, the Kanembu people drew closer to the new rulers and increased the growing population in the new capital of 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.

From Kanem to Bornu
By the end of the 14th century, internal struggles and external attacks had torn Kanem apart. Between 1376 and 1400, six mais reigned, but Bulala invaders (from the area around Lake Fitri to the east) killed five of them. This proliferation of mais resulted in numerous claimants to the throne and led to a series of internecine wars. Finally, around 1396 the Bulala forced Mai Umar Idrismi to abandon Njimi and move the Kanembu people to Bornu on the western edge of Lake Chad.
"My mama always used to tell me: 'If you can't find somethin' to live for, you best find somethin' to die for" - Tupak