Figures in Black History
Ghana, Mali and Songhai had come and gone on the African stage. Near central Africa another great empire called Kanem would rise around 1200AD. Kanem was originally a confederation of various ethnic groups, but by 1100AD, a people called the Kanuri settled in Kanem and in the thirteenth century the Kanuri began upon a conquest of their neighbors. They were led by Mai Dunama Dibbalemi (1221-1259), the first of the Kanuri to convert to Islam. Dibbalemi declared physical jihad (holy war) against surrounding minor states and so began one of the most dynamic periods of conquest in Africa.
At the height of their empire, the Kanuri controlled territory from Libya to Lake Chad to Hausaland. These were strategic areas, as all the commercial traffic through North Africa had to pass through Kanuri territory. As a result of the military and commercial growth of Kanem, the once nomadic Kanuri eventually turned to a more sedentary way of life.
Pictured here is a painting of the king of Bornu in royal procession arriving at one of his provincial residences around 1850AD.
In the late 1300's, civil strife within Kanuri territory began to seriously weaken the empire. By the early 1400's, Kanuri power shifted from Kanem to Bornu, a Kanuri kingdom south and west of Lake Chad.
When Songhai fell, this new Kanuri Empire of Bornu grew rapidly. The Kanuri grew powerful enough to unite the kingdom of Bornu with Kanem during the reign of Idris Alawma (1575-1610).
Idris Alawma, a fervent Muslim, set about building an Islamic state all the way west into Hausaland in northern Nigeria. This state would last for another two hundred years, but in 1846, it finally succumbed to the growing power of the Hausa states.
The Bornu were well known for their cavalry. These trumpeters may have served to lead the medieval African kingdom's powerful shock troops into battle.
Around 1100AD hills rich in iron ore dotted the landscape of the region that would come to be known as Hausaland, between the eastern reaches of the Niger River to the west and Lake Chad in the east. Until the 1100's, Hausaland was made up of a number of decentralized agricultural and pastoral villages.
There are different versions of Hausa origin myths that allude to several of these high places as sites of important hill-cults. On these sacred grounds, priests or cult-guardians exercised religious and political power within local societies active in agriculture and trade.
Scholars disagree about the precise nature of Hausa growth. Some have argued that the Hausa came from the north (southern Sahara), others from the east (Lake Chad), still others that the Hausa were the indigenous inhabitants of the region. But most generally agree that sometime around 1000AD, localized cult sites and markets began to evolve into walled towns called "birane" and ruled local rulers called "sarkis".
These rulers were no doubt intent on exploiting the agricultural and mineral wealth of the surrounding countryside and its inhabitants. This growing political power of the cities led in time to an extensive "Hausaization" of the lands between the Niger and Lake Chad. Beginning in the late twelfth century, these villages combined into several kingdoms ruled by partly divine kings. The first of these centralized kingdoms was Daura.
Being in close contact with one another, these kingdoms all shared a common language, Hausa. In the late 1300's Islam began to filter into Hausaland through traveling merchants. But the pace was relatively slow. It was not until the 1450's that a group of people from the Senegal River, known as the Fulani, began immigrating in large numbers into Hausaland that a strong Islamic presence took root.
The Fulani immigration was driven by the desertification of north and western Africa. A pastoral people, the Fulani were in search of a land that could support their herds. Devoutly Muslim, with a great deal of indigenous beliefs intermingled therein, the Fulani not only brought Islam and its teachings, but also began to set up Islamic schools and learning centers all throughout Hausaland.
The Hausa, particularly after the influence of Islam, were closely allied with Kanem-Bornu to the east. Because of the military presence of Kanem-Bornu, the Hausa kingdoms were relatively stable and peaceful.
Pictured here is the 11th century Gobirau Minaret at Katsina, Nigeria. Mosque architecture reflects a synthesis of local African and imported traditions, some of great duration.
For More Information See:
Koslow, Philip. Kanem-Bornu: 1,000 Years of Splendor
Hausaland: The Fortress Kingdoms of Africa
Kanem Bornu Empire - Kingdoms of the Medieval Sudan http://webusers.xula.edu/jrotondo/Kingdoms/Kanem_Bornu/KanemHistNarr.html
Queen Amina, Ruler of the Zazzua Hausa Kingdom http://www.distinguishedwomen.com/biographies/zazzua.html
Information on the Hausa peoples http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/EthnoAtlas/Hmar/Cult_dir/Culture.7844