PEOPLE OF THE SAHEL – KANEM AND LAKE CHAD

Hello, I started a new category of posts: a series of pictures on one theme. I will initiate with ethnic groups of Africa and South America. Instead of showing the exotic side of traditional cultures, I decided to show everyday daily life and people relationships, as cultures, however distant they may be from our own, rely on those mundane activities in their various forms, which bring all cultures together at the basic survival level. As my photography appeals to the education market, I wrote a short historical introduction, and I give reference to books and links to downloadable .pdf´s and to websites for additional and peripheral information. These images were initially taken with stock photography in mind, but after retrieving them from stock photo agencies I realized that I could make them into a document of life in these regions. There are some gaps in the culture coverage, but this is what I have…  I will also have posts on nature, an occasional post on historic auto racing etc.                                                                                                                   (click on images to enlarge them)

Summary of Kanem history:

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Alifa Ali Zezerti, Alifa of Kanem (referred to as Sultan), with dignitaries, in 1972.

The Sahel is a semi-arid zone of steppe in Africa south of the Sahara desert that makes the transition to the Sudanian savannas, from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea. It is inhabited by agriculturists and cattle nomads. I will present photographs of present-day people (as of 1972) of the Kanem region and the Lac region (Lake chad). The Kanem region has a long history, briefly summarized here (more details can be found at the links at the end of this post). An earlier civilization, the Sao (possibly represented today by the Kotoko and Buduma) was dominated by the Kanembu (belonging to the Teda-Daza linguistic group) around the 8th Century with the creation of the Kanem Empire under the  Duguwa  dinasty. It became islamised in the 11th Century, when the Duguwa dinasty was replaced by the Sayfawa (Sefuwa) dinasty (which some historians controversially claim cam from Yemen or from Assyria). It established the capital in Njimi in Kanem and in the 13th Century it expanded under Mai (kIng) Dunama Dabbalemi to Bornu, forming the Kanem-Bornu Empire, stretching from present northern Nigeria to Libya, including the Kanuri people, whose language is a close relative to Kanembu. Internal conflicts and attack by the Bulala form the east forced the rulers to move to Bornu in present-day Nigeria. A new capital was built at Ngazargamu. After a period of decline, the Kanem Bornu empire reached a new apogee in the 16th Century under Mai Idris Alawoma, mai (king) of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, under whom Mohammed ben ‘Abd Allah took an oath of obedience to Bornu as King of Kanem. The Bornu Empire had ties with the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. The Kanem Bornu Empire economy was based on trade to North Africa of ivory, hides, natron (sodium carbonate), ostrich feathers, and mostly slaves.  It declined in the early 19th Century when it had to fight the Fulani from the Sokoto caliphate who started a jihadist war.

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Group of Kanenbu Warriors, in Barth´s Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa (1850-1855)

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Engraving in Denham, 1822 – 1824

It had a short resurgence under Muhammad al Kameni, a non-Sayfawa scholar and warlord, who built a new capital at Kukawa to the west of Lake Chad. His son Umar assumed kingship, ending the Sayfawa dynasty. The Bornu kingdom declined under his son´s reigns. It was finally extinct by warlord and slave trader from Sudan, Rabih az-Zubayr, while Kanem declined under attacks by the Wadai (Ouaddai) State. In 1900 a French a military expedition near lake Chad defeated Rabih az-Zubayr who was killed in battle together with French commandant Lamy. The colonial period had started, however the French allied themselves with Alifa (highest dignitary of the Sultan) of Mao, who was the governor of Kanem from Bornu while the Kanem-Bornu kingdom lasted, against the Wadai threat. To this day the Alifa of Mao exerts a strong authority in Kanem, besides the Chadian Government. Alifa Ali Zezerti, shown here, has been succeeded since 2010 by his son.++++++

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Kanem and Lake Chad are inhabited by a mosaic of people, of which I will present two ethnic groups, the Kanembu and the Yedina (Buduma)

THE KANEMBU AND BUDUMA OF CHAD

(Photographs of other ethnic groups will be presented in a future post) I combined in this post two very different people, the Kanembu and the Buduma who, living close together (most Kanemby photographed lived on the islands), have borrowed or are sharing many of each other´s cultural (especially material) elements, thus making a somewhat artificial composite portrait of life in the region. The Buduma, separated from the Kanembu by the waters of Lake chad,  were never part of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, although trade occurred between the two people. They also exhibit cultural elements common in the Sahel environment and possibly defined by it. Because of the similarities and by lack of some images most activities are shown only for one of the groups.

The Kanembu

The Kanembu of Nilo-Saharan linguistic affiliation, live mostly on the mainland. Some live on the islands of Lake Chad. They are ruled, like some of the other groups, by the Alifa or Sultan of Kanem (photograph on top of article); they are moderate Moslems, having adopted Islam since the 11th Century. The Kanembu name is applied to a variety of ethnies, patrilineal clans and lineages, and endogamic castes (including nobles and maskin or poor;  duu or haddad (intouchables) and slaves, some of whom were freed, who speak or have adopted the Kanembu language (slavery was abolished by colonization by the French). “At the end of the nineteenth century, Kanembu society was thus cross-cut by three important cleavages opposing Kanembu vs. Duu, freemen vs. slave and master vs. dependant. (Conte 1979 p. 42)” I was not aware of these divisions when I took the pictures and I am not attempting to classify the photographed people in this mosaic of ethnic/social groups. The Kanembu, traditionally semi-nomads, are presently mostly settled agriculturists, cattle raisers and traders.

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Kanembu man studying the Quran (Koran), writing verses on a wooden teaching tablet. The tablet can be washed and written over again.

The presence of water is of all-importance in Kanem. Wells are dug near villages.
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Kanembu women fetching water across millet field near village: Ngueleydinga.

Each village or town has its market frequented by the various ethnic groups of the region.

Africa, Sahel region, Chad, Kanem. Dromedary camel at market in Ngueleydinga.

Kanem: dromedary camel at market in Ngueleydinga.

Men making a thatch hut in Kanem, Chad, Africa.The Kanembu house is made of thatch from millet straw. It is shaped as a pointed dome, the roof going down to the ground.

Kanembu women

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Islands of Lake Chad. Kanembu woman grooming another woman´s hair.

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Islands of Lake Chad. Portrait of Kanembu woman.

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Islands of Lake Chad. Kanembu fisherman in papyrus reed canoe removing fish from nylon net. Nylon nets were introduced in the 1950s.

Some Kanembu have migrated to the islands of Lake Chad. The island Kanembu borrowed some techniques from the Buduma, such as the papyrus canoe.+++++++ top

The Buduma or Yedina

The Buduma, who call themselves Yedina, pertain to the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family (Chadian subfamily). They inhabit the islands of Lake Chad They are known as having been a fiercely independent people, isolated in the islands. Being fierce warriors and protected by the waters of Lake chad, they were never dominated and were never were part of the Kanem-Bornu Empire (Konrad 2009). In pre-coloinal times they raided lake-side villages for cattle and slaves. They converted late to Islam, toward the late 19th  and early 20th Centuries. They are mostly cattle herders and fishermen. They were originally cattle herders, cattle grazing in the wetlands in the day and gathered at night near the settlement. Millet will be sawn later in the fertilized sand. They also specialized in natron (sodium carbonate) trade across the lake.

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Islands of Lake Chad: Buduma (Yedina) young man milking a cow.

Breeds of cattle on Lake Chad islands. The Kuri cattle are in danger of extinction, by cross-breeding with Zebu cattle of nomadic people.

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Kuri cattle (Bos taurus), a breed of cattle with bulbous horns found on Lake Chad.

Islands of Lake Chad: cattle eating papyrus.

Islands of Lake Chad: cattle eating papyrus.

Both men and women often work in groups. Here, men in the field; below, women pounding millet.
Africa, Chad, islands of Lake Chad, Buduma men weeding millet field with hoe.
Buduma houses differ from Kanembu ones, having reed walls and millet thatch roofs.
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Islands of Lake Chad: Buduma women pounding millet (pearl millet, Pennisetum glaucum).

Fishing was done mostly by lower castes or slaves; the Buduma have adopted fishing with the introduction of efficient fishing tools (fishhooks, later nylon nets) that made fishing an important activity ; however the recent shrinking of the lake and the increased demand from cities (N’Djamena in Chad, Maiduguri in Nigeria) reduced the fish population. Buduma children fishing, one of them using a floating or swimming log (Konrad p. 158)

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Buduma boy carrying fish caught in nylon net in Lake Chad.

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Islands of Lake Chad: Buduma boys removing fish from nylon net (introduced in the 1950´s). They are using as swimming aid trunk of Aeschynomene elaphroxylon (also known as ambatch) a lightweight wood like balsa from a small tree that grows in wet areas or swamps.

Buduma men relaxing in late afternoon, playing the biram harp (or bidel, as I was told?).

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Islands of Lake Chad: Buduma man playing arched harp (bidel or biram?). This type of harp was already know by the ancient Egyptians, and is found among various ethnic groups in Central and in West Africa.

Men drinking tea in late afternoon, reciting prayer using prayer beads.

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Islands of Lake Chad, Buduma tribe: men relaxing, sitting around drinking tea; note Islamic prayer beads.

Personal note: I had hired a canoe, a paddler and a “goumier” (originally soldier of African unit in the French army) provided by the local district chief (chef de canton). We traveled from island to island, spending the night in island villages. According to a tradition widespread in Africa, in each village the chief would give the visitor a chicken. I was given a total o 7 chickens. On one island the chief had no chicken, so he gave me the monetary equivalent, 200 CFA francs, although he certainly needed it more than I did.

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African Sahel: people of Kanem and Lake Chad

Partial zoom of map of the region and its ethnic groups: Ethnographic Regions of Africa (Felix and Meur 2001)

806px_sharp04_zoom map Ethnographic Regions of Africa

The Kanembu, of Nilo-Saharan linguistic affiliation, live mostly on the mainland. Some live on the islands of Lake Chad.

The Yedina or Buduma, who inhabit the islands of Lake Chad, pertaining to the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family (Chadian subfamily).

The Kuri, also living on islands of Lake Chad; one source says they are Kanembu who moved early to the islands and adopted the Buduma (Yedina) language.

The Daza, a subgroup of the Tubu of northern Chad (Nilo-Saharan language) (the Kecherda shown on the map are a clan of the Daza)

The Fulani, Fulbe or Fellata, of the Niger-Congo linguistic family, Atlantic sub-family; the Fulani are cattle nomads in Kanem as in other sub-saharan regions; some have settled and created kingdoms, especially in northern Nigeria.

Chadian (Shuwa) Arabs (Afro-Asiatic family). Chadian Arabic (Shuwa Arabic) is the lingua franca used by all ethnic groups.

The Duu or Haddad, an “intouchable” endogamic caste initially iron workers, artisans and bow or net hunters, which can be attached to any of the ethnic groups.

(I am using the Greenberg language classification. It is still the basis of the work of more recent linguists who may have modified it, but I am not competent to judge their work.)

THE SAHEL TODAY

Three factors have altered the Kanem natural and human environment since 1972. First, a series of droughts, the first one in 1973, have considerably reduced the lake area and forced human resettlements, also increasing ethnic tensions. The reduction of the lake area has occurred previously. One of the main factor is  the excessive drainage of the water of the Chari River which feeds the lake for agricultural irrigation. Climate variations also influenced the level of the lake. In 1972 I reached the islands by canoe. “Unlike in earlier times, in 1990 access to Yedina villages was not by boat any longer but “by horse, camel or four-whell drive car, crossing the dried lake bed between the islands” (Chesley et al 1990)…” in “People of the grasses by W. Konrad, Translator´s introduction. The second factor is the internal conflicts between the Muslim North and the Christian-animist South. The Alifa of Mao was able to keep Kanem mostly outside the conflict zone. And third, the threat of the Boko Haram islamist jihadist insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. The intervention of the Nigerian army may have forced some Boko Haram militants to take refuge in Kanem.+++++++++++ top

REFERENCES AND LINKS ON AFRICA

Purchase images: Africa: people of the Sahel region

Many references (.pdf or e-books) are public domain works, generally published before 1923, as it would have been expensive to buy recent works; some recent publications are however available for free download; their bibliographies should cover most of what is missing here.

Explorers

Denham was a British military officer who had taken part in the wars against Napoleon. Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa in the years 1822, 1823, 1824 by Dixon Denham and Hugh Clapperton
Two fascinating books by German scientists and explorers, Barth and Nachtigal, who traveled in the Sahara and in the Sahel in the 19th Century. It shows how scientists of that time had a holistic range knowledge, including history, ethnology, linguistics, botany, zoology, geology…
Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa by Heinrich Barth    Barth published initially 5 volumes; later some of the best chapters were published in one volume (this one). Short contact with Kanembu and Lake Chad in last chapter. Barth did not reach Mao, but according to local accounts it was already a city in decline.
Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa: Being a Journal of an Expedition Undertaken Under the Auspices of H. B. M.’s Government, in the Years 1849-1855, Volume 2 (Google eBook) Appendix I, p. 592, bottom: Edris Alawóma Appendix II, p. 606: Account of the eastern part of Kanem, from native information. Shows the precarious existence of Kanem, torn between the States of Wadai and Bornu. Appendix III, Geographical details contained in “The Divan”, or account given by the Imam Ahmed ben Sofiya of the expeditions of the King Edris Alawoma from Bornu to Kanem: p. 637: Fifth Expedition of King Edris Alawoma from Bornu to Kanem: “Mohammed ben ´Abd Allah took an oath of obedience”
Sahara et Soudan by Gustav Nachtigal    Nachtigal was the first explorer to give e detailed description of Mao, the capital of Kanem, in decline as previously noted by Barth, and of the surrounding people.

History:

Chad a country study, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress Edited by Thomas Collelo (Research Completed December 1988), “The online Country Studies are electronic versions of hardcover books published by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress between 1988 and 1998 as part of the Department of the Army’s Country Studies/Area Handbook Series.”
Kanem-Bornu Empire (Wikipedia)  (The Wikipedia article presents some modifications, especially regarding the early years of the Kanem Empire, although most of the text is identical to the Library of congress publication; some bibliographical references are shared)
Ethnogenesis from within the Chadic State –  Some Thoughts on the History of Kanem-Borno, by Dierk Lange 2011
The founding of Kanem by Assyrian Refugees ca. 600 BCE: Documentary, Linguistic, and Archaeological Evidence, by Dierk Lange, Boston, Working Papers in African Studies° 265.

Kanem, Bornu and the Fazzan: Notes on the political history of a trade route   by B.G. Martin.       Journal of African History, x, i (I969), pp. 15-27         Abstract    (a controversial paper)
« Regards croisés entre deux ports de désert » L’enjeu des sources pour l’étude des relations entre Tripoli et le sultanat de Borno       by Rémi Dewière

Ethnic Groups

Sahéliens et Sahariens du Tchad, by Albert Le Rouvreur.     Kanembou p. 75, Boudouma p. 219, Kouri p. 239, Les Daza du Kanem p. 246, Haddad (the lowest caste among other groups, formed by artisans and bow or net hunters) p. 377. Account from sometimes superficial observations in 1957 and 1958 of the people of Chad, with a special emphasis on material culture.
Kanembu: The name “Kanembu” is given to a heterogeneous group of people; there is some confusion between the definitions or divisions of this group among different authors. Broadly, the Kanembu can be said to be people of various origins who speak the Kanembu language. A further complication is in troduced by Nachtigal (p. 471) who refers to Zezerti (which he spells  Zezirti ), the name of the Alifa of Mao, as the name of a Daza clan.
Survivances précoloniales : les problèmes politiques du Kanem (Tchad) by Esther Rosenkranz. This paper begins with how the author defines the Kanembu, as an assemblage of chiefdoms and clans as an introduction to the privileges attributed by the French colonial authorities to the Alifa of Mao to counter the influence of the other sultanates (especially of Wadai).        ”  … Enfin, parmi les gens de la lance, deux groupes se distinguent,qui sont loin d’avoir toujours entre eux des relations de franche cordialité : les Kogona (i.e. ( les nobles ) qui sont arrivés du Borno avec les Alifa que leur empereur avait délégués au Kanem vers 1640, et les autres kanembou, populations installées antérieurement …” (p. 125 ) … “Avec l’ affaiblissement du Borno et le développement du Ouaddaï, l´Alifa du Kanem changea de suzerain au cours du XVIIIe siècle, mais son pouvoir serait resté entier sur tous les locuteurs du kanembou, sur les Tounjour et sur une partie des Goranes jusqu’à l’arrivée des Français qui l’ auraient confirmé dans son autorité.” (p. 125)
Politics and Marriage in South Kanem (Chad) : a statistical presentation of endogamy from 1895 to 1975, by Edouard Conte (1979). Conte shows how endogamy maintains the distinction between the noble “gens de la lance” (spear people) and the “gens de l´arc” (bow people) who form a lower caste. Both, however, were freemen as opposed to slaves.
Marriage patterns, political change and the perpetuation of social inequality [in South Kanem (Chad)] by Edouard Conte ORSTOM Paris 1983

Buduma
“What do we know about the Buduma ? A brief survey” by Catherin Baroin , Proceedings of the 12th Mega Chad Conference, Maiduguri/Nigeria, 2nd December – 9th December2003. Maiduguri, 477 pp.
“People of the grasses”, Studies on the Buduma (Yedina) of Lake Chad, by Walter Konrad, Maiduguri 2009 (initially published in the 1950s up to 1964) – BOOK

Linguistics

The Languages of Africa by Greenberg, J.H. (1963/1970): Indiana University Press and  Mouton  (The Hague)    BOOK
WEB RESOURCES FOR AFRICAN LANGUAGES    “The main purpose of these pages is to offer easy access to online materials dealing with African languages.”    I will select a few papers from this site:
Afroasiatic Languages    numerous links, map
Origine et expansion de l’Afro-Asiatique: méthodologie pour une approche pluridisciplinaire, by M. ben Hamed, P. Darlu, 2003.    From: Bulletins et mémoires de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris, v. 15. The authors are looking for a methodology to conciliate the discrepancies between linguistics and other fields, especially genetics, to locate the origine of Afro-Asiatic languages. I find this paper important, not only for pointing the way to the future classification of Afro-Asiatic languages, but also because it shows that science is not static, it is dynamic, relying on eliciting doubts.
Nilosaharan languages     numerous links, map

Arched harp

Reconstructing African music history: methods and results by Roger Blench (ditribution map of arched harp p. 5) PRESENTED AT THE SAFA CONFERENCE, TUCSON 17-21th MAY, 2002

Kuri cattle

A close look at a rare African breed — the Kuri cattle of Lake Chad Basin: origin, distribution, production and adaptive characteristics by CL Tawah et al. – ‎1997 – ‎Cited by 13 – ‎Related articles Jun 18, 1997 – S. Afr. J. Anim. Sci. 1997, 27(2).
Geographic distribution and frequency of a taurine Bos taurus and an indicine Bos indicus Y specific allele amongst sub-Saharan African cattle breeds    by O.Hanotte, C.L.Tawah et al. Genetics among African cattle breeds, showing the taurine origin of Kuri cattle.

Maps

Ethnographic Regions of Africa (Felix and Meur 2001): Felix, Marc Leo. 2001. Peoples of Africa: An Ethnolinguistic Atlas of Africa, map by Charles Meur, Brussels: Tribal Arts s.p.r.l.
Map of Chad    © GEOATLAS.fr
Peoples, States and Cities in Northern Africa ca. 1340 (Ehret)
Peoples, States and Cities in Northern Africa ca. 1550 (Ehret)
Peoples, States and Cities in Northern Africa ca. 1750-1775 (Ehret)

Shrinking Lake Chad

Lake Chad’s Disappearance Leaves A Famine In Its Wake The Disappearance of Lake Chad in Africa

Modern Chad

Le Tchad a perdu un figure historique     Alifa Ali Zezerti, Sultan of Kanem – 1927 – 2010 Survivances précoloniales : les problèmes politiques du Kanem (Tchad) by Esther Rosenkranz
Le lac Tchad et N’Djaména – une relation porteuse de développement ?    by Géraud Magrin et al., L. SEINY-BOUKAR, P. BOUMARD (éditeurs scientifiques), 2010:     Changes in Lake chad area in the last 30 years.
The threat of jihadist terrorism from Nigeria: The Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria: A Critical Study of the Movement’s Ideological Posture and Implications, by Muibi O. Opeloye and FISN, Department of Religious studies,Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria

Misc.

For those who want to extend their knowlege of pre-colonial Sahel, Islam and slavery in West Africa: To place the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the context of general pre-colonial African history: The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800 , by Christopher Ehret (2002). Perhaps one the most important historical book on pre-colonial Africa, presenting 18,000 years of history (BOOK)
Slavery, Commerce and Production – Essays in the Social and Economic History of the Central Sudan by Paul E. Lovejoy
THE NEW CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF ISLAM – The Western Islamic World Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries VOLUME 2, Edited by MARIBEL FIERRO

Sources of links:

Google, academia.edu, Forgotten Books, Scribd, FreeFullPDF, Open Access Library; links from the resulting articles or books.

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Preview:

This post is currently in a preliminary form; more detailed information will be added as I consult the numerous downloads and bookmarks I made while researching  the history of trans-saharan and of sub-saharan Africa. More pictures and more links will be added, so this will be an ongoing project for some time.

2 thoughts on “PEOPLE OF THE SAHEL – KANEM AND LAKE CHAD

  1. Annett

    Great website you have here but I was wanting to know if you
    knew of any message boards that cover the same topics discussed here?

    I’d really love to be a part of online community where I can get suggestions from other
    knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
    Many thanks!

    Like

    Reply
    1. jjangoux Post author

      Hello Annett, thank you for appreciating my website. Unfortunately I don´t know of any message board that discusses these topics. There are anthropology groups on LinkedIn, and a few grandsons (? – I suppose) of the Sultan of Kanem are on Facebook (searching for Zezerti) but they are not very active. Maybe you should try searching for “sahel” or “Chad – in French Tchad” on Facebook. I should too!
      Best wishes, Jacques

      Like

      Reply

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