1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bornu

BORNU, a country in the Central Sudan, lying W. and S. of Lake Chad. It is bounded W. and S. by the Hausa states and N. by the Sahara. Formerly an independent Mahommedan sultanate it has been divided between Great Britain, Germany and France. To France has fallen a portion of northern Bornu and also Zinder (q.v.), a tributary state to the north-west, while the south-west part is incorporated in the German colony of Cameroon. Three-fourths of Bornu proper, some 50,000 sq. m., forms part of the British protectorate of Nigeria.

Bornu is for the most part an alluvial plain, the country sloping gradually to Lake Chad, which formerly spread over a much larger area than it now occupies. The Komadugu (i.e. river) Waube—generally known as the Yo—and its tributaries rise in the highlands which, beyond the western border of Bornu, form the watershed between the Niger and Chad systems, and flow north and east across the plains to Lake Chad, the Yo in its last few miles marking the frontier between the French and British possessions. In the south-west a part of Bornu drains to the Benue. The rivers are intermittent, and water in southern Bornu is obtained only from wells, which are sunk to a great depth. The vast plain of Bornu is stoneless, except for rare outcrops of ironstone, and consists of the porous fissured black earth called “cotton soil” in India, alternating with, or more probably overlaid by, sand. Throughout the flat country water is apparently found everywhere at a depth of 54 ft., corresponding to the level of Chad. Towards Damjiri in the north-west the country becomes more broken, hilly and timbered. In the south limestone is found near Gujba and also along the Gongola tributary of the Benue. A forest of red and green barked acacia, yielding the species of gum most valuable in the market, extends from the Gongola to Gujba. Immense baobabs (Adansonia digitata), fine tamarinds and a few trees of the genus Ficus are met with in the south. North of Maifoni (latitude 12° N.) the baobab ceases, except at Kuka, where extensive plantations have been made, and its place is taken by the Kigelia and also by a very handsome species of Diospyros. North of Kuka is a dense belt of Hyphaene palm with fine tamarinds and figs. Cotton and indigo grow wild, and afford the materials for the cloths, finely dyed with blue stripes, which form the staple fabric of the country. On the shores of Lake Chad the cotton grown is of a peculiarly fine quality. Rice and wheat of excellent quality are raised, but in small quantities, the staple food being a species of millet called gussub, which is made into a kind of paste and eaten with butter or honey. Ground-nuts, yams, sweet potatoes, several sorts of beans and grains, peppers, onions, water-melons and tomatoes are grown. Of fruit trees the country possesses the lime and fig.

Wild animals, in great numbers, find both food and cover in the extensive districts of wood and marsh. Lions, giraffes, elephants, hyenas, crocodiles, hippopotami, antelopes, gazelles and ostriches are found. The horse, the camel and the ox are the chief domestic animals; all are used as beasts of burden. The country abounds with bees, and honey forms one of the chief Bornuese delicacies.

The climate, especially from March to the end of June, is oppressively hot, rising sometimes to 105° and 107°, and even during most of the night not falling much below 100°. In May the wet season begins, with violent storms of thunder and lightning. In the end of June the rivers and lakes begin to overflow, and for several months the rains, accompanied with sultry weather, are almost incessant. The inhabitants at this season suffer greatly from fevers. In October the rains abate; cool, fresh winds blow from the west and north-west; and for several months the climate is healthy and agreeable.

Inhabitants.—The inhabitants, of whom the great majority profess Mahommedanism, are divided into Negroes and those of mixed blood, i.e. Negro and Berber, Arab or other crossing. The total population of British Bornu is estimated at 500,000. The dominant tribe, called Bornuese, Berberi or Kanuri, a Negro race with an infusion of Berber blood, have black skins, large mouths, thick lips and broad noses, but good teeth and high foreheads. The females add to their want of beauty by extensive tattooing; they also stain their faces with indigo, and dye their front teeth black and their canine teeth red. The law allows polygamy, but the richest men have seldom more than two or three wives. The marriage ceremonies last for a whole week, the first three days being spent in feasting on the favourite national dishes, and the others appropriated to certain symbolical rites. A favourite amusement is the watching of wrestling matches. A game bearing some resemblance to chess, played with beans and holes in the sand, is also a favourite occupation.

The pastoral districts of the country are occupied by the Shuwas, who are of Arab origin, and speak a well-preserved dialect of Arabic. Of the date of their immigration from the East there is no record; but they were in the country as early as the middle of the 17th century. They are divided into numerous distinct clans. Their villages in general consist of rudely constructed huts, of an exaggerated conical form. Another tribe, called La Salas, inhabits a number of low fertile islands in Lake Chad, separated from the mainland by fordable channels.

The Bornuese are noted horsemen, and in times of war the horses, as well as the riders, used to be cased in light iron mail. The Shuwas, however, are clad only in a light shirt, and the Kanembu spearmen go almost naked, and fight with shield and spear. It is indispensable to a chief of rank that he should possess a huge belly, and when high feeding cannot produce this, padding gives the appearance of it. Notwithstanding the heat of the climate, the body is enveloped in successive robes, the number indicating the rank of the wearer. The head likewise is enclosed in numerous turbans. The prevailing language in Bornu is the Kanuri. It has no affinity, according to Heinrich Barth, with the great Berber family. A grammar was published in 1854 by S. W. Koelle, as well as a volume of tales and fables, with a translation and vocabulary.

The towns in Bornu, which have populations varying from 10,000 to 50,000 or more, are surrounded with walls 35 or 40 ft. in height and 20 ft. in thickness, having at each of the four corners a triple gate, composed of strong planks of wood, with bars of iron. The abodes of the principal inhabitants form an enclosed square, in which are separate houses for each of the wives; the chief’s palace consists of turrets connected together by terraces. These are well built of a reddish clay, highly polished, so as to resemble stucco; the interior roof, though composed only of branches, is tastefully constructed. Maidugari, which in 1908 became the seat of the native government, is a thriving commercial town some 70 m. south-west of Lake Chad. The former capital, Kuka (q.v.), and Ngornu (the town of “blessing”), are near the shores of Lake Chad. On the Yo are still to be seen extensive remains of Old Bornu or Birni and Gambarou or Ghambaru, which were destroyed by the Fula about 1809. Dikwa, the capital chosen by Rabah (see below), lies in the German part of Bornu.

History.—The history of Bornu goes back to the 9th century A.D., but its early portions are very fragmentary and dubious. The first dynasty known is that of the Sefuwa or descendants of Sef, which came to the throne in the person of Dugu or Duku, and had its capital at Njimiye (Jima) in Kanem on the north-east shores of Lake Chad. The Sefuwa are of Berber origin, the descent from Sef, the Himyaritic ruler, being mythical. From this Berber strain comes the name Berberi or Ba-Berberche, applied by the Hausa to the inhabitants of Bornu. Mahommedanism was adopted towards the end of the 11th century, and has since continued the religion of the country. From 1194 to 1220 reigned Selma II., under whom the power of the kingdom was greatly extended; and Dunama II., his successor was also a powerful and warlike prince. In the following reigns the prosperity of the country began to diminish, and about 1386 the dynasty was expelled from Njimiye, and forced to seek refuge in the western part of its territory by the invasion of the Bulala. Mai Ali (I.) Ghajideni, who founded the city of Birni, rendered his country once more redoubtable and strong. His successor, Idris II., completely vanquished the Bulala and subjugated Kanem; and under Mahommed V., the next monarch, Bornu reached its highest pitch of greatness. At this period Zinder became a tributary state. A series of for the most part peaceful reigns succeeded till about the middle of the 18th century, when Ali (IV.) Omarmi entered upon a violent struggle with the Tuareg or Imoshagh. Under his son Ahmed (about 1808) the kingdom began to be harassed by the Fula, who had already conquered the Hausa country. Expelled from his capital by the invaders, Ahmed was only restored by the assistance of the fakir Mahommed al-Amin al-Kanemi, who, pretending to a celestial mission, hoisted the green flag of the Prophet, and undertook the deliverance of his country. The Fula appear to have been taken by surprise, and were in ten months driven completely out of Bornu. The conqueror invested the nearest heir of the ancient kings with all the appearance of sovereignty—reserving for himself, however, under the title of sheik, all its reality. The court of the sultan (shehu) was established at New Bornu, or Birni, which was made the capital, the old city having been destroyed during the Fula invasion; while the sheik, in military state, took up his residence at the new city of Kuka. Fairly established, he ruled the country with a rod of iron, and at the same time inspired his subjects with a superstitious notion of his sanctity. His zeal was peculiarly directed against moral or religious offences. The most frivolous faults of women, as talking too loud, and walking in the street unveiled, rendered the offender liable to public indictment, while graver errors were visited with the most ignominious punishments, and often with death itself. Kanemi died in 1835, and was succeeded by his son, Sheik Omar, who altogether abolished the nominal kingship of the Sefuwa.

During Omar’s reign, which lasted about fifty years, Bornu was visited by many Europeans, who reached it via Tripoli and the Sahara. The first to enter the country were Walter Oudney, Hugh Clapperton and Dixon Denham (1823). They were followed in 1851–1855 by Heinrich Barth. Later travellers included Gerhard Rohlfs (1866) and Gustav Nachtigal. All these travellers were well received by the Kanuri, whose power from the middle of the 19th century began to decay. This was foreseen by Barth; and Nachtigal, who in 1870 conveyed presents sent by King William of Prussia, in acknowledgment of the sheik’s kindness to many German explorers, writes thus in December 1872:

“The rapid declension of Bornu is an undeniable and lamentable fact. It is taking place with increasing rapidity, and the boundless weakness of Sheik Omar—otherwise so worthy and brave a man—must bear almost all the blame. His sons and ministers plunder the provinces in an almost unheard-of manner; trade and intercourse are almost at a standstill; good faith and confidence exist no more. The indolence of the court avoids military expeditions, and anarchy and a lack of security on the routes are the consequences. . . . Thus the sheik and the land grow poorer and poorer, and public morality sinks lower and lower.”

After the visit of Nachtigal the country was visited by no European traveller until 1892, when Colonel P. L. Monteil resided for a time at Kuka during his great journey from the Senegal to Tripoli. The French traveller noticed many signs of decadence, the energy of the people being sapped by luxury, while a virtual anarchy prevailed owing to rivalries and intrigues among members of the royal family. The chief of Zinder had ceased to pay tribute, and the sultan was not strong enough to exact it by force. At the same time a danger was threatening from the south-east, where the negro adventurer Rabah, once a slave of Zobeir Pasha, was menacing the kingdom of Bagirmi. After making himself master of the fortified town of Manifa, Rabah proceeded against Bornu, defeating the army of the sultan Ahsem in two pitched battles. In December 1893 Ahsem fled from Kuka, which was entered by Rabah and soon afterwards destroyed, the capital being transferred to Dikwa in the south-east of the kingdom. These events ruined for many years the trade between Tripoli and Kuka by the long-established route via Bilma. Rabah had raised a large, well-drilled army, and proved a formidable opponent to the French in their advance on Lake Chad from the south. However in 1900 he was killed at Kussuri near the lower Shari, by the combined forces of three French expeditions which had been converging from the Congo, the Sahara and the Niger.

By an Anglo-French agreement of 1898 the tributary state of Zinder in the north had been included in the French sphere, and after the defeat of Rabah French military expeditions occupied both the German and British portions of Bornu, but in 1902 on the appearance of British and German expeditions the French withdrew to their own country east of the Shari. The British placed on the throne of Bornu Shehu Garbai, a descendant of the ancient sultans, and Kuka was again chosen as the capital of the state. From that date British Bornu has been under administrative control. It has been divided into East and West Bornu, the line of division being fixed approximately at longitude 12°, and placed under the administration of a resident. Maifoni and Kuka were selected for British stations in the east, and Damjiri and Gujba in the west. Garrisons are quartered at these points. The province has been mapped, and a network of tracks available for wheeled transport has been made through it. Water communication with the Benue and Niger has been opened through the Gongola river. The shehu, who took the oath of allegiance to the British crown on the occasion of his formal installation in November 1904, is maintained in all local dignity as a native chief, and co-operates loyally with the British administration. Peace has prevailed in Bornu since the British occupation, and it is estimated that the population has increased by immigration to about 50% more than it was in 1902. The people are industrious. Extensive areas are being brought under cultivation, and taxes are collected without difficulty. Owing to its increasing commercial importance, the native capital was in 1908 transferred to Maidugari (see also Nigeria: History; and Rabah).

Authorities.—Heinrich Barth’s Travels in North and Central Africa (1857, new ed., London, 1890) contains an exact picture of the state in the period (c. 1850) preceding its decay. The earlier Travels of Denham and Clapperton (London, 1828) may also be consulted, as well as Rohlfs, Land und Volk in Afrika (Bremen, 1870); Nachtigal, Sahara und Sudan, vol. i. (Berlin, 1879); and Monteil, de St.-Louis à Tripoli par le lac Tchad (Paris, 1895). For later information consult Lady Lugard’s A Tropical Dependency (London, 1905), and the Annual Reports, from 1900 onward, on Northern Nigeria, issued by the Colonial Office, London.  (F. L. L.)