Bagirmi and Wadai

Chad Table of Contents

In addition to Kanem-Borno, two other states in the region, Bagirmi and Wadai, achieved historical prominence. The kingdom of Bagirmi emerged to the southeast of Kanem-Borno in the sixteenth century. Under the reign of Abdullah IV (1568-98), Islam was adopted, and the state became a sultanate, using judicial and administrative procedures. Later, a palace and court were constructed in the capital city of Massenya.

Bagirmi's political history was a function of its strength and unity in relation to its larger neighbors. Absorbed into KanemBorno during the reign of Aluma, Bagirmi broke free later in the 1600s, only to be returned to tributary status in the mid-1700s. During periods of strength, the sultanate became imperialistic. It established control over small feudal kingdoms on its peripheries and entered into alliances with nearby nomadic peoples. Early in the nineteenth century, Bagirmi fell into decay and was threatened militarily by the nearby kingdom of Wadai. Although Bagirmi resisted, it accepted tributary status in order to obtain help from Wadai in putting down internal dissension. When Rabih Fadlallah's forces burned Massenya in 1893, the twenty-fifth sultan, Abd ar Rahman Gwaranga, sought and received protectorate status from the French.

Located northeast of Bagirmi, Wadai was a non-Muslim kingdom that emerged in the sixteenth century as an offshoot of the state of Darfur (in present-day Sudan). Early in the seventeenth century, the Maba and other small groups in the region rallied to the Islamic banner of Abd al Karim, who led an invasion from the east and overthrew the ruling Tunjur group. Abd al Karim established a dynasty and sultanate that lasted until the arrival of the French. During much of the eighteenth century, Wadai resisted reincorporation into Darfur.

In about 1800, during the reign of Sabun, the sultanate of Wadai began to expand its power. A new trade route north--via Ennedi, Al Kufrah, and Benghazi--was discovered, and Sabun outfitted royal caravans to take advantage of it. He began minting his own coinage and imported chain mail, firearms, and military advisers from North Africa. Sabun's successors were less able than he, and Darfur took advantage of a disputed political succession in 1838 to put its own candidate in power in Wara, the capital of Wadai. This tactic backfired, however, when Darfur's choice, Muhammad Sharif, rejected Darfur's meddling and asserted his own authority. In doing so, he gained acceptance from Wadai's various factions and went on to become Wadai's ablest ruler.

Sharif conducted military campaigns as far west as Borno and eventually established Wadai's hegemony over Bagirmi and kingdoms as far away as the Chari River. In Mecca, Sharif had met the founder of the Sanusiyya Islamic brotherhood, a movement that was strong among the inhabitants of Cyrenaica (in present-day Libya) and that was to become a dominant political force and source of resistance to French colonization. Indeed, the militaristic Wadai opposed French domination until well into the twentieth century.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress