Friday 30 June 2023

Elite cavalry of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, 19th century, Lake Chad region

The Kanem-Bornu Empire was one of the longest lasting Empires in African History, beginning in the 8th century with the establishment of the Kanem Empire. It was first ruled by the Duguwa Dynasty, then from the 11th century by the Sayfawa dynasty who established a capital at Njimi in Chad. Due to internal instability and external threats, the capital was moved to Ngazargamu, in Bornu, north-eastern Nigeria, in the 15th century, from which point it became known as the Bornu Empire. It reached new heights under some of its most illustrious rulers, known as Mai's, such as Mai Idris Alooma, who introduced fire arms for the first time in substantial numbers to "the central Sudan" (the region around Lake Chad), in the 16th century via his Ottoman allies. Weakened by the Fulani Jihads of the 19th century, the Bornu Empire was finally brought to its knees by the Sudanese warlord, Rabih az-Zubayr, in 1893.

At it's height, the empire encompassed parts of Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and Libya, controlled trans-Saharan trade routes, built large walled cities and became a centre of Islamic learning and manuscript production. They introduced architectural innovations such as the use of fired bricks in elite structures and they also developed one of the strongest cavalries in Subsaharan African history, equipped with long lances and quilted cotton armors for horse and rider, with the riders often wearing steel cuirasses underneath their thick protective garments.

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