Tuesday 25 July 2023

Battle between the knights of Bornu and the Bulala, Kanem, Chad

Under Mai Idris Katakarmabe (r. 1507–1529) of the Sefuwa or Sayfawa Dynasty, the forces of Bornu reconquered their ancestral homeland of Kanem from the Bulala (or Bilala), defeating the Bulala King Dunama ibn Salma at the battle of Garni Kiyala, and entering the abandoned capital of Njimi 122 years after first being expelled from it. The Bornu conquest was further consolidated at the battle of Jugulgul.

“Fierce horsemen of Bornu. Arrayed in armor like medieval European knights, the cavalrymen of Bornu terrorized the central Sudan for more than 200 years, attacking in close formation to the shrill sound of long war trumpets. As early as the 16th century, Europeans had heard about Bornu’s yearly marches against weaker neighbors such as the Bulala (below). When British explorers finally entered the kingdom in 1823, they expected to disprove these myths. To their surprise, they discovered that the Negro knights, according to the British report, “were habited in coats of mail composed of iron chain, which covered them from the throat to the knees,” and their richly caparisoned horses moved “with great precision and expertness” through intricate maneuvers. Even the greeting given to the British combined a strange kind of knightly courtesy with defiant pride. 

The horsemen rushed at the Europeans again and again in a series of mock charges, shouting “Welcome!” -a gesture, wrote the explorers, which gave “the compliment… very much the appearance of a declaration of contempt for [our] weakness.”

- "African Kingdoms" by Basil Davidson

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