Central African History: The Kanem/Kanem-Bornu Empire (700 AD – 1893 AD)


The Kanem/Kanem-Bornu Empire (700 AD – 1893 AD) existed for over a thousand years. It was first known as the Kanem Empire (700 AD – 1617 AD) and later came to be known as the Kanem-Bornu Empire (1617 – 1893 AD).* At its height, the Empire was located in the areas known today as modern day western Chad, north eastern Nigeria, southern Libya, eastern Niger and northern Cameroon. It was located at the southern end of the trans-Saharan trade route between Tripoli and the region of Lake Chad. We know about the history of this empire from the ‘Girgam,’ a royal artefact of the Kanem Empire. The Girgam has provided a written historical record of the Empire, which includes the names of Kings and Queens, the length of their reigns and the major events within the Empire.


While the Empire’s official dates run from 700 AD – 1893 AD, we can actually trace its roots to 300 AD, under the Nomadic Tebu-speaking Kanembu. The Girgam claims that the Kanembu people moved from their lands to the land around Lake Chad for 2 key reasons. First, the lands around Lake Chad were fertile unlike their previous lands, which suffered from dryness and second, because there was political pressure. The lands around Lake Chad were also attractive because of the existing infrastructure. There were walled cities that belonged to the Sao civilisation. (The Sao civilisation, were one of the first civilisations to have lived in the territory that is now known as Cameroon.) The bounties of the land around Lake Chad caused the Kanembu to abandon their nomadic lifestyle. They founded a capital here around 700 called ‘ N’jimi,’ under the first Kanembu King, Saif. The Kanembu were led by the Duguwa dynasty and they eventually dominated the Sao civilisation; war continued up to the late 16 th century.


The Kings of Kanem were known as ‘Mai’. The Duguwa Dynasty was the first Dynasty to rule the Empire. The ‘Mais’ of the Duguwa were regarded as divine Kings and belonged to the ruling establishment, the Magumi. Although Saif was the first King of the Empire, it was under his son King Dugu, the third King of the Empire that N’jimi grew in power and influence. Under the ninth King’s leadership, King Arku in 1023 AD, that the Kingdom expanded northwards into the Sahara and took over the trading routes of the African Muslims in the area. This would prove to be a turning point for the Empire because Islam would now have a significant influence in the Royal Court. King Arku’s successor, Queen Hawwa was important for 2 reasons. First she was the first female ruler of the Empire and second she was the first member of the Royal Family to embrace and convert to Islam. She ruled the Empire from 1067 AD for 4 years and had set the precedent for Islamic rule. Her successor was also an Islamic ruler, King Abd Al-Djalil (1071-1075) and his successor, King Hume Julmi (1075 AD) founded the Sefuwa dynasty, which would not only become the ruling class of the Kingdom, but more importantly one of the most powerful Islamic African Kingdoms at the time.


The Sefuwa dynasty (1075 AD – 1846 AD) is one of the longest reigning African dynasties of all time. Under this dynasty, the Empire grew extremely wealthy. They controlled 12 vassal states (subordinate states) that were in addition to their own lands. They also took control of the salt deposits within the region of Bilma, located in what we know today as Niger and they increased their trade with North Africa. They obtained horses, fabrics and glassware in exchange for salt. They also exported ostrich feathers, elephant tusks and tin from the Hausa region of northern Nigeria.

Mai Dunama II (1210 AD – 1248 AD) (also known as Mai Dunama Dibalami), was an important King within the Empire. Not only was he a devout Muslim, like many of his predecessors, but he also had the ability to command an army of 40,000 men on horseback. He expanded the size of the Empire. Moreover, he was a great diplomat and developed key relationships with the sultans of North Africa. He established an embassy for the Kanem Empire in Tunisia along with both a school and hostel in Cairo for those Muslims taking their pilgrimage to Mecca. Under various Mai’s, the Royal court had a keen interest in the study of the Qu’ran and the development of Qu’ranic studies. They also encouraged the study of astronomy, mathematics and science.

Interestingly, the historian Dr Fagan has argued that although the Mais were Muslim and devoted to Islam, the political structure of the Kingdom retained some of the pre-Islamic elements. These pre-Islamic elements were inherited from the Zaghawa or Duguwa dynasties. An example of one such element is that 2 women held the highest positions in the Kingdom – the Queen Mother and the Queen sister both of whom had their own court and officers.


Borno was an area that lay southwest of Lake Chad. The Kanem Empire temporarily moved here after their wars with the Bulala had restarted as the Bulala had taken control of the Kanem capital, Njimi and the surrounding regions. Borno proved to be important for the relocated Kanem Empire, as the lands here were more fertile than in Kanem. This land allowed for the cultivation of crops. Moreover, when the King Mai Ali Ghaji rose to power in 1472 AD, he established strong trade links with some of the Hausa Kingdoms (modern day northern Nigeria). He also constructed the city of Ngazargamu near the River Yobe, which subsequently became the capital of the Kanem Empire in Bornu. Other towns, such as Difa, Yo, Duji and Wudi also developed nearby and they specialised in pottery, clothing, weaving and leatherwork. By 1497, Mai Ali Ghaji had developed the Empire in Bonru to such a great extent, that he had enough resources to retake the city of Njimi from the Bulala. Once this was done, the Kanem Empire became the Kanem-Bornu Empire and went from strength to strength. Trade was conducted as far off as the Ottoman Empire in modern day Turkey.


King Idris Alooma is one of the most famous Kings of the Kanem-Bornu Empire. He came to power in 1564 AD, and was around at the same time as the famous Caliphs/Sultans of other Islamic Empires from Baghdad (Iraq), Cairo (Egypt) and Songhai (Mali). As a devout Muslim, he not only went on his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1571 AD, but also brought back with him scholars from the Middle-East and Northern Africa. He, like Mai Dunama II also constructed a hostel in Mecca for the Muslims of Kanem to stay at when they went on their pilgrimage to Mecca. He imported camels from the Sahara that replaced the donkeys and oxen that had been used as transportation previously. He was a great military leader and he conquered surrounding territories. He firmly solidified the Empire as the Kanem-Bornu Empire, as he kept the potential invaders at bay. He controlled and protected the Empire from invasions by the Huasa to the West, the Bulala to the East and the Tuareg to the North.


The Kanem-Bornu Empire was officially known as the Kanem-Bornu Empire by 1617 AD. This date marks the unification of the Kanem and Bornu regions. Mai Idris Alooma had 3 sons all of whom followed in their father’s footsteps and further increased the prosperity of the Empire. Mai Muhammed (1617-1632 AD), Mai Ibrahim (1632 – 1639 AD) and Mai Oman (1639 – 1657 AD) expanded education and learning in the Empire. Security and peace also characterised their reigns. In fact, the Kanem-Bornu Empire continued to flourish well into the 1800’s. The German explorer Gustav Nachitagal, visited the Empire in 1850 and has remarked on how the Empire had ‘great beauty’ and had ‘prosperous development.’




  1. yacub yacub 4 years ago August 17, 2017

    Great history.

  2. Abdullahi Bello 4 years ago August 18, 2017

    Amazing African history,
    That is why Nigeria is great, and so call enemy of progress wanted to ruin it especially north east region where mark laid!.

  3. Abubakar 4 years ago August 18, 2017

    Certainly I enjoyed the reading. We need more of these work to reawaken our hunger for our own unpolluted history which has been diluted by the coming of colonials.

  4. Hamman 4 years ago August 18, 2017

    Great! Keep up with the good work. We need more of these histories. Thank you for sharing.

  5. omeiza shariff 4 years ago August 18, 2017

    What a great people great empire i wish i was born then to witness idris Aloma

  6. Anchinai 4 years ago August 18, 2017

    Which tribe including, Ngizim Ngazar,bade and kanuri, first settled at lake Chad??
    Who were real aborigines there?

  7. abba fantami m. maina gamboru ngala 4 years ago August 18, 2017

    I improved m ore than b 4′ thank God

  8. B. A. Abdulsalam 4 years ago August 18, 2017

    Great Empire with a long documented history.

  9. Ismaila Ibrahim Edego 4 years ago August 19, 2017

    Great insight and a reminder of the brief history I did in Nasarawa State University Keffi, where I obtained my first degree. Hence, this is a refresher for me

  10. Samuel James Dawa 4 years ago August 19, 2017

    Nice work please find out about Glavda People for me,where were they before their present area of abode in Gwoza local government in Borno State Nigeria.

  11. Uloko Emmanuel 4 years ago August 19, 2017

    What a refreshing history we were thought a little of the kanem borno empire history when our level of comprehension was low in the secondary school but this post has enlightened me greatly.

  12. Ali Mohammed Zanna 4 years ago August 20, 2017

    Herwa is our pride

  13. Austin 4 years ago August 20, 2017

    Educative and informative

  14. Amos niyamdi 4 years ago August 20, 2017

    How does the empire came in existence with usman Dan for duo

  15. Abdullahi Muhammad 4 years ago August 20, 2017

    Interesting history!

  16. muhammed lawan Hassan 4 years ago August 21, 2017

    We like more information about kanem borno empire and kanuri people dialect and clans than we like to know the standard kanuri orthography

  17. Ajiya Idris 4 years ago August 21, 2017

    A refreshing history of a proud people of culture courage n education.

  18. Ibrahim Muhammad. M 4 years ago August 22, 2017

    This is very illuminating nd undeniably,rich kodus….

  19. Danjuma Azavuwa 4 years ago August 22, 2017

    Thanks a lot for enlightments, am very happy.

  20. Enyinna Eromaka 4 years ago August 22, 2017

    In my days in the secondary school history is my best subject,this account about kanem Bornu empire has refreshed my memory.Truly,kanem Bornu was a great empire as at then.

  21. Bukar ZANNA Maazu 4 years ago August 22, 2017

    I thank God I benefit with this history I know so many things about my state,may God bless the writer.

  22. emmanuel 4 years ago August 23, 2017

    this is wat makes Nigeria and in fact Africa special we as ppl must rediscover who we are, we aren’t Europeans or Arabs our cultures and traditions shld reign supreme we must de-emphasise Christianity and Islam in our ways of lives to prosper lets make Nigeria great again,Africa great again

  23. Agen BandarQ 6 months ago April 26, 2021

    I’m impressed, I must say. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s both
    educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The problem is something which not enough people are
    speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy I came across this during my hunt
    for something regarding this.

  24. Sakong 6 months ago May 1, 2021

    I enjoy reading through a post that will make men and women think.
    Also, many thanks for allowing me to comment!

  25. Download PKV Games 6 months ago May 1, 2021

    Hurrah, that’s what I was exploring for, what a material!
    present here at this blog, thanks admin of this site.

  26. BandarQ Indonesia 6 months ago May 2, 2021

    Hi to every one, it’s in fact a fastidious for me to go to
    see this web page, it includes helpful Information.

  27. Deposit Pulsa 6 months ago May 2, 2021

    This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.

    I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your fantastic post.
    Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

  28. BandarQ 6 months ago May 2, 2021

    Hi there, this weekend is good for me, as this moment i am reading
    this wonderful educational piece of writing here at my home.

  29. Poker 6 months ago May 2, 2021

    Hello, the whole thing is going well here and ofcourse every one
    is sharing data, that’s in fact excellent, keep up writing.

  30. Ceme Online 6 months ago May 2, 2021

    Wonderful blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo News?
    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there!
    Many thanks

  31. www.tarikubogale.com 6 months ago May 2, 2021

    Good day! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my
    comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having problems finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

  32. Agen BandarQ Terpercaya 6 months ago May 2, 2021

    Keep this going please, great job!

  33. http://www.basketferentino.com 6 months ago May 3, 2021

    It’s really a cool and useful piece of information. I am happy that
    you just shared this helpful info with us. Please stay us up to date like this.

    Thank you for sharing.

  34. bandarq 6 months ago May 6, 2021

    My brother suggested I may like this web site. He used to be totally right.
    This publish truly made my day. You can not imagine simply how so much time I had spent for
    this info! Thanks!

  35. Judi Online 6 months ago May 6, 2021

    I blog quite often and I seriously appreciate your information. The article has truly peaked my
    interest. I’m going to take a note of your blog and
    keep checking for new information about once a week. I
    opted in for your Feed as well.

  36. Deposit Pulsa 6 months ago May 9, 2021

    Hi mates, pleasant article and nice arguments commented here, I am truly enjoying
    by these.

  37. Situs BandarQ 6 months ago May 9, 2021

    Hi there mates, its fantastic paragraph on the topic of tutoringand completely defined, keep it up all the time.

  38. Judi online 6 months ago May 10, 2021

    Hi there, I discovered your site via Google even as searching for a
    related subject, your web site came up, it seems
    good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

    Hello there, just was aware of your blog via Google, and located
    that it is really informative. I’m going to watch out
    for brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future.
    Lots of other people can be benefited out of your writing.

  39. https://i-med.us 6 months ago May 10, 2021

    Hi there to all, how is the whole thing, I think every one is getting
    more from this web site, and your views are pleasant in favor of new users.

  40. Situs MPO Pelangi 5 months ago May 20, 2021

    Heya i’m for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly useful & it helped
    me out much. I hope to give something back and
    help others like you helped me.

  41. Situs Judi Online Indonesia 5 months ago May 20, 2021

    It’s genuinely very complicated in this full of activity life to listen news on TV, so I simply use internet for that purpose, and get the
    hottest information.

  42. Agen BandarQ 5 months ago May 21, 2021

    When someone writes an article he/she keeps the image of
    a user in his/her mind that how a user can understand it.
    Thus that’s why this article is outstdanding.


  43. mandiridomino 5 months ago May 21, 2021

    Hey are using WordPress for your site platform?
    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started
    and set up my own. Do you require any html coding knowledge to make your own blog?
    Any help would be really appreciated!

  44. Link Alternatif Mandiripoker 5 months ago May 21, 2021

    Can you tell us more about this? I’d care to find out some additional

  45. Slycent.fr 5 months ago May 22, 2021

    Hi there, I enjoy reading through your article. I like to write a little comment to support you.

  46. IDNPLAY 5 months ago May 23, 2021

    Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It actually was a entertainment account it.

    Glance advanced to more introduced agreeable from you! By
    the way, how could we keep up a correspondence?

  47. Ceme Online 5 months ago May 25, 2021

    What a stuff of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable know-how on the topic of unpredicted feelings.

  48. Judi Online 5 months ago May 26, 2021

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article.

    I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post.
    I will certainly return.

  49. Agen BandarQ Online 5 months ago May 28, 2021

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was wondering what all is needed to
    get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours
    would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet savvy so I’m
    not 100% sure. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly
    appreciated. Appreciate it

  50. Hi there to all, how is all, I think every one is getting more from this website, and your views are good in support
    of new visitors.

  51. lagiqq 5 months ago June 4, 2021

    It is the best time to make a few plans for the future and it’s time to be happy.
    I’ve learn this post and if I could I desire to recommend you some attention-grabbing things or tips.
    Maybe you can write subsequent articles referring to this article.

    I desire to read more things approximately it!

  52. Judi Sakong 5 months ago June 5, 2021

    Sweet blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo News?
    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there!
    Thank you

  53. That is a good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.
    Simple but very accurate info… Appreciate your sharing
    this one. A must read post!

  54. Daftar LagiQQ 5 months ago June 11, 2021

    It’s difficult to find knowledgeable people for this subject, but
    you sound like you know what you’re talking about!


  55. Ceme Indonesia 4 months ago June 12, 2021

    Hi, I do believe this is an excellent website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to come back once again since i have book-marked
    it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich
    and continue to help other people.

  56. BandarQ Terpercaya 4 months ago June 14, 2021

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was wondering
    what all is required to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very web smart so I’m not 100% sure. Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated.

  57. BandarQ 4 months ago June 14, 2021

    Very good blog post. I certainly love this website.

    Keep writing!

  58. IDN Poker Terbaik 4 months ago June 14, 2021

    Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Internet explorer.

    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with
    browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know.
    The layout look great though! Hope you get the problem
    fixed soon. Many thanks

  59. Deposit Pulsa 4 months ago June 14, 2021

    Hi! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.

    I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look
    forward to new updates.

  60. Download PKV Games 4 months ago June 14, 2021

    It’s fantastic that you are getting ideas from this piece of writing as well as from our discussion made at this place.

  61. slot Deposit pulsa 4 months ago June 21, 2021

    Thanks , I have recently been looking for info approximately this topic
    for a long time and yours is the greatest I’ve discovered till now.
    But, what about the bottom line? Are you sure about
    the supply?

  62. Qiu Qiu 4 months ago June 22, 2021

    I pay a visit daily a few blogs and information sites
    to read content, except this website offers quality based

  63. judi slot online deposit pulsa 4 months ago June 22, 2021

    This article is actually a nice one it assists new the web users,
    who are wishing in favor of blogging.

  64. bandarq terpercaya 4 months ago June 25, 2021

    Excellent article! We are linking to this particularly great post on our
    site. Keep up the good writing.

  65. 우리카지노 4 months ago July 11, 2021

    It’s actually very complicated in this busy life
    to listen news on Television, thus I simply use world wide web for that reason, and obtain the most recent information.

  66. DominoQQ Indonesia 4 months ago July 11, 2021

    Helpful info. Fortunate me I discovered your site by accident, and I am shocked why this
    coincidence didn’t came about earlier! I bookmarked it.

  67. 카지노사이트 3 months ago July 13, 2021

    You have made some decent points there. I looked on the net to
    learn more about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your
    views on this website.

  68. https://adentra.mx/ 3 months ago July 14, 2021

    Fine way of explaining, and nice article to obtain data on the topic of my
    presentation topic, which i am going to convey
    in academy.

  69. Lagi99 3 months ago July 21, 2021

    What’s up to all, for the reason that I am really eager of
    reading this weblog’s post to be updated regularly. It
    includes nice stuff.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *