Description of the Bornu Empire in 1582

Kanem-Bornu court in the 1700s
Kanem-Bornu court in the 1700s

As we saw from the description of a Bornu Maï (King) in the 17th century, the Bornu Empire was a prosperous empire with great kings.

Below is another description, this time of the Bornu Empire in 1582. Immediately, we notice the impressive size of the capital city most likely Ngazargamu, the respect given to the kings, who were treated just like the kings of Timbuktu. It is also good to note the level of education of these kings, as well as their relations with Libya and beyond, Turkey. Lastly, slaves were not traded here, but rather leather. Was this the source of the great Libyan leather?

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The Bornu in 1582, from an Italian Geographer : Giovanni Lorenzo Anania

Tchad_Lake Chad
Lake Chad

Then there is Borno on the edge of the Negro river (where there is a large lake formed by the said river [this is most likely the Yobe River also known as Komadugu Yobé River which flows into Lake Chad]). It is an immense city with a lot of traffic, having its own king who is treated with the same ceremonies, both by foreigners and by his own vassals, as those in use among the king of Tungubuto (Timbuktu). We kneel down on our knees, throwing sand on anyone’s head. He is served with great zeal by eunuchs and young girls whom they render sterile with certain potions.

Group of Kanem-Bu warriors in the 1800s
Group of Kanem-Bu warriors in the 1800s

In his correspondence, writing to foreign princes, he uses the Arabic language, as Giovanni di Vesti tells me, a very honorable person, and who was a slave to the son of a great count among the Turks. He himself saw a letter that the king of Borno wrote to the Pasha of Tripoli with great eloquence and art. This prince is so powerful that several times he has raised an army of hundred thousand men against the king of Cabi (Kebbi [in modern day Nigeria]). The blacks, it is said, regard him as an emperor, so great is his power. He owns a multitude of horses which Arabs bring from their country, and they make a great profit by selling them for at least a thousand or seven hundred crowns each. These horses do not stay alive for long, because when the sun enters the sign of Leo, many of them die every year from the extreme heat. Today many Turks arrive, seeking adventure, and many Moors from Barbary, who are their scholars. They are very well paid, because they are few in number, as it happens with all those blacks who are Muslims. And many merchants depart from there every year, carrying so much excellent quality leather that it seems extraordinary in Fizzan (Fezzan [in Libya]). Then they return with big quantities of horses, accompanying the caravans of black merchants.

Edition critique par Dierk Lange

Les Africains, vol. 3, Editions J.A., 1977, p. 57. Translated to English by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com

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