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Wadai, Waday, Quadai, Quaddai - Kingdom / Sultanate

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). Ibn Batuta, who travelled in the fourteenth century, found a tribe of Berbers in the kingdom of Wadai or Bergu, which lies West of Darfur, and the king of the country was then a Berber. Borgo, or Wadai, was one of the most considerable states intervening between Nubia and the Niger. It was called Borg by the people of Dar Fur; Wadai in Born and Fezzan, and Dr Saleih' by the natives themselves.

"Similar instances of different names applied to the same country are not," as Burckhardt related, unfrequent in Sdn. By the early 19th Century this country was one of the connecting links between the known and the unknown parts of the interior of Africa; for it was mentioned to Brown under the name of Bergu, and under that of Wdi to Hornemann: t and Seetzen f was the first who learned its real name, Mbba, or Dr Seleih'. It was represented to Seetzen as dependant on Born; but Burckhardt, who seems to have had better information, speaks of its Sultn as independent. Of the languages of this country and Born he has given vocabularies; the more curious as nothing but the numerals of Bornu had previously been published. Of the Borg language a short vocabulary is given in Adelung's Mithridates, under the name of Mbba.

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.

"Bargu," according to Burckhardt, "next to Bornu and Dar Fur, is the most important country in eastern Sudan." The greater part of it is flat, and subject to extensive inundations in the rainy season. After the waters have subsided deep lakes remain in different places, probably in the beds of the rivers, as is the case in the Atbara. And this served, in some degree, to account for the different statements heard, by different travellers, respecting the lakes in this country. But this will not reconcile the different reports respecting large bodies of water, such as the lake of Fitreh. It was not mentioned by Burckhardt's informers, though it was distinctly noticed by those of Browne and Hornemann.

The kingdom of Borgo was divided into many provinces, and several of these were named, in former accounts, as independent states. Warah was the residence of the Sultan, who had made himself master of several neighboring states, among others Bagirmah or Bagermehef, whose inhabitants were the cotton manufacturers of the Sudan. Several different languages were spoken in this kingdom ; and that of Bagermahs appearws to be essentially different either from this or the language of Dar Fur. The native of Borgo, from whom Seetzen derived his information, mentioned no less than twenty different languages as current in the dominions of his sovereign, but some of them were doubtless merely dialects of others.

Burckhardt's account of the conquest of Bagermeh confirmed Seetzen's statement, that it was done at the desire of the Sultan of Bornu. The country was liable to all the evils arising from the insecurity created by the defective system of the Mohammedan law, which is ill calculated to regulate the despotic power it creates. The settlers from Bagermeh are the dyers, as well as cotton manufacturers, of these countries; and a peculiar species of indigo produced on the spot, was the colouring material which they use.

Among the pagans, near Borgo, Dargulla was mentioned. This is the Darkullah of Browne, which furnished another link by which his accounts are connected with those of Burckhardt. "The people" of Borgo, he added, "are continually making inroads upon them to carry off slaves." Even those who pay tribute to the king of Borgo, though "exempted from open attacks, are constantly suffering from the secret inroads of Borgo robbers. Merchants who wish to purchase slaves, repair into these pagan countries, and address themselves to the Borgo officers stationed there. The officer sends to the chiefs of the country, and native merchants, who carry to him for sale either their own slaves acquired in war, (for the Borgo officers constantly stir up war among them) or such as are adjudged to them by the law, (for the smallest trespasses are punished by captivity.) The people themselves also often steal the children of their neighbours, or if they have a large family, sell their own." How completely is this a counterpart of what the abolitionists said was the practice near the coast, and how hopeless it was to look for civilization among the tribes exposed to this nefarious traffic.

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.

By the mid-19th Century, in the Tsad basin the political preponderance belongs at present to Wadai, or Borgu, which is, nevertheless, neither the richest nor the most populous state in this region. Wadai, properly so-called, is a country of small extent lying west of the low Tirdze range, scarcely one-tenth of the subdued territory, not even reckoning the vassal states of Kanem and Baghirmi. The sultan's dominions, which are scarcely anywhere clearly defined, arc officially conterminous with Dar-For, from which, however, they are separated by no natural frontier, but rather by an intermediate neutral zone or borderland occupied by nomad populations. Towards the north and north-west the frontiers oscillate with the migrations of subject tribes moving from camping-ground to camping-ground; the western limits also are frequently modified by wars and marauding expeditions, while southwards the territories of the reduced tribes have no known confines. But the area of the empire with all its tributary states and dependencies may be roughly estimated at about 180,000 square miles, with a scanty populationaccording to Nachtigal, not exceeding two millions six hundred thousand.

Nearly all the attempts hitherto made to visit Wadai have ended in disaster. Curry and Beurmann both perished, one approaching from the east, the other from the west. Vogel reached the capital in 1855, but only to be murdered by the fanatical Mussulman inhabitants; Nachtigal, however, who crossed the frontier in 1873, was more fortunate, by his prudent conduct overcoming prejudice and securing friends even amongst the most zealous Mohammedans. Matteucci and Mussari also were at least able to traverse the country rapidly and under escort in 1879.

The Arab element is relatively much larger in Wadai than in any other part of Central or Western Sudan. The indigenous races have, nevertheless, maintained the preponderance, and the Negro Maba nation, comprising one-seventh of the whole population, claim to be nobles amongst the nobles, founding their pretensions on their early conversion to Islam. Their speech is widely diffused amongst the surrounding tribes as the general medium of social and commercial intercourse.

South and south-east of the Mabas dwell the Abu-Sharibs, separated from the kindred Tamas, who occupy the uplands of the same name north-east of Warn, former capital of the kingdom. Like their Kadoi neighbours they are a valiant race, who long maintained their independence against the Mabas. Other powerful peoples are the recently subdued Massalits in the eastern borderland between Wadai and Dar-For, and the Kukas and Bulalas, founders of the Fitri state, who still enjoy a measure of independence, and whose sultan, although now tributary to Wadai, is considered of more noble origin than his suzerain chief. North of Wadai proper, the Zoghawas, as well as the kindred Dazas and Tedas, are represented by some zealous Mohammedan tribes.

Wadai is at present a chief centre of religious propaganda, the Maba sultan having become the ally of the Senusiya sect. Nevertheless, most of the subject tribes or vassals in the south have remained pagans, or are at most merely nominal Mohammedans. Thus the Kutis, akin- to their Moslem neighbours the Itungas, still practise witchcraft, while other "Kafir" populations inhabit the southern region vaguely known as Dar-Banda. Like the Niani-Niams still farther south, the Ban da people arc cannibals, and worship a goddess Wamba, to whom they offer beer and the first-fruits of the chase. This country, say the natives, is bounded southwards by the Bahr Kuta, a great river inhabited by crocodiles and hippopotamuses, and very probably identical with the Welle or some other great affluent of the Congo.

Of the Arabs, collectively known in Wadai by the name of Aramka, the most numerous tribe are the Mahamids, settled in the country for over five hundred years, and very rich in camels and other live stock. They pitch their tents especially in the northern valley, and on the steppes stretcning away to Borku and Tibesti. The other Arabs of Wadai, more or less mixed with Nuba blood, are divided into the two groups of the Soruks, or " Blacks," and Homr, or " Beds." The Arab element is also largely represented among the Jellabas, or traders, whose caravans penetrate west to Sudan, south to Dar-Banda, and south-east to Baghirmi, taking slaves, ivory, ostrich feathers, and copper in exchange for salt and European wares.

Abesshr (Abesheh), capital of Wadai, lies in the Maba country, near the caravan route leading from Kuka through Dar-For and Kordofan to Khartum. It is a modern town, founded in 1850 by a sovereign whose previous residence, Wara, was exposed to the attacks of the surrounding highland populations. Of Wara, situated 24 miles north of Abeshr, nothing remains except a brick mosque and minaret, and on the summit of a rock a sacred cabin, where, on his accession, the sultan has to make a seven days' retreat. It was for rashly penetrating into this hallowed spot that Vogel seems to have been put to death.

Nimro, west of Wara, is the centre of the Jellaba traders, but not their chief depot. Of the other groups of population the largest is Kodogus, 120 miles south of Abeshr, in a district inhabited by Arabs and Abu-Sharibs. Yawa, on Lake Fitri, capital of the Bulalas, is said to be one of the oldest places in Sudan.

The Sultan of Wadai, a member of the Ghemir (Nuba) tribe, is the direct ruler only of the northern part of the kingdom. This territory is divided, like Dar-For, into provinces named from the cardinal points, and governed by kemakels, or lieutenants, with the right of life and death over their subjects on the condition of remitting to the sultan the customary tribute. This tribute varies according to usage and the local conditions, some places furnishing slaves, some horses or cattle, others hpney or corn. In the administration of the country the Sultan is assisted by the father, or "privy council," while the lawsthat is, the Koran and its commentariesare interpreted by the fakih or ulima, although local usage still largely prevails. The army, of about seven thousand men, is chiefly employed in enforcing the payment of tribute in Baghirmi and the other vassal states.

The militaristic Wadai opposed French domination until well into the twentieth century. By a Convention between Great Britain and France the former recognised the right of France to all territoiy west of the Nile basin, which practically includes the whole of the Sahara (exclusive of the Libyan Desert), and the State of Wadai. The French Sahara may be roughly estimated at about 1 million square miles.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2016 19:20:41 ZULU