The ancient Emirate of Adamawa was a part of
the Sokoto Caliphate, the politically dominant empire of the Central Sudan
in the 19th century. Adamawa was known as "The wild east" of the
Caliphate, were Fulbe settlers occupied the vast highlands of Northern
Cameroon and provided slaves for the empire from the neighboring
Before we step into the world of ancient Adamawa, there is some need to
present the protagonists of this history. Most important, the Fulbe
(or Fulani, Peul, Ful, Fula, Pulla, etc.), the people politically dominant
of the region of Adamawa in the 19th and 20th century. The so-called Kirdi
were their local political opponents. Kirdi is not the name of one people,
but rather a collective term (originally disparaging) of non-Muslims, used
as a name of the peoples living in Adamawa before the Fulbe-invasion.
The Fulbe as a people and their history have been subject to quite a few imaginative theories proposed by Europeans, mainly due to their relatively bright skin. Many theories pinpointed them as a people related to the North African Berber. This theory was sustained by the fact that they originated in the area which is now Senegal. The language of the Fulbe (Fulfulde), however, is part of the Niger-Congo family, not Afro Asian, such as the Berber. More concisely, Fulfulde belongs to the Atlantic, Senegambian group of Niger-Congo languages, further documenting their origins being the Senegal. Nowadays, the biggest concentrations of Fulbe are in the ancient Fulbe empires, such as Adamawa (Cameroon/Nigeria) and Futa Jallon (Guinea), but also in the modern states of Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, the Chad and Sudan.
They originally were a nomadic people of herders, herding still being an important feature in Fulbe societies all over the Sudan, from Senegal to the Chad. Nowadays, most are semi nomadic or sedentary (so-called town-Fulbe, to which I will refer to as the Fulbe from now on). A minority, which is constantly becoming fewer, is still nomadic. These are the Bororo, or bush-Fulbe. Common for all these groups is their organization in clans. This clan structure was essential to a nomadic people as an additional form of social and identical structure parallel to the family lineage. It was that basic to the Fulbe, however, that they sticked to it also after the sedentarisation - such as their special relationship to the cattle as a source to wealth, power and prestige. The clans which were to play an important role in Adamawa, were the great clans of Wollarbe and Yilliga and the smaller clan of Ba.
One assumes that nomadic Fulbe started leave the Senegal-area looking for new pastures and water for their herds around the year 1000. Following the next four-five centuries, they had spread over the most of the Sudan-zone west of Lake Chad. The oldest written sources mentioning the Fulbe in the Baghirmi empire (southeast of Lake Chad) are dated to the 16th century. Most probably, the Fulbe were welcomed by local ruler, as they brought with them cattle and constituted a market for agricultural products. The groups of nomadic Fulbe had to pay a tribute in cattle to the local ruler, thus recognizing his authority. With time, a group of sedentary Fulbe began to emerge. These often distinguished themselves as educated Muslims and were highly appreciated by the local rulers for their services as civil servants, teachers and legal advisers.
It is assumed that the Fulbe came into contact with Islam already before their emigration from Senegal. Conversion to Islam was especially widespread amongst the sedentary Fulbe, while the Bororo (nomadic Fulbe) were less receptive to Islam. Amongst the Bororo, Islam never created profound changes of mentality, but laid as a thin shell above the traditional cultural heritage, and this is pretty much how the situation remains today in the small remaining societies of Bororos. The sedentary Fulbe in Haussaland, however, were strongly influenced by the Muslim Haussa, and got in touch with the Sufi orders of Islam. In the only nominally Muslim Haussa-states, the relation of the masses to Islam was more a formal than representing a real understanding of the religion. Islam was Africanized, insipid by Sufism and Maraboutism. This was also the situation for the majority of the Fulbe.
Adamawa may be seen as the last link in a chain of empires being Islamized in the Sudan-belt during the last grand movement of Muslim expansion in Africa. With the outbreak of jihad in the West African Futa Jallon (in modern Guinea) in 1725 stated the age of an Islam more militant and fundamentalist, promoted by the Fulbe, sharply contrasting the earlier spread of Islam by peaceful Muslim traders.
Haussaland (in modern Northern Nigeria) was loose groupings of nominally Muslims, small haussa kingdoms. They were united by a common language and culture, and the area was an important center of trade and education, politically and economically highly developed. It is assumed that the Fulbe began to settle here in the 15th century. A relatively high proportion of these Fulbe establishing themselves in the Haussa towns were educated Muslims, assimilating well into Haussa culture.
In 1804, Fulbe in Haussaland rebelled against their Haussa rulers. The rebellion was led by the Fulbe Uthman dan Fodio, one of the most recognized Muslim intellectuals of the region. It originated in the public denunciation of the religious and administrative circumstances in the Haussa kingdom of Gobir by dan Fodio. Haussa aristocracy, claiming to rule in accordance with the principles of Islam, were in reality only nominally Muslims. As dan Fodio's denunciation only led to further oppression of faithful Muslims, he called on a rebellion. As the appeal for jihad got known all over Haussaland, Fulbe and other Muslims gathered around dan Fodio and participated in the fighting. Dan Fodio led them to success. Already in 1810, almost all the Haussa kingdoms were beaten. The revolutionary leader handed out signed flags to his most important companions and urged them to spread the jihad to their home territories. These followers thus in little time conquered most of Haussaland and the adjuncting areas. Here, they established Muslim Fulbe empires - so-called emirates (which is the European term), all subordinated to the Sokoto Caliphate of Uthman dan Fodio. The "caliphate" of the Fulbe was to become the biggest and most influential empire of Central Sudan in the 19th century.
The Caliphate of Sokoto, and in particular the Emirate of Adamawa, was economically based on slavery and slave trade. In addition to being "products of export", slaves were used in all domestic economic sectors; on plantations, for domestic work, in trade, common agricultural work, in the harem, in administration and as warriors. The slave population of the Sokoto Caliphate probably constituted between on third and half of the entire population. However, there didn't exist a sharp division between slaves and frees, but a graduation of the dependency relation between master and subject. The status of slaves was dynamic, in the sense that they could gain a special relationship of trust with their master or even gain full freedom.
Independently of the jihad in Haussaland, a local Fulbe rebellion took place in the so-called Fombina - the southern country (referring to the lands in the south of the Bornu empire, nowadays Northern Adamawa). For some time, a modest group of Fulbe had been settled in towns and villages ruled by non-Muslims, so-called Kirdis. The areas of the Diamaré plains and the Benue lowland were excellent pastures and attracted more and more Bororos. Around 1800, the local Fulbe rebelled against the ruling Gisiga-Kirdi, and were sustained by the neighboring Muslim Sultanate of Mandara. Based on their strong cavalry and their aggressive methods, they soon conquested the urban centers, and about 1810 the main town of the Gisiga, Marva (Fulfulde: Maroua) fell into their hands. As early as one year after the appeal of holy war by dan Fodio, in 1805, the mobido Adama of the Ba-clan received the white flag of the jihad, and the title as chief of command against the Kirdi in Fombina. Adama thus received the title of "Lamido Fombina" or emir, as he normally is called in European literature. He established his headquarters in Gurin by the River Faro, but later moved it to Yola by the River Benue in 1841. "Fombina" later became known as Adamawa, named after its founder Adama.
The new alliance with the Fulbe from Haussaland and the religious dimension of dan Fodio's jihad gave new force to the rebellion of the Fombina Fulbe. A quick victory in the Diamaré plains was followed by the consolidation of conquest by means of the establishment of a row of Fulbe "principalities", or lamidates, of which Maroua, Bogo, Mindif and Binder became the most important. However, the Fulbe met strong Kirdi resistance and had to endure many setbacks. The Kirdi retreated to areas which were inaccessible to the Fulbe cavalry, the swamps and mountains, thus gaining a military upper hand. Form their new bases, the Kirdi efficiently hit back on the Fulbe.
Between 1810 and 1830, the Fulbe started their military expeditions south of the Benue. Their push towards the south was part of a new stream of migration of Fulbe southwards, causing other peoples to move southwards and thus having effects all the way into the southern rainforests. Between 1825 and 1845, Fulbe of the Wollarbe clan conquered the southern Adamawa plateau and founded the great lamidates of Ngaoundéré, Tibati and Banyo. Here, the Fulbe were met by the relatively highly organized Kirdi peoples Duru, Mbum, Gbaya and Vute. Giving resistance to the Fulbe invasion, they however got subjugated to Fulbe rule in short time. The efficiency of the Fulbe cavalry in this well suited terrains is seen as the principal military explanation of these easy military victories. About 1850, the conquest of Adamawa in general was fulfilled, with some 40 established lamidates and most of the indigenous population subdued Fulbe rule or living as refugees in marginized areas. In South Adamawa, the expansion continued as slave hunting campaigns. Thus, the jihad had started as a rebellion in the north, but had continued as mere conquest of new territories in the south, further perverting into slave hunting campaigns.
As early as in the days of conquest, the Fulbe forces were divided. Adama never had enough authority to control his new, powerful vassals from other clans, especially from the great Wollarbe and Yilliga clans. During the reign of Adama, the great Wollarbe lamidates of Tibati and Bouba Njidda split from their "feudal" overlord in Yola. While Adama concentrated on the troublesome mission of keeping the Kirdis close to the rivers Benue, Logone and Mayo Kebbi on an arms distance, his vassals in the south more easily could focus on conquering vast, uniform territories and thus establish a basis of power which was more or less independent of the contact with the emirate. The emir had to spend much attention in disciplining his vassals, which in turn weakened the striking power of the Fulbe against the Kirdi in the north. With the exception of Bouba Njidda, and in one occasion Tibati, however, all the Adamawa lamidos recognized Adama as their overlord and paid him tribute. Nonetheless, unity was poor. The emirs never managed to centralize the Adamawa emirate, and the lamidates did pretty much as they pleased. When the emir called for war, he could not automatically count on the support of his subordinates. His vassals even could have wars between them.
The large number of lamidates were to develop in very different directions in the decades before European colonial conquest. We might operate with two main groups of lamidates, the small and week ones in Northern Adamawa and the large and powerful ones in the southern highland plateau. While the northern lamidates showed clear signs of decay at the end of the 19th century, the southern lamidates were still very much expanding and vital at the eve of German conquest.
The small lamidates of Northern Adamawa laid closely packed on the plains of the Benue, of the Diamaré and west of the Mandara Mountains. The most influential were Yola, Garoua and Bibémi at the Benue, Maroua, Mindif and Bindir on the Diamaré Plains and Mubi and Madagali on the plains west of the Mandara Mountains. The towns of Maroua and Yola probably were the two most important urban centers of all Adamawa, with their important markets attracting traders and visitors from all of the emirate and beyond.
Common for these northern emirates were that they, after the accomplishment of a long and tiring war of establishment, quickly met their natural borders of expansion. After the failure of the Sokoto Caliphate to conquer the Muslim empires of Bornu and Baghirmi, the northern and eastern borders were locked. The Maroua lamidate (on the plain of Diamaré) continued for years fighting border wars with the Mandara Sultanate over disputed frontier provinces. To the west and south, the Mandara Mountains and the Mayo Kebbi Swamps were effective barriers for the Fulbe cavalry. The many inaccessible foothills of the Mandara Mountains now had a function as hideouts for the refugee Kirdi, originating from the lowlands. The Fulbe never succeeded in conquering these mountain hideouts, were the Kirdi started reorganizing themselves and copying the more centralized, hierarchical ways of organizing the society from their counterparts. As they gathered renewed strength, the Kirdis began to strike back. The Gidar Kirdis (fugitives in the Mandara Mountains), which were among the first to be beaten by Adama's forces, learned from their resistance, reorganized, gathered strength, and started to threaten the small lamidates of Guider and Mayo Loué. Even the strategically important trade route between Diamaré and the Benue valley was made unsafe by the Gidar. As the German expedition lead by Uechtritz passed through the area in 1893, they did so under the greatest risks. The only place safe on this main route between Guider and Maroua was the Fulbe fortress-town and enclave Ndokoula (in the Mandara Mountains), which was subject to almost continuously attacks by the Kirdis. At the lower Faro, tributary to the Benue, and at the upper Benue, Bata Kirdis threatened the local lamidates.
Until the 1870s, the lamidates of Yola, Garoua and Tchéboa had been attacking the settlements of the Bata, going on slave raids. Later on, however, the Kirdis gained the upper hand, and made trade and pasture unsafe in the outskirts of the lamidates. From the Mandara Mountains, which for a long time had been a quiet northern border for the lamidates alongside the Benue, the expelled Kirdis also had gained enough relative strength to start an offensive. The last years before the German colonization, thus, the lamidate of Garoua had to start paying an annual tribute to the Fali Kirdis to be spared attacks.
The lamidate of Madagali, west of the Mandara Mountains, never succeeded in gaining control over the relatively well organized Marghi Kirdis. To all these northwestern lamidates, the areas bordering the Mandara Mountains were zones of attacks and re-attacks.
Worst, however, was the situation on the eastern border of the emirate. The Kirdi peoples Musgu, Masa, Tuburi and Mundang were in the process of conquering several of the smaller lamidates. The Mundang Kirdis were a relatively strongly organized people, and within time they became the most dangerous opponents of the Fulbe. As their strength grew, the smaller lamidates of the lower Mayo Kebbi (tributary to the Benue) became more and more impotent. The capital of the Mundang, Léré at the Mayo Kebbi, flourished however into a vibrant market town, competing with the local Fulbe towns. The slave market in Léré was the biggest in the region. And east of the Mundang, the power of the Tuburi Kirdis was emerging. In the last decades before the German conquest, they were approaching the town of Bindir, the capital of the Binder lamidate on the Diamaré. The trade routes were effectively blocked and the town was under constant state of siege until the "liberation" by the Germans in 1901.
The external pressure was intensified by (or even caused) internal instability. The unity as an emirate, which might have stopped the Kirdi advance, grew weaker and weaker. On the Diamaré, an area gravely threatened from all sides, the lamidate of Mindif was in almost constant state of war with its neighbors Bindir and Maroua. This prevented an bitterly needed solidarity action against external, common enemies as the Mandara Sultanate and the Mundang and Tuburi Kirdis. In the 1890s, the lamidates of Bibémi and Golombé (by the Benue) also were in constant conflict with each other. And the powerful, southern lamidate of Bouba Njidda did not inhibit itself to join forces with Kirdi empires. When the Bibémi lamidate attacked the Mundang of Léré around 1850, Bouba Njidda sticked to its obligations as an ally, and supported the Mundang. In addition to these internal conflicts between the lamidates, rebellious tendencies became common throughout the northern lamidates in the 1880s and 1890s.
During the 1880s, the Fulbe aristocrat Hayatu established a new empire with its headquarters in the little town and lamidate of Balda, north of Maroua, Diamaré. Hayatu was great-grandson of Uthman dan Fodio, and settled down in Adamawa after having failed doing a political career in Sokoto. At first, he was a warmly welcomed guest in the house of Lamido Bogo, and he gained popularity after having lead successful attacks against the Musgu Kirdis. However, this popularity quickly ceased when it became clear that Hayatu used his successes to build himself an independent base of power. Thus he established an empire on his own from the areas he had conquered. Through his numerous victories over the Kirdi - a seldom act in these days - Hayatu attracted many warriors and displeased from the neighboring lamidates and the entire caliphate. Now the Lamido Maroua began to see a threat to his dominant position on the Diamaré. This was enforced by the undisguised contact kept with the revolutionary Mahdi empire in eastern Sudan (modern Republic of Sudan). After calling on to the lamidos of Adamawa to join a mahdist movement under his leadership, Lamido Maroua finally asked Yola for assistance to put an end to Hayatu's actions. Yola, though, felt it was complicated to intervene due to the noble inheritance of Hayatu. This happening getting known, only increased the popularity of Hayatu, and new followers kept joining him. Around 1890, a big army of mahdists had gathered in Balda.
Mahdism had indeed been vivid in the Caliphate, and many even looked at Uthman dan Fodio as a mahdi. The great-grandfather of Hayatu, dan Fodio, was said to have foreseen a mahdi coming from the east, fulfilling the reforms he had started. This rumor contributed greatly to the big success of Hayatu.
However, Subeiru, which became emir of Yola in 1890, was dedicated to fight mahdism in Adamawa. He gathered a great army and let out to attack Balda in 1893. However the attack was fought back and Subeiru and his army suffered great losses. This was attributed to the warriors of Lamido Mindif (the main opponent to Maroua), which contributed with a major part of Subeiru's troops. Having made a deal with Hayatu, Lamido Mindif's warriors deceived Subeiru and did not participate in the battle. Hayatu now joined forces with the warlord Rabeh (see below) and participated in his conquest of the thousand year old Bornu empire the very same year. In 1894 he followed Rabeh to his new capital, Dikwa, where he was appointed imam. In Dikwa, together they planned the conquest of the Sokoto Caliphate. Hayatu died in 1898, with his great goal unaccomplished.
Rabeh was a warlord and slave trader from eastern Sudan. He founded one of the many "rifle empires" of that time. In the 1870s, he participated when another warlord conquered the old empire of Darfur (in modern Sudan and Chad). In 1879, he mounted his own army of slave-soldiers and started his advances towards the west. In 1892 he conquered the Baghirmi empire, the following year Bornu. After the conquest of Bornu, his far-flung empire became a disturbing factor for the stability of the central Sudan region. Rabeh most truly was a slave raider, which lead him to involve in almost constant wars and raids. After the conquest of Bornu, he operated in the Mandara Mountains, and attacked places that far away as Zinder (modern Niger). Rabeh's empire collapsed after one French attack in 1900.
The situation was, as we have seen, rather instable in northern Adamawa as the century was ending. External and internal dangers were threatening the divided emirate. The mahdist movement was expanding rapidly. Further, this movement only contributed in weakening the ties to Yola, but also the loyalty of the population towards their local rulers, the lamidos. All in all, there is an impression of a society were there was a need of political and religious renewal, or being at the edge of becoming subdues by a warlord of the same caliber as Rabeh.
Opposite to the northern lamidates, southern Adamawa did not show any signs of decay at the end of the 19th century. The great lamidates of Bouba Njidda (also called Rey or Rey Bouba), Ngaoundéré, Banyo and Tibati were established later than the lamidates of Diamaré and the Benue lowland. Here, the Fulbe were met by a vast terrain perfectly suited for livestock farming. The conquerors didn't encounter anyone the perceived as equals (meaning Muslims or established empires) which were controlling these enormous pastures. In fact, livestock holding was not widespread in Adamawa before the Fulbe conquest. Most peoples in and around the Adamawa plateau lived in acephalous societies. The hinterland thus was open to a nearly unlimited expansion and slave raids. It is assumed that the conquerors were relatively few in numbers, also compared to their counterparts in northern Adamawa, but military depending on a cavalry, they had come to the perfect landscape. Anyhow, the Fulbe thus constituted, at least until the 20th century, "an ethnic minority" in southern Adamawa. The Kirdi, or the indigenous population, formed the majority.
Some of these Kirdi peoples of the Adamawa plateau had established relatively centralized societies already before the Fulbe conquest. This was especially true for the Mbum people (mainly settled in the southern parts of Ngaoundéré. To be able to gain control of the vast areas they had conquered, the little number of Fulbe had to base themselves on the structures already existing. Thus the Fulbe of Ngaoundéré and Tibati constructed their local administration on existing Mbum institutions. Mbum nobility were represented at the Lamido palace, and in Ngaoundéré, the Lamido intermarried with the Mbum aristocracy. In this way, specially the Mbum came in close contact to "the master people" of the Fulbe. The conquested started copying the clothing of the conquestors, their language, religion, customs - and became more and more Fulbe. The high percentage of people calling themselves Fulbe in today's Adamawa is thus a product of generations of becoming Fulbe.
In Bouba Njidda, development took another course. The Fulbe let the Dama Kirdis (a part of the Duru people) play a far more active part in administration. It is likely that the Fulbe conquering and settling in Bouba Njidda were very few in numbers. So the first ardo (the ruler of Bouba Njidda took the title of ardo, not Lamido) made sure to intermarry with the Dama aristocracy, which also did all his successors. Very shortly after, therefore, Bouba Njidda became more characteristic of a Kirdi empire than a Muslim empire ruled by Fulbe. By assimilating to Dama culture, the ardo quickly gained the trust of all ethnic groups, and thus secured himself a much firmer base of power than most other lamidos.
As these southern lamidates were expanding territorially and culturally, their strength and prestige grew compared to other lamidates and the emirate itself. Therefore it was not unnatural for the two most powerful lamidates Bouba Njidda and Tibati, to start challenging the position of Yola. As early as the 1830s, Lamido Tibati, in vain, asked the sultan of Sokoto to be placed directly under Sokoto, applying for the title as emir of Southern Adamawa. More or less at the same time, the relationship between Bouba Njidda and Yola got tense. The lamidate started isolating itself from the its surroundings and stopped paying tribute. The emir responded with a military attack against Bouba Njidda, but didn't succeed in taking the ardo's life. After this failure of Yola, Tibati took the courage in braking loose, demonstrating its force by attacking and vanquish the big, neighboring lamidates of Ngaoundéré and Banyo. Also a counter-attack by emirate forces led by the emir was driven back by Tibati. Thereby, Tibati and Bouba Njidda gained de facto independency. While Bouba Njidda deepened its isolation towards other Fulbe entities, later lamidos of Tibati saw the great use in maintaining favorable trade connections and routes to Yola and Sokoto, as being their market for the slaves they produced on their grand scale slave raids. Tibati thus, basically on a voluntary basis, returned to pay a rather symbolic tribute to Yola. However, the Adamawa emirate under the successors of Adama was weakened on a permanent basis, and several lamidates, such as Banyo and Ngaoundéré, took to a more independent attitude towards Yola. Of course, this only further contributed to the decay of the northern lamidates, which more and more became dependent on external help to resist their Kirdi enemies.
These very different conditions in the northern and southern lamidates also had consequences for how the establishment of German colonial power, and later on French colonialism, took its turn. The Germans probably saved the northern lamidates from a collapse, while in southern Adamawa, where the powerful lamidates depended on constant expansion and slave raiding, colonial power had to have more negative consequences.
The term Kirdi is originally Kanuri, where it is a condescending term meaning "heathen peoples". In Adamawa, the term is used for all non-Moslem (and non-Christian) peoples. Kirdi, hence, is not a term based in ethnicity, but in culture (as well as the terms Fulbe or Bororo). Individuals which "converted" to the culture and religion of the Fulbe also changed their appellation from Kirdi to Fulbe. The majority of the vast amount of people calling themselves Fulbe in Adamawa of today probably are not "ethnical Fulbe" (a term which is more relevant in European culture), but originate from other ethnicities.The Kirdi, hence, are not a uniform group, on the contrary. Linguistically, they represented and represent a great variety. Some Kirdi peoples at the northern limits of Adamawa speak Afro Asian languages (as for instance the Musgu and Marghi Kirdis). However, most languages belong to the Niger-Kongo-Kordofan linage. The most frequently represented in central and eastern Adamawa are the Adamawa-Bangui sub-linage (examples are Mbum, Duru, Mundang and Gbaya).
On the southern Adamawa plateau, we mostly find Bantoide languages, such as Wute and Nizaa (Galim). Tikar though, is a true Bantu language. One could thus say, that there was a Babel-like confusion of languages before the "arrival" of the Fulbe. To contribute even more to the confusion, the Muslim conquerors brought with them even more, differing languages; Fulfulde, Haussa, Kanuri and Arab. There was an obvious need for a linga franca for all of Adamawa as the new entity was shaped. In general, Fulfulde was to become the new linga franca of the region, although different Kirdi languages were dominating in certain areas. This as a contrary to the rest of the Sokoto Caliphate, where Haussa became the pre-dominant language, also among the Fulbe. In the lamidates of Ngaoundéré and Tibati, the Mbum language became as widespread as the Fulfulde, even in the royal courts. Now, French, and to a certain degree English, has taken over the role as linga franca in Adamawa.
to be continued...