Mamman Duguri and the Nupe-Borno Connnection – by Ndagi Abdullahi


Insights Into the Forgotten History of the Nupe Settlers of Borno

By Ndagi Abdullahi (0803 477 0801 Whatsapp)

The Borno and Nupe people have many cultural traits in common including similarities in names like Gana, Kolo, Madu, etc. and similarities in cultural practices like the Gani Annual Festival.

These cultural similarities are too striking to be coincidental. The Borno and the Nupe people must have shared a common past.

A review of the history of Borno will show that five major migration of people have arrived Borno in the past: the first were the So; the second were the Bariba; the third were Saif or Sayfawa; the fourth were the Kanembu; and the fifth and last were the AtaGara or Bini. Of these five only the Kanembu were not from KinNupe.

So Originated from Nupe
In circa 250s AD, a large population of an ancient Nupe people migrated from KinNupe to Borno. These ancient Nupe people known to Nupe historians as the Esa or Yisa are known to Kanuri historians as the Sao or So. Colonial historians C.W. Orr and Sir H.R. Palmer both wrote that the So people came to Borno from KinNupe. In fact, the Italian geographer G.L. Anania wrote that the place we call Borno today was originally known as Saoland.

Bariba Originated from Gbara Nupe
At the beginning of the 7th century another large population of Nupe people known as the Gbara or Ibara or Bariba left KinNupe for Borno. In those days the Nupe people were known as Ibara, Igbara, Gbara, Gbariba or Bariba. Bariba is derived from Baribari which is derived from Bari or Gbari or Gbara. According to Professor Leo Frobenius these 7th century Nupe people were led by Etsu Yisa or Kisra and Etsu Bagi or Etsu Nupeta. Sir H.R. Palmer, S.J. Hogben, Captain Angus Buchanan all also wrote of how the king of the Bariba people came to the king of the So asking the latter for land to settle his people.

Old Bornu located in KinNupe
The Bariba Nupe people came from Old Gbara Kingdom which was located on the banks of the River Niger in the Zugurma-Borgu-Yauri area of KinNupe. Professor Alan Ryder wrote that an Old Bornu Kingdom was located here in KinNupe in prehistoric times. Sultan Bello referred to it as Bornu-Borgu because it was located in Zugurma abutting Borgu. And Sir H.R. Palmer called it Bornu Gungu because KinNupe was known as Gungu. In 1766 the French geographer Louis Brion de la Tour located the Bornu Kingdom here in KinNupe and not in the Lake Chad area.

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Gbara was also pronounced as Bara and the Nupe citizens of Gbara were known as Gbara-ni or Barani or Baranu or Barnu or Bornu. S.J. Hogben also wrote that Bornu was derived from Bara-nu or Barbar or Baribari.

Sayfawa Originated from Nupe
In the 850s AD a second wave of the Esa Nupe people arrive Borno. They were led by Etsu Yisa who conquered the Kanem and imposed the Saif or Sayfawa dynasty over them across the northern banks of the Lake Chad outside Nigeria.

This Sayfawa dynasty was initially known with its Nupe name as the Saba or Sebu dynasty but Colonial historians preferred calling it the Saif or Sayfawa because they claimed it was founded by one Saif Ibn Dhi Yazan from Yemen. Authorities, including Sir H.R. Palmer and Professor Dierk Lange, however, have discredited the claim that the Sayfawa dynasty originated from Yemen.

Colonial historian and Lieutenant Governor of Northern Nigerian C.L. Temple and his wife O. Temple wrote that the Sayfawa people of Bornu originated from the Atsifawa of Katsina Laka which was a Nupe Kingdom located in the Greater KinNupe of former times. Remnants of the Atsifawa Nupe people are still to be seen among the Kangoma, Makangara and Yisa Nupe people of Niger State.

S.J. Hogben also wrote that the Sayfawa dynasty was established by the Bayajida whom Professor Leo Frobenius’ writings show was Kisra that Professor Toyin Falola wrote was a Nupe king from KinNupe.

AtaGara and the New Bornu on the Lake Chad
The Old Gbara or Old Bornu Kingdom here in KinNupe became popularly known as AtaGara which expanded into Professor S.F. Nadel’s Bini Confederacy. Gbara-ni was also pronounced as Gbiri-ni, or Gbini or Bini. In the 1830s the king of Bussa in Borgu told Captain Hugh Clapperton that it was the Nupe Kingdom of Bini that was also known as Bornu.

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The rise of Tsudi in the 13th century led to the expansion of the AtaGara or Old Bornu Nupe Empire northeastwards to found a New Bornu Kingdom on the Lake Chad area.

Before this new wave of Nupe people in the form of the AtaGara or Old Bornu arrive at the Lake Chad area in the 13th century there was no Bornu Kingdom in the Lake Chad area. Waves of Bariba Nupe people have been coming from Old Gbara or Old Bornu to the Lake Chad area but they did not establish a New Bornu Kingdom there until in the 13th century.

Interestingly AtaGara was also known to Nupe historians as Dunguru or Duguri. In the Old Nupe language a Prince was known as Mamman so an AtaGara Prince was known as Mamman Duguri or Ma Duguri or Maiduguri.

The Kanem Arrived Bornu
Authorities including Professor Basil Davidson, Professor Dierk Lange, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Battuta, Al-Makrizi all wrote that Bornu and Kanem were initially separate kingdoms. In the 14th century the Mamluk King of Egypt wrote different letters to Bornu and Kanem as separate kingdoms.

While Bornu was the Bini Confederacy located here in KinNupe inside Nigeria, Kanem was a Kanembu Kingdom initially located outside Nigeria. Kanem used to be a gigantic Empire that extended from today’s Chad Republic up to the today’s Libya.

Both Al-Umari and Christine Zuchora-Walske wrote that by the end of the 14th century the Kanem Empire had been reduced to a small kingdom on the northern banks of the Lake Chad outside Nigeria. At the end of the 14th century the sustained harassment by the Bulala forced Mai Umar Idris to relocate the Kanem Kingdom to the southwestern banks of the Lake Chad inside Nigeria.

When the Kanem Kingdom entered Nigeria at the end of the 14th century it found itself a tenant on land belonging to the New Bornu Nupe people who occupy all land west and south of the Lake Chad.

The Kanuri are Nupe
As the Kanem settled among the Bariba or Bornu Nupe people a miscegenated or half-caste race of Bornu-Kanem people resulted known as the Kanuri. Professor G.N. Ayittey and Vincent Hiribarren both wrote that the Kanuri are a miscegenation of the Bariba people with the Kanembu.

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The successive waves of Gbara or Bariba Nupe people who settled around the Lake Chad area – from the 7th through the 13th centuries – were the ones who mixed with the newly-arrived Kanem to become the Kanuri.

O. Temple wrote that by the middle of the 15th century the Kanem-Bornu built and named their new capital Birni – after the Bini Confederacy of KinNupe. This Bini capital became famous as Birni Ngazargamu which will simply translate as Nupe Ngazargamu.

Interestingly when the Kanem-Bornu Kingdom fall and disintegrated after the death of Mai Idris Aloma in the 16th century the new race of Kanuri people it had produced became identified solely as the Bariba or Bornu since the Old Bornu, Bariba or Old Gbara Nupe Empire was still intact and still populating the Lake Chad area. That is why O. Temple wrote that the Kanuri people were actually known as the Bariba right unto recent historical times.

Nupe Culture Among the Kanuri
But by the 18th century the vast Nupe Empire of the Bini Confederacy or Old Bornu Nupe that extended from the banks of the River Niger to the banks of the Lake Chad had fallen. When the Old Bornu Nupe Empire fall its territories in the Lake Chad area were immediately taken over by a resurgent Kanem Kingdom. Unfortunately, Kanuri historians literally wrote out the Old Gbara, Bariba or Old Bornu Nupe past out of Kanem history.

Kanuri historians also appropriated the pre-13th century history of the Old Gbara or Old Bornu Nupe Kingdom, which was located here in KinNupe and not in the Lake Chad area, thereby claiming that the New Bornu of the Lake Chad is the Bornu that had been in existence since before the 13th century. The truth of the matter however is that before the 13th century the Bornu Kingdom existed only in KinNupe and not in the Lake Chad area.

Kanuri historians have not, however, been able to obliterate the striking Bariba Nupe elements of the Kanuri culture that was due to the Kanuri being a miscegenation of the Bariba Nupe and Sayfawa Kanem people of old.

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