1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bagirmi
BAGIRMI, a country of north-central Africa, lying S.E. of Lake Chad and forming part of the Chad circumscription of French Congo. It extends some 240 m. north to south and has a breadth of about 150 m., with an area of 20,000 sq. m. The population in 1903 was estimated at 100,000, having been greatly reduced as the result of wars and slave-raiding. By including districts S. and S.E. occupied by former vassal states, the area and population of Bagirmi would be more than doubled. The surface of the country, which lies about 1000 ft. above sea-level, is almost flat with a very slight inclination N. to Lake Chad. It forms part of what seems to be the basin of an immense lake, of which Chad is the remnant. The soil is clay. The river Shari (q.v.) forms the western boundary. Numerous tributaries of the Shari flow through the country, but much of the water is absorbed by swamps and sand-obstructed channels, and seasons of drought are recurrent. The southern part of the country is the most fertile. Among the trees the acacia and the dum-palm are common. Various kinds of rubber vine are found. The fauna includes the elephant, hippopotamus, lion and several species of antelope. Ants are very numerous. Millet and sesame are the principal grains cultivated. Rice grows wild, and several kinds of Poa grass are used as food by the natives. Cotton and indigo are grown to a considerable extent, especially by Bornu immigrants. The capital is Chekna, on a tributary of the Shari, the former capital, Massenia, having been destroyed in 1898. Fort Lamy at the confluence of the Logone and Shari, and Fort de Cointet on the middle Shari, are French posts round which towns have grown. Trade is chiefly with Yola, a town on the Benue in British Nigeria, and with Khartum via Wadai. There is also an ancient caravan route which runs through Kanem and across the Sahara to Tripoli.
The population of Bagirmi is mixed. Negroid peoples predominate, but there are many pastoral Fula and Arabs. The Bagirmese proper are a vigorous, well-formed race of Negroid-Arab blood, who, according to their own traditions, came from the eastward several centuries ago, a tradition borne out by their language, which resembles those spoken on the White Nile. On their arrival they appear to have taken the place of the Bulala dynasty. They subdued the Fula and Arabs already settled in the district, and after being converted to Islam under Abdullah, their fourth king (about 1600), they extended their authority over a large number of tribes living to the south and east. The most important of these tribes are the Saras, Gaberi, Somrai, Gulla, Nduka, Nuba and Sokoro. These pagan tribes were repeatedly raided by the Bagirmese for slaves. Most of them are of a primitive type and appear to be dying out. The Saras are remarkable for their herculean stature, and are one of the most promising of African races. Tree worship is prevalent among the Somrai and the Gaberi. All the tribes believe in a supreme being whose voice is the thunder. Polygamy is general in upper Bagirmi, where some traces of a matriarchal stage of society linger, one small state being called Beled-el-Mra, “Women’s Land,” because its ruler is always a queen.
Bagirmi was made known to Europe by the travels of Dixon Denham (1823), Heinrich Barth (1852), who was imprisoned by the Bagirmese for some time, Gustav Nachtigal (1872), and P. Matteucci and A. M. Massari (1881). The country in 1871 had been conquered by the sultan of Wadai, and about 1890 was over-run by Rabah Zobeir (q.v.) who subsequently removed farther west to Bornu. About this time French interest in the countries surrounding Lake Chad was aroused. The first expedition led thither through Bagirmi met with disaster, its leader, Paul Crampel, being killed by order of Rabah. Subsequent missions were more fortunate, and in 1897 Emile Gentil, the French commissioner for the district, concluded a treaty with the sultan of Bagirmi, placing his country under French protection. A resident was left at the capital, Massenia, but on Gentil’s withdrawal Rabah descended from Bornu and forced sultan and resident to flee. It was not until after the death of Rabah in battle and the rout of his sons (1901) that French authority was firmly established. Kanem, a country north of Bagirmi and subject in turn to it and to Wadai, was at the same time brought under French control. So far as its European rivals are concerned, the French right to these regions is based on the Franco-German convention of the 15th of March 1894 and the Anglo-French declaration of the 21st of March 1899.