Idris Alooma: Warrior King of the Bornu Empire
Greatest ruler of the Central African state of the Kanem-Borno Empire.
Today, Ayomide Akinbode writes on Idris Alooma (also Idris Alaoma , or Idris Alauma ), the only Bornu King whose name has survived the test of time. Idris lived at the time Queen Elizabeth I (1533—1603) was queen of England.
Idris Alooma (c.1538—1596) was mai (king) of the Kanem-Bornu Empire (1396—1893), located mainly in Chad and Nigeria. An outstanding statesman, under his rule Kanem-Bornu touched the zenith of its power. Idris is remembered for his military skills, administrative reforms, and Islamic piety. His feats are mainly known through his chronicler Ahmad bin Fartua.
During his reign, Idris avoided the capital Ngazargamu , preferring to set his palace 5 km away, near the Yo river (Komadugu Yobe ), in a place named Gambaru. The walls of the city were red, leading to a new architecture using red bricks characteristic of his reign. To this day, some murals still exist in Gambaru and are over 3 metres tall. These are vestiges of a flourishing empire. Idris Alooma was known by the Kanuri title of Mai for king.
His main adversaries were the Hausa to the west, the Tuareg and Toubou to the north, and the Bulala to the east. One epic poem extols his victories in 330 wars and more than 1,000 battles. His innovations included the employment of fixed military camps (with walls); permanent sieges and “scorched earth” tactics, where soldiers burned everything in their path; armored horses and riders; and the use of Berber camelry, Kotoko boatmen, and iron-helmeted musketeers trained by Turkish military advisers. His active diplomacy featured relations with Tripoli, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire, which sent a 200-member ambassadorial party across the desert to Alooma’s court at Ngazargamu.
Alooma also signed what was probably the first written treaty or cease-fire in Chadian history. Alooma introduced a number of legal and administrative reforms based on his religious beliefs and Islamic law (sharia). He sponsored the construction of numerous mosques and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he arranged for the establishment of a hostel to be used by pilgrims from his empire. As with other dynamic politicians, Alooma’s reformist goals led him to seek loyal and competent advisers and allies, and he frequently relied on slaves who had been educated in noble homes.
Alooma regularly sought advice from a council composed of heads of the most important clans. He required major political figures to live at the court, and he reinforced political alliances through appropriate marriages (Alooma himself was the son of a Kanuri father and a Bulala mother).
Kanem-Bornu under Alooma was strong and wealthy. Government revenue came from tribute (or booty if the recalcitrant people had to be conquered) and duties on and participation in trade.
Alooma took a keen interest in trade and other economic matters. He is credited with having cleared the roads, designed better boats for Lake Chad, introduced standard units of measure for grain, and moving farmers into new lands. In addition, he improved the ease and security of transit through the empire with the goal of making it so safe that “a lone woman clad in gold might walk with none to fear but God.”
Dr Heinrich Barth, the nineteenth century German traveller, described Idris as “an excellent prince, uniting in himself the most opposite qualities: warlike energy, combined with mildness and intelligence; courage, with circumspection and patience; severity with pious feelings”.
His military prowess was outstanding with armies, possibly the first in Africa, to have muskets, acquiring them from the Turkish Empire.
Like his Songhai contemporaries, he was a patron of learning, encouraging scholars from many other African countries to take up residence in Borno. He improved navigation on the Yobe River. He commissioned the building of longer, flat-bottomed boats initially for his navy. For land transportation, he imported a much greater number of camels replacing the dependence on mules, oxen and donkeys. The great Mai was also a builder, raising new brick mosques in the cities that replaced the older buildings. He also founded a hostel in Mecca for Borno pilgrims.
Following the fall of Songhai in 1591, the great
Mai became the undisputed champion of the Muslims in the region. The empire then became the Borno Caliphate and was the leading Islamic presence in Black Africa. It was now a Caliphate that represented all of Africa. It’s capital city was called Ngazargamu and was one of the largest cities on Earth. By 1658, the metropolis, according to architectural scholar Susan Denyer, housed “about a quarter of a million people”. It had 660 streets. Many were wide and unbending, reflective of town planning. The design of high streets, were lined on both sides by trees that offered shade. These buildings must have been erected on an impressive scale. Heinrich Barth, who inspected the remains of these walls during the 19th century declared that their worksmanship was equal in quality to the finest masonry he had seen in Europe.
The name Alooma is a posthumous qualification for Idris, named after a place, Alo or Alao, where he was buried. He was crowned king at the age of 25-26. According to the Diwan, he ruled from 1564 to 1596. He died during a battle in the Baguirmi where he was mortally wounded; he was later buried in Lake Alo, south of the actual Maiduguri, thus the name Alooma.
There’s just too much evidence that pre-colonial Africa was teeming with construction and development that would have even rivaled Europe.
Our kings and queens once existed just like Europeans royals. They ruled over massive lands and commanded strong, central armies. Sadly, these kingdoms fell into decline and the Scramble for Africa and colonialism in the 1700s and 1800s saw a lot of history destroyed, stolen, or lost. Almost all knowledge of these rulers (who ruled in lands stretching from West Africa to East Africa) is gone. What we now know is only bits and pieces of information. Nevertheless, we must know our history. It is a must. #InsideArewa
Credits: Wikipedia, African Heritage, Egypt Search.
This article was researched and sent in by Ayomide Akinbode