Sao, Kanem-Bornu and Garamantes

Jun 2013
What connections existed between these civilizations? Garamantes was a Saharan civilization in southwestern Libya that flourished from around 500BC, the Sao civilization reached its apex from the 9th to the 15th centuries just south of Lake Chad near the Chari River, but may date back to the 6th century BC. Some see Kanem(originally based around lake chad and in eastern niger, later annexing bornu in northeastern nigeria) as a successor of Garamantes, is this accurate? There are also some distinctions between Sao and Kanem-Bornu that we must observe.

Early Kanem, which would later dominate the Fezzan in Southern Libya, was built by the Zaghawa, who were originally horse-borne nomads, their state was famous for being both long-lived and incredibly stable, their first king, called Dugu, may have ruled around 800AD, and his dynasty, the Dugawa, survived until 1075, upon which it was subdued and overthrown by the Sefuwa dynasty, which dominated until the early 19th century.

The Arab writer Al-Taqubi, describes early Kanem under the Zaghawa as a state with no cities(they had no use for them) but merely as people who lived in huts made of corn stalks, but a mere century later, the kingdom had grown in size, splendor and importance, becoming more populous and with two important cities, Manan and Tarazaki, with buildings of plastered clay. Interesting tidbit, the king's food was secretly delivered by camel to his compound due to his subjects believing him to be a divine figure who does not need to consume food. Any unfortunate soul who came across the party and the camel bearing his meals was instantly killed on the spot.

Al Idrissi mentions another town, Njimi, as being sparsely populated, and one more, while unnamed is described as being well-populated and with many districts.

The Zaghawa, a warlike people, conquerors, used Barbary horses, chainmail, heavy metal lances and swords and shields to dominate the middle Sudan, trading mainly in slaves, ivory, ostrich feathers, and live animals, but the Sao culture, despite considerably pre-dating early Kanem altogether, is described as being a vastly superior civilization that thrived in the same region. Their ruins of settlements are seen in the southeast of Lake Chad, dating back to the 4th century BC. The Zaghawa however, immigrated to their lands and of course, over the centuries dominated and eventually absorbed them into Kanuri society.

The Sao civilization, possessing much in the way of political and artistic genius, unfortunately lacked the means of cooperation to create an empire, but instead developed a series of city-states akin to the later, neighboring Hausa city-states( a possible precursor to them as well?). Each city-state is described as having strong defensive walls and dominating its respective countryside.

Their government was formed of an elaborate hierarchy, with a divine ruler, similar to Kanem. Their rulers were recluses and rarely made public appearances, and if they did, they took care to be shielded by a veil. Mainly settled farmers, their skills as craftsmen were unparalleled, particularly with clay and metals. Among the archaeological finds includ burial urns, figures of animals and humans in clay and bronze.

And this civilization was already flourishing before 700AD, they resisted Kanem's rule for centuries due to the stability of their government, and Kanem-Bornu later, in its assimiliation of the Sao, absorbed many of its cultural characteristics, which it later spread east to the Hausa city-states, particularly Kano, in which it exported many court customs such as the royal trumpy, ostrich feather sandals and feather fans, along with parading unmounted horses of riders in the court.

Most of this info is from a history of peoples and empires of west Africa. I think it's sad that the Sao receive very little credit for their cultural contributions to much of West Africa's history, Kanem-Bornu was clearly greatly influenced by them and their urban culture may also attest to this, from nomads to settled farmers and craftsmen.

Thoughts? Sao and Kanem-Bornu clearly share many cultural links, but what about Garamantes, could Saharan berbers fleeing drought and hotter climates have settled around Lake Chad? Is their any record of Garamantes writing in that area, I know the Zaghawa came from the East originally, close to the Nubian kingdoms, possibly around modern day Darfur? What influence, if any, did they impart on Kanem-Bornu? And indeed, the whole of the Sudan itself?
Jun 2013
IIRC the Garamantes were much earlier than these two civilizations. I don't know if there would be cultural links shared with the Garamente civilization IMO.
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Jun 2013
Also, there appears to be evidence that the Sao may have also practiced ritualized sacrifice, I'm assuming for religious purposes.

Some figures commonly associated with Sao:

Jan 2018
The Sao were immigrants from the Middle East during the collapse of the Assyrian Empire at the end of the seventh century BC.
You can read this paper for references and evidences :

According to Wikipedia the Garamantes ended as a Civilization in 700 CE. The sane time Kanem was first recorded by the Arabs.
It doesn't mean anything, it could be a plain coincidence. The Garamantes were clearly using the Lybico-Berber/Tifinagh script, and thus probably spoke an Eastern Berber language. They were not related to Kanuri or Toubou people. Analysis of their skeletons clearly shows that they were Mediterranean Caucasians and that Negroid admixture among them was recent[1] and due to a practice of sacking women from southernmost territories, or probably of trade with people from the Air Massif. It also seems that they are the ancestors of present-day Tuaregs.

1 - Sergi, S. (1951) "Scavi Sahariani"
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Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
Benin City, Nigeria
Dierk Lange's earlier work on Kanem-Bornu was clearly excellent (in particular his books Le Diwan des sultans du Kanem-Bornu: chronologie et histoire d'un royaume africain and A Sudanic chronicle : the Borno expeditions of Idrīs Alauma), but as I have mentioned on this forum before (in the "The Diversity of African Architecture" thread, when I mentioned some of the deficiencies of H.R. Palmer's book The Bornu Sahara and Sudan, where some similar misleading word associaions can be found), some of his later work amounts to speculation based on extremely thin linguistic arguments.

If you look hard enough you can find a few words here and there that appear to match those of completely different language families from other parts of the world. This can be done for almost any group.

To quote the American missionary Thomas Jefferson Bowen:

"I shall omit many things in relation to the affinities of the Yoruba language which I had marked for this chapter, but I can not forbear to give a few examples of words which appear to be widely diffused, not only in Western and Central Africa, but in other parts of the world. The Yoruba numeral one, is eni and okkan (or kan,) both of which are common in one form or another to various other languages. We can scarcely doubt that eni is the same word as the Greek en, Saxon an, French un, Spanish uno, Portuguese hum, Welsh un, Latin unus, English one. In Africa, we find in the Okam wono, Opandi onyi, Kupa enyi, and Nufe weni, corresponding with Yoruba eni. Some of the widely-spread cognates of okkan or kan, one, appear to be Sanscrit eka, Hebrew ekhad, Pelevi jek, Finnic aku; and in Africa, Uchaw kan, Isubu yokkoh, Ashantee ekko, Oloma oggu, and many others. In the Yoruba word kan, the n is a very slight nasal, almost silent, and the verb ka means to count. Etta, three, corresponds with the Akra etteh, Kroo ta, Dahomy aton, Mahee oton, Opaddo eta, Puloh tatti, Ham tat, Mbarike itar, etc., and may be compared with the Sanscrit tri, Greek treis, Latin tres, Saxon thri, etc. Babba, the Yoruba word for father, is found every where; Kanike aba, Hausa oba, Mbe mba, Wolof bai, Mose, Dey and others ba, Shoa, etc. aba, Filham papai, Bullom pua, Mandingo, etc. fa; Portuguese pai, in the languages of Brazil papa, papaio, paba, babi; Java ba, papa; in some parts of India baw and fa, (see Balbi's Atlas,) Celebes bapa Madagascar baba, Galla abo and abai. The greater part of the Yoruba language has been derived according to definite rules from a little more than one hundred biliteral verbs, as bo, to cover, fi, to make, wa, to dig. Many, perhaps all of these verbs, can be shown to have a real, or at least, seeming and wonderful affinity to the ancient verbs of other languages, as for instance, ri, to see, Arabic, ray, Hebrew raah, Greek arao; loh, to grind, Greek aleo; le, to lay down, English lay; de, to bind, Greek deo, Saxon tian, English tie; ti, to shut, Hebrew atar. Making all due allowance for fancied and accidental resemblances, the Yoruba verbs, as the ground work for a primitive language, are exceedingly interesting to the philologist. They are still more so from the fact that they occasionally, or we might say frequently appear to contain the radicals of words which are primitives in other languages. To give an instance, bi means primarily to generate - hence to beget, to conceive, to bear. From this comes the noun, bibi, any thing which is born. In the Puloh language we have bebi, (pronounced baby) sometimes contracted to bi, meaning any young creature, man or brute. To bibi and bebi compare the English baby, German bube, a boy, and English booby, Irish baban, Syriac babia, Latin pupa, a girl, Arabic babos, the young man or beast, Syriac babosa, a child, American Indian pappoos, a babe, all of which words may have been derived from bi or from some more ancient verb which bi represents. In the Yoruba, we have obi, a parent, either father or mother. In Hausa, oba, a father, corresponding with aba, baba, etc., and probably from the same root, bi, to beget; the i being changed to a in oba, as it is e in bebi, to u in bube, and to a in the Syriac babia. The o in obi means (as it does in Yoruba and Nufe) he, and corresponds with the Greek o, e, to, Hebrew ha, English he. Obi means he or she that begets; and I suppose that oba, baba, etc., signify literally the begetter. But then there is another word for father, no less widely diffused than baba itself. The Dahomy word for father is da; Goali, nda; Opandi, ada; Bassa (of the interior), ada; Nufe, nda (n means he); Golah, da; Kupa, dada; Akra, tatta; Benin, ita; Isubu, tete; Melon, ta; Kakanda, atta; Eskimo Indians, atta; Basque, aita; in some of the Celtic languages, athair; Welsh, tad; Albanian, ate, and tatta; Slavonic, otdz (z = terminal s) and otac; American Indian, dadi; English, daddy. In the Yoruba, we have dada, which may mean either nature or creator, from da, to create; and to this root I would refer all the above words for father. The Yorubas sometimes form a verb by uniting two others, and we could fancy that bi da, to create, by begetting, may be the root of some of the words for father: as Saxon, feder; Dutch, vader; Sanscrit, pita; Latin, pater; Danish, fader; Persian, padar! Then we could go further and fancy that bi, to beget, and da, to create, are the radicals of the Swedish foda, and Danish foder, to beget, feed, etc.! The Yoruba abounds in these curious coincidences, in regard to the sounds and meanings of words. Take the verb sun, to burn, and compare English sun, and by dropping n, or changing it to l, so, sol, suli, etc. in most of the Greco-Latin, Germanic and Slavonic languages and dialects. The Yoruba orrun, heaven; orun, sun; oro, one of their gods; may be compared with ouranus, heaven; with various words for day, as Peruvian, uru; Phillipines, arao; Madagascar, auru; with Latin aurora and Yoruba ouraw, morning; with Hebrew, aur, light; Latin, aurum; and Yoruba, wura, gold; and with many other words in every part of the world. We have, in Yoruba, akara, bread; Hebrew, akala, food; ataba, a dove; Arabic, hatafa, to coo; German, taube, a dove. Enni, a personal pronoun, meaning one, any; ehin, the back; Arabic, akhin, last, hinderpart; oko, a farm; Coptic, koi, a field. But this may suffice for the present: at some future time I may enter more fully into this subject. The examples now given are only specimens of the various points in which the Yoruba language appears to be connected with those of Africa on the one hand, and of Europe and Asia on the other." - Thomas Jefferson Bowen - Central Africa: Adventures and Missionary Labors in Several Countries in the Interior of Africa, from 1849 to 1856 (1857), pp. 269 - 273

I hope you get the point that Bowen is inadvertently making here in his (mistaken) belief of some special connection between the Yoruba language and several of the world's languages beyond Africa. One can can do this same "game" with many languages, and find exactly what one is looking for: supposed "proof" that very different languages separated widely across the world are deeply related or have borrowed words from one another in ancient times.

Lange falls into this trap in basically all of his later work on the origin of the Kanuri and other nearby groups and he does not let up at any point or stand back and examine what is really going on with these supposedly historically significant linguistic correspondences that he thinks he's found. And it is unfortunate too because he is clearly a really gifted historian, as his earlier work shows quite clearly.

Regarding the Garamantes, the article cited is probably outdated and is possibly even based on misinterpretations of skeletal measurements. I am not aware of any evidence for when admixture occurred or with which groups. I don't think any study has found that out.
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