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Africa

The Sultanate of Dar al-Kuti

by Richard A Bradshaw and Juan Fandos Rius, 15 December 2007

This Muslim-ruled kingdom which lay within the territory of present-day Central African Republic (CAR) lasted from approximately 1830 until 17 December 1912.

In the early 1800s the name Dar al-Kuti was given to a stretch of the Islamic frontier southwest of Wadai (a strong kingdom east of Lake Chad and west of Darfur, which lost its independence in 1909 when French troops took Abéche).

Background

To the west of Wadai at this time lay another kingdom named Baguirmi or the Baguirmi Sultanate (1522-1897). The sultans of Baguirmi were called mbang, "the sun". (Defeated by Rabih in 1893, the mbang of Baguirmi, Gaourang, solicited and obtained French Protectorate status in 1897). Both Wadai and Baguirmi sent slave raiding expeditions into the lands of the Nilo-Saharan-speaking Sara people of southern Chad, and these slave raiders eventually reached the northern borderlands of present-day CAR by the early nineteenth century.

The mbang of Baguirmi in the early nineteenth century, Bourgomanda, had two sons, Abd el-Kader and Djougoultoum. When the elder, Abd el-Kader, became sultan in 1826, he intended to have the eyes of his younger brother and potential rival put out, and so Djougoultoum fled to Wadai.

The kalak of Wadai, a title of Nilotic (Sudanese) origin used by the kings of Wadai, sent Djougoultoum to the land of the Rounga people (Dar Rounga), which was a military frontier region between the Azoum and the Aouk rivers. Djougoultoum married Fatme, daughter of Boker, the sultan of Dar Rounga, and in 1830 he established an even more southerly border zone called Belad al-Kuti as a slave-raiding zone south of the Aouk.

Belad al-Kuti, or Dar al-Kuti, became a formal, tribute-paying province of its northern Muslim neighbour, Dar Runga, which was in turn part of Wadai's empire.

Châ, on the Diangara river, a tributary of the Aouk, became the capital of this new province. Djougoultoum was named by Wadai as Dar al-Kuti's governor, but he probably enjoyed considerable independence in this southern frontier zone. The dates recorded for Djougoultoum's reign (1830-1870) are probably not exact, but he was the first ruler of Dar al-Kuti.

Map of the Central African Republic

Map showing the position of Dar al-Kuti

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Kobur, a respected faqij trader, became the Muslim governor of Dar al-Kuti in the late 1860s or early 1870s. (A faqij or fuqaha' was a teacher who was familiar with the rudiments of Islam and who supplemented his income by engaging in petty commerce by selling Muslim charms and offering Qur'anic instruction.) Kobur's growing wealth and power probably derived in large part from his sale of ivory, the province's chief export.

Gaining control of Dar al-Kuti

Mounted raiding parties from Wadai periodically appeared in Dar al-Kuti to collect tribute and take slaves in the Nduka and Banda lands adjacent to Kobur's realm.

Dar al-Kuti comprised only fourteen villages (perhaps counting only its large villages) and the land could be crossed from east to west by foot in two days. Kobur's domain was therefore quite small, and as a result he was careful to cultivate cordial relations with the larger, more heavily populated Muslim zones to the north, as well as with his non-Muslim Nduka neighbours. Dar al-Kuti engaged in a limited degree of slave-trading, but intense raiding had not yet begun during Kobur's reign. Dar al-Kuti and its ruler were still in a very precarious position.

Sultan Senoussi in 1902

Sultan al-Sanusi in 1902

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The greatest threat to Dar al-Kuti at this time came from Rabih Fadlallah (circa 1842-1900), a Sudanese warlord and slave-trader who was active in the north-eastern and central regions of present day CAR between 1879 and 1890. Rabih's raiders enslaved and sold many Banda people (who spoke an Adamawa-Ubangi language of the Niger-Congo family), and also invaded Dar al-Kuti and Dar Rounga.

Seeking a local 'protégé' who was less religious and less indebted to Wadai than Kobur, Rabih had Kobur deposed in a coup d'état in 1890, and proclaimed Muhammad al-Sanusi to be the sultan of Dar al-Kuti and Dar-Rounga with the titles of emir ('commander or ruler') and sheikh (tribal elder, lord, Islamic scholar).

Al-Sanusi, born in circa 1850 at Wadai, was named after the Sanussiya brotherhood whose many desert lodges lay along the trade route between Libya and northern Chad. Al-Sanusi moved to Châ when he was very young to join his uncle Kobur who, after being removed from power by Rabih in 1890, retained a formal position as one of al-Sanusi's advisors for two years. Kobur had ten sons, some of whom lived into the 1920s, and all of whom were respected faqijs in Dar al-Kuti.

Rabih made every effort to solidify al-Sanusi's power and transform him into a client. After annexing Dar Rounga in 1890, the Sudanese warlord sought to expand his new client's sphere of influence and to eliminate any challenge that might come from Kobur's supporters.

During the next two decades, Dar al-Kuti became an almost autonomous state with its own sphere of influence extending over much of northeastern CAR, an area about half the size of France.

However, Châ was attacked and destroyed by a Wadaian army under Cherfeddine, the aguid of Wadai, in October 1894. After this, al-Sanusi kept on the move for two years until he founded a fortified settlement at Ndélé.

On 28 August 1897, al-Sanusi accepted a French protectorate over Dar al-Kuti (see Traité de commerce et d'alliance entre cheik Mohammed-es-Senoussi et la France –representé par l'administrateur Gentil).

Although the convention was revised twice in order to broaden French influence in the country, on 18 February 1903 and again on 26 January 1908 (see Traité entre le sultan Senoussi et la France completant le traité signé le 24 aôut 1897; Traité revisant le traité passé le 18 février 1903, traité signé par le Capitaine Mangin, representant le Lt-Colonel Largeau, et Mohamed-es-Senoussi), Dar al-Kuti maintained self-rule until the death of al-Sanusi himself on 12 January 1911 in Dar al-Kuti.

After this, the French took control of most of Dar al-Kuti. Al-Sanusi's son, Kamoun, fled east after his father's death to Ouanda-Djallé, where he resisted the French until 17 December 1912, when Captain Souclier took Ouanda-Djallé and Kamoun sought refuge in the Sudan.

The name Dar al-Kuti was used thereafter for a colonial administrative division that corresponded to the former sultanate. It was used for the last time from 1937 to 1946 (Département du Dar el-Kouti). Since 1946 the region has been renamed three times: the Autonomous District of N'Délé (1946-1961), the Autonomous Subprefecture of N'Délé (1961-1964), and the Prefecture of Bamingui-Bangoran since 1964.

 

Main Sources

Boucher, Edmond A J - Monographie du Dar-Kouti-Oriental, 1934 (typescript, copied and updated from the original by Pierre Claustre)

Cordell, Denis D - Dar al-Kuti and the Last Years of the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, USA, 1985

Dampierre, Eric de - Un ancien royaume Bandia du Haut-Oubangui, Plon, Paris, 1967

Kalck, Pierre - Central African Republic, Praeger Publishers Inc, New York, 1971

Kalck, Pierre - Historical Dictionary of the Central African Republic, Third Edition, Scarecrow Press Inc, Lanham, MD, USA, 2005

Kalck, Pierre - Un explorateur du centre de l'Afrique, Paul Crampel (1864-1891), L'Harmattan, Paris, 1993

Images

Sultan Bangassou - Source: Cantournet, Jean. Des affaires et des hommes. Noirs et Blancs, commerçants et fonctionnaires dans l'Oubangui du début du siècle, Société d'Ethnologie, Paris, 1991

Sultan al-Sanusi - Source: L'Illustration, 1er Fevrier 1902

Sultan Hetman - Source: Republique Centrafricaine Web Site

Sultan Auguste Fatrane and Sultan Mohamed Senoussi - Source: Assemblée Nationale de la République Centrafricaine, 1964-1969. Bangui: Imprimerie Centrale d'Afrique, 1964

 

 

     
Images and text copyright © Richard A Bradshaw, Professor of History, Centre College, Kentucky, USA, and Juan Fandos Rius, Encyclopaedist and historian of the Central African Republic. An original feature for the History Files.