Hummay Founds Sefuwa Dynasty Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Hummay was a political leader who consolidated Sefuwa power, ousted the Zaghawa rulers, and expanded Islam in central Sudanic Africa. The Sefuwa Dynasty emerged under Hummay.

Summary of Event

In the later twelfth century in the central Sudan’s heartland, a significant city-state had grown to control the majority of the Lake Chad region. Kanem Kanem Empire was an expansionist state that fully incorporated Islamic beliefs into its empire. Dunama bin Hummay, a devout Muslim, is believed to have initiated some of the prominent changes that reshaped Kanem in this era. The fact that Hummay and other inhabitants of Kanem were practicing Muslims at the time of the political changes is made clear in the Dīwān, a chronicle of Kanem rulers discovered and published in 1850 by German archaeologist Heinrich Barth. What is less clear is the sequence of historical changes and whether these changes occurred entirely under the leadership of Hummay or whether the political and religious shifts merely correlate with the same general decades in which Hummay ruled. [kw]Hummay Founds Sefuwa Dynasty (c. 1075-1086) [kw]Sefuwa Dynasty, Hummay Founds (c. 1075-1086) Sefuwa Dynasty Hummay, Dunama bin Africa;c. 1075-1086: Hummay Founds Sefuwa Dynasty[1650] Government and politics;c. 1075-1086: Hummay Founds Sefuwa Dynasty[1650] Religion;c. 1075-1086: Hummay Founds Sefuwa Dynasty[1650] Dunama bin Hummay

Hummay’s ancestry is linked in accounts to the Sayf bin Dhī Yazan (Yazaniyyun) lineage of Yemen. Based on Arab chroniclers, the dates for the political shift between Zaghawa and Sefuwa can be narrowed to early in Hummay’s time in power because his rule marked a new dynastic line (the Banu Hummay); his predecessor had been of the Banu Duku line. The accounts of the rule of the Sefuwa leader typically highlight Hummay’s faithfulness to Islam and commitment to the incorporation of his religious values and way of life into the administration of his political kingdom. This reputation stems from the fact that Hummay demonstrated his piety by making pilgrimages to Mecca in the eleventh century and recording his religious journey in written accounts.

The politico-religious movement led by Hummay coincided with other similar types of movements for religious intensification and the “purification” of Islam and the simultaneous attempts at political centralization. For example, the Almoravids were taking control of parts of western Sudanic Africa. While there was a larger climate of religious and political expansion in Sudanic Africa, the Sefuwa project seems to have been an indigenous movement that claimed ties to both external and indigenous populations at various times.

There is some indication that Hummay may have had a Berber cultural background. However, Hummay challenged the status quo of the Zaghawa Berbers who were in power in Kanem. Although Kanem had certainly been exposed to Islam by the ninth century by means of trans-Saharan trade, it was under the rule of Hummay that Islam Islam;Africa Africa;Islam and began to take hold among a wider spectrum of the population, which became more deeply Islamized in this period. The Sefuwa rulers linked themselves to the religious and cultural communities of Yemeni Muslims, particularly the Sayf bin Dhī Yazan Sayf bin Dhī Yazan[Sayf bin Dhi Yazan] . In the thirteenth century, the Sefuwa genealogy was restructured to deemphasize any Yemeni Berber roots. The genealogy of the Sefuwa was then re-created to demonstrate direct links with local ancestry while maintaining ties to Islam and the Prophet Muḥammad. However, it is most likely that Hummay was not of Arabian or Yemeni ancestry, but instead was a devout Muslim Berber or local Kanemite.

Kanem was known internationally through the writings of Arab chroniclers. Chroniclers such as al-Idrīsī (c. 1154), Ibn-Saՙīd (d. 1286), al-ՙUmarī (1301-1349), and al-Maqrīzī (d. 1442) each wrote about Kanem and its populations. An important document for the history of Kanem is the locally maintained record called the Dīwān—which has been kept since the thirteenth century—incorporating oral accounts into a written record. Though much remains unanswered and unclear, bits of information from the Dīwān and Arab chroniclers’s accounts describe the reign of Hummay and demonstrate that his reign was a defining moment in the history of the Lake Chad kingdoms.

An important aim of the Kanem kingdom under the Sefuwa Dynasty, like other kingdoms of this region, was to control trade. The revenues from trade that allowed the state to maintain itself and improve infrastructure in the territory. Unlike the Zaghawa capital, the Sefuwa capital was at Njimi (Djimi), directly northeast of Lake Chad but removed from the caravan route. When Hummay came to power, he quickly shifted the Sefuwa capital to Njimi, displacing Manan to the north. This change signified a much greater political shift that was emerging and by which the capital became more of an administrative seat than a crucial point of trade Trade;Africa Africa;trade . While not directly on the trade route, Njimi continued to be a major point for the transshipment of goods from Lake Chad through the Sahara-Sudanic world into the Mediterranean in the north and the forests of the south.

Fertile and economically productive regions such as Kanem, the Kawar, and the Fezzan (Fès), provided fruitful and highly desired lands for the Sefuwa kings. Kanem was a lakeside environment that created many opportunities for economic diversification through fishing and various forms of cultivation. The Kawar provided a river valley niche, and the Fezzan was endowed with the multiple trade routes that crisscrossed the Sahara, tapping into trade from both western Sudanic Africa to Egypt and north-south circuits.


Within the Sefuwa Dynasty, the process of change overseen by Hummay is signaled with the formation, by the thirteenth century, of a distinct royal line, the Magomi (Banu Hummay). The Magomi Magomi were crucial to the campaigns of expansion conducted after Hummay’s rule by the Sefuwa Magomi kings in the thirteenth century. Control of trade was essential for political and military strength, as commerce was the economic backbone of many Sudanic and Saharan states. For Kanem, control of the Fezzan was the critical nexus of trade. It was Hummay who was able to begin this process through his consolidation of Kanem. By providing security for merchants in the Sahara, the Sefuwa created an important alliance that allowed them to expand their power northward from Kanem across the Kawar and into the Fezzan and to gain profitable remuneration from taxing trade.

Through their network of social alliances with nonsedentary Berbers as well as some of the northern kingdoms and through securing caravans against raids, the Sefuwa achieved a position of political authority in the Fezzan. The Sefuwa state profited from the taxation of luxury-item trade as well as fabrics, salt, and metals that were exported to north Africa, the Mediterranean world, the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, and Asia. In return, the state received copper, silk, iron weapons, and horses, which were used to build a sizable cavalry component in the Sefuwa military under the reign of Mai Dunama Dibbalemi Dibbalemi, Mai Dunama (r. 1221-1259).

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hallam, W. K. R. “Towards a Re-assessment of the Early Kanem Mais.” Annals of Borno, no. 4 (1987): 33-46. A history of the Zaghawa in Kanem-Borno. Also details political histories of rulers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Holl, Augustin. The Dīwān Revisited: Literacy, State Formation and the Rise of Kanuri Domination (A.D. 1200-1600). New York: Kegan Paul, 2000. A history of politics in the Kanem-Bornu empires. Description of the sultans of Kanem and the Sefuwa connections. Covers the history of the Kanem-Bornu Empire with special emphasis on politics and government. Contains an excellent bibliography of research on Kanem.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lange, D. “Society in the Lake Chad Area at the End of the Byzantine Period, Prior to the Introduction of Islam.” In Libya Antiqua. Paris: UNESCO, 1986. A history of the Zaghawa in the Lake Chad region. In particular, the essay examines the history of commerce in the Sahara.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lange, D., and B. W. Barkindo. “The Chad Region as a Crossroads.” In Africa from the Seventh to the Twelfth Century, edited by M. Elfasi and I. Hrbek. Vol. 4. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. Chapter 15 elucidates the history of the Zaghawa as well as the emergence of the Sefuwa. Several pages are devoted to the Sefuwa Dynasty.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Levtzion, Nehemia, and Randall L. Pouwels, eds. The History of Islam in Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000. A comprehensive examination of the history of Islam in Africa. Introductory chapter looks at the “Patterns of Islamization and Varieties of Religious Experience Among Muslims of Africa.” Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Niane, D. T., ed. “The Kingdoms and Peoples of Chad.” General History of Africa: Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century. Vol. 4. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Chapter 10 contains a twelve-page section on the Sefuwa Dynasty. Gives a detailed history of how the dynasty emerged.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tobert, Natalie. The Ethnoarchaeology of the Zaghawa of Darfur (Sudan): Settlement and Transience. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Examines Zaghawa land settlement patterns in the eastern Sudan, Darfur al-Shamaliyah Province. Provides an ethnoarchaeological perspective on Zaghawa.

Categories: History