Wadai Empire

The Wadai Sultanate (Arabic: سلطنة وداي Saltanat Waday, French: royaume du Ouaddaï, Fur: Burgu or Birgu;[1] 1501–1912) was an African sultanate located to the east of Lake Chad in present-day Chad and the Central African Republic. It emerged in the seventeenth century under the leadership of the first sultan, Abd al-Karim, who overthrew the ruling Tunjur people of the area. It occupied land previously held by the Sultanate of Darfur (in present-day Sudan) to the northeast of the Sultanate of Baguirmi.

Sultanate of Wadai
سلطنة وداي
Wadai and surrounding states in 1750.
  • Ouara (1635–1890)
  • Abeche (1890–1911)
Common languagesMaba, Chadian Arabic, Tunjur, Fur
Traditional African religion, later Islam (official 1635)
Abd al-Karim Al Abbasi
Dud Murra of Wadai
'Asil Kolak
Historical eraEarly Modern Period
 Abd al-Karim overthrows the Tunjur King Daud
 Wadai reconstituted under French suzerainty
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Sultanate of Darfur
French Equatorial Africa
Today part ofCentral African Republic



Prior to the 1630s, Wadai, also known as Burgu to the people of Darfur, was a pre-Islamic Tunjur kingdom, established around 1501.[2] The Arab migrants to the area which became Wadai claimed to be descendants of the Abbasid Caliphs, specifically from Salih ibn Abdallah ibn Abbas. Yame, an Abbasid leader, settled with Arab migrants in Debba, near the future capital of Ouara (Wara).[1]

In 1635, the Maba and other small groups in the region rallied to the Islamic banner of Abd al-Karim Al Abbasi (son of Yame the Abbasid), who was descended from an Abbasid noble family, led an invasion from the east and overthrew the ruling Tunjur dynasty (who originated from the east in Darfur), who at the time was led by a king named Daud.[1][3] Abd al-Karim secured and centralized his power in the area by marrying the Tunjur King Daud's daughter, Meiram Aisa, and then forming other marriage pacts with local dynasties and tribes, such as the Mahamid and Beni Halba tribes. Abd al-Karim became the first Kolak (Sultan) of a dynasty that lasted until the arrival of the French.

During much of the 17th and 18th century, the history of Wadai is marked by wars between Wadai and the Sultanate of Darfur, Bagirmi, Kanem-Bornu. They fought for access to Wadai's slaves and eunuchs for sale to the Arab courts.[3] Under the rule of Abd al-Karim's grandson, Ya'qub Arus (1681–1707), the country suffered terrible drought that lasted for several years.


After 1804, during the reign of Muhammad Sabun (r. 1804 – c. 1815), the Sultanate of Wadai began to expand its power as it profited considerably from its strategic position astride the trans-Saharan trade routes. A new trade route to the north was found, via Ennedi, Kufra and Jalu-Awjila to Benghazi, and Sabun outfitted royal caravans to take advantage of it. He began minting his own coinage and imported chain mail, moukhalas, and military advisers from North Africa, along with using the wealth generated from the trade of exotic animals like giraffes, lions, antelopes and camels, with there also being the trade of elephants and their ivory to fill the state's treasury. Many kingdoms were either conquered or forced to become tributaries, giving horses for the cavalry and trade, servants for the Kolak along with slaves. Sabun's successors were less able than he, and Darfur took advantage of a disputed political succession in 1838 to put its own candidate in power in Ouara, the capital of Wadai.

This tactic backfired, however, when Darfur's choice, Muhammad Sharif, rejected Darfur's meddling and asserted his own authority. In doing so, he gained acceptance from Wadai's various factions and went on to become Wadai's ablest ruler. Sharif conducted military campaigns as far west as Bornu and eventually established Wadai's hegemony over the Bagirmi Sultanate and other kingdoms as far away as the Chari River. Sharif ruled between 1835 to 1858; he introduced the Sanusiyah Islamic brotherhood to the region. In Mecca, Sharif had met the founder of the Sanusiyah Islamic brotherhood Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi, his movement being strong among the inhabitants of Cyrenaica (in present-day Libya), which became a dominant political force and source of resistance to French colonization.


Armed with spear, bow and sword, and accompanied by deafening music, Wadai's forces held to the old methods- mass cavalry charges followed by the infantry. These were insufficient against modern weapons.

Europeans under the German Gustav Nachtigal first explored the area in 1873. It would eventually lose its independence from the French in 1904. However, fighting against the French still continued until 1908 when Sultan Doud Murra proclaimed jihad against the French. However, by 1912 the French managed to pacify the region and abolished the sultanate.[3]

The Wadai Sultanate was reconstituted under French suzerainty in 1935, with Muhammad Urada ibn Ibrahim becoming Kolak, or sultan. The sultanate continues under the suzerainty of the Republic of Chad and its current Kolak since 1977 is Ibrahim ibn Muhammad Urada.

It became a part of the independent Republic of Chad on the day of the country's independence in 1960. The Ouaddaï Region of modern Chad covers part of the area of the old kingdom. Its major town is Abéché.

See also

  • List of rulers of Wadai
  • Dar al Kuti


  1. Nachtigal, G. (1971). Sahara and Sudan: Kawar, Bornu, Kanem, Borku, Enned. Sahara and Sudan. University of California Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-520-01789-4. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
  2. "Wadai | historical kingdom, Africa". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  3. "Ouaddaï | region, Chad | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  4. "About this Collection | Country Studies | Digital Collections | Library of Congress". Library of Congress.
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