Identification. The term "Bagirmi" refers to a multiethnic society organized as an archaic state. Major populations in the Bagirmi region were the Barma, who formed and dominated the state; Arabs, who were its most numerous inhabitants; and the Fulani, who were significant in its religious life. "Bagirmi" derives from Arabic ( bagar, cattle; mia, one hundred) and, according to one tradition, indicates the amount of tribute that the Arabs and the Fulani were obliged to pay to their first ruler.
Location. The core of Bagirmi was located in the Republic of Chad along the Chari and Bahr Erguig rivers, roughly from N'Djamena in the north to Bousso in the south. This core was surrounded by tributaries. Bagirmi was situated between two competing kingdoms: Bornu to the northwest and Wadai to the northeast.
Demography. In 1954 there were about 25,000 Barma, 78,000 Arabs, and 25,000 Fulani in the area that roughly corresponds to the core and tributary zones of nineteenth-century Bagirmi. There is evidence of emigration from Bagirmi beginning in late precolonial times and continuing through the present. Relatively low fertility is reported for Bagirmi.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Barma speak Tar Barma, which belongs to the Central Sudanic Branch of Nilo-Saharan languages and is closely related to languages spoken by the Sara, Kenga, and Bulala peoples in Chad.