Bagirmi - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Precolonial Bagirmi society was a collection of tribal groups organized on the basis of class. Class position, however, depended upon control over political—not economic—resources. The upper class consisted of officials organized in an elaborate hierarchy around the sovereign at Massenya. The two lower classes—slave and free—were food producers. Most officials were Barma. Barma, Arabs, and Fulani were free food producers; slaves usually came from tribes in southern Chad, such as the Sara. A revenue system allowed officials to extract resources from food producers. Because there were very few relations between officials and food producers, other than those involving revenues, tribal systems continued within the class structure, organizing reproductive, enculturative, economic, and religious activities.

Political Organization. There were three levels in the official hierarchy of the precolonial state: those of the sovereign, the court, and the estate officials. The ruler had responsibilities extending throughout the polity, whereas court officials had duties within their estates, which were a collection of villages, ethnic groups, tributaries, and, occasionally, places such as markets. Estate officials, who might be heads of tributaries, villages, or the like, administered a portion of a court official's estate. The sovereign and his court resided at Massenya, and estate officials were distributed throughout the core and tributary areas. Court officials might be of royal, free, or slave origin; those with major military responsibilities tended to be slaves, whose office depended upon the will of the ruler.

Social Control. Gossip, ostracism, sorcery, and witchcraft were and continue to be important forms of social control. Traditional Islamic specialists and courts settle disputes according to Malekite law. Today the most serious crimes are likely to be adjudicated within the nation-state's legal system.

Conflict. Precolonial Bagirmi experienced police actions, raids, warfare, and rebellion. Violence was a state monopoly, with officials serving as mounted cavalry. Officials usually directed police actions against food producers in the core, often because of unpaid taxes. Raids were mounted by officials, usually against non-Muslim, acephalous populations, to acquire slaves. Officials both conducted wars against external states and contested among themselves for control of the Bagirmi state. Since Chad gained independence in 1960, Bagirmi, like many other areas of the country, has experienced civil war that has resulted from attempts to control the nation-state.

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