Rabah Zobeir - Encyclopedia

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RABAH ZOBEIR (d. 1900), the conqueror of Bornu (an ancient sultanate on the western shores of Lake Chad, included since 1890 in British Nigeria), was a half-Arab, halfnegro chieftain. He was originally a slave or follower of Zobeir Pasha, and is said to have formed one of the party which served as escort to Miss Tinne (q.v.) in her journeys in the Bahr-el-Ghazal in 1862-64. In 1879, Zobeir being in Egypt, his son Suleiman and Rabah were in command of Zobeir's forces in the Bahr-el-Ghazal. They persisted in slave raiding, and denied the khedive's authority, and Colonel C. G. Gordon sent against them Romolo Gessi Pasha. Gessi captured Suleiman and routed Rabah, who in July 1879 fled westward with some seven hundred Bazingirs (black slave soldiers). He made himself master of Kreich and Dar Banda, countriesto the south and south-west of Wadai. In 1884-85 he was invited by Mahommed Ahmed (the mandi) to join him at Omdurman, but did not do so. According to one account he learnt that the mandi intended, had he gone to Omdurman, to put him to death. In 1891 Paul Crampel, a French explorer, was killed in Dar Banda by a chieftain tributary to Rabah, and Crampel's stores, including 300 rifles, were sent to Rabah. With this reinforcement of arms he marched towards Wadai, but being stoutly opposed by the people of that country he turned west and established himself in Bagirmi, a state south-east of Lake Chad. In 1893 Rabah overthrew the sultan of Bornu. In his administration of the country he showed considerable ability and a sense of public needs. To the British, represented by the Royal Niger Company, Rabah gave comparatively little trouble. During 1894-95 he continually (but unavailingly) asked the company's representatives at Yola and Ibi to supply him with gunpowder. Rabah then tried threats, and in 1896 all communication between him and the company ceased. Early in 1897 he began an advance in the direction of Kano, the most important city in the Fula empire. The news of the crushing defeat by Sir George Goldie of the Fula at Bida, and of the capture of Illorin, induced Rabah to return to Bornu. He gave the British no further trouble, but turned his attention to the French. Emile Gentil had in this same year (1897) reached Lake Chad, via the Congo and Bagirmi, and had installed a French resident with the sultan of Bagirmi. As soon as Gentil had withdrawn, Rabah again fell upon Bagirmi, and forced sultan and resident to flee. In 1899 the French sent an expedition to reconquer the country, but at first they were unsuccessful. In the summer of 1899 Rabah attacked and routed the French advanced post, held by Naval-Lieutenant Bretonnet, and the latter was killed. In October following another battle was fought, in which the French, under Captain Robillot, completely defeated Rabah, who retreated north-east towards Wadai. Gathering a fresh army, he returned to Bagirmi and joined issue with the French a third time. In a battle fought on the 22nd of April 1900 Rabah was slain and his host defeated. The chieftain's head was cut off and taken to the French camp. In this engagement Major Lamy, the French commandant, also lost his life.

The French continued the campaign against Rabah's sons, two of whom were killed. Rabah had left instructions that if his army was finally defeated by the French, his successor should return to Bornu and make friends with the British. Rabah's third son, Fader-Allah, accordingly threw himself entirely upon British protection. He made a favourable impression, and it was contemplated to recognize him as sultan of Bornu. However, in the later part of 1901 Fader-Allah, who had 2500 riflemen, again made aggressive movements against the French. In retaliation, Captain Dangeville pursued him into British territory. A battle was fought at Gujba, FaderAllah being defeated. He fled mortally wounded, and died the same night, being buried in the bed of a small river, the course of which had been diverted for the purpose.

Connected accounts of Rabah's career are contained in E. Gentil's La Chute de l'empire de Rabah (Paris, 1902) and in M. von Oppenheim's Rabeh and das Tschadseegebiet (Berlin, 1902). (F. R. C.)

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