The Borgus are decidedly the most interesting people of the Middle Niger, being the sole [pagan] tribe which has successfully resisted Mahommedan invasion.
For years did the Fulas of Sokotu and Gandu attempt to conquer the country, desisting, however, in the end in the firm belief that the blessing of their prophet was not with them in fighting against this strange people.
They themselves ascribe their invincibility not so much to their fighting powers as to their religion, which they affirm is that of “Kisra, a Jew, who gave his life for the sins of mankind.”
They are most indignant, and perhaps justly so, at being called pagans, considering themselves in every way far superior to the Mahommedans. They say that their forefathers were originally settled in the north of Africa, and were driven thence about the 8th or 9th century by the Mahommedan conquerors.
They claim connection with Bornu, and it is to be remarked that, as Bariba is the native name for Borgu, so also the native name for Bornu is Berebere or Baribari. The two tribes, therefore, before they were driven south, possibly formed part of the Barbary States.
Be that as it may, there is no doubt that Borgu and Bornu established order and a regular form of government in their present provinces ages before any other tribe of these parts dreamt of such things, and to this day both have remained unfettered by the Fula yoke.
The Borgu people are much feared by their neighbours since they have frequently proved their bravery in the field. Their arms consist of spears and arrows, the poison on the latter being very deadly, and they have been able to hold their own with these weapons even against the forces of the King of Dahomey, armed with muskets.
Notwithstanding their warlike qualities, they devote their time almost entirely to agriculture and trade, and their knowledge of medicines is proverbial : “ whatever disease cannot be cured in Bariba land can be cured nowhere else “ is a common saying amongst the other tribes of the Western Sudan.
- Their country is known as Bariba, Barba, Burgu, or Borgu. Its boundaries are — on the north, Gurma ; on the east, the Kworra and Yauri ; on the south, Yoruba, Nupe, and Shabe ; on the west, Sugu.
“ The Hausa call the Bornu people Berbere. Barbu is the ancient name of Borgu.” — Barth. Barth has a lot to say about this interesting subject. The capital of Borgu is Bussa, where Mungo Park lost his life. It is situated on the right bank of the Kworra, some 650 miles from the sea.
“ Masudawdki goma na Burguwa tun issa kore masudawaki dari na Filani, ten Burgu horsemen are enough to defeat one hundred Filani horsemen,” is a Hausa proverb.
“ Ekpa Burgu de noshe gaya, the Burgu arrow is very poisonous,” expresses the Nupe’s views of their neighbours, while in Yorubaland old women say “Oluru gbani lowo ogu Bariba “ God deliver one from a Bariba war.”
* photo from Sporting trips of a subaltern by Glossop, Bertram Robert Mitford (1906 )
Up the Niger
by Mockler-Ferryman, Augustus Ferryman