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Sao civilisation

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The Sao or So were an African civilisation that flourished from ca. the 6th century to as late as the 15th century. The Sao lived by the Chari River south of Lake Chad in territory that would later be part of Cameroon and Chad. They are the earliest people to have left clear traces of their presence in the territory of modern Cameroon.[1] Little is known about the Sao’s history, society, or culture. They may have originated in the Nile valley, the Bilma oasis, or near Lake Chad. Sometime around the 10th century, invading peoples conquered or absorbed the Sao. Today, several ethnic groups of northern Cameroon and southern Chad claim descent from the civilisation.



[edit] Origins

Historian Victor Fanso outlines three major origins for the Sao based on oral tradition and archaeological theories.[2] One theory holds that they were the descendants of the Hyksos who conquered Ancient Egypt. They moved south from the Nile valley into middle Africa in several waves under pressure from Arab invaders. According to Dierk Lange the Sao were immigrants from the ancient Near East in consequence of the fall of the Assyrian Empire at the end of the seventh century BC.[3] Another theory places the Sao’s origins in the Bilma oasis north of Lake Chad. Proponents of the idea often propose a Nilotic origin for the culture. A third theory says that the Sao were simply the indigenous inhabitants of the Lake Chad basin and that their ultimate origins lie south of the lake.[4]

[edit] Height and decline

The Sao civilisation may have begun as early as the 5th century AD,[4] and by the 6th century, their presence was well established south of Lake Chad and by the Chari River.[5] The Sao’s first major population centre was the east bank of Lake Chad, from whence they moved west and south into the savanna.[4] The civilisation reached its apex sometime between the 9th and 15th centuries.[5]

The Sao’s demise may have come about due to conquest, assimilation, or both.[6] Although some estimates say the culture lasted until the 15th century, the majority opinion is that they ceased to exist as a separate culture sometime in the 10th century.[4] The peoples of the Kanem Empire were pushing south in the 9th and 10th centuries and may have been the Sao’s conquerors.[1] The Kotoko kingdom also appeared around this time in former Sao territory.[7] However, traditional tales say that the Sao fell to "whites" from the east. These invaders made several unsuccessful attempts to conquer the Sao before finally succeeding by resorting to trickery. If true, the invaders may have been Arab or Bedouin raiders who moved into the region c. 1045.[6]

[edit] Culture

Little is known about the Sao’s culture or political organisation : They left no written records and are known only through archaeological finds and the oral history of the people who live in their territory.[4] Sao artefacts show that they were skilled workers in bronze, copper, and iron.[6] Finds include bronze sculptures and terra cotta statues of human and animal figures, coins, funerary urns, household utensils, jewellery, highly decorated pottery, and spears.[8] The largest Sao archaeological finds have been made south of Lake Chad. Archaeologists J. F. Lebeuf and A. Masson-Détourbet suggest that the civilisation may have been the link between the advanced civilisations of the Nile and the Niger rivers.[6]

Ethnic groups in the Lake Chad basin, such as the Buduma, Gamergu, Kanembu, Kotoko, Musgum, and Logone-Birni, claim descent from the Sao. Lebeuf supports this connection and has traced symbolism from Sao art in works by the Guti and Tukuri subgroups of the Logone-Birni people.[6] Oral histories add further details about the people : The Sao were made up of several patrilineal clans who were united into a single polity with one language, race, and religion. They were giants, mighty warriors who fought and conquered their neighbours.[4]

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ a b Hudgens and Trillo 1051.
  2. ^ He does not specify the original sources of these theories.
  3. ^ Lange,"Immigration", 101-3.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Fanso 18.
  5. ^ a b DeLancey and DeLancey 237.
  6. ^ a b c d e Fanso 19.
  7. ^ DeLancey and DeLancey 159.
  8. ^ Fanso 19 ; Hudgens and Trillo 1051.

[edit] References

  • DeLancey, Mark W., and Mark Dike DeLancey (2000) : Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cameroon (3rd ed.). Lanham, Maryland : The Scarecrow Press.
  • Fanso, V. G. (1989). Cameroon History for Secondary Schools and Colleges, Vol. 1 : From Prehistoric Times to the Nineteenth Century. Hong Kong : Macmillan Education Ltd.
  • Hudgens, Jim, and Richard Trillo (1999). West Africa : The Rough Guide. 3rd ed. London : Rough Guides Ltd.
  • Lange, Dierk (2008), Borno Museum Society Newsletter, 72-75, 84-106.
  • West, Ben (2004). Cameroon : The Bradt Travel Guide. Guilford, Connecticut : The Globe Pequot Press Inc.

[edit] External links