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The Ancestry of the Basenjis


tesemAfrika Dog Tjesem Congo Terrier Prototype Dog Basenji


Jackal and Basenji: It is noteworthy that the Basenji  paws are different from those of other canine species: their middle toes are partially grown together. One assumed that Basenjis carry some Jackal genes. This theory is rebut. (1990 Herre und Röhrs). A Jackal is a member of any of three small to medium-sized species of predators of the genus Canis, found in Africa.



Golden Jackal canis aureus




Wolf paw wikipedia      Golden jackal paw   Basenji and Dog Paw



The Ancestry from the wolf

The ancestor of dogs is the grey wolf.  It could be that the Ethopian Wolf (Canis Lupus Simensis) is the ancestor of Basenjis. A new Theorie expect the Israel Wolf (Canis Lupus Arabs) as the ancestor.







Ethiopien Wolf canis simensis  





Canis simensis and Basenjis





© Dada Cortelli and Sillero Zubiri

Pictures with kind permission: Stiftung Artenschutz, O.Newman, ub,  wikipedia  






SCHENSI LOGO  © Jürg Furrer


 "Dogs are probably the oldest domesticated animals."   

 Warum die Menschen sesshaft wurden? Vlg. S. Fischer Josef  H. Reichholf



The prototype dog Basenji belongs to the Schensi dogs of the equatorial region.


According to the latest DNA genetic research Basenji domestication began in Africa.


There also exists the theory that dogs were domesticated in southeast Asia. Since all humans have their origins in Africa it is quite probable that the coexistence between man and wolf also began in Africa. With the migration of men, dogs also reached new areas. They were made useful in hunting. Basenji-type Schensi dogs live in the equatorial zone of Africa under similar conditions and relationship with the tribes like in the Philippines, on Sumatra with the Bakta, on West Papua with the Korowai and on Borneo with the Dayak.


A Korowai Photo Internet



In the then still fertile Sahara a Savannah landscape inhabited by nomads, wild animals were domesticated. The nomads began to raise domestic animals, the first of which probably was the dog, because it was helpful in hunting. Due to climate change (brought about by changes of the direction of the monsoon winds) the Sahara desert developed and the early men migrated with their Basenji-like hunting dogs to the Nile. The people became settlers. Thousands of years BC, the age of the pharaohs  ascended at the Nile.


Basenjis from Punt?

The voyage was undertaken in the summer of Hatshepsut's eighth year as queen. She sent Senenmet (Senmut), her Chancellor, with a fleet of five ships that included thirty rowers each. They departed Quseir on the Red Sea for what was primarily a trading mission, seeking myrrh, frankincense and fragrant punguents used for cosmetics and in religious ceremonies. However, they also brought back exotic animals and plants that had no apparent economic value. We are told that the:

"...loading of the ships very heavily with marvels of the country of Punt; all goodly fragrant woods of God's-Land, heaps of myrrh resin, with fresh myrrh trees, with ebony and pure ivory, with green gold of Emu, with cinnamon wood, khesyt wood, with two kinds of incense, eye-cosmetics, with apes, monkeys, dogs, and with skins of the southern panther, with natives and their children. Never was brought the like of this for any king who has been since the beginning"



As a consequence of the last climate change in the Sahara about 1000 years ago, humans migrated south with their Basenji-type hunting dogs. It was the beginning of the relocation of the Bantu, a migration of considerable magnitude. The Bantu moved toward the east to the large lakes and penetrated south into the Congo forest region, the Ituri Rainforest. The latter today is the remaining habitat of Pygmies and their Basenjis. Basenjis inhabit two different climate zones, the savannah and the rain forest. 



savannah                                                    rainforest


photos wikipedia

Is the homeland of the Basenjis Afrika? Yes 


 Basenji Schensi-dog in Africa today

Photo courtesy of J.Rotter


Schensis are among the oldest members of the canis familaris race. Basenjis are early dogs that howl ("yodel") instead of barking (compare wolf and jackal). They are know in the Bantu language Kiswahili as Schensi dogs. The name Basenji is derived from the Bantu language. As Schensi dogs they live in the equatorial zone, the hoe-farming culture. Schensis are identifiable by erect ears, a reddish fur, and short hair.  They were made useful in hunting. In contrast to the Pariahs who live independently from humans, Schensis belong to a person have a name and are valued either for personal reasons ( family dog, hunting dog ) or because of their market value. Basenjis live in a pack with their tribes, but they must be clever to find enough food for survival.


The most convincing theory about the lineage of Basenjis relies on paintings in the Sahara of Northern Africa. The rock paintings show hunting dogs very similar to Basenjis. At the beginning of 20th century, rock paintings were discovered in increasing numbers in the caves of Africa. Newer archeological research might provide more knowledge about Basenjis.



Schensi dogs cave paintings Teshouinat

Photo Sahara Art Rupestre  Les Editions de L'amateur


Rock Paintings with hunting dogs Tassili Tandrart

Photo Peter v. Sengbusch


Tomb Relief of Sarenput   Hunting with Basenjis    Africa rock paintings


Basenjis in Ancient Egypt



The god Anubis is a jackal

Museum Cairo




Egyptians are indeed counted among the oldest dog breeders in the world. It is possible but controversal that by crossing dogs and jackals a basenji type dog was created, probably the Tesem of Ancient Egypt. "Jackals and Basenjis do not mate except when under human influence, even if they might have ample opportunity to do so." ( Professor Dr. sc. Senglaub  Wildhunde Haushunde  Urania Vlg.)


Basenjis beloved pets in the Ancient Egypt   Stele des Iti

Courtesy Museo Antichita Egiziedi Torino


Maybe, the Nubians, who ruled Egypt from about 745 to 655 BC, brought the Basenjis with them from the Sudan.  The history of Sudan begins in predynastik times. We assume that Basenjis as catlike dogs were in high esteem as hunting dogs, or as beloved household pets. They are highly regarded to this day and their market value is correspondingly high.


Meroe Pyramid Sudan Foto Internet



 Basenji type dog, is it the Tesem of Ancient Egypt?

Bilderwelten und Weltbilder der Pharaonen Philipp v. Zabern Vlg.


It is known that Basenjis were frequently depicted with bells on their neck. This practice still exists today in Africa.


Narratives out of Africa

In some areas of Africa it is believed that dogs including Basenjis stole " The Fire " for the gods. In some African tribes they are known as " talking dogs " or " witches dogs ". Dogs, including Basenjis, have always been used as sacrifices in ritual ceremonies.


In some African tribes Basenjis are known as " talking dogs ". Other names are "M'bwa Shenzi" or "M'bwa M'Kubwa M'bwa" translated up and down jumping dogs. You may observe your Basenjis in the field.


The more Basenjis that are owned by the Medicine man, the stronger his powers and healing skills. Basenjis were sacrificed in their rituals up to date. Some documents never written down until much later mention Basenjis ending up in the cooking pot if it did not measure up to hunting quality. With the downfall of Ancient Egypt, knowledge about Basenjis  disappeared. They were rediscovered in modern age.


Basenji with Bell in the camp of the Efe pygmies  1990


Photo William F. Wheeler  Efe Pygmies  Archers of the African Rain Forest Rizzoli NewYork



gold weights as money





   Goro - vodun medical ritual  1980



   Photos Soul of Africa  Vlg. Könemann



The god Egou asks for dog blood


Photos   Die Medizin der schwarzen Götter   Haymon Vlg



Discovery of Basenjis by Africa researchers


In 1868 - 71 the Africa explorer Prof. Dr. Georg Schweinfurth noticed some unusual dogs in the Bahr-el-Ghasal (Central Africa) area they were used as hunting help by the Azande tribes. Today we know he discovered Basenjis.



He wrote : ”The only domestic animals whom the Niamniam bother to raise are chickens and dogs. The latter belong to a small spitz-like race but with smooth and short fur and with big, always upright ears and a short, thin tail that is always curled up tail similar to piglets. Their color is a light leather yellow with a white collar on their neck. The small, pointed snout is sharply set off from the arched head. Their legs are quite long and straight and prove that this race has nothing to do with the dachshund-like dogs in the ancient Egyptian temple images. These Niamniam dogs also lack, like all other dog families of the Nile area, the rear claw of the hind legs. One hangs wooden bells on their necks, ostensibly to prevent them from getting lost in the prairie grasses. The animals strongly tend to obesity, just like their owners, who intentionally fatten them because the meat of these dogs is one of their preferred delicacies.”



Niam Niam Hund oder Congo Terrier ,Bongo -, Zande -,oder  Khufu Dog

Niam Niam dog July Issue of Dog Today Out of Africa


Fascinated by these dogs, Dr. Georg Schweinfurth decided to bring a female back to Europe to present her as an unusual species. However, on the return trip to Europe, the dog, due to the Basenji’s love for freedom,  jumped to its death when she jumped out of a second floor window of a hotel in Alexandria.  At the end of his travels, he also succeeded in solving an ages old ethnological problem by discovering the Akka pygmies. He was the first to bring, as a believable witness, knowledge of pygmies  in Europe. An interest in Basenji dogs was awakened in Europe.



In 1882 Expedition Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston



"Basenjis The barkless dogs" Miss Veronica Tudor Williams reported: "In 1882 H.H.Johnston   spent much time in an expedition from the mouth of the Congo to Bolobo, and gave some interesting notes on the Congo dogs, which he described as prick-eared, with foxy head and smooth fawn coloured coats. Of their characters he added, they have one admirable point in that they never bark, whilst the attachment between these pretty creatures and their African masters is deep and fully reciprocated."  


In 1895 at Cruft`s Show (Great Britain) the Basenjis were exhibited. These Basenjis were the very first ever seen in Europe. At the turn of the century, "Congo terriers" were reported in European newspapers and were displayed in zoos, such as in Berlin and Paris.


Basenjis Zoo Berlin

Photo Dr.O.Heinroth  Pariah Hunde R.Menzel



Bosc " Congo Terrier" Zoo Paris 1890



Breeding Start


Basenji Description


At first the Basenjis were named as "Congo Terriers, Bongo-, Nyam Nyam-and Zande- dogs." Under great difficult the breeding of Basenjis start in Great Britain. In 1937 the bred was established in Great Britain by Mrs. Olivia Burn, "of the Blean "




Mrs. Olivia Burn with daughter Jennifer Photo The complete Basenji by Elspet Ford


Basenjis Bongo and Bokoto of the Blean  Basenjis exhibited at Cruft show 1937



The Basenji Club of Great Britain was formed on 09.02.1939 and is the oldest established club in the world for the  breed  of Basenjis.  The ever  first standard  was formulated and the Basenji as breed established. In the following years Basenji clubs in Australia, Canada and the United States of America First Basenjis in the U.S. were founded,  to be followed by the establishment of new clubs worldwide. Mrs. Berta Burkert established the Basenji-Klub Deutschland on 07. 07. 1977


The world-famous Basenji expert Miss Veronica Tudor-Williams wrote an article (Journal of the Society for the Preservation of the Fauna of the Empire, Nr.54) on the Basenjis of Central Africa and called them a "living fossils". She wrote: "It would be a tragedy if these canines of such ancient lineage, having maintained their identity over numerous centuries, would now be lost to us forever as a consequence of expanding civilization".



and in her excellent book "Basenjis The barkless dogs" chapter 6 she wrote : "From the time of Ancient Egypt until the nineteenth century, Basenjis faded in complete obscurity, though it is obvious that deep in Central Africa, away from civilisation, they were valued and preserved. Than arround the 1870 these unusual dogs began to be commented upon by explores of the Dark Continent, and were referred to by various names, usually depending upon the district in which they were found, such as Congo Terriers, Bongo -, Nyam Nyam -and Zande dogs."


 and in her book Fula she describe the story from the world famous breeding male Fula



Basenji Africa Dog  Pictures with


Basenjis became breed dogs worldwide. Breeding start




Basenji Club of America  Basenji Timeline



Basenjis as Stars:

The Movie   My Lady of the Congo and Brandon de Wilde



Drawing 1941

First Basenjis in the U.S.  The Basenji volume I number 2



"The Basenji" Susann Coe Section 1 history   Doral Publishing


At the beginning of the 21th Century researchers found more and more drawings in the caves of Africa. The archeologist found dog graves and dog mummies. The results of research will bring more knowledge about the breed Basenji.