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24-03-2015, 08:44

Hausa Polities: Origins, Rise

The Hausa states were found between the Niger River and Lake Chad, between the kingdom of Bornu and Mali. Immigration and conquest mark Hausa history. The Hausa people themselves are a conglomerate of a number of different people who have been incorporated into the “original” stock through conquest or merger. A common language, Hausa, and a common religion, Islam, tend to blend the people into a more homogeneous group. Hausa tradition states that there are seven “true” Hausa states, the “Hausa bakwai,” and seven derived or illegitimate states, the “Hausa banza.” Tradition further states that all Hausa people derived from the Hausa bakwai, the “true” seven states. Daura, founded by Daura, a woman, is the senior city among the Hausa states. The Hausa origin myth recognizes this seniority by noting that the culture hero Bayajidda, the son of the king of Baghdad, arrived in Daura after visiting Bornu. A snake had made its dwelling place in the town well, making it difficult for people to drink from it. Bayajidda managed to kill the snake, and he took the queen in marriage as his reward. Their marriage produced a son, Bawo. In turn, Bawo fathered six sons of his own. These sons founded the six true Hausa states: Daura, Katsina, Zazzau (Zaria), Gobir, Kano, and Rano. Bayajidda had another son, a child with his first wife, Magira, a Kanuri. That son founded Biram, the seventh state of the Hausa bakwai.

Hausa states, thirteenth-eighteenth centuries.

History does not yet yield an exact date for the migration and merger of peoples that led to the development of the Hausa people. What is known is that the seven kingdoms resulted from a mixture of newly arrived foreigners and local people because of urbanization in northern Nigeria. Capital cities became centers of power and rule. These new cities were walled and fortified and marked the rise of kingship in the region. Over time, these kings controlled trade in the region along the Niger River in what became northern Nigeria. The Habe rulers turned to Islam to aid their government organization. However, until the Fulani jihad of the nineteenth century, the Habe continued to worship their traditional gods. The Habe reign lasted until 1804 when the Fulani conquered the area.

The Hausa states specialized in various crafts and trade goods. Kano, for example, was known for its dyed cotton fabrics and so-called Moroccan leather, while Zaria specialized in slave trading. Slaves, who were generally captured warriors, built the walled towns, which enabled the Hausa to resist their various enemies and protect their control of much of the transSaharan trade. Katsina and Kano became centers of caravan routes. Hausa traders established sabon gari (strangers’ quarters) all over Nigeria. These sabon gari helped the Hausa to set up efficient trade networks, securing access to markets in other parts of West Africa.

The Hausa organized areas surrounding their walled capitals into residential clusters of wards or hamlets. Each of these political and residential units had a head. In turn, the wards were part of a village which itself was under the control of a village head. Villages were organized and controlled under the leadership of a titled official who held the land under the Emir or chief. The official lived in the capital where he could serve the Emir and be under his control. Fiefs were attached to particular tribes and were granted by the emir, or head of the state. The fief holder chose officials to administer the lands under his care. These officials were responsible to him. The village chief was the most important local administrator. His responsibilities included collection of taxes, recruiting men for military service, organizing road labor, and settling minor disputes.

Hausa trading centers became the center of a new urban Muslim Hausa culture, succeeding pre-Hausa states, and the Mbau kingdoms that formed part of a series of shrines, which featured fairs at which disputes were mediated. These early kingdoms seem to have been formed around 1500, around the time the Habe rulers converted to Islam. Islam certainly enabled the Hausa to oversee the flowering of a powerful culture whose height was about the middle of the seventeenth century. Kano and Katsina became centers of Islamic scholarship and trade, profiting from the rivalry between Morocco and the Ottoman Empire. From the midseventeenth century on, the Hausa states were engaged in a series of military conflicts, ending with the victory of the Fulani in the nineteenth-century jihad.

Frank A. Salamone

Further Reading

Adamu, M. The Hausa Factor in West Africa. London: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Paden, J. Religion and Political Culture in Kano. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

Pellow, D. “Hausa.” In Africa and the Middle East, edited by John Middlton and Amal Rassam. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1995.