Hausa Tribe: African Tribes and People

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Location: Northern Nigeria, north-western Niger, Africa

Population: 15 million

Language: Hausa

Neighboring Peoples: Kanuri, Fulani, Akan peoples, Songhay, Yoruba

Types of Art: Beautiful indigo dyed cloth is still produced in the Kano state of northern Nigeria.

History: Origin myths among the Hausa claim that their founder, Bayajidda, came from the east in an effort to escape his father. He eventually came to Gaya, where he employed some blacksmiths to fashion a knife for him. With his knife he proceeded to Daura where he freed the people from the oppresive nature of a sacred snake who guarded their well and prevented them from getting water six days out of the week. The queen of Daura gave herself in marriage to Bayajidda to show her appreciation. The two gave birth to seven healthy sons, each of whom ruled the seven city states that make up Hausaland. 

The rise of the Hausa states occurred between 500 and 700 A.D., but it was not until 1200 that they really began to control the region. The history of the area is intricately tied to Islam and the Fulani who wrested political power from the Hausa in the early 1800s through a series of holy wars.

Economy: Since the beginning of Hausa history, the seven states of Hausaland divided up production and labor activities in accordance with their location and natural resources. Kano and Rano were known as the "Chiefs of Indigo." Cotton grew readily in the great plains of these states, and they became the primary producers of cloth, weaving and dying it before sending it off in caravans to the other states within Hausaland and to extensive regions beyond. 

Biram was the original seat of government, while Zaria supplied labor and was known as the "Chief of Slaves." Katsina and Daura were the "Chiefs of the Market," as their geographical location accorded them direct acccess to the caravans coming across the desert from the north. Gobir, located in the west, was the "Chief of War" and was mainly responsible for protecting the empire from the invasive Kingdoms of Ghana and Songhai.

Political Systems: Leadership in the early Hausa states was based on ancestry. Those who could trace their relations back to Bayajidda were considered royal. With the introduction of Islam, many Hausa rulers adopted this new religion while at the same time honoring traditional ways. This position allowed the elite to benefit from the advantages of both systems. The Fulani took over political power in the region in the early 1800s. Their rule lasted for about a century until the British colonized the region in the early part of the 20th century.

Religion: There was an Islamic presence in Hausaland as early as the 11th century. According to tradition, Islam was brought to Hausa territory by Muhommad Al-Maghili, an Islamic cleric, teacher, and missionary, who came from Bornu toward the end of the 15th century. 

Early Islamization proceeded peacefully, mainly at the hands of prophets, pilgrims, and merchants. In the early days the number of individuals who accepted Islam was small, and among those who did, it was usually practiced along with traditional Hausa religious beliefs. In many cases, the ruling elite were the first to convert to Islam. It was not until the early 1800s that the Fulani began to put pressure on the Hausa to undergo large scale conversion. 

Through a series of holy wars (jihads) the northern part of what is today Nigeria was unified in the name of Islam under the auspices of the Fulani empire.

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Credits:  Christopher D. Roy also see credit page
Professor of the History of Art
The University of Iowa