Hausa People: Africa`s Largest Scattered Warrior Tribe And Traders Who Respect Their Culture

The Hausa (also known as Hausawa, Haoussa, Ausa, Habe, Mgbakpa) are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa and the largest ethnic group in Africa. They are a chiefly located in the Sahelian areas of northern Nigeria and southeastern Niger, with significant numbers also living in parts of Cameroon, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad and Sudan. Predominantly Hausa communities are scattered throughout West Africa and on the traditional Hajj route across the Sahara Desert, especially around the town of Agadez.

 A few Hausa have also moved to large coastal cities in the region such as Lagos, Accra, Kumasi and Cotonou, as well as to parts of North Africa like Libya. Most Hausa, however, are concentrated in small villages or towns in West Africa, where they grow crops or raise livestock, including cattle. They speak the Hausa language, an Afro-Asiatic language of the Chadic group.

The Hausa are a racially diverse but culturally homogeneous people who originally came from northern Nigeria and south-central Niger. Hausas have long been famous for wide-ranging itinerant trading, and wealthy merchants share the highest social positions with the politically powerful and the learned.
The Hausa population is over 30,000,000; their primary religion is Islam and considered to be the 4th largest Muslim bloc in the world with about 36,000 known Christians and a sizable number also follow African Traditional Religion.

Hausa women working in the fields during millet harvest. To separate the millet grains from the husks, the millet is winnowed . The heavy grains fall back into the tray and the husks blow away. Bulatura Oases, Nigeria Language
Hausa people speak  Hausa language and has more first language speakers than any other language in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hausa is an Afroasiatic language related to Arabic, Hebrew, Berber, Amharic, and Somali amongst others. An estimated 30+ million people speak Hausa as their first language (more than any other sub-Saharan African language and more than many European languages).

It is also spoken by diaspora communities of traders, Muslim scholars and immigrants in urban areas of West Africa, as well as the Blue Nile Province of the Sudan. Hausa is the most extensively researched of all sub-Saharan languages, and has a long tradition of song and poetry within a cosmopolitan Islamic culture. It is the most important and widespread West African language and is expanding as a lingua franca. Hausa is broadcast on the BBC World Service, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and Radio Peking. Like many sub-Saharan languages, Hausa is tonal.
Aside from the inherent interest of Hausa language and its literature, the study of Hausa provides perhaps the most informative entree into the world of Islamic West Africa. Throughout West Africa, there is a strong connection between Hausa and Islam. The influence of Hausa language on the languages of many non-Hausa Islamic people in West African is readily apparent. Likewise, many Hausa cultural practices, including such overt features as dress and food, are shared by other Islamic communities. Because of the dominant position which Hausa language and culture have long held, the study of Hausa provides crucial background for other areas such as West African history, politics (particularly in Nigeria and Niger), gender studies, commerce, and the arts.

                                               Beautiful Hausa woman


                    Portrait of an Hausa/Arab, by Horace Vernet (1789- 1863)

Many other Hausas subscribe to the view that they had a common Arab ancestor whose descendants founded the Hausa city-states. According to this, the King of Baghdad’s son, Bayajidda or Abuyazidu, quarrelled with his father, left Baghdad and ended up in the state of Daura (directly north of Kano in present day northern Nigeria).

Hausa chief with his Children and five wives,Nigeria. Circa 1910

Origin myths among the Hausa claim that their founder, the exiled prince 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 oppressive 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.  Bayajidda and his wife had a son, Bawo, who married and in turn had six sons who then became rulers of Kano, Zazzau (Zaria), Gobir, Katsina, Rano and Daura; a seventh state Biram is added to the list. These are the Hausa Bakwai, the seven Hausa states.    

Hausa people in 1906,107 years ago,Hausa are fully clothed in advanced styles .There is also an extension to this story, which can be seen as a way of explaining a number of other states, which fell under Hausa influence, while retaining some of their own customs. This story tells of Bawo having a further seven sons by his concubine. These became rulers of the Banza Bakwai, or seven ‘illegitimate’ Hausa states: Zamfara, Kebbik, Nupe, Gwari, Yauri, Yoruba and Kororofa.  
However, there is a general consensus that Hausa city-states were founded some time between the end of the 900 BC and the beginning of the 13th century. It is thought they emerged out of a number of small communities, typically surrounded by stockades, enclosing not only houses but also agricultural lands. 

                           A group of Hausa men reading underneath a tree in northern Nigeria (Circa 1910)

Eventually these various communities grouped together to form larger groups, which in turn acquired the size and status of city-states. The custom of creating a fortified surrounding wall was maintained. These city walls can still be seen today.

From the different available texts of the legend the Daura palace version is the most reliable, though certain other accounts offer important complements. Two episodes have to be distinguished: a great migration from Mesopotamia and Philistine having only nominal leaders and a movement of fleeing troops led by a scion of the royal house of Bagdad.
 It is suggested that historically the first corresponds to the flight of members of various communities of deportees established in the western provinces of the Assyrian empire and more particularly in settlements close the Egyptian border to sub-Saharan Africa. The second, by contrast, is supposed to reflect the movement of retreat of the remaining Assyrian army from the devastated capital of Niniveh to Harran. Apparently Bayajidda himself represents the last king of Assyria who was crowned in 
Harran in 612 and disappeared from history in 609 BCA.

   Guiding Stone to Zaria. Picture shows a man standing on a large stone which guides the way to Zaria, Nigeria. Circa 1910.

Furthermore, the legend corresponds to a foundation charter of Hausa society insofar as it suggests a distinction between two categories of states, the seven Hausa and the seven Banza states. From the Daura palace version of the legend and from its cult-dramatic re-enactment during the yearly state festivals it appears that this differentiation also applies to the internal dualism between a Hausa and a Maguzawa or Azna section of society. In all likelihood these two sections of the Hausa-speaking world are the result of an overlapping of the African rural culture by the ancient Near Eastern immigrants. While the immigrants constituted the Hausa or urban and dynastic section of the social order, the indigenous peasants were associated on the basis of their clan organisation as Azna into the new dualistic society.

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Kano, Nigeria is considered the center of Hausa trade and culture. In terms of cultural relations to other peoples of West Africa, the Hausa are culturally and historically close to the Fulani, Songhai, Mandé and Tuareg as well as other Afro-Asiatic and Nilo-Saharan groups further East in Chad and Sudan. Islamic Shari’a law is loosely the law of the land and is understood by any full time practitioner of Islam, known in Hausa as a Mallam (see Maulana).
Between 500 CE and 700 CE Hausa people, who had been slowly moving west from Nubia and mixing in with the local Northern and Central Nigerian population, established a number of strong states in what is now Northern and Central Nigeria and Eastern Niger. With the decline of the Nok and Sokoto, who had previously controlled Central and Northern Nigeria between 800 BCE and 200 CE, the Hausa were able to emerge as the new power in the region. Closely linked with the Kanuri people of Kanem-Bornu (Lake Chad), the Hausa aristocracy adopted Islam in the 11th century CE.

                                        His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar Sa’ad III.

Near East in 1200 AD, showing Hausa States and neighbors.By the 12th century CE the Hausa were becoming one of Africa’s major powers. The architecture of the Hausa is perhaps one of the least known but most beautiful of the medieval age. Many of their early mosques and palaces are bright and colourful and often include intricate engraving or elaborate symbols designed into the facade. By 1500 CE the Hausa utilized a modified Arabic script known as ajami to record their own language; the Hausa compiled several written histories, the most popular being the Kano Chronicle.

The Emir of Kano,Alhaji Ado Bayero (Blessing a child)
In 1810 the Fulani, another Islamic African ethnic group that spanned across West Africa, invaded the Hausa states. Their cultural similarities however allowed for significant integration between the two groups, who in modern times are often demarcated as “Hausa-Fulani” rather than as individuated groups, and many Fulani in the region do not distinguish themselves from the Hausa.

                        Hausa Gentleman dressed in Mohammadens Gear (Circa 1910)

The Hausa remain preeminent in Niger and Northern Nigeria. Their impact in Nigeria is paramount, as the Hausa-Fulani amalgamation has controlled Nigerian politics for much of its independent history. They remain one of the largest and most historically grounded civilizations in West Africa.

                                       Hausa Woman trader (Circa: 1930`s)
Traditional religion
Religion is a belief binding the spiritual nature of a man to a supernatural being and involving the feeling of dependence and responsibility, together with emotions and practices which naturally follow from such a belief. About 90 percent of the Hausa are Muslims. “The traditional Hausa way of life and Islamic social values have been intermixed for such a long time that many of the basic tenets of Hausa society are Islamic” (Adamu 1978, 9). 

Adherents are expected to observe the five pillars of Islam—profession of the faith, five daily prayers, alms giving, fasting at Ramadan, and at least one pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj). Within Hausa society, there are sects (brotherhoods) of adherents; of these, the Tijaniya, Qadriya, and Ahmadiyya have been important. Wife seclusion is basic to the Hausa version of Islam, although it is believed that the institution is more a sign of status than of religious piety.

                                    Ali Nuhu, Hausa man and Nollywood Actor
  When Islam came to Hausaland, it found the people already living according to some cultural and traditional beliefs. The Hausa were then known to have been worshiping many idols and other objects around them like, rivers and mountains. They also practiced juju and spirit worship.
Maguzawa, the traditional African religion, was practiced extensively before Islam. In the more remote areas of Hausaland Maguzawa has remained fully intact, but as one gets closer to more urban areas it almost totally disappears. It often includes the sacrifice of animals for personal ends, it is thought of as illegitimate to practice Maguzawa magic for harm. What remains in more populous areas is a “cult of spirit possession” known as Bori which still holds the old religion’s elements of animism and magic.

In Kano, for example, where the Hausa culture has its cradle, the main object of worship was a god called “Tsinbirbira”, whose shrine was on top of a hill called “Dala” where Barbushe acted as the enforcer of Tsinbirbira’s rules, as well as the chief of the people. The main occupation of the people was blacksmithing and the only place to dig for iron and bronze was the Dala Hill. So it can be seen how Tsinbirbira came to be object of worship. Barbushe, the representative of Tsinbirbira was believed to be a great hunter who could kill an elephant single handed and carry it on his shoulders as a sacrifice to his god. The people at first always gathered and lived in caves around the hill but later dispersed as a result of rapid population increase and the fear of Tsinbirbira’s wrath and anger.

Traditionalist Hausa man cutting his lipsIslamThere 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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According to  Bashir Usman Sagagi (1994) “The arrival of the Fulani in Hausaland culminated into a new era. These people were a tribe from Senegal who moved eastwards along the River Niger and finally settled in Hausaland. Among them were also other types of Fulani whose main aim was to prpagate Islam. They settled at the palaces of the big Chiefs and began to preach Islam as it should be practiced. They found that the Hausa peoples mixed Islam with alot of paganism through traditional customs which were contrary to the belief in the oneness and power of Allah. They soon began to attract the attention of many followers who later became a threat to the power of the chiefs.

 The Fulani were persistent in reminding the Hausa that Islam must not be mixed with traditional beliefs and customs while the Hausa chiefs were accused of corruption and malpractice. Under their famous and abled leader and scholar, Usman Dan Fodio (1754-1817), the Fulani were finally moved to waging a Jihad, or holy war, against the Hausa power elite. The leader migrated or made the Hijra to another area away from the chiefs where he declared a holy war on the Hausa. The Fulani were few but many of the masses among the Hausa were already fed up with the brutality and corruption of the power elite. So they joined the Fulani and toppled the chiefs. This was the great revolutionary Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio which was later to change the whole culture and way of life of the Hausa.
After the success of Usman’s Holy War, things were critically based on Islamic law. Law and order flourished, enslavement of free people reduced, and many schools and mosques sprang up teaching Islamic jurisprudence, theology, astronomy, mathematics, logic, and languages. A new system of writing the Qur’anic and Arabic alphabets and characters evolved, called Ajami literature; where the Hausa language is written using Arabic and Hausa alphabets. This is still a unique way of writing peculiar only to the Hausa culture throughout the Islamic world.”

 Hausa people of Sokoto, Nigeria. Hausa Culture Marriage

Buduruwa (name for an Hausa woman)The engagement and marriage ceremony in Northern Nigeria is both a blend of Islamic ritual and traditional practices. For Muslims, marriage (Fatiha) is a requirement in order to have sexual relationships and reproduce. It is also highly celebrated according to the means of the hosts. The marriage ceremony usually last a week ending on a Sunday. 

           Hausa Couple
However, preparations begin when the marriage proposal reaches the bride’s parents. As soon as the bride’s parents accept the marriage proposal, a number of beauty and household products called Kayan Zance such as beauty cream, scents, shoes and blouses is purchased by the grooms side and taken to the bride’s house. 

                                                            Hausa woman
Thereafter, a group of men also are then sent to the bride’s house with money termed Kudin Gaisuwa and after the delivery, a date is set for the engagement. In the engagement ceremony, the reception is held at the representative’s of the bride and the husband to be is asked to bring some kola nuts and sweets for the event. The event usually takes place in the evening.Prior to the marriage ceremony some customs are observed This includes, Kamun Ango which takes place on a Thursday and Zaman Ajo which takes place on a Friday.

Naming Ceremony
In traditional Hausa culture, as soon as a wife is pregnant and then gives birth, preparations of boiling water and firewood used for cooking commences for the daily bath of the wife. A week after delivery, a ram or sheep is slaughtered and kola nuts and other food stuff are arranged. On the third day after delivery, a food called Kauri is prepared and distributed to relatives and friends signaling the birth of the child. On the sixth day after delivery, notices is sent to well wishers to come to the host’s house for naming the next day. On the naming ceremony date, the men stay in the front of the house and the women stay inside. The Imam, who is usually the first to be invited often times shows up the latest. Upon his arrival, the child’s name is given to him by the father of the child and the Imam offers prayers and the name of the child is publicly announced.

Religious festivals The three major Islamic festivals celebrated in Hausaland are:Id-El-KabirId- El-FitrId- El-maulud.

Hausas at a durbarEid al-Fitr falls on first day of Shawwal, the month which follows Ramadan in the Islamic calendar. It is a time to give in charity to those in need, and celebrate with family and friends the completion of a month of blessings and joy.

                                   Hausa man from Zaria,NigeriaBefore the day of Eid, during the last few days of Ramadan, each Muslim family gives a determined amount as a donation to the poor. This donation is of actual food — rice, barley, dates, rice, etc. — to ensure that the needy can have a holiday meal and participate in the celebration. This donation is known as sadaqah al-fitr  (charity of fast-breaking).

On the day of Eid, Muslims gather early in the morning in outdoor locations or mosques to perform the Eid prayer. This consists of a sermon followed by a short congregational prayer.
After the Eid prayer, Muslims usually scatter to visit various family and friends, give gifts (especially to children), and make phone calls to distant relatives to give well-wishes for the holiday. These activities traditionally continue for three days. In most Muslim countries, the entire 3-day period is an official government/school holiday.

                         Hausa people blowing a huge hornsEid-el Kabir, or the Eid-el Adha as it is otherwise called, is a period of sobriety and deep reflection on how well mankind has fulfilled the various injunctions of Allah. It is a time to ponder whether Hausa have rightly reciprocated Allah’s gesture of mercy and steadfastness with the faith and praise required of all Muslims, indeed all beings, at all times.

 It is a reminder of the unthinkable things that could have happened to man, had it not been for Allah’s kindness in subsisting a ram for Ishmael at the point his father was about to slaughter him in sacrifice, in accordance with the demand of God revealed to Prophet Ibrahim (May Allah’s peace be upon him) through dreams. It is not in doubt that the divine intervention changed what would have been a tragic course for mankind. And it is for this reason, plus the fact that the celebration of the Eid-el Kabir has a close affinity with the observation of the hajj, that Hausas show moderation during celebration. Performing the hajj at the holy pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia – is one of the five pillars of Islam; and the Eid is observed immediately after Muslim pilgrims passed through Mount Arafat.

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     Hausa boy at an Islamic festival durbar, Kano, Nigeria.
El-maulud is the celebration of the birthday ( Mawlid) of the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

Hausa musicThe Hausa`s perform series of music. Their folk music has played an important part in the development of Nigerian music, contributing such elements as the goje, a one-stringed fiddle. There are two broad categories of traditional Hausa music: rural folk music and urban court music.

Ceremonial music (rokon fada) is performed as a status symbol, and musicians are generally chosen for political reasons as opposed to musical ones. Ceremonial music can be heard at the weekly sara, a statement of authority by the emir which takes place every Thursday evening.

Courtly praise-singers like the renowned Narambad, are devoted to singing the virtues of a patron, such as a sultan or emir. Praise songs are accompanied by kettledrums and kalangu talking drums, along with the kakaki, a kind of long trumpet derived from that used by the Songhai cavalry.

Rural folk music includes styles that accompany the young girls’ asauwara dance and the bòòríí or Bori religion both well known for their music. It has been brought as far north as Tripoli, Libya by trans-Saharan trade. The bòòríí cult features trance music, played by calabash, lute or fiddle.

                                      Hausa Traditional musicians
 During ceremonies, women and other marginalized groups fall into trances and perform odd behaviors, such as mimicking a pig or sexual behavior. These persons are said to be possessed by a character, each with its own litany (kírààrì). There are similar trance cults (the so-called “mermaid cults”) found in the Niger Delta region.

Popular Hausa music includes Muhamman Shata, who sings accompanied by drummers, Dan Maraya, who plays a one-stringed lute called a kontigi, Audo Yaron Goje, who plays the goje, and Ibrahim Na Habu, who plays a small fiddle called a kukkuma.


The Hausa people have a very restricted dressing code due to the fact of religious beliefs. The men are easily recognizable because of their elaborate dress which is a large flowing gown known as Baba riga and a robe called a jalabia and juanni. 

These large flowing gowns usually feature some elaborate embroidery designs around the neck. Men also wear colorful embroidered caps known as fullah. The females can be identified by their dressing codes in which they wear wrappers called abiah made with colorful cloth with a matching blouse, head tie and shawl.

 Hausa Masa (Rice Cake)
The most common food that the Hausa people prepare consists of grains such as sorghum, millet, rice, or maize which are ground into flour for a variety of different kinds of food. The food is popularly known as tuwo in the Hausa language. Usually, breakfast consist of cakes made from ground beans which are then fried — known as kosai — or wheat flour soaked for a day then fried and served with sugar — known as funkaso. Both of these cakes can be served with porridge and sugar known as koko.Hausa koko with kose                                                                 Millet porridge with fried bean cakes. Spicy tasty morning meal!

Kuli-Kuli is a Hausa food that is primarily made from peanuts.
 Lunch or dinner are usually served as heavy porridge with soup and stew known as tuwo da miya. The soup and stew are usually prepared with ground or chopped tomatoes, onions, and a local pepper sauce called daddawa

                         Tuwo meal
. While preparing the soup, most of the times spices and other vegetables such as spinach, pumpkin, or okra are added to the soup. The stew is prepared with meat, which can include goat or cow meat but not pork due to Islamic religion restrictions. Beans, peanuts, and milk are also served as a complementary protein diet for the Hausa people.

             King & Chiefs Hausa Tribe JebbaCreator: H. Hunting
Title: King & Chiefs Hausa Tribe Jebba
Date: [between 1910 and 1913]
Extent: 1 photograph: black and white (15 x 20cm)
Notes: Title transcribed from caption
Picture shows a Hausa King and Chief in Jebba, Nigeria. From a two volume set of photographic albums containing 130 photographs. Photographs depict representatives of the Paterson Zochonis trading company and the various tribes they encountered in the course of trading in West AfricaResidential clusters of wards or hamlets, each with a ward or community head, are organized into villages under the direction of the village head. In the past, groups of villages were held in fief by titled officials living in the capital. Fiefs were attached to particular tribes and were granted by the emir, or head of the state. Administration on the local level was carried out by officials appointed by the fief holder. The main local administrative official was the village chief,whose duties included collection of tribute, recruiting men for military service, organizing corvee labor, and acting in minor juridical matters.The fief holder was the intermediate link between the village chief and the state level.
British intervention led to changes in this system. At present, the duties of village chiefs are limited to the disposition of unoccupied village lands. The British imposed a system of districts in place of fiefs, as an intermediate level in the political organization.The districts encompass a larger number of subject villages (about 10-30 per district) than did the fiefs.
At the top of the political hierarchy the Hausa are organized into states, or emirates, ruled by the emir. Emirs are selected from the  ruling lineages by a council of clerics (Mallamai). After British intervention, the selection of an emir had to be approved by the British government. Emirs have the ultimate power in administrative and judicial functions of the state, and delegate lesser officials to carry out these functions. Emirs had somewhat more power in the past than they do today, however, when they appointed fief heads and more officials.

The British, by interposing a series of departments to handle state affairs, spread out some of the powers that had formerly been reserved to the emir. At present, many of the important decisions are made by the emir in conjunction with senior department heads whom he chooses.The emir, the top state bureaucrats, the two state priests, and the central market are all located in a capital city.

                                             Hausa girl in a village in northern Nigeria 


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