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The Rise of the Hausa States

The first Hausa states began to develop in the Sahel around 500–700 AD.
Gradually, seven principle city-states emerged—Biram, Daura, Gobir, Katsina, Kano,
Rano, and Zaria—and they developed close trading relationships and economic
cooperation. We know very little about these states or their cultures. Hausa legend
claims that a man named Bayajidda, an Arab prince who traveled to the Sahel from
Baghdad, was the forefather of the Hausa. He killed a monstrous snake that oppressed
the people of Daura, and he married the queen. The queen had six sons already, and
she produced another son with Bayajidda, and each of these sons ruled one of the
seven Hausa city-states, becoming the first kings. The combined kingdoms of
Hausaland were sometimes called the Daura, since Daura is the place where Bayajidda
supposedly founded the Hausa people.

It is unclear how much history is preserved in the Bayajidda legend. The Hausa
states may have been founded by Berber immigrants from north of the Sahara, or else
by peoples coming from East Africa. Despite the story that Bayajidda came from
Baghdad, for most of their early history the Hausa were polytheists; Islam was not
introduced to the region on any discernible scale until the eleventh century.

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Medieval Hausa Civilization

The Hausa kingdoms were first mentioned by Arab geographers in the ninth
century, having become known for their role in trade. The seven Hausa city-states
never unified, but they cooperated closely. Biram was the initial seat of government for
the city-states, while Gobir provided soldiers and, since it bordered the rival empires to
the west, protected Hausaland from foreign invasion. Kano and Rano grew cotton and
produced textiles. They were also known for their valuable and beautiful indigo dye,
which they used both for art and for dying their textiles. They traded these with the
other Hausa states, such as Zaria, which provided slaves and grain. Katsina and Daura
had direct access to the trans-Saharan caravans, and so traded the products produced
in Hausaland for foreign goods, such as salt. Islam was to become an important part of Hausa culture. The religion seems to have first appeared in the region around the eleventh century, brought by merchants and pilgrims, but conversion was slow. Kings and rulers were attracted to the new religion, perhaps for the prestige it granted them in the eyes of other great Islamic states. The common people only gradually adopted Islam, and generally practiced it along with ancient Hausa religious customs. Still, Arabic script was eventually adopted for writing the Hausa language.

Muhammad al-Maghili, an Islamic scholar and missionary, is credited with converting the Hausa to Islam at the end of the fifteenth century. It was probably around this time that Islam became firmly integrated into Hausa society, though polytheism would be common in the region until the nineteenth century.The fifteenth century also saw the rise of one city-state over all the others. Kano became the most economically important city, thanks to its cotton cloth and dye industry. It provided most of the cotton to the western Sudan. Kano became one of the most important trade centers in all of Africa. It is the Kano Chronicle, a history of the city, that provides us with most of our information about early Hausa history.

The Decline of the Hausa Kingdoms

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Besides the Hausa, another ethnic group lived in their lands: the Fulani. The
Fulani were generally treated as second-class citizens and grew to resent Hausa rule.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a charismatic Islamic leader of Fulani
background named Usman Dan Fodio, who lived in the state of Gobir, began a religious
movement in the region. He preached the need for a purer form of Islam to the Fulani
and the poorer Hausa. Although the leaders of Gobir initially supported him, they soon
felt threatened and tried to have Dan Fodio assassinated. The attempt failed, and Dan
Fodio declared a jihad against the Hausa state. Supported in the holy war by masses of
unhappy Fulani and poor Hausa, Dan Fodio’s “Fulani Jihad” first overwhelmed Gobir,
and then the rest of the Hausa city-states. This was the beginning of the Sokoto
Caliphate, called such because Dan Fodio made his capital at the city of Sokoto. The
Hausa aristocracy was replaced by a Fulani aristocracy, but these new rulers quickly
adopted much of Hausa culture. In some places, such as Kano, they began speaking
the Hausa language instead of their native Fula language. The Hausa and Fulani mixed
freely, and today the ethnic group is generally termed the “Hausa-Fulani.”
Under the Sokoto Caliphate, the region was truly converted to Islam on a
massive scale. The empire, ruled by theocratic caliphs at Sokoto, expanded throughout
the nineteenth century. The rule of the Sokoto Caliphate lasted for about a century,
until the British colonizers took over the region in the early twentieth century. The
Hausa are to this day a major ethnic group, chiefly in Nigeria and Niger.


  • The first Hausa states began to develop around 500–700 AD, though we know
    little about how this happened aside from legend.
  • Eventually seven main city-states emerged—Biram, Daura, Gobir, Katsina, Kano,
    Rano, and Zaria. Each played a different role in the confederation, providing
    goods or soldiers or access to trade. This allowed the Hausa states to become
    important in international trade.
  • Islam first appeared in Hausa lands in the eleventh century, and by the fifteenth
    century it had become a powerful force, though it was still often practiced
    alongside traditional religion

Source: Saylor



Tags : BayajiddaBiramDauraEast AfricaGobirKanoKatsinaMuhammad al-MaghiliNigeriaRanoUsman Dan FodioZaria

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