History of Nigeria: The Hausa City States

To the west of the Kanuri is an extensive stretch of plains often referred to as the Kasar-Hausa --- the land of the Hausa.

These plains were from very early times the home of various groups of Afro-Asiatic speaking people.

Among the numerically more important people of these areas are the Hausa, Bolewa, Ngizim, Magar, Buduma, Kotoko and so on, but the Hausa constituted the most dominant group among these early ethnic groups.

History of Nigeria
Map of the Hausa City States



Origin of the Hausa people


On the Hausa people, there are very many theories of their origin which deserve serious attention.

One of these theories seems to account for the origin of the Hausa people in terms of several waves of invaders from the north and east who interacted and mixed up with the original inhabitants of the area.

According to M.G Smith, the original inhabitants of Hausaland were the Gwaigwai, who were subsequently invaded and conquered by the Sao.

Then upon the Sao and the Gwaigwai, came the Zaghawa who actually started the process of state formation in Hausaland.

Finally, came the Berbers from North Africa who were fleeing from Arab pressures after the 7th century A.D.

Another theory of origin of the Hausa States is given by Abdullah Smith who believes that the Hausa people have been fairly old in their present location.

From this account, it is said that the early negro inhabitants moved into the present Hausaland from about 3000 B.C. when the dryness of the Sahara started.

These early negro people lived in nucleated hamlets known as 'Kauye'.

However, at some stage in their sociopolitical development, it was dotted with cities, each of which grew up some distance from the old nucleated villages.

Then the struggle for survival and expansion ensued among these cities.

Those which were successful grew up to be states, while those less successful were absorbed by their more successful neighbours.

In other words, the Hausa States emerged out of the preexisting stages of sociopolitical organisation.

The stages through which the Hausa states emerged can easily be seen in three main categories:


  • Nucleated hamlets or Kauye, whose solidarity or unity depended on kinship relationship;
  • Gari or town, which brought together a number of nucleated hamlets and professional stranger elements;
  • Birni or city, which had under its fold both the nucleated hamlets and the Gari. Authorities in the cities was based on the control of territory.


Some factors are said to have brought the Hausa hamlets together to form either the Gari or Birni.

The most important were religion and iron technology.

From remote periods certain small isolated hills in Hausaland easily became famous as homes of certain important deities.

As a result they attracted both unrelated family groups and professional stranger elements.

Also within Hausa area, the availability of iron ore and of people skilled in its exploitation attracted various family units and individuals.

For example, such hills as Dutsen Kufena, a point from where Zaria took off, and Dutsen Dalla, from where Kano took off, were important iron ore centres of the old.

As to the case of the rise of Birni or city in Hausaland, some important factors can be considered.

One of the factors for the rise of cities was strategic location especially from economic and religious points of view.

Most of the Hausa cities grew up in areas that provided opportunities for profitable commerce, high industrial production, and fertile agricultural suburbs.

For instance, Kano had fertile plains and iron ore exploited in the Dutsen Dalla hill.

Another factor in the rise of Hausa city states was easy defensibility from attack.

Each Hausa city was usually walled for proper defence and this enabled them to withstand protracted sieges.


A legend of origin


Among the Hausa, there is also a legend which on the surface would seem to refer to the rise of the great Hausa States.

This is a legend centered around Abu-Yazid or Bayajida.

According to the story, Abu-Yazid was a white skinned adventurer who fled Badgad for Kanem where the king of Kanem sheltered him and gave his daughter, Magira Daud, to him in marriage but deprived him of his followers.

Having lost his followers, Abu-Yazid became afraid of his life and fled westward, leaving the Kanem wife behind.

This lady later bore him a son, Biram.

On his way further to the west, he got a blacksmith to make him a sword.

Continuing west, he came to the town called Daura ruled at that time by a woman queen called Dauranama.

When Abu-Yazid was there, Daura faced a serious crisis.

A snake would not allow the town dwellers to draw water from the well.

Abu-Yazid killed the snake and in appreciation, Duuranama married him and made him settle at Daura.

It is also said that Dauranama gave him a concubine.

From Dauranama, Abu-Yazid had a son called Kabogari.

This was in addition to the son from his Kanem wife.

When Abu-Yazid died, he was succeeded by his son, Bawo who bore three sets of twin children: Kano and Rano, Katsina and Zazzau, Gobir and Daura.

These six children added to Abu-Yazid's son from the Kanem wife made them seven descendants from Abu-Yazid's marriage.

These grandchildren, along with his son, Biram, are said to have become the seven states of Hausa known as Hausa Bakwoi --- Kano, Daura, Katsina, Gobir, Zazzau (Zaria), Rano and Biram.


Abu-Yazid's son from the concubine also had seven sons who in turn were said to be founders of the seven Hausa Banza Bakwoi --- bastard states.

These are Kebbi, Zamfara, Gwari, Jukun, Yoruba (Ilorin), Nupe and Yauna.

However, the significance of this legend of origin is not yet clear.

Whatever its meaning, one thing is clear, and that is, it does not actually deal with the origin of the Hausa States or explain state formation in Hausaland.

On the contrary, the legend seems to be more concerned with the nature of the relationship with dynasties of the Central Sudan and the more celebrated Southern States of Oyo and others.

The legend has been seen as of doubtful historical significance for the following reasons:


  • The legend is in conflict with some tradition found in Gobir which denies any kinship relationship with Bawo;
  • The original geographical location of the State of Gobir would appear to be further to the north around Azban. It was not until the late 15th century that the state of Gobir was compelled by the Tuaregs to move southwards and come into closer contact with the other members of Hausa Bakwoi;
  • In the Bayajida legend there is a conception to the effect that before the migrations associated with state formations, Daura was already in existence, hence the mention of a queen, Dauranama who was ruling the city before the arrival of Abu-Yazid.


Therefore, for the moment, the theory of origin of the Hausa states as given above by Abdullah Smith appears more orderly and fairly reliable.

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