The word ‘Hausa’ does not refer to a race; rather, it refers to Hausa-speaking people. The word ‘Hausa’ refers to the mixed tribes who speak the Hausa language. The ‘Hausa live in the vast region lying between Bauchi and the southern fringes of the Sahara and stretches from the Niger, eastwards towards the Lake Chad.

The origin of the Hausa can be traced through a mass of oral traditions and post Jihad records such as the Zaria and Kano Chronicles. One of such traditions is the Daura tradition which has many variants out of which two have been widely accepted. One of such is the Daura Tradition. According to this, Daura was the heart of the Hausa Kingdom. It was said to have been founded by Abu Yazid, the son of the King of Baghdad.

He first entered Bornu with a large retinue of followers, many of whom proved disloyal. Due to this reason, he escaped to Daura by night and while there, he killed a serpent in a well outside town. This feat earned him a privileged position, and eventually, he married the Queen of Daura. Their first son, Bawa, bore seven more sons whose names were given to be the seven Hausa states known as the Hausa Bakwai.

The second account showed Abu-Yazid or Bayajidda as the founder of the seven Hausa Kingdom. He was the son of Abdullahi, King of Bagadaza or Baghdad who was driven to Bornu by a woman called Zidivan. His stay in

Bornu was not peaceful as he engaged in attacks on neigbhouring peoples.

In addition, he was deserted by all his followers, and he left Bornu to Minam in Bamagaran where a son was born to him. The son’s name was Biram. From Minam, he went to Daura where he arrived late in the afternoon and requested for drinking water and he was told that a serpent had prevented people from fetching water from the city well. The snake called Kii or Seriki was killed by Bayajidda. As a reward, the Queen offered half of the kingdom but he requested and got the hand of the Queen in marriage.

Today the house of Bayajidda is called Mai-Kag-Seriki meaning “the man who killed the snake”. In addition to the Queen, Bayajidda had a concubine who bore him a son named by the Queen “Mun-Karba-gan” meaning “we have taken the town”. The Queen eventually gave birth to a son called “Bawomegari” meaning “give back the town”.

These two women had seven sons each, giving rise to the two Hausa groups – the Hausa Bakwai: Daura, Kano, Zauzau, Gobir, Rano, Biram and Katsina. These were the legitimate sons; and the Hausa Banza: Kebbi, Nupe, Gwari, Yauri, Ilorin, Zamfara and Kwararafa; they were regarded illegitimate sons.


Stages of state formation in Hausaland


The city of Kano started as a small settlement at the hill of Dalla. Here, iron ore was plentiful and the settlers engaged in blacksmithing. The first recorded King of Kano was Bagoda, the grandson of Abuyazidu. He lived in about 1000AD and after him, there ascended forty-eight other kings. The first walls of Kano city were built about the 12th century and they did not enclose a large area as Kano was still a small village.

Kano remained a non-Muslim state until the reign of Sarki Yaji 1349-1385 who was converted to Islam by Islamic scholars from Mali. Sarki Kanageji 1390-1410 reverted to traditional religion. It was during the reign of Sarki Mohammed Rumfa 1463-1493 that Kano reached the apogee of its fame and greatness. During his reign, Kano made great advances in Islamic religion and civilisation. Muslim missionaries from Egypt came, new mosques were built and the Arabic culture was introduced. The Ramadan fast was observed for the first time during the period. Rumfa divided the states into convenient administrative units, and he enclosed the city that had grown considerably. He kept Katsina subdued and defeated Zaria in battle.


Muhammad Kisoki’s reign (1509-1565) marked the beginning of the decline of Kano. Kano was conquered by Askia the Great of the Songhai Empire and Kano began to pay tribute to Songhai. The Kwararafa also conquered Kano and from that period onwards, Kano lost its independence and started to pay tribute to Kwararafa and then to Bornu.

During the 1700s, Kano fought desperately with Gobir and Zamfara with Gobir defeating her in 1770.



Katsina is said to have been founded by Kumayo, a son of Bawo sometime in the 12th century. He established a dynasty which reigned till the 15th century, when the reigning king, Sannau was overthrown by a man called Kwaran who founded a new dynasty.

Kwaran’s successor was converted to Islam in about 1493 by the Muslim Missionary Al-Maghili of Egypt. Gradually, the new religion spread throughout the state and took root. Other Muslim scholars of the Sankore University visited Katsina and one of them settled there and was made a judge. Katsina became a very prosperous state owing to her position as the southern terminal of the trans-Saharan caravan route from Tripoli and Tunis through Ghadames-Ghar Air and Agades route as well as her role in the trade. From the 16th century, Kastina passed through a period of conquest by other Sudanese states. Between 1512 and 1554, the Askias of Songhai raided Kastina. In the 1600s, she was frequently raided by Kano. In 1650, the kwararafa invaded her. In 1672, Kastina also became a vassal of Bornu.

In the 18th century, however, Kastina witnessed a period of resurgence.

This was due to the collapse of the Songhai Empire and the decline of Bornu. The city-state enjoyed its greatest prosperity as a leading city of not only Hausa, but also of the Western Sudan. Both commerce and culture grew. Kastina became an important Islamic centre of learning which comparedfavourably with Timbuktu. In 1770, Gobir attacked Kastina and greatly disturbed her trade and prosperity.



Zaria is the capital town of Zazzau. The first recorded ruler of the state was Gunguma, also a son of Bawo. He is said to have ruled in about 1380.

During the 15th century, Zaria, according to tradition, achieved great power and influence in Hausaland under Queen Amina. During her reign, most of the neighbouring towns as far as Kwararafa were conquered. The Sarkin Nupepaid a tribute of forty eunuchs and ten thousand kolas.

Queen Amina was the first to have eunuchs and kola-nuts in Hausaland.

Queen Amina is recorded to have built a great fortified wall in Zaria and had such walls all over Hausaland where her influence and power extended. It is not surprising, therefore, to find other town walls called Ganuwar Amina (Amina wall) all over Hausaland.

Zaria’s ascendancy in Hausaland came to an end in the 18th century when she was conquered by Bornu.


The socio-political organisation of the Hausa states

Hausa-city states developed an efficient administrative system which was similar. The states took their names from the capital cities and the suburbs were divided into districts. The capital city was governed by the Seriki or King of the State and the Provinces by subordinate Chiefs.

Religion played an important role in the political life of these States as the political power of the Seriki (King) was based on it. He was not only the secular head, but also the Chief Priest of the towns. This provided the spiritual bonds which strengthened the political unity of the states. However, with the introduction of Islam in the 15th century, the Islamic system of government and laws was adopted by the ruling class of all Hausa states.
Under the system, each state was governed by the Seriki or King who was assisted by a Council of Ministers and territorial officials drawn from hereditary aristocracy. The names of these officials were as follows:

  1. The Galadima: He was a high official who was in charge of the town when the King and other officials went to war.
  2. The Madawaki: He was the Commander-in-Chief of the army and he advised the Seriki on the appointment and dismissal of the title holders. He was the one who spoke directly to the king in Council. He also joined the Chief Councillor in choosing a new Serki (king).
  3. The Waziri: He performed the duty of Madawaki in some states.
  4. The Magaji: He was the Lord of Treasury.
  5. The Mai Unguwa: He was the Head of Guards.
  6. The Sarkin Dogarai: Head of the king’s bodyguards.
  7. The Sarkin Yan Doka: The Chief of Police; he acted as the town crier and watchman.
  8. Sarkin Kofa: Keeper of the gate.

Before the introduction of Islam, justices were administered in the capital by the Serki and in the villages and district by their local heads. With the adoption of Islam, the Islamic judicial system was introduced. The King was the Supreme Judge of the State. He gave final judgments in important cases concerning land, murder and manslaughter, but usually with the advice of the Chief Judge who was an Islamic Judge, and his group of legal experts.

Lesser Judicial matters were settled by the Alkali and his jury. In all cases, the Maliki code of Muslim law was applied in the districts; there werelocal courts from which appeals could be sent to the Chief Alkali’s Court at the Capital. In smaller villages, the village heads exercised authority on minor offences.

Hausaland was made up of several groups who shared the same language called Hausa. The society was feudal and highly stratified. At the apex was the ruling aristocracy. These were the Serki and his family. They were followed by the merchant class and the lowest were the peasants known as the Talakawa. After the 15Th century, two elements transformed the social composition of Hausaland. These were the Berber Islamic scholars and the Fulani. The Islamic scholars and Fulani educated elite began to assume very important positions in the political arrangement of Hausaland. Indeed, they became even more important than the commercial class. This class enjoyed various privileges in line with their social importance. It was only the Talakawa that had little or no rights.

Agriculture was the main occupation of the peasant class in most of the Hausa city-states; they attained a high degree of Agricultural skills. The main crops grown were millet, sorghum, legumes, etc. But the main economic base of Hausa city-states in West Africa before 1800 was trade and industry.
The deposits of iron ore around Kano and Kaduna helped in the development of iron smelting and other metal works. These two towns became famous for metal industrial complexes.

The availability of locally grown cotton also boosted the production of textiles in Kano and Katsina. Kano was popular for their dyeing whose evidence still remain today with the hundreds of dyeing pits still existing within the old cities of Kano and Katsina.

Leather work was yet another important industry. Sandals, sheaths scabbards, riding seats and bags of all sorts were common products of the leather work industry in Hausaland before 1800. In Katsina, leather tanning was an additional industry on its own.


Besides, the Hausas were also engaged in wood carving and pottery. A major sign of the high economic development of Hausaland before 1800 was trade. Trade flourished between the Hausa states and their neighbours in West Africa and in particular, with southern Nigeria. They were also involved in the trans-Saharan trade. The main export items to North Africa were dyed cloths, iron works, wood carvings and slaves; from North Africa were imported armour, arms, books, horses as well as salt.

The introduction of the camels in about 1440 gave boost to the trans-Saharan trade. Furthermore, with the collapse of Songhai, Katsina and Kano became leading trading centres in the Sudan. From the southern parts of Nigeria, kolanuts were imported into Kano and distributed to other parts of the Sudan. Hausa traders travelled widely all over the Sudan and semi-forest and savanah belt. Consequently, Hausa became a common language of trade.


Advent of Islam in Hausaland before 1800

The Hausas originally practised traditional religion. But in the 14th century, during the reign of Sarki Yaji Ali (1349-1385), Wangara Muslim missionaries from Mali came to Kano and Yaji and many of his subjects accepted Islam and a mosque was built in Kano. In the course of time, Islam spread to other Hausa states. Katsina was the last to accept Islam; it was converted by scholars from Egypt. By the 17th century, Islam had become established in Katsina, and Katsina had become an important centre of Islamic culture and learning. However, Islam was not firmly established in Hausa land as there were relapses into Traditional Religion until the Jihad of 1804.


The Effects of Islam in Hausaland before 1800

  1. Islam promoted unity in the different Hausa states due to its universality which therefore provided a common ideology.
  2. Islam introduced Arabic education and Quranic schools were built.
  3. Arabic culture was imbibed by the Hausa people. Arabic writing and language, names and dress were adopted.
  4. Islam impacted greatly on governance. Islamic scholars were used by Hausa kings as advisers, councillors and judges. Islamic political system was adopted by many Hausa kings.
  5. The administration of justice was tailored in accordance to the provisions of Islam. Islamic scholars were used as judges and the Sharia was the guide in adjudication of cases.



Scholar: refers to a learned person who specialises in a particular branch of study.

Concubine: is a woman lover to a man, who engages in sexual relationship with the man but not legally married to him.

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