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Archaeologists and historians believe that the Hausa States emerged around the late 900s CE in present-day Nigeria; by the eleventh century their walled towns were flourishing centers of trade. High levels of education, accomplishments in crafts and trade, and civic organization characterized the Hausa and left a lasting legacy; the Hausa are active in the politics of present-day Nigeria.
- Early History
- Islam and the Hausa States
- Later History
The foundation myth of the Hausa peoples says that the seven “true” Hausa States were founded by the seven sons of Bayajidda, who had come from the east (some say from Baghdad) to the state of Daura (in present-day northern Nigera). Bayajidda had won the hand of the queen of Daura in marriage by slaying an evil serpent; she was the mother of the seven sons. The seven states these sons founded were Kano, Zazzau (Zaria), Gobir, Katsina, Rano, Daura, and Biram. Legend also has it that Bayajidda had other sons by a concubine; these sons are the supposed founders of the “illegitimate” Hausa states of Zamfara, Kebbik, Nupe, Gwari, Yauri, Yoruba, and Kororofa.
Archaeologists and historians believe that the Hausa States emerged between the late 900s CE and the early 1200s. Hausa towns are known for their walls, which enclose not only houses but farmland as well. This custom of building walls was maintained as the size of the enclosed settlement grew.
By the eleventh century, these walled city-states were flourishing centers of trade. Kano, Katsina, and Gobir, for example, had developed their caravan trade and services. Each state also had certain specialties—Kano specialized in leather goods and weaving, for example, while Zazzau specialized in the slave trade. In addition, they drew on the wealth of their rural areas, which produced millet, sorghum, sugarcane, and cotton. Cattle were also plentiful. However, their prosperity put them under steady stress from Songhai and Kanem-Borno, their neighbors to the west and east. The Hausa States paid tribute to the latter empire, and, in turn, fought with their other neighbors, conducting slave raids and open warfare with the Jukun and Yoruba states.
Islam and the Hausa States
Although Islam was known in the Hausa States by the eleventh century, tradition credits its introduction to an Islamic missionary who came from Bornu in the fifteenth century. The elite accepted the new religion first, practicing it while continuing to adhere to older religious traditions. Islam offered the elite a means for organizing an efficient state and promoting education. It also tied the rulers and those who received an Islamic education into a vast Islamic trading network and gave them a language used in the network, Arabic. The Islamic connection strengthened ties with North Africa that already existed through trade (the Hausa States were a southern terminus of the trans- Sahara trade route). These ties were also supported by pilgrimages to Mecca.
At about the same time that Islam fully penetrated the ruling class, Fulani pastoralists came to Hausaland. Muslim Fulani, who had adopted Islam in the area now known as Senegal, settled in Hausa cities in the thirteenth century and began to intermarry with Hausa. These Hausa-Fulani became an educated religious elite, crucial to Hausa rulers because of their knowledge of government, law, and education.
In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, there was a loose alliance of the seven Hausa states, based on the Hausa language and common customs as well as the modified Islam practiced by the ruling class. The ruler of each state, the emir or sarki, collected taxes from the various guilds within the state. These commercial guilds were self-regulating and loyal to the emir, who offered them protection. The guilds’ members were commoners, both men and women depending upon the craft. Slaves maintained the cities’ walls and grew the food.
From the early sixteenth century, the Bornu state in the Lake Chad basin area grew increasingly powerful; it brought the Hausa States under its control, and they remained subject to Bornu through the eighteenth century. Then at the dawn of the nineteenth century, Bornu’s control was overthrown when the Fulani religious leader Usman dan Fodio (1754–1817) waged jihad among the Hausa States, seeking to convert the common people to Islam and to purify the practice of the faith among the elite. Usman dan Fodio’s Sokoto caliphate, established around 1808, included the Hausa States, who remained part of Sokoto until Sokoto was defeated by the British in 1903. The high levels of education, accomplishments in crafts and trade, and civil organization that characterized the Hausa States left a lasting legacy, however, and the Hausa (many of whom live in present-day northern Nigeria) are active in the Nigerian politics. Today the Hausa also live in southern Niger, as well as in parts of Ghana and Togo.
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