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Emir of Zazzau, Zaria
Hausa States

There are a number of theories and stories connected with the Hausa people, who today live in northern Nigeria, parts of Ghana, Niger and Togo. Some centre on the idea of migration.

For example, there is a theory that all the Hausas once lived by Lake Chad, but had to move west when the lake shrank. Certainly, oral and musical traditions connect Kanem-Borno (by Lake Chad) with the Hausas.

There's also a shared Islamic history. The Hausa skill in horse riding is also thought to come from Kanem-Borno. And finally there is music. The musicians of the court of the present Emir of Zazzau in Zaria say their instruments derive from Bornu.

Emir of Zazzau's musicians NORTH CONNECTION
Another theory identifies the Hausas as originally desert people, living in the Sahara. The connection goes even further north; the palace at Daura contains a sword, which people believe, came from the Pharaohs.

The Dan Masanin of Kano, Maitama Sule, is a historian and leading figure in the Kano Emirate. He believes there is a connection, spanning the continent, linking the Hausas and the people of Ethiopia. He cites as evidence, linguistic similarities, and a shared worship of the sun, prior to Islam and Christianity arriving.

Listen hereClick here to listen to the Dan Masanin's belief in a Hausa-Ethiopian connection

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). There, the people were terrorised and deprived of water by a snake which lived in a well.

Bayajidda gained the gratitude of the king of Daura by killing the snake. In return the king gave his daughter's hand in marriage. 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.

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.

There is a general consensus that Hausa city-states were founded some time between the end of the 900s 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.

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.

Listen hereClick here to listen to Alhaja Aisha Shehu, Chief Researcher, History and Culture bureau, Kano, Northern Nigeria, talking to BBC producer Bola Olufunwa about the problems of conserving the wall of Kano

Initially there seemed to be harmony between the states and a good deal of trade. Each city-state had its own speciality. For Kano it was leatherwork and weaving (later dyeing), for Zazzau it was slaves. Slave labour was used to maintain city walls and grow food. In time, the city-states began to fight with each other. Internally, their rulers and administration became corrupt.

By the 18th century a number of jihads were being launched by Fulbe. (The Fulbe are nomadic people who today travel through much of northern West Africa.) These were mounted from the states of Futa Jalon and Futa Toro.

This set the scene for the son of a Fulbe teacher, Usman dan Fodio from Gobir, to launch a much more far-reaching jihad among the city-states. One of his initial goals was to convert Fulani pastoralists who had so far resisted Islam. But his jihad challenged the old Hausa aristocracy. The region was ripe for reform and the peasants had long felt badly used by their rulers.

"One of the ways of their government is succession to the emirate by hereditary right and by force to the exclusion of consultation…whomsoever they wish to kill or exile or violate his honour or devour his wealth, they do so in pursuit of their loss without any right in the Sharia.

One of the ways of their government is their imposing on the people monies not laid down by the Sharia being those which they call Jangali (cattle tax) and Kudinsala (annual gifts to rulers).

Therefore do not follow their way in their government and do not imitate them, not even in the titles of their kings."
Shehu Usman dan Fodio's denunciation of the Hausa emirates.

Listen hereClick here to listen to a dramatised reading by Saleh Haliru, of the BBC's Hausa Service, of Usman Dan Fodio's denunciation

Uprisings sprung up in Katsina, Kano, Kebbi, Zamfara, Zaria and finally Gobir. The old Hausa aristocracy fell and Usman dan Fodio established a caliphate at Sokoto in 1809, which had authority over all the city-states.

He retired to a religious life and his son Mohammed Bello took up the reigns of government. By the time Mohammed Bello died in 1837, the empire of caliphate of Sokoto had a population of ten million.

Listen hereClick here to listen to the Emir of Zazzau, Zaria, talking about his office, followed by a song performed by the royal musicians, reminding the Emir of his status and distinguished ancestry

"Queen Amina was one of the great queens or traditional rulers in the northern state. The origin of Zaria or Zazzau started seventy miles from here and then the father of Queen Amina moved to establish ancient Zaria city. When the father died, she succeeded him and became the first and the last queen and during her time she waged many wars to extend Emirate and succeeded in many of these.

Unfortunately she died down south. Wherever she conquered, she used to order people to build a wall around the town or city, so we still maintain what we call 'the walls of Amina.'"

Is it true she never married or had any offspring? I've also heard that she had many lovers but that as soon as she had one lover she moved to another town and killed him so he didn't spread her secrets?

"This is what we are not sure about. The only thing we know is that she did not marry. But as far as picking a boyfriend, I don't know about that. Some people say this but I don't know if it is true. Our history is scanty there."

The Emir of Zazzau in Zaria, in conversation with BBC 'Story of Africa' producer Bola Olufunwa, in his Palace.