6 Mar

World Cultures: Hausaland

By Thomas Jang

The Hausa people are one of several ethnic groups that have lived around the Niger and Benue rivers in present-day Niger and Nigeria for thousands of years. Alongside them live the Tuareg, Fulbe, and Zabarma. The area characterized by their customs, architecture, and traditions is known as Hausaland, a reference to the former Hausa kingdoms. These kingdoms were a collection of independent city-states, or “hausa bakwai,” situated in northern-central Africa between the Niger River and Lake Chad. 

The name “Hausaland” comes from the Hausa term “kaser hausa,” referring to the “country of the Hausa language.” The “hausa bakwai” included satellite states known as “banza bakwai.” Members of each city-state used the term “Hausa” to call themselves according to their place of residence. Since 1000 CE, Hausaland saw the development of Hausa-speaking towns, with no mention of migrations in Hausa oral traditions. 

The Hausa kingdoms lived in isolation until the arrival of Islamic missionaries and traders from Mali in the 1300’s. Under this system, rural Hausa people lived as farmers and worked on lands that belonged to the entire community. Subsequently, in the 1800’s, the kingdoms were conquered and organized into emirates by the Fulani empire, a Sunni Muslim, West African caliphate that existed until 1903. 

The Hausa language survives to this day. This Chadic language is spoken as a first-language by 36 million people and as a lingua franca throughout Western and Central Africa. In fact, Hausa speakers make up 50% of Niger’s population and 20% of Nigeria’s population. It is also prominent in Sudan, Chad, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic. 










Highly influenced by Islam and inspired by the physical environment, Hausa architecture is characterized by buildings with brightly colored intricate engravings. These details envelop mosques, walls, public buildings and even gates. With grasses and cornstalks, mud and straw are used to create tubali-sun-dried bricks. These are used for concrete wall plastering. Engravings include abstract Hausa and Arabesque motifs, such as the Dagi knot and the sword of office.