African Cultures – Hausa

The Hausa-speaking people of Africa occupy mainly the savannah belt, including Niger, Benin, Chad, Ghana and Nigeria. They make up the largest ethnic group of West Africa and are known as successful traders. There are seven official Hausa states:

1. Biram
2. Kano
3. Rano
4. Katsina
5. Daura
6. Zazzau
7. Gobir
Legend has it that the founders of these states were descendents of Bayajjida from Baghdad, a mythical ancestor. According to the legend, Bayajjida fled from Baghdad in the ninth or tenth century and helped the king of Daura to kill a venomous snake. To thank him, the king gave Bayajjida the queen as a wife. Together, they had seven sons, who went on to establish the seven states. In days of old, these states were ruled by independent kings. Towards the closing of the 1200’s, Islam was introduced, but it was never accepted until the Fulani jihad (military conquests or Islamic holy wars of the early 1800’s) in the areas of modern-day Nigeria and Cameroon. Until that time, locals had worshipped ancestral gods. The Fulani jihad changed the socio-political structures of the entire Hausa area, overthrowing the local rulers and turning Hausaland into Muslim emirates that were subject to Sokoto, which is situated in the extreme northwest of Nigeria.

Image of a Young Hausa girl, Ouidah, Benin.
Young Hausa girl, Ouidah, Benin.

The Hausa people are renowned for their enterprising nature and have developed their own manufacturing industries over the centuries. These include leatherwork, glassmaking, smithing, weaving, dyeing, and metal work. Even with limited resources in the past, the Hausa travelled the area and established caravan routes and distributive trade networks across Nigeria. This earned them their reputation as excellent traders.

The Hausa-speaking people are also experienced farmers, who use a form of irrigation called fadama, which is traditional. This method involves farming in marshy soil alongside a river or lake, allowing the crops to become flooded on a seasonal basis. Such crops include maize, millet, rice, peanuts, beans and corn. Cattle are also farmed extensively and are usually left in the care of the cattle Fulani, who are a nomadic herding group of people.

Because the Hausa-speaking people are so prolific in the area, Hausa was, for a long time, the official language. Today, it is still spoken extensively and widely understood. It is written using Arabic characters, which means that many of the Hausa people can also read and write in Arabic. Other languages in which the Hausa are frequently proficient include French and English.

With the introduction of the Fulani people, much interbreeding and interracial marriage occurred. As a result, the modern community of Hausa people is often referred to as the Hausa-Fulani, and many of their customs and rituals have evolved to include elements from both origins.

The majority of Hausa-speaking people are Muslim, and adhere to the beliefs and teachings of the Koran, their holy scriptures. Therefore, their dress, art, laws, holidays, and so on all reflects Muslim ideals. The rural areas are home to some Hausa that are not Muslims, but who worship nature spirits. These are called Maguzawa.

Hausa youth usually marry at around 15 to 19 years of age. Festivities begin in the bride-to-be’s home as she is prepared by her female relatives for the marriage, the celebrations of which may last for several days. The men on both sides of the couple’s family go to the mosque to sign the marriage register. Thereafter, the couple is brought together to celebrate their new life as husband and wife. Once married, a woman lives a life of relative seclusion, only really leaving the home in the case of their needing medical attention or to attend some sort of ceremony. When out of the house, a married woman must don veils to be as conservatively dressed as possible. A man may have up to four wives in the Hausa tradition.

When a Hausa person dies, the body is washed, shrouded and buried to face the holy land of Mecca in the east. It is appropriate for the relatives of the deceased to receive condolences and a widow will officially mourn her late husband for about three months.

The Hausa enjoy relatively relaxed relationships with different members of the family – even amongst young and old. However, it is considered disrespectful to call one’s parents or spouse by their name, or even to say their name to others. The Hausa are generally a quiet culture that does not show an enormous amount of emotion in their dealings with one another or with others. Households include extended families, particularly in the more rural areas.

The Hausa men usually wear long gowns with beautiful embroidery detail around the neck. Their traditional colourful caps are called huluna.

The Hausa eat grains, maize, porridge, soups and stews, as well as plenty of vegetables (such as spinach, tomatoes, peppers, onions, pumpkin and okra). Meat is usually only consumed in small amounts, if at all.

Art and music is very important to the Hausa culture. Praise-song was always a very popular form of performance art, and was used to exalt the values that came with leadership in the traditional environment. When the Islamic powers entered the area in the 19th century, poetry shifted its focus to religious ideals. Today, literature is often used by local Hausa poets to express their opinions and concerns about political, social and topical matters. Storytelling and musical performances remain common forms of entertainment for the Hausa people. The traditional literature of the Hausa comprises many stories that include a practical moral, encouraging the listeners to draw value and lessons from these tales and to implement the principles in their own lives. These tales are called tatsunya. They often include proverbs and riddles within their storyline.

Popular sports among the Hausa include:

• Wrestling
• Boxing
• Soccer

Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.