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:
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.
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: