First Hausa State Established Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Hausa city-states, which were economically and politically autonomous and independently governed, serve as examples of state building far different from the more typical empire building in western African history. Also, the Hausa were among the earliest Africans to convert to Islam because of their connections with Saharan traders.

Summary of Event

Archaeological, linguistic, and written records indicate that the Hausa people, culture, and language emerged in northern Nigeria and southern Niger by the early tenth century. Unlike other parts of the western Sudan that commonly employed centralized kingdoms and empire-building strategies, the Hausa relied on a system organized around political self-sufficiency and autonomy. [kw]First Hausa State Established (10th-11th centuries) [kw]Hausa State Established, First (10th-11th centuries) Hausa state Africa;10th-11th cent.: First Hausa State Established[1100] Government and politics;10th-11th cent.: First Hausa State Established[1100] Bayajidda

The Hausa population is viewed as a single ethnic group in modern times, but in the tenth century, the people speaking the Hausa language and practicing customs associated with Hausa culture came from a variety of ethnic and social backgrounds. This diversity among the Hausa includes not only the Chadic inspiration but also Sudanic influences. Hausa, a language from the Chadic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, became significant in the Niger-Nigeria borderlands and encompassed a cultural domain that distinguished the Hausa from their neighbors.

With the centralization of settlement and the rise of the city-state, the Hausa culture began to take root. One of the primary urban centers in Hausa history is Kano. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that Kano was a site of ironworking as early as the seventh century, indicating that it was inhabited permanently or intermittently by people even before the city-states arose in the tenth century.

According to Hausa oral traditions, the political founder of the Hausa city-states was a man named Bayajidda Bayajidda , who traveled to what is now Nigeria from the east in an attempt to escape his father’s control after they quarreled. This Hausa account of the origins of their political leadership links them to an important hero. According to tradition, Bayajidda was the son of the king of Baghdad and a Muslim, linking the Hausa to an important medieval Islamic state.

The tradition surrounding Bayajidda is significant because it indicates the Hausa were Islamized after the tenth century. Tradition says that Bayajidda first went to the city of Gaya, where he commissioned several blacksmiths to create a powerful knife for him. He then proceeded to Daura, which was near what is now called Kano in northern Nigeria. In Kano, Bayajidda learned of a sacred snake guarding a well, which kept the Daura residents from drawing water. Wielding his powerful knife, Bayajidda slew the mighty serpent. The queen of Daura married Bayajidda to demonstrate gratitude for his assistance. The couple produced seven healthy sons who went on to rule each of the seven Hausa city-states, collectively called Hausa Bakwai.

For the Hausa people, the choice of political rulers was determined by ancestry. Anyone with the ability to trace their family lines to Bayajidda was considered of the royal lineage. Thus the traced line of Bayajidda typically ruled Hausaland. Knowing whether these hereditary ties were authentic or fashioned to advance social status is less significant than understanding how important the Islamic connection was to this emerging Muslim polity.

Scholars have uncovered data that link the Hausa to the history, populations, and geography of the Lake Chad region. Historians contend that in ancient times the Hausa ancestors migrated westward into northern Nigeria-southern Niger (Hausaland) after Lake Chad receded, with some populations migrating to new lands. Migrations;Hausa to Niger This implies that the Hausa ancestors came from a tradition of river- and lake-based economies and cultures. The Kanem-Borno populations, just east of Hausaland, share many cultural elements with the Hausa, such as oral traditions, music, and riding horses. Scholars have also discovered evidence that places Hausa origins to the north of Hausaland. This theory contends that the people who settled northern Nigeria were an offshoot of populations who utilized the resources of the Sahara Desert as nonsedentary pastoralists.

The competing theories on the early Hausa as either aquatic- and agricultural-based or pastoralists herding livestock indicate that the early populations that settled in the regions that became the Hausa city-states were from several different economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. It also would mean that the Kano (and other Hausa city-state) settlers adopted a single language (Hausa) and over time adopted a body of common cultural practices.

The seven states of Hausaland were named Kano, Rano, Katsina, Zaria, Biram, Daura, and Gobir. Each of the city-states was known for its specialized and particular trade products. Kano and Rano were known as cities of the “chiefs of indigo.” Geographically, these areas were made up of plains, ideal for growing cotton. The people of Kano and Rano were renowned weavers and indigo-cloth dyers. They wove and dyed the cloth into the famous indigo that is a trademark of the Hausa people. This indigo-dyed cloth was a commodity in high demand and was sent far beyond the borders of Hausaland on trade caravans. The indigo cloth produced in the states of Kano and Rano made these places strong economically. Hausa traders accumulated wealth by controlling the transfer of trade between regions without forming a strong centralized, vastly powerful state, unlike many of their neighbors to the west and south. Trade;Africa Africa;trade

Biram became the center of government. The greater political administration of the Hausa confederation was maintained from Biram. Zaria became the “chief of slaves,” as it provided slave labor to all parts of Hausaland. Zaria was densely populated and could most afford to export labor. Slavery;Africa Africa;slavery Katsina and Daura were the “chiefs of the market” because their northern location was ideal for receiving caravans from the Sahara. Trans-Saharan trade that came into Hausaland first passed through one of these two northern city-states. Gobir was the “chief of war” because its western location put it closer to rival empires such as Ghana and Songhai. The people of Gobir were responsible for raising the military force for the defense of Hausaland on the western frontier and beyond.


The formation of the Hausa city-state exemplifies a political confederation of independent and small but powerful and successful polities. The commercial activity of each of the city-states created a profitable market in Hausaland that benefited each of the independent and economically competing cities.

An undated Egyptian sword was uncovered at a Hausa palace in Daura, demonstrating trade connections or some type of relationship between the Hausa traders and Egypt. Hausaland’s trade connections reached far beyond Sudanic Africa.

The Hausa adopted Islam very early as Islam migrated through Africa, Religion;Hausa Islam;Hausa but it was the specific Hausa style of syncretic worship that was greatly responsible for the widespread purification of Islam in the jihads of Usman de Fodio in the nineteenth century. After a series of jihads, Hausaland was unified under the Islamic leadership of de Fodio. A millennium after the founding of the Hausa city-states, Hausaland underwent a process of full Islamic conversion for the vast majority of its population.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Augi, Abdullahi Rafi. “A Consideration of the Relations Between Kano and Western Hausaland Before the Nineteenth Century.” In Kano and Some of Her Neighbours, edited by Bawuro M. Barkindo. Kano, Nigeria: Ahmadu Bello University Press, 1989. An examination of Hausa culture and history in precolonial times.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Collins, Robert O. “Kano Chronicle.” In Western African History. Princeton, N.J.: Wiener, 1997. An oral account of Hausa history. Primary document.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hansen, Mogens Herman, ed. A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures: An Investigation. Copenhagen, Denmark: Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, 2000. This work is an examination of how to define the city-state and its culture. Draws examples from various parts of the world and includes a chapter on Hausa city-states of the fifteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, M. G. Government in Kano, 1350-1950. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997. This work surveys Hausa political history between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries.

Categories: History