Hausa people

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Total population
Over 50 million (2013)
Regions with significant populations
Nigeria, Niger, Sudan, Chad, Ghana,[1] Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire
Islam; small minority practices African Traditional Religion
Related ethnic groups
Maguzawa, Azna, Mawri, Gwandara, Ngezzim, Bole; other Chadic peoples, Fulani, Djerma, Kanuri, Tuareg

The Hausa (autonyms for singular : Bahaushe (m), Bahaushiya (f); plural Hausawa and general: Hausa/Haoussa; exonyms being Ausa, Mgbakpa, Kado, Al-Takari, Fellata and Abakwariga) are the largest ethnic group in West Africa and one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. They live primarily in the Sahelian and Sudanian areas of northern Nigeria and southeastern Niger, with significant numbers also living in parts of Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Chad, Togo, Ghana,[2] and Sudan. The largest population of Hausa are concentrated in Nigeria and Niger, where they constitute the majority. Predominantly Hausa communities are scattered throughout West Africa and on the traditional Hajj route across the Sahara Desert, especially around the town of Agadez. A few Hausa have also moved to large coastal cities in the region such as Lagos and Cotonou, as well as to parts of North Africa such as Libya. Most Hausa, however, live in small villages or towns in West Africa, where they grow crops, raise livestock including cattle and engage in trade. They speak the Hausa language, an Afro-Asiatic language of the Chadic group. The Hausa aristocracy had historically developed an equestrian based culture.[3] Still a status symbol of the traditional nobility in Hausa society, the horse still features in the Eid day celebrations, known as Ranar Sallah (in English: the Day of the Prayer).[4]

History and culture[edit]

Emir of Kano and officials, 1911
Photo of Sultan of Zinder's palace courtyard, 1906

Kano, in northern Nigeria, is considered the center of Hausa trade and culture. The Hausa of Sokoto, also in northern Nigeria, speak the oldest surviving classical vernacular of the language.[5] Historically Sokoto was the centre of Hausa Islamic scholarship.[6] The Hausa are culturally and historically closest to other Chadic groups (in northern Nigeria), the Fulani, the Zarma and Songhai (in Tillabery, Tahoua and Dosso in Niger, Kanuri and Shuwa Arab (in Chad, Sudan and northeastern Nigeria), Tuareg (in Agadez, Maradi and Zinder), the Gur and Gonja (northeastern Ghana, northern Togo and upper Benin) and Gwari (in central Nigeria). All of these groups live in the Sahel, Saharan and Sudanian regions and as a result have influenced each other's cultures to varying degrees. Today some Fulani people cannot be distinguished from Hausa people in many northern states of Nigeria, due to inter-marriage and cultural assimilation. In Agadez and Saharan areas of central Niger, the Tuareg and Hausa groups are indistinguishable from each other in their traditional clothing; both wear the tagelmust and indigo Babban Riga/Gandora, though the two groups differ in language, lifestyle and chosen beasts of burden (Tuaregs use camels, while Hausas ride horses).[7] Other Hausa have mixed with groups such as the Yoruba and Shuwa incorporating the foods and style of dress into local Hausa customs, as well as heavily influencing the cultures of these groups. Islamic Shari’a law is loosely the law of the land in Hausa areas, well understood by any Islamic scholar or teacher, known in Hausa as a m'allam, mallan or malam (see Maulana). This pluralist attitude toward ethnic-identity and cultural affiliation have enabled the Hausa to inhabit one of the largest regions geographically of non-Bantu ethnic groups in Africa.[8]

Between 500 CE and 700 CE Hausa people had been slowly moving west from Nubia and mixing in with the local Northern and Central Nigerian population[citation needed], established a number of strong states in what is now Northern and Central Nigeria and Eastern Niger[citation needed]. With the decline of the Nok culture and Sokoto, who had previously controlled Central and Northern Nigeria between 800 BCE and 200 CE, the Hausa were able to emerge as the new power in the region[dubious ]. Closely linked with the Kanuri people of Kanem-Bornu (Lake Chad), the Hausa aristocracy adopted Islam in the 11th century CE. The Hausa Bakwai kingdoms were established around the 7th to 11th centuries. Of these, the Kingdom of Kano was the most important.

Hausa-Fulani Sokoto Caliphate in the 19th century

By the 12th century CE the Hausa were becoming one of Africa's major powers[dubious ]. The architecture of the Hausa is perhaps one of the least known but most beautiful of the medieval age. Many of their early mosques and palaces are bright and colourful and often include intricate engraving or elaborate symbols designed into the facade. By 1500 CE the Hausa utilized a modified Arabic script known as ajami to record their own language; the Hausa compiled several written histories, the most popular being the Kano Chronicle.

In 1810 the Fulani, another Islamic African ethnic group that spanned across West Africa, invaded the Hausa states. Their cultural similarities however allowed for significant integration between the two groups, who in modern times are often demarcated as "Hausa-Fulani" rather than as individuated groups, and many Fulani in the region do not distinguish themselves from the Hausa.

Emir Of Muri Alhaji Abbas Tafida and his vizier

The Hausa remain preeminent in Niger and Northern Nigeria. Their impact in Nigeria is paramount, as the Hausa-Fulani amalgamation has controlled Nigerian politics for much of its independent history[citation needed]. They remain one of the largest, educated and most historically grounded civilizations in West Africa[dubious ]. Among the prominent people of Hausa is Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the business magnate, and the richest man in Africa.


Ethno-linguistic territories of the Hausa people in Nigeria (in yellow).
Ethno-linguistic territories of the Hausa people in Niger (in yellow).

The Hausa language has more first language speakers than any other language in Sub-Saharan Africa. It has an estimation of more than 60 million first language speakers, plus more than 25 million second language speakers.

The main Hausa speaking area is northern Nigeria, Niger, and (representing an independent pocket of majority Hausa-speakers). However, Hausa is also widely spoken in northern Cameroon, Chad, Sudan and the Ivory Coast among Fulanis, Tuaregs, Kanuris, Gurs, Shuwa Arabs and other Afro-Asiatic groups. There are also large Hausa communities in every major West African city in neighbourhoods called zangos or zongos, meaning "camel-caravan camp" in Hausa (denoting the trading-outpost origins of these communities). Most Hausa-speakers regardless of ethnic-affiliation are Muslims, and Hausa often serves as a lingua franca among Muslims in non-Hausa areas.

There is a large and growing printed literature in Hausa, which includes novels, poetry, plays, instruction in Islamic practice, books on development issues, newspapers, news magazines, and even technical academic works. Radio and television broadcasting in Hausa is ubiquitous in northern Nigeria and Niger, and radio stations in Cameroon have regular Hausa broadcasts, as do international broadcasters such as the BBC, VOA, Deutsche Welle, Radio Moscow, Radio Beijing, and others. Hausa is used as the language of instruction at the elementary level in schools in northern Nigeria, and Hausa is available as course of study in northern Nigerian universities. Besides, several high degrees (masters and phd) are offered in Hausa in various universities in the UK, US and Germany. Hausa is also being used in various social media networks around the world.

In terms of sheer numbers, Hausa thus ranks as one of the world's major languages, and it has widespread use in a number of countries of West Africa. Hausa's rich poetic, prose, and musical literature, more and more of which is now available in print and in audio and video recordings, makes it a rewarding area of study for those who reach an advanced level.

Aside from the inherent interest of Hausa language or its rich literature, the study of Hausa provides an informative entry into the culture of Islamic West Africa. Throughout West Africa, there is a strong connection between Hausa and Islam. The influence of the Hausa language on the languages of many non-Hausa Muslim peoples in West African is readily apparent. Likewise, many Hausa cultural practices, including such overt features as dress and food, are shared by other Muslim communities. Because of the dominant position which Hausa language and culture have long held, the study of Hausa provides crucial background for other areas such as West African history, politics (particularly in Nigeria and Niger), gender studies, commerce, and the arts.


A Hausa harpist

According to a Y-DNA study by Hassan et al. (2008), about 40% of Hausa in Sudan carry the West Eurasian haplogroup R1b. The remainder and majority belong to various Sub-Saharan paternal lineages: 15.6% B, 12.5% A and 12.5% E1b1a. A small minority of around 3% are E1b1b clade bearers, a haplogroup which is most common in North Africa and the Horn of Africa.[9]

In terms of overall ancestry, an autosomal DNA study by Tishkoff et al. (2009) found the Hausa to be most closely related to Nilotic populations from Nigeria, Cameroon, central Chad and South Sudan. This suggests that the Hausa and other modern Chadic speaking populations originally spoke Nilo-Saharan languages, before later adopting languages from the Afro-Asiatic family.[10]

"From K = 5-13, all Nilo-Saharan speaking populations from Kenya, Tanzania, southern Sudan, and Chad cluster with west-central Afroasiatic Chadic speaking populations (Fig. S15). These results are consistent with linguistic and archeological data, suggesting a possible common ancestry of Nilo-Saharan speaking populations from an eastern Sudanese homeland within the past ~10,500 years, with subsequent bi-directional migration westward to Lake Chad and southward into modern day southern Sudan, and more recent migration eastward into Kenya and Tanzania ~3,000 ya (giving rise to Southern Nilotic speakers) and westward into Chad ~2,500 ya (giving rise to Central Sudanic speakers) (S62, S65, S67, S74). A proposed migration of proto-Chadic Afroasiatic speakers ~7,000 ya from the central Sahara into the Lake Chad Basin may have caused many western Nilo-Saharans to shift to Chadic languages (S99). Our data suggest that this shift was not accompanied by large amounts of Afroasiatic16 gene flow. Analyses of mtDNA provide evidence for divergence ~8,000 ya of a distinct mtDNA lineage present at high frequency in the Chadic populations and suggest an East African origin for most mtDNA lineages in these populations (S100)."[10]


The 15th century Gobarau minaret in Katsina
A Hausa ceremonial water pot used by the Maguzawa

Sunni Islam of the Maliki madhhab is the predominant and historically established religion of the Hausa people; with sizable but visible minorities of Muslims belonging to the Tijani, Mouride and Qadiri sufi tariqas, and more recently Shia and Salafi groups. Islam has been present in Hausaland since the 13th century, brought by traders and Islamic preachers from Mali. Muslim scholars of the early 19th century disapproved of the hybrid religion practised in royal courts, and a desire for reform was a major motive behind the formation of the Sokoto Caliphate.[11] It was after the formation of this state that Islam became firmly entrenched in rural areas. The Hausa people have been an important factor for the spread of Islam in West Africa. Today, the current Sultan of Sokoto is regarded as the traditional religious leader (Sarkin Musulmi) of Sunni Hausa-Fulani in Nigeria and beyond.

Maguzawa, the African Traditional Religion, was practiced extensively before Islam. In the more remote areas of Hausaland Maguzawa has remained fully intact, but as one gets closer to more urban areas it almost totally disappears, appearing occasionally in the beliefs of urban dwellers. It often includes the sacrifice of animals for personal ends, it is thought of as illegitimate to practice Maguzawa magic for harm. What remains in more populous areas is a "cult of spirit possession" known as Bori which still holds the old religion's elements of African Traditional Religion and magic.[12]


Four Hausa gun carriers of the South Nigerian Regiment in traditional clothing (1902 photo by John Benjamin Stone).

The Hausa people have a very restricted dressing code due to the fact of religious beliefs. The men are easily recognizable because of their elaborate dress which is a large flowing gown known as Babban riga and a robe called a jalabia and juanni, see Senegalese kaftan. These large flowing gowns usually feature some elaborate embroidery designs around the neck. (See Grand boubou for more information). Men also wear colorful embroidered caps known as fula, and depending on location and occupation, may wear a Tuareg-style turban around this to veil the face (known as Alasho or Tagelmust). The women can be identified by their dressing codes in which they wear wrappers called abaya made with colorful cloth with a matching blouse, head tie and shawl.

The Hausa were famous throughout the Middle Ages, they were often characterized by their Indigo blue dressing and emblems, they traditionally rode on fine Saharan Camels and Arabian Horses.


Kilishi, a Hausa delicacy similar to jerky.

The most common food that the Hausa people prepare consists of grains such as sorghum, millet, rice, or maize, which are ground into flour for a variety of different kinds of dishes. The food is popularly known as tuwo in the Hausa language.

Usually, breakfast consists of cakes made from ground beans which are then fried—known as kosai—or wheat flour soaked for a day then fried and served with sugar—known as funkaso. Both of these cakes can be served with porridge and sugar known as koko. Lunch or dinner are usually served as heavy porridge with soup and stew known as tuwo da miyan taushe. The soup and stew are usually prepared with ground or chopped tomatoes, onions, and a local pepper sauce called daddawa. While preparing the soup, most of the times spices and other vegetables such as spinach, pumpkin, or okra are added to the soup. The stew is prepared with meat, which can include goat or cow meat but not pork due to Islamic religion restrictions. Beans, peanuts, and milk are also served as a complementary protein diet for the Hausa people.


Table of Hausa speaking population by country[13][14]

Country Population
 Benin 800,934
 Ivory Coast 1,000,000
 Saudi Arabia 1,000,000
 Burkina Faso 500,000
 Cameroon 2,300,500
 Ghana 171,966[15]
 Niger 12,000,000
 Nigeria 50,700,000
 Sudan 1,200,000
 Togo 1,100,000

Hausa symbolism[edit]

The Hausa eternal knot, a traditional symbolic indicator of Hausa identity

A proposed Hausa ethnic flag is a banner with five horizontal stripes—from top to bottom they are red, yellow, indigo blue, green, and khaki beige.[16] The older and traditionally established motif of Hausa identity, the eternal knot in a star shape, is used in historic architecture, design and embroidery.

See also[edit]



  • Mary Wren Bivins, Telling Stories, Making Histories: Women, Words, and Islam in Nineteenth-Century Hausaland and the Sokoto Caliphate (Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Heinemann, 2007) (Social History of Africa).

External links[edit]