Hausa people


Hausa / Hausawa / Haoussa / Ausa / Habe / Mgbakpa

Hausa Durbar Festival
Durbar Festival
Hausa Architecture
Hausa Architecture
Hausa Bambe Boxing
Dambe Boxing

ETHNONYMS: Afnu (the Kanuri term) or Afunu; Ama or Azna, Bunjawa, Maguzawa (non-Muslims); Aussa, Haoussa, al Hausin

The Hausa are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa and the largest ethnic group in Africa. They are a chiefly located in the Sahelian areas of northern Nigeria and southeastern Niger, with significant numbers also living in parts of Cameroon, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Chad and Sudan. 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, Accra, Kumasi and Cotonou, as well as to parts of North Africa like Libya. Most Hausa, however, are concentrated in small villages or towns in West Africa, where they grow crops or raise livestock, including cattle. They speak the Hausa language, an Afro-Asiatic language of the Chadic group.
The Hausa are a racially diverse but culturally homogeneous people who originally came from northern Nigeria and south-central Niger.

Hausa People

Hausas have long been famous for wide-ranging itinerant trading, and wealthy merchants share the highest social positions with the politically powerful and the learned.
The Hausa population is over 30,000,000; their primary religion is Islam and considered to be the 4th largest Muslim bloc in the world with about 36,000 known Christians and a sizable number also follow African Traditional Religion.

Hausa people distribution in Nigeria



A Chadic language, Hausa is related to Arabic, Hebrew, Berber, and other Afroasiatic Family members. Proper tone and stress are imperative. Hausa, which was originally written in Arabic script, has a centuries-old literary tradition, but it is also the language of trade and, next to Swahili, is the most widely spoken African language.



The Hausa classify their settlements as cities, towns, or hamlets. The cities have wards for foreigners, including Tuareg, Arabs, Nupe, Kanuri, and others. The capital cities are walled, and residents live in walled compounds with interior courtyards. Those of the well-to-do are whitewashed and decorated with plaster arabesques. The women's quarters are separate. Urban compounds may house sixty to a hundred persons. Although the Hausa accord urban living the most prestige, they are primarily rural. Each village contains a capital, as well as several hamlets; the capital is divided into wards, housing families of the same occupational group. Traditional village compounds are walled or fenced; materials range from baked clay to mud or cornstalks. Compounds characteristically contain an entrance hut, an open shared cooking and work area, a hut for the compound head, and separate huts for each of his wives. Newer housing is rectangular and concrete. The number of people living in a rural compound ranges from one to thirty, the average being ten.

Hausa People


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agriculture is the main economic activity. Grain is the staple diet, including Guinea corn, millet, maize, and rice. The Hausa also grow and eat root crops and a variety of vegetables. Cotton and peanuts are processed and used locally, but part of the harvest is exported. The Hausa practice intercropping and double-cropping; their main implement is the hoe. The Cattle Fulani provide the Hausa with meat, yogurt, and butter.

Most men also practice a second occupation; ascriptive and ranked, these include aristocratic officeholder, scholar, Islamic cleric (imam), artisan, trader, musician, and butcher. As good Muslims, the urban women are in seclusion (rural women much less so), and therefore dependent upon their husbands for their maintenance; they are economically active from behind the compound walls, however, primarily in order to finance their daughters' dowries. Their work, which includes sewing and selling prepared food and jewelry, is an offshoot of their domestic persona.

Industrial Arts. There are full-time specialists only where there is an assured market for craft products. Men's crafts include tanning, leatherworking, saddling, weaving, dying, woodworking, and smithing. Iron has been mined, smelted, and worked as far back as there are Hausa traditions. Blacksmiths have a guildlike organization, and many are hereditary.

Trade. Trade is complicated and varied. Some traders deal in a particular market, as distinguished from those who trade in many markets over a long distance. This dual trade strategy, augmented by the contributions of the Cattle Fulani, enabled the Hausa to meet all of their requirements, even during the nineteenth century. The markets are traditional to Hausa society and carry social as well as economic significance; male friends and relatives meet there, and well-dressed marriageable young women pass through, to see and be seen. The Hausa differentiate rural from urban settlements in terms of the size and frequency of the markets.

There is also customary exchange that takes place outside of the market. Gift exchanges are practiced at life-cycle celebrations such as childbirth, naming, marriage, and death; other exchanges are framed by religion (alms, tithes, fixed festivals) and politics (expressing relations of patronage/clientage).

Division of Labor. Hausa society traditionally observes several divisions of labor: in public administration, it is primarily men who may be appointed, although some women hold appointed positions in the palace. Class determines what sort of work one might do, and gender determines work roles. When women engage in income-producing activities, they may keep what they earn. Because of purdah, many women who trade are dependent upon children to act as their runners.

Land Tenure. The rural householder farms with his sons' help; from the old farm, he allocates to them small plots, which he enlarges as they mature. New family fields are cleared from the bush.

Hausa People


Kin Groups and Descent. Although the domestic group is based on agnatic ties, and even as Hausa society is patriarchal, descent is basically bilateral; only the political aristocracy and urban intelligentsia observe strict patrilineality, everyone else practicing bilaterality.

Kinship Terminology. Hausa kinship terminology cannot be classified according to standard anthropological categories because of the number of alternative usages. For example, a man's siblings and his parallel or cross cousins are called 'yanuwa (children of my mother); cross cousins, however, are also referred to and addressed as abokan wasa (joking relations), and special terms distinguishing elder and younger brother and sister may also be applied to both parallel and cross cousins.


Marriage and Family

Marriage. Adult Hausa society is essentially totally married. Ideal marriage is virilocal/patrilocal, and it is polygynous: a man is allowed up to four wives at a time. The term in Hausa for co-wife is kishiya, from the word for "jealousy," often but not always descriptive of co-wife relations. Once men begin to marry, they are rarely single despite divorce because most are polygynous; nearly 50 percent of the women are divorced at some point, but there is such pressure to be married and have children that they tend not to stay unmarried long. Important social distinctions identify women in terms of their marital status. By custom, girls marry at the age of 12 to 14. There is some disagreement in the literature regarding the respectful nature of singlehood. Divorce is a regular occurrence, not surprisingly, given the brittle and formal relationship between spouses. Both men and women have a right to divorce, but for men it is easier. After divorce, most weaned children are claimed by their father.

Marriage is marked by bride-price, given by the groom's family to the bride, and a dowry for the bride provided by her family. Marriage is classified according to the degree of wife seclusion and according to whether it is a kin or nonkin union. Bilateral cross-cousin marriage is preferred.

Domestic Unit. The ideal household is the agnatically based gandu (family farm), formed by a man with his sons and their wives and children. After the senior male's death, the brothers may stay on together for a time. More frequently, each brother's household becomes a separate economic unit.

Inheritance. Consistent with Islamic practice, a woman can own and inherit in her own right, but her inheritance rights are subordinate to those of men. All of the wives married to a man at the time of his death are entitled, together with their children, to share one-quarter of his total estate if there are no agnatic descendants, or one-eighth of his estate if there are agnatic descendants. Women own property such as houses and land together with consanguines, even after marriage, and they inherit only half as much as their brothers.

Succession to leadership of the agnatic group and leadership of the compound is collateral. Farmland is inherited in the male line, the gandu being collectively owned by brothers.

Socialization. Women observe a postpartum taboo on sexual intercourse for a year and a half to two years, during which time the child is breast-fed. Toddlers are weaned onto soft foods and then to the standard diet. An older sister carries the infant on her back when the mother is busy, which extends into a special attachment between an adult man and his elder sister.

From infancy, boys and girls are treated differently. Boys are preferred; as they age, they learn that they are superior to girls and consequently to distance themselves from them and identify with things masculine. It is imperative for boys to separate from their mothers. Girls are trained to self-identify in terms of their sex role: domestic (female) skills are taught to young women as they mature. They are admonished to be submissive and subordinate to males. As children, boys and girls are rigidly sex-stereotyped into appropriate behavior.

Hausa People

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. One of the most salient principles in Hausa society is the segregation of adults according to gender. Throughout Hausaland, seclusion of married women is normative, and the extradomestic impact of sexual segregation and stratification is that women are legal, political, and religious minors and the economic wards of men. Although women are central to kinship matters, they are excluded from extradomestic discussion and decision making. Both within the household and in the public domain, patriarchal authority is dominant and reinforced by spatial separation of the sexes.

The senior wife of the compound head, the mai gida, is the uwar gida. She may settle minor disputes among residents and give advice and aid to the younger women. Domestic authority rests with the male head of compound/household.

From childhood, males and females develop bond friendships with members of the same sex, a practice continued into adulthood and marked by reciprocal exchanges. Given their seclusion, women tend to formalize their bond ties more than men do. Formal relationships that emphasize differences in status (patron/client) are also established by women, as they are by men.

Political Organization. Organizational structure is hierarchic; the centralized kingdoms, known as emirates, are the primary groupings; districts are secondary and village areas tertiary.

The institutions of kinship, clientship, and office (and, in the past, slavery) in the emirates, have provided the fundamentals of Hausa government from the sixteenth century until the middle part of the twentieth century. Rank regulates relations between commoners and rulers.

"Traditional and modern government proceeds through a system of titled offices . . . , each of which is in theory a unique indissoluble legal corporation having definite rights, powers and duties, special relations to the throne and to certain other offices, special lands, farms, compounds, horses, praise songs, clients, and, formerly, slaves" (Smith 1965, 132). In most states, major offices are traditionally distributed among descent groups, so that rank and lineage intertwine. The traditional offices differed in rewards, power, and function, and were territorially based with attendant obligations and duties. Within communities, the various occupational groups distribute titles, which duplicate the ranks of the central political system.

Clientship links men of unequal status, position, and wealth. It is a relationship of mutual benefit, whereby the client gains advice in his affairs at the minimum and protection, food, and shelter at the maximum. The patron can call upon the client to serve as his retainer.

In applying his notion of government to Kano, the Fulani religious and political leader Usman dan Fodio, when he launched his successful jihad against the king of Gobir in 1804, he followed the basic premise of a theocracy within a legalistic framework; government, and its chief agent, the emir, were perceived as an instrument of Allah.

Social Control. Legal affairs fall under the jurisdiction of the emir, and he is guided by Islamic law. The Quran, the word of Allah, and its hadith, the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed, along with the dictates of secular reasoning provide answers to legal questions. The Sharia, the canon law of Islam, is fundamentally a code of obligations, a guide to ethics. Sanctions of shame and ostracism compel conformity to Hausa and Islamic custom.

Conflict. When disputes arise, the Hausa may opt to go to court, submit to mediation, or leave it to Allah. The basic process involves deference to mediation by elders.

Hausa People

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. About 90 percent of the Hausa are Muslims. "The traditional Hausa way of life and Islamic social values have been intermixed for such a long time that many of the basic tenets of Hausa society are Islamic" (Adamu 1978, 9). Islam has been carried throughout West Africa by Hausa traders.

Adherents are expected to observe the five pillars of Islam—profession of the faith, five daily prayers, alms giving, fasting at Ramadan, and at least one pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj). Within Hausa society, there are sects (brotherhoods) of adherents; of these, the Tijaniya, Qadriya, and Ahmadiyya have been important. Wife seclusion is basic to the Hausa version of Islam, although it is believed that the institution is more a sign of status than of religious piety.

Even among some Muslims, as among the Maguzawa pagans, spirit cults persist. One, the Bori, has more female than male adepts; cultists are believed to be possessed by particular spirits within the Bori pantheon.

Religious Practitioners. Although such personnel as imams and teachers ( mallamai; sing. mallam ) have no churchly functions or spiritual authority, they do tend to assume or accept some measure of spiritual authority in certain contexts.

Ceremonies. Men are enjoined to attend Friday prayers at the mosque. Men and women celebrate the three main annual festivals of Ramadan, Id il Fitr, and Sallah. Life-cycle events—birth, puberty, marriage, death—are also marked.

Arts. The arts are limited to those forms allowed by Islam; the Hausa use Islamic design in their architecture, pottery, cloth, leather, and weaving. Music is an integral part of Hausa life and can be classified in terms of function and audience: for royalty, for dancing pleasure, and for professional guilds. Each category has its own instruments, which include drums as well as string and wind instruments. Poetry exists in an oral tradition, as practiced by the praise singers and the oral historians, and also in the written tradition of the learned.

Medicine. There is a tricultural system that consists of strong traditional roots set in the framework of a predominantly Islamic mode, now augmented by Western medicine. The Bori spirit-possession cult is relied upon for various kinds of curing, and this involves diagnosing the particular spirit giving the sick person trouble.

Death and Afterlife. Burial is in the Islamic manner. Upon death, the individual passes on into the realm of heaven (paradise) or hell, consistent with Islamic teaching.

Hausa People

Hausa People



The Hausa were famous throughout the Middle Ages for their cloth weaving and dyeing, cotton goods, leather sandals, metal locks, horse equipment and leather-working and export of such goods throughout the west African region as well as to north Africa (Hausa leather was erroneously known to medieval Europe as Moroccan leather. They were often characterized by their Indigo blue dressing and emblems which earned them the nickname "bluemen". They traditionally rode on fine Saharan camels and horses. Tie-dye techniques have been used in the Hausa region of West Africa for centuries with renowned indigo dye pits located in and around Kano, Nigeria. The tie-dyed clothing is then richly embroidered in traditional patterns. It has been suggested that these African techniques were the inspiration for the tie-dyed garments identified with hippie fashion.
The traditional dress of the Hausa consists of loose flowing gowns and trousers. The gowns have wide openings on both sides for ventilation. The trousers are loose at the top and center, but rather tight around the legs. Leather sandals and turbans are also typical. The men are easily recognizable because of their elaborate dress which is a large flowing gown known as Babban riga also known by various other names due to adaptation by many ethnic groups neighboring the Hausa (see indigo Babban Riga/Gandora). These large flowing gowns usually feature elaborate embroidery designs around the neck and chest area.
Men also wear colourful embroidered caps known as hula. Depending on their location and occupation, they may wear the turban around this to veil the face. The women can be identified by wrappers called zani, made with colourful cloth known as atampa or Ankara, (a descendant of early designs from the famous Tie-dye techniques the Hausa have for centuries been known for) accompanied by a matching blouse, head tie (kallabi) and shawl (Gyale)

Hausa People

Hausa People


Durbar Festival [See pictures of Durbar festival, Nigeria 2019]

The Durbar festival is an annual religious and equestrian celebration in several cities of Nigeria including Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Zazzau, Bauchi and Bida. The festival marks the end of Ramadan and also coincides with the Muslim festivities of Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitri.

It begins with prayers, followed by a colourful parade of the Emir and his entourage on horses, accompanied by musicians, and ending at the Emir's palace. Durbar festivals are organised in almost all cities of northern Nigeria and the practices dates back over 200 years.

Hausa People

Architecture [See pictures of present Architecture, Nigeria 2019]

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, including intricate engraving or elaborate symbols designed into the facade. This architectural style is known as Tubali which means architecture in the Hausa language. The ancient Kano city walls were built in order to provide security to the growing population. The foundation for the construction of the wall was laid by Sarki Gijimasu from 1095 - 1134 and was completed in the middle of the 14th century. In the 16th century, the walls were further extended to their present position. The gates are as old as the walls and were used to control movement of people in and out of the city.

Hausa buildings are characterized by the use of dry mud bricks in cubic structures, multi-storied buildings for the social elite, the use of parapets related to their military/fortress building past, and traditional white stucco and plaster for house fronts. At times the facades may be decorated with various abstract relief designs, sometimes painted in vivid colours to convey information about the occupant.


The engagement and marriage ceremony in Northern Nigeria is both a blend of Islamic ritual and traditional practices. For Muslims, marriage (Fatiha) is a requirement in order to have sexual relationships and reproduce. It is also highly celebrated according to the means of the hosts. The marriage ceremony usually last a week ending on a Sunday. 

However, preparations begin when the marriage proposal reaches the bride's parents. As soon as the bride's parents accept the marriage proposal, a number of beauty and household products called Kayan Zance such as beauty cream, scents, shoes and blouses is purchased by the grooms side and taken to the bride's house. 

Thereafter, a group of men also are then sent to the bride's house with money termed Kudin Gaisuwa and after the delivery, a date is set for the engagement. In the engagement ceremony, the reception is held at the representative's of the bride and the husband to be is asked to bring some kola nuts and sweets for the event. The event usually takes place in the evening.
Prior to the marriage ceremony some customs are observed This includes, Kamun Ango which takes place on a Thursday and Zaman Ajo which takes place on a Friday.

Naming Ceremony

In traditional Hausa culture, as soon as a wife is pregnant and then gives birth, preparations of boiling water and firewood used for cooking commences for the daily bath of the wife. A week after delivery, a ram or sheep is slaughtered and kola nuts and other food stuff are arranged. On the third day after delivery, a food called Kauri is prepared and distributed to relatives and friends signaling the birth of the child. On the sixth day after delivery, notices is sent to well wishers to come to the host's house for naming the next day. On the naming ceremony date, the men stay in the front of the house and the women stay inside. The Imam, who is usually the first to be invited often times shows up the latest. Upon his arrival, the child's name is given to him by the father of the child and the Imam offers prayers and the name of the child is publicly announced.

Religious festivals

The three major Islamic festivals celebrated in Hausaland are:

Eid al-Fitr falls on first day of Shawwal, the month which follows Ramadan in the Islamic calendar. It is a time to give in charity to those in need, and celebrate with family and friends the completion of a month of blessings and joy.
Before the day of Eid, during the last few days of Ramadan, each Muslim family gives a determined amount as a donation to the poor. This donation is of actual food -- rice, barley, dates, rice, etc. -- to ensure that the needy can have a holiday meal and participate in the celebration. This donation is known as sadaqah al-fitr  (charity of fast-breaking).

On the day of Eid, Muslims gather early in the morning in outdoor locations or mosques to perform the Eid prayer. This consists of a sermon followed by a short congregational prayer.

After the Eid prayer, Muslims usually scatter to visit various family and friends, give gifts (especially to children), and make phone calls to distant relatives to give well-wishes for the holiday. These activities traditionally continue for three days. In most Muslim countries, the entire 3-day period is an official government/school holiday.
Eid-el Kabir, or the Eid-el Adha as it is otherwise called, is a period of sobriety and deep reflection on how well mankind has fulfilled the various injunctions of Allah. It is a time to ponder whether Hausa have rightly reciprocated Allah’s gesture of mercy and steadfastness with the faith and praise required of all Muslims, indeed all beings, at all times.

 It is a reminder of the unthinkable things that could have happened to man, had it not been for Allah’s kindness in subsisting a ram for Ishmael at the point his father was about to slaughter him in sacrifice, in accordance with the demand of God revealed to Prophet Ibrahim (May Allah’s peace be upon him) through dreams. It is not in doubt that the divine intervention changed what would have been a tragic course for mankind. And it is for this reason, plus the fact that the celebration of the Eid-el Kabir has a close affinity with the observation of the hajj, that Hausas show moderation during celebration. Performing the hajj at the holy pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia – is one of the five pillars of Islam; and the Eid is observed immediately after Muslim pilgrims passed through Mount Arafat.

El-maulud is the celebration of the birthday ( Mawlid) of the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

Hausa music

The Hausa`s perform series of music. Their folk music has played an important part in the development of Nigerian music, contributing such elements as the goje, a one-stringed fiddle. There are two broad categories of traditional Hausa music: rural folk music and urban court music.

Ceremonial music (rokon fada) is performed as a status symbol, and musicians are generally chosen for political reasons as opposed to musical ones. Ceremonial music can be heard at the weekly sara, a statement of authority by the emir which takes place every Thursday evening.

Courtly praise-singers like the renowned Narambad, are devoted to singing the virtues of a patron, such as a sultan or emir. Praise songs are accompanied by kettledrums and kalangu talking drums, along with the kakaki, a kind of long trumpet derived from that used by the Songhai cavalry.

Rural folk music includes styles that accompany the young girls' asauwara dance and the bòòríí or Bori religion both well known for their music. It has been brought as far north as Tripoli, Libya by trans-Saharan trade. The bòòríí cult features trance music, played by calabash, lute or fiddle.

During ceremonies, women and other marginalized groups fall into trances and perform odd behaviors, such as mimicking a pig or sexual behavior. These persons are said to be possessed by a character, each with its own litany (kírààrì). There are similar trance cults (the so-called "mermaid cults") found in the Niger Delta region.

Popular Hausa music includes Muhamman Shata, who sings accompanied by drummers, Dan Maraya, who plays a one-stringed lute called a kontigi, Audo Yaron Goje, who plays the goje, and Ibrahim Na Habu, who plays a small fiddle called a kukkuma.

Hausa People

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. This food is popularly known as tuwo in the Hausa language.

Usually, breakfast consists of cakes made from ground beans and fried, known as kosai; or made from wheat flour soaked for a day, fried and served with sugar, known as funkaso. Both of these cakes can be served with porridge and sugar known as kunu or koko.

Lunch or dinner usually feature a heavy porridge with soup and stew known as tuwo da miya. The soup and stew are usually prepared with ground or chopped tomatoes, onions, and local spices.
Spices and other vegetables, such as spinach, pumpkin, or okra, are added to the soup during preparation. The stew is prepared with meat, which can include goat or cow meat, but not pork, due to Islamic food restrictions. Beans, peanuts, and milk are also served as a complementary protein diet for the Hausa people.

The most famous of all Hausa food is most likely Suya, a spicy shish kebab like skewered meat which is a popular food item in various parts of Nigeria and is enjoyed as a delicacy in much of West Africa and balangu or gasshi.

A dried version of Suya is called Kilishi.


A modern literary movement led by female Hausa writers has grown since the late 1980s when writer Balaraba Ramat Yakubu came to popularity. In time, the writers spurred a unique genre known as Kano market literature — so named because the books are often self-published and sold in the markets of Nigeria. Islamic extremism and misogyny have hindered women's ability to work and write openly. However, the subversive nature of these novels, which are often romantic and family dramas that are otherwise hard to find in the Hausa language, have made them popular, especially among female readers. The genre is also referred to as littattafan soyayya, or "love literature".

Hausa traditional sport

The Hausa culture is rich in traditional sporting events such as boxing (Dambe), stick fight (Takkai), wrestling (Kokawa) etc. that were originally organized to celebrate harvests but over the generations developed into sporting events for entertainment purposes.

Dambe [See pictures of Dambe -traditional boxing- at Dutse, Nigeria 2019]

Dambe is a brutal form of traditional martial art associated with the Hausa people of West Africa. Its origin is shrouded in mystery. However, Edward Powe, a researcher of Nigerian martial art culture recognizes striking similarities in stance and single wrapped fist  of Hausa boxers to images of ancient Egyptian boxers from the 12th and 13th dynasties.

It originally started out among the lower class of Hausa Butcher caste groups and later developed into a way of practicing military skills and then  into sporting events through generations of Northern Nigerians. It is fought in rounds of three or less which have no time limits. A round ends if an opponent is knocked out, a fighter's knee, body or hand touch the ground, inactivity or halted by an official.

Dambe's primary weapon is the “spear”, a single dominant hand wrapped from fist to forearm in thick strips of cotton bandage that is held in place by knotted cord dipped in salt and allowed to dry for maximum body damage on opponents, while the other arm, held open, serve as the “shield" to protect fighters head from opponent's blows or used to grab an opponent. Fighters usually end up with split brows, broken jaws and noses or even sustain brain damage.Dambe fighters may receive money, cattle, farm produce or jewelry as winnings but generally it was fought for fame from representations of towns and fighting clans.

Hausa People

Hausa symbolism

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

Hausa flag

Hausa People