Flora Louise Shaw Lugard.

A tropical dependency : an outline of the ancient history of the western Sudan with an account of the modern settlement of northern Nigeria online

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Nupe, as we have seen, was considered in the fourteenth
century to be one of the most important of the purely
native states of the Soudan. In Ibn Batuta's day it
still maintained its reputation of being wholly impene-
trable to the white man. The period at which these
" illegitimate " states became infused with Haussa blood,
or were made dependent upon Haussaland, is left, so
far as the myth is concerned, indefinite. No part of the
account deserves more than such credit as a myth may

When we come to examine the few historical docu-
ments which are available, we find no trace of political
union between the Haussa States, except when, for
certain periods in their history, one among them assumed
or acquired a temporary dominance over the others. On
the contrary, their history, as embodied in the chronicles
to which allusion has been made, and which date back
to the eighth or ninth centuries of our era, show them
as independent kingdoms in a state of more or less
chronic internecine war. Any union which may have
given rise to the myth must therefore have existed
before the year 800 of our era.

In considering the civil and political conditions of
the Haussa States we are necessarily reminded of the
organisation of the early states of antiquity. The
peoples of Asia Minor, of Arabia, and of Egypt itself,
in days before the rise of the Persian, Macedonian, and
Roman Empires, were commonly organised in a number
of allied but separate cities. Heeren tells us that,
amongst the Syrian populations, as far as the light of
history carries us back, we find everywhere a number
of single cities, with the territory around them, under


a monarchical form of government, the sovereign power
being placed in the hands of kings or princes. " Examples
certainly are," he says, "to be met with where some of
these cities and their monarchs obtained a decided pre-
ponderance, and assumed to themselves a degree of
authority. This, however, was a kind of forced alliance
which extended no further than the exaction of tribute
and subsidies in times of war, without depriving the sub-
jected cities of their government and rulers." Phoenicia,
like Syria, was never one state, but from the earliest
period down to the Persian monarchy, was always
divided into a number of separate cities, each with its
little territory around it. Allied cities in Phoenicia were
very numerous, and it is thought probable that there
may have been periods when all the cities of Phoenicia
formed one confederation, at the head of which at one
time stood Sidon, and at a later period Tyre. Neces-
sities of defence led more or less naturally to this
system. These confederations, we are told, prevailed in
all countries colonised by Phoenicians. Throughout the
colonies of Phoenicia, as well as in the mother-country,
a common religion formed likewise a bond of union
for the cities, and strengthened and preserved the
connection between them.

Each city had its own proper government, and in this
respect they were perfectly independent of each other.
The chief authority was placed in the hands of kings, who
in turn were to some extent controlled by high priests.
The revenues of the cities depended in large measure on
their trade, and the Phoenicians have lived in history as a
commercial people.

The parallel between the political organisation of the
Phoenician and the Haussa States seems to me to be worth
indicating, if only as another trace of the inspiration which
Haussaland has unquestionably drawn from the East.
There is hardly anything which has been said of Phoenicia
which would not be applicable in the present day to the
cities of Haussaland. Their independence, their cohesion,



their mutual jealousies, their occasional acceptance of a
dominant leader, their commercial activity, their common
religion, are features of a quite remarkable similarity.

There are, I think, especially interesting conclusions
to be drawn from a consideration of the early religion of
the Haussa States.

As regards the genealogy of the Haussa people, their
Fulani historian, Sultan Bello, not anxious to glorify the
race whom he desired his own people to supplant, ascribes
their origin to a slave, excepting, however, the people of
Gober, whom he admits to have been free-born, and to
have descended from the Copts of Egypt. Curiously, the
manuscript obtained by the Niger Company in Kano, which
professes to carry the history of that town from mythical
times to the period of the Fulani conquest in the beginning
of the nineteenth century, gives a certain corroboration to
this view. "The chief of the people of Kano," it says,
"was named Berbushay. He was a black, strong man,
and a lover of hunting." Bushay, as has been already
said, means the land of slaves. " Ber" is frequently used
to signify man. Therefore the name of this first chief of
Kano may well be taken to signify " a man from the land
of slaves." A man from the land of slaves is far from
being necessarily a slave, but the coincidence may be
taken to justify, in part at least, the statement of Bello.
The story of the founding of Kano town by this hero has
a Herculean flavour. He achieved, it is said, many
labours, and, having one day killed an elephant with his
spear, he carried the animal for a long distance on his head.
Where he put it down was the site of Kano town. He
himself lived on the Hill Dalla, which is now within the
walls of Kano, and he had a family of seven children. He
was of course a pagan. It is said of him that "he in-
herited the customs of Dalla, which were handed down
through the pagan families," and this mystic inheritance
of Dalla appears to have made of him the high priest, as
well as chief, of the pagan tribes who owned his sway.
These spread far on all sides of Kano, and they gathered


to him for religious festivals. There was a pagan goddess
who had many names, amongst them Gonkie and Shem-
susu. This goddess lived upon a walled hill which was
guarded day and night, and none were allowed to approach
her except Berbushay himself. Her religious festivals
took place twice a year, and on these occasions the people
from north and south and east and west brought black
animals for sacrifice. It may be mentioned in connection
with this custom that, according to the account given by
Captain Clapperton, the pagan natives of Yoruba and
Nupe still assemble once a year round a high hill, and
sacrifice a black bull and a black sheep and a black dog.
The custom was that, when the sacrifices were made, Ber-
bushay went in alone to the enclosure of the goddess, and
apparently his intercourse with her conferred some special
sanctity upon him, for when he came out, he cried to the
people : " I am the heir of Dalla, and whether you will or
not you must serve me." And the people replied: "We
serve you without fear." There were also in connection
with this ceremony mystic rites, during which the people
divested themselves of their clothing, but the description
given in this very imperfect translation is too vague to be
comprehensible. A learned investigator will perhaps some
day ascertain whether these primitive customs, dedicated
to the worship of a female deity in the Soudan, have any
connection with the sanctity of the black stone of the
Caaba, and the pagan rites of naked worship with which
Astarte, or the Venus Erycina of the Phoenicians, was once
honoured within the walls of Mecca. If the paganism of
the Soudan were shown to be identical with that super-
seded by Islam on the shores of the Red Sea during the
lifetime of the prophet, it would be a curious and in-
structive example of the continuity of history that it
should be tracked to its last stronghold in equatorial
Africa, and abolished to-day, after an interval of more
than a thousand years, by a far-off pulsation of the same
moral and intellectual forces.

This Berbushay was also a prophet. He foretold the


coming of kings and the building of mosques. " There is
one," he said, " coming to this town with his people. He
will be our head, and we shall be his servants." And the
people cried: "This is a bad saying. Why do you
prophesy evil things ? " And they wished him to be
silent. But he said : " You shall see it by the power of the
goddess. If it do not come in your time it will come in
the time of your children. He will be lord over all that
you possess, and he will forget you, and dwell long with
his own people." The people were grieved in their hearts
at his saying. But they knew him for a true prophet,
and they believed his word. They asked him: "What
shall we do to hinder this mighty thing } " And he
said, " There is no help but in patience." Therefore
they waited in patience till afterwards, in the time of their
children, there came Bagoda, also called Daud (or David),
who with all his people marched upon the place. Then
it was said: "This is the man whose coming Berbushay
foretold." And he was the first of the kings of Kano,

I have quoted this narrative at length, partly for the
picture that it gives of pagan customs, which vaguely recall
those noted by El Bekri as existing in Ghana at the end
of the eleventh century, and partly for the sake of the
prophecy, so typical of the fate of Haussaland that it can
only have been produced by the national character which
ensured its fulfilment. " You shall be conquered, and
there will be no remedy but in patience." This prophecy
alone, accomplished as it has been by history, would seem
to confirm the authenticity of that descent from the ever-
conquered peoples of Egypt which has been attributed to
the Haussa race.



I DO not propose, with the very hmited material which
is available, to attempt to reconstruct any detailed his-
tory of the fortunes of the Haussa States. Nor is it
likely that such a narrative would be very interesting,
even did the material exist for its relation. The daily
life of primitive states, and the petty incidents of their
public fortune, are no more interesting than the daily life
of private individuals. It is with the general movement
of civilisation, as it rises or falls in the flood and
ebb of national life, that history is concerned ; and, in
the records of relatively undeveloped peoples, it is only
in that portion of their existence which contributes to,
or is associated with, the general movement that we
are interested.

The scraps of history and legend which have been
preserved, and of which some specimens have been
offered to the reader, would seem to establish the
broad fact that in some period of, to us, remote anti-
quity, the Haussa people were brought into existence
by a union between earlier races inhabiting the Valley
of the Nile or the shores of the Red Sea, and the
aboriginal pagans whose descendants are now to be
found in the hills of Bautchi and Adamawa. At a
very early period the simpler arts of domestic and civil
life were developed among them, for in the legend of
Kano it is related that even before the coming of the
founder of that town there were eleven great pagans
who were respectively the ancestors and patrons of
Love, of War, of Water, of Strong Drink, of Hunting,


of Medicine, of Iron-smelting, of Salt- working, and of
Blacksmiths, &c. The generally accepted religion was
a form of paganism in which a goddess was supreme,
and in which the manner of worship would seem to
have had something in common with the worship of
Venus or Astarte, from which Housal, one of the
earliest recorded kings of Egypt, took his name. It
is on the authority of Macrizi that I give this mean-
ing of the name of Housal, and I am not so rash as
to assume from the mere similarity of sound that the
same meaning attaches to the name of Haussa, or, as
it is sometimes written, Houssaland. I only note the
fact that the origin of the name of Haussa is unknown,
and that the great common bond of the people who
bear it would seem to have been their religion and
their lanauao-e. If this name had its oriofin in their
religion, it would have been the same name wher-
ever their language was spoken. The form of their
religion differed from that of the Ju-ju worship of
the coasts, and at the present day the pagans of
Yoruba express themselves in terms of horror when
speaking of the fetish worship and human sacrifices of

This universal worship of a supreme goddess ap-
pears to have given rise to the tradition that the
Haussa States were at one time under the domination
of a woman, whose seat of government was said to
have been at Zaria. Early tradition attributes to her
the founding of the town, and associates a colossal
statue of her with some remarkable rocks which bore
the name of Almena, to the south-east of the present
position of Zaria. But Sultan Bello, who repeats the
tradition that the seven provinces of Haussa were at
one time under the domination of one queen, says that
the name of the queen was Amina, that she was a
daughter of the Prince of Zaria, and that she sub-
dued the seven provinces of Haussa by force of arms,
making them all tributary to her, and conquering also


other native states as far as the navigable reaches of
the Lower Niger.

Legend and history seem in this instance to have
aUied themselves, for, while the worship of the goddess
was long anterior to the existence of any lady bearing
the suspiciously orthodox name of the Mother of the
Prophet, and allusions to the statue are to be found
in the very earliest writers, the Kano chronicle places
an excellent queen, Amina of Zaria, who reigned for
thirty-four years, in just the place in which we might
expect to find her — that is, towards the end of the
fourteenth century, about a hundred years after Mo-
hammedanism was introduced into the Haussa States.
The theory of the domination of Amina over the
Haussa States is still further disposed of by the state-
ment that in this reign the long struggle between
Kano and Zaria was brought to an end by the final
subjugation of Zaria. Queen Amina seems, however,
to have been a person whose importance was fully re-
cognised, and after the conquest the King of Kano
assigned to her use the whole of the land tax from


the southern provinces of Nupe to Kororofa — that is,
the country lying on the right bank of the Benue — and
also laid on Nupe a special tax of eunuchs and kola
nuts to be paid to the queen.

"The country of Haussa," says Sultan Bello, who
wrote in the nineteenth century, "consists of seven
provinces, to each of which a prince is appointed to
superintend its affairs, and the inhabitants of the whole
speak one language. The central province of this
kingdom is Katsena, the most extensive is Zaria, the
most warlike is Gober, and the most fertile is Kano."
Sultan Bello thus places Katsena in the centre of the
Haussa States, and references to Katsena in the writ-
ings of the Arabs imply that it was a place of impor-
tance in the later development of Haussaland, famous
alike for the industry and the learning of its inhabi-
tants. The myth, to which reference has been made in


an earlier chapter, also speaks of it as being, with
Zaria, the oldest of the states. But history places its
development at a later date than that of Kano. As
will be seen, it did not rise to its full power till after
the Moorish conquest, when, by the destruction of the
eastern capital of the Songhay Empire, a stream of
commerce was directed to its oates. The most bril-


liant period of the history of Kano was already closed
before the end of the sixteenth century.

Gober, by its geographical position on the edge of
the northern desert, and the necessity which was entailed
upon it of constant conflict with the desert tribes, early
acquired a more warlike reputation than its sister states ;
but, perhaps because of the peril to which it was per-
petually exposed upon the north, it seems never to have
attempted in its earlier period to achieve by force of
arms any general conquest in the Haussa States, and
its importance in Haussaland, like that of Katsena, is
subsequent to the greatest epoch of Kano. At one time
it stretched far northward into the desert, and its people
inhabited the territories of Ahir or Asben upon the
Tripoli-Fezzan route, but it was driven from this posi-
tion towards the end of the eleventh century by Berber,
perhaps Morabite, invaders.

Daura would seem to have been one of the most
ancient of the Haussa States, and references to it are fre-
quent in the Kano chronicle ; but, like its sister Rano, it
does not appear to have played a very important public
part in the history that is known to us of Haussaland.

Zaria, the most southerly of the original seven states,
distinguished itself from a very early date by the conquest
of the southern non-Haussa provinces. It extended its
power over the whole of the hilly country to the conflu-
ence of the Niger and the Benu^, and even beyond it
towards the sea.

It will be seen, on glancing at a map of West
Africa, that the Niger and the Benue, flowing towards
each other from north-west and north-east, and meeting


at Lokoja, a little south of the eighth parallel of latitude
— whence their combined flood flows under the one name
of the Niger very nearly due south for upwards of 250
miles to the Gulf of Guinea — form within the boundary
of the British Protectorate of this part of Africa the
figure of a large and loosely outlined Y. The connection
of the Benue with Lake Chad is a matter of controversy ;
but the southern portion of this great inland sea, lying
north of the sources of the Benue, completes the easterly
development of the Y-shaped water-system of the country.
It is within the branches of this Y that Bornu and Haussa-
land proper are contained. One state — Borgu — included
now within the limits of Haussaland, though not a Haussa
State, lies altogether outside this figure on the west bank
of the Niger ; but the most southerly extension of Borgu
carries it only to the ninth degree. We may say that
all the countries with which we are now about to be
concerned lie between 8° and 14° north latitude. And
the original seven states of Haussa have an even more
northerly extension, being all situated to the north of
10°. The southward course of the united rivers runs
through pagan countries to the sea.

We are necessarily obliged, in making use of the
Kano chronicle, to view the life of the Haussa States
through Kano eyes ; but for that very reason it is perhaps
the more to be trusted when it presents to us a picture
of constant strife, with varying fortune, between itself
and the other states, leaving us to learn from foreign
sources that from time to time a submerging tide of
external conquest swept over the country, and reduced
all alike to the equality of submission. There can be
no doubt that Kano occupied from early times a leading
position in Haussaland, but so evenly do the strokes of
fate appear to have been distributed, that, notwithstanding
the predominant rank of Kano, it is probable that the
history of that province offers a fair type of the history
of any one of its legitimate or illegitimate sister states.
We take it up at a point in the general history of Haussa-


land, when Daura and Zaria were already fully developed,
and the southern country to the confluence of the rivers
acknowledged the greatness, if it did not absolutely accept
the sway, of Zaria. The non-Haussa States of Borgu,
Nupe, Bautchi, and Kororofa, stretched in a belt of for-
midable pagan strength along the course of the two
rivers, and we have already made ourselves acquainted
with an outline of the contemporary history of the great
non-Haussa nations lying to the west. The pagan belt,
stretching from 8° north latitude to the coast, was prac-
tically unknown to the early Haussa races.

The first king of Kano, whose second name of Daud,
or David, would appear to indicate an Eastern origin,
reigned, so far as our uncertain dates may be trusted,
towards the end of the tenth century, or about a hundred
years before the Morabite invasion from the west, which
carried Mohammedanism through the Western Soudan.
Opinions differ as to whether the invasion reached as
far as the countries lying to the south of the Tripoli-
Fezzan route ; but if it did, the Mohammedanism of the
five tribes was not carried so far south as to enter the
Haussa States. The establishment of Islam in Ahir in
the desert, is attributed to the eleventh century ; but the
State of Gober offered an impassable barrier to any more
southerly extension of the doctrine of Mohammed by the
sword. The Haussa States remained pagan until the
emigration of Wankore or Wangara Mohammedanism
from Melle, in the rising epoch of that empire, about the
middle of the thirteenth century, brought the new religion
peacefully to Kano. It was accepted by a certain King
Yahya, who was then reigning, and the story of his con-
version is embellished by a graphic account of a miracle
worked upon the pagan chief and people of Gazawa, who
not only refused to be converted, but purposely defiled
the mosque erected by King Yahya. The chief and his
people were summoned on a given day, and when they
were assembled, " the Mussulmans prayed against the
pagans." God answered the Mussulman prayer, and


the pagans were all stricken with blindness, "not only
the chief and his people who were assembled, but the
women in their homes." After this, the chronicle says
that the religion of Mohammed was accepted, and that,
by the force of the true God, King Yahya conquered his
enemies as far as Kororofa and Atagher — that is, practi-
cally as far as Lagos. He reigned for thirty-seven years,
and was widely feared and respected.

The next reign was a reign of peace, and when the
king died he was buried by the imaum. It is recorded
of him that he was the first who, when he died, was
wrapped in a white cloth and had prayers read over
him. But when, in the succeeding reign, the southern
provinces refused to pay tribute, and the great war with
Zaria began, the king consulted the old pagan priests,
and they told him that if he wished to be victorious he
must return to the religion of his ancestors. He attended
the pagan ceremonies, where the priest "sang the song
of Berbushay." After that, when he went against Zaria
he was successful. The King of Zaria was killed, and
the people were scattered abroad. This king is reported
to have introduced the use of iron caps among his soldiers.
The shirts of mail in which the warriors of the Haussa
States still come out to battle are said to have come to
them originally as spoils of the Crusaders, brought down
by Arab merchants from Palestine. They may have
been in use at an earlier period, but I find no note of
any armour until this reign of the early part of the
eleventh century.

All the early reigns are filled with the struggle
between paganism and Mohammedanism, with miracles
duly recorded on either side, and lapses in times of
crisis on the part of the kings. Gradually the pagan
element drops out, and it becomes evident that all the
intelligence and cultivation of the country has become
Mohammedan. In the reign of the fifteenth king, another
David, Kano enters into closer relations with Bornu,
and a king of Bornu, attended by many Mohammedan


priests and teachers, spent a period of several months
in Kano. The Bornu chronicle quoted by Dr. Barth,
says that Kalnama, King of Bornu, took refuge in Kano
from his rebellious subjects about the year 1430. The
Kano chronicle would seem to date the visit nearly a
hundred years earlier, but the agreement between the
two chronicles is sufficient to show that, at the end of
the fourteenth century, Mohammedanism was generally
accepted in the high places of Haussaland. It was in
the reign of this David that the conquest of Zaria was
completed under orthodox conditions, and Queen Amina
ranked among the subject sovereigns of Kano. At
this time, according to Kano authority, the whole of
the south of what is now Northern Nigeria was sub-
ject to Kano. A more malicious interpretation of the
facts of the treaty with Zaria would suggest that the
generosity of King David in allotting the land tax of
the southern provinces, as well as the special taxes of
Nupe, to the service of Queen Amina, was not wholly

Online LibraryFlora Louise Shaw LugardA tropical dependency : an outline of the ancient history of the western Sudan with an account of the modern settlement of northern Nigeria → online text (page 20 of 41)