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Muhammad Rumfa was a Sultan of the Sultanate of Kano, located in modern-day Kano State, Northern Nigeria. He reigned from 1463 until 1499.  Rumfa was the son of Yakubu, the nineteenth ruler of Kano and his mother, Fasima Berana. Rumfa succeeded his father in 1463. His reign was characterized by unprecedented economic growth, numerous administrative reforms and great infrastructural development. 
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Rumfa inherited a booming economy which saw a wave of migration of scholars and traders, mostly of Arab, Kanuri, Berber and Fula descent. The most notable of these migrants was popular Berber scholar Muhammad Al-Maghili who claimed to be a Mujaddid. He had a brief stop in Katsina before coming to Kano. It is said Al-Maghili was implored by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in a dream to go west and spread Islam. He then took the soil of Medina as a sample and set out comparing the soil sample to each place he visited until he came to Kano where he saw a resemblance between the soils. There he concluded that he had found his destination. He came with many Islamic books and sought to teach the people about the Islamic faith. When he felt that the he had accomplished his goal and learned men were ubiquitous, he left Kano for Masr (Egypt), leaving Sidi Fari to carry on his work. Under the tutelage of Al-Maghili, Rumfa made numerous Islamic reforms and encouraged the pure practice of Islam in the Sultanate, humbling the pagans (Abagayawa in particular) in the process and banning their practices. He built a minaret on the site of the pagan sacred tree after cutting it down. Rumfa also built numerous mosques and during his reign, Eid al-Fitr was first celebrated in Kano. Rumfa granted slaves positions in his government, some of whom he entrusted with the treasury. He is also said to have formed the “Taran Kano” (Council of Nine) who were meant to be advisers and Kingmakers. Kulle (Purdah) was first practiced by him. The Sultan established the Kurmi Market to improve trade and also installed an Ombudsman for better governance.
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Al-Maghili wrote the book “On the Obligation of Princes” as a guide for the Kano Sultan and for a time was an influential figure in his court. Some of Maghili’s descendants and that of his entourage (Sharifai) are still in Kano.


Oral traditions dictate that his epithet “Rumfa” came because during his time, wild dogs were rampant and feasted on the food of Kano’s inhabitants. When they came to the Sultan for a solution, his grandson Muhammad, who was playing in his court, suggested they build rumfa (sheds) where they could keep the food out of the dogs’ reach. At first, the Sultan was dismissive of the child’s advice but his advisers saw the wisdom of the child’s statement and compelled the Sultan to consider it. The child’s advice worked and the people prayed that he would one day become Sultan. Muhammad would later become the twenty second ruler of Kano and the first Emperor of the Kanoan Empire.


Rumfa was a rich and flamboyant king. Luxurious clothing and expensive ostrich feather shoes were common among government officials. The kakaki was also first used during his reign. His wealth is owed to Kano’s commercial prosperity during this period. Kano arguably achieved the height of its reputation as a trading center in the Middle Ages during his reign. Leo Africanus’s description of Kano is believed to be that of Rumfas era. He described the locals as “wealthy merchants and skilled craftsmen” and commended the cavalry of the Sultan’s army. He also noted the abundance of rice, corn, cotton and citrus fruits.

Feud with Katsina

Rumfa’s war with Katsina marked the first time a war ensued between the two states. It lasted for eleven years with no decisive victor. During this war, the Sultan was said to be the first ruler to utilize the “Dawakan Zagi”, a form of psychological warfare.

Personal life

Muhammad Rumfa was said to have taken every first born virgin for himself and had a thousand concubines. His most notable spouse is the influential Madaki Auwa, with whom he sired his successor, Abdullahi Dan Rumfa and Abubakar Kado, the twenty fifth ruler of Kano with.


Rumfa is widely considered to be Kano’s greatest king. Some of the structures he built and the administrative reforms during his reign are still being used in Kano today.
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The Kings palace, Gidan Rumfa, is named after him. So is the prestigious Rumfa College, Kano. “He was a good man, just and learned. He can have no equal in might, from the time of the founding of Kano, until it shall end…surely there was no Sarki more powerful than Rumfa” In total, the Kano Chronicle attributed twelve innovations to him. Among Rumfa’s accomplishments were extending the city walls, building a large palace, the Gidan Rumfa, promoting slaves to governmental positions and establishing the Kurmi Market. He was also responsible for much of the Islamization of Kano, as he urged prominent residents to convert. Rumfa’s reforms proved to be the catalyst that would propel Kano to its peak, resulting in the first Kanoan Empire under his grandson Muhammad Kisoki. He ushered a new faction of Kano Oligarchs, eponymously known as the “Rumfawa”, which would last until their replacement by the “Kutumbawa” faction led by Muhammad Alwali I in 1623. Many Historians in agreement with the Kano Chronicle assert Rumfa to be Kano’s greatest king. References  “50 Greatest Africans – Sarki Muhammad Rumfa & Emperor Semamun”. When We Ruled. Every Generation Media.  “Caravans Across the Desert: Marketplace”. AFRICA: One Continent. Many Worlds. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Foundation. Hiskett, M. (1957). “The Kano Chronicle”. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Featured Image Source: Opera News
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This article was first published on 12th July 2022 and updated on July 14th, 2022 at 3:49 pm


Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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