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The Hausa dominate most of what we refer to as Northern Nigeria, as well as parts of Niger, Cameroun, Benin Republic and Ghana. They are Nigeria’s largest ethnic group, with recent estimates putting their population at almost 30 million (1). The fact that the Hausa language has been the preferred language for trade across northern Nigeria for centuries has led to its adoption by smaller ethnic groups in the region as a second language. Some of these groups have actually been swallowed up by the slow but steady advance of the Hausa influence.

The origin of the Hausa is very closely connected to the fraternization that has taken place between indigenous groups and waves of settlers over a period that probably spans thousands of years. As is the case with other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and across the world, the Hausa possess myths handed down through generations which purport to account for their existence as a people. By far the most popular is the Bayajidda story. It recounts the coming into northern Nigeria of a prince from the East (some identify him with the royal house of Baghdad in what is now Iraq). He came to the aid of the people of Daura by killing a snake which had prevented them from fetching water from the town well. The queen of Daura married him because of his heroics, and they bore a child called Bawo. This child, according to legend, was the ancestor of seven core Hausa states, as well as seven peripheral states (not necessarily Hausa, but heavily influenced by contact with the core-Hausa) (2).

It is not the custom of Historians trained in the art of analyzing accounts like the Bayijidda legend to take it as it is. The story has been dissected by the experts, who seek clues for a possible reconstruction of early Hausa history. One scholar says that the story is probably a simplified myth, and connects the coming of an “eastern prince” to northern Nigeria to waves of Berber migrations from farther north (North Africa), which he says occurred between AD650 and AD1100. These immigrants mixed with the indigenous population, while bringing their more advanced civilization to bear in such aspects as architecture, monarchic systems, and possibly matriarchy (3). But like the Bayijidda myth, this doesn’t give a conclusive answer to the question of origin. Where did these “indigenes” come from?

Researchers have turned to linguistics, archaeology and regional geography for answers. The Hausa language is known to be closely related to the Fulani, Kanuri and Shuwa Arab in Nigeria, the Mandinka and Soninke in Mali and the Senegambia (4). The ethnic groups which speak these languages are believed to have a common origin. A second interesting hint is related to the change in the climate of the Sahara, which was a lush savannah about 7,000 years ago. A combination of climate science and archaeological research has revealed that settlements demonstrating a surprisingly advanced civilization existed in that area at that time. When the region grew increasingly arid, the population in the area moved further south into the present savannah belt of West Africa (5). It seems likely that the forerunners of the Hausa arose from this original population, as did many other ethnic groups in countries such as Ghana, Cameroun, Benin, Niger, Chad, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal.

The difficulty faced by historians in determining the origin of the Hausa may be seen as a testament to their ability to assimilate other groups by influencing them culturally. It is this strength that has enabled them to grow into a formidable entity whose language is the second most widely spoken indigenous African language.



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This article was first published on 18th July 2016


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

Comments (18)

18 thoughts on “Origins: Where Did The Hausa Come From?”

  • You said it all about hausa, but recent development connect it with kindom of auxom(Axom) of Habesha(Ethiopia), and you can see the culture etc look for hawwasa

    • The hausa trace their history to a line of queens decended from a group of immigrants from canaan who settled in Egypt for a long time before travellinv the sahara and ending up in lake chad. This is what the legend says. Linguistics and science of DNA have now proved this. Search this on youtube “how the chadic people divide nigeria in two”

  • Hausa is not close to fulani or kanuri, it is an afroasiatic language that belongs to the chadic group. It is more closer to Berber and Arabic. Fulani on the other hand is a niger congo language having more in common with yoruba and Igbo. This came as a shock to me as well considering the cultural similarities between the hausa and fulani. Noemally one will think fulani is close to hausa but isnt. The hausa people trace their origin to line of queens decended from a group of immigrants from Canaan who moved to Egypt and then after mang years travelled through the sahara and ended up in the lake chad. Bayajidda was just an event that happened in Daura long after the hausa people have established themselves. However his childrem became kings of the hausa city states and ruled over them.

    • Hello Dan Abba,

      Thank you for engaging with the article. I’m glad you found it worth commenting on.

      As for the connections between the Hausa and the other major ethnicities in Northern Nigeria, please see the reference given in the section of this article you’ve referred to.

      It’s also worth noting that no significant genetic links between the Hausa and Semitic groups (such as the ancient Canaanites and modern Arabs) have yet been established. As such, any talk of such links remain, at best, just speculative.

      Thank you again for engaging with the article. We appreciate your feedback!

  • Hausas are already settled themselves before bayajidda or someone else.

  • I followed your reference, it does not make a 30 million estimation, the source says 29% of Nigeria’s population not west Africa. And Nigeria’s population stands at 180 – 200 million. There are more than 150 million hausa along the historical trans-sahara route, Kano – Tripoli. And Bayajida was not the origin of hausa people. His son Bawo gave birth to seven children that founded the seven hausa states.

    • Hello Bala,

      Thank you for your response.

      It’s worth noting a few things about this article and its refrence:

      1. It was written in 2016, when the country’s population was under 180 million people.

      2. The reference mentions Hausa-Fulani, which clumps both the Hausa and Fulani groups together.

      3. The 29% mentioned in the reference would make the Hausa-Fulani the largest ethnic group in Nigeria; that’s what was referenced. The percentage wasn’t used, for the reason given in (2) above.

      4. As for Bayijida, the article doesn’t speak with definitiveness about his being ancestor of the Hausa. It merely makes a reference to a version of the popular myth. Nevertheless, if Bawo was ancestor of the Hausa, it would still make Bayijida,his familial forbear, an ancestor as well.

      Thanks a lot for reading.

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