1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hausa

HAUSA, sometimes incorrectly written Haussa, Houssa or Haoussa, a people inhabiting about half a million square miles in the western and central Sudan from the river Niger in the west to Bornu in the east. Heinrich Barth identifies them with the Atarantians of Herodotus. According to their own traditions the earliest home of the race was the divide between the Sokoto and Chad basins, and more particularly the eastern watershed, whence they spread gradually westward. In the middle ages, to which period the first authentic records refer, the Hausa, though never a conquering race, attained great political power. They were then divided into seven states known as “Hausa bokoy” (“the seven Hausa”) and named Biram, Daura, Gober, Kano, Rano, Katsena and Zegzeg, after the sons of their legendary ancestor. This confederation extended its authority over many of the neighbouring countries, and remained paramount till the Fula under Sheikh Dan Fodio in 1810 conquered the Hausa states and founded the Fula empire of Sokoto (see Fula).

The Hausa, who number upwards of 5,000,000, form the most important nation of the central Sudan. They are undoubtedly nigritic, though in places with a strong crossing of Fula and Arab blood. Morally and intellectually they are, however, far superior to the typical Negro. They are a powerful, heavily built race, with skin as black as most Negroes, but with lips not so thick nor hair so woolly. They excel in physical strength. The average Hausa will carry on his head a load of ninety or a hundred pounds without showing the slightest signs of fatigue during a long day’s march. When carrying their own goods it is by no means uncommon for them to take double this weight. They are a peaceful and industrious people, living partly in farmsteads amid their crops, partly in large trading centres such as Kano, Katsena and Yakoba (Bauchi). They are extremely intelligent and even cultured, and have exercised a civilizing effect upon their Fula conquerors to whose oppressive rule they submitted. They are excellent agriculturists, and, almost unaided by foreign influence, they have developed a variety of industries, such as the making of cloth, mats, leather and glass. In Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast territory they form the backbone of the military police, and under English leadership have again and again shown themselves to be admirable fighters and capable of a high degree of discipline and good conduct. Their food consists chiefly of guinea corn (sorghum vulgare), which is ground up and eaten as a sort of porridge mixed with large quantities of red pepper. The Hausa attribute their superiority in strength to the fact that they live on guinea corn instead of yams and bananas, which form the staple food of the tribes on the river Niger. The Hausa carried on agriculture chiefly by slave labour; they are themselves born traders, and as such are to be met with in almost every part of Africa north of the equator. Small colonies of them are to be found in towns as far distant from one another as Lagos, Tunis, Tripoli, Alexandria and Suakin.

Language.—The Hausa language has a wider range over Africa north of the equator, south of Barbary and west of the valley of the Nile, than any other tongue. It is a rich sonorous language, with a vocabulary containing perhaps 10,000 words. As an example of the richness of the vocabulary Bishop Crowther mentions that there are eight names for different parts of the day from cockcrow till after sunset. About a third of the words are connected with Arabic roots, nor are these such as the Hausa could well have borrowed in anything like recent times from the Arabs. Many words representing ideas or things with which the Hausa must have been familiar from the very earliest time are obviously connected with Arabic or Semitic roots. There is a certain amount of resemblance between the Hausa language and that spoken by the Berbers to the south of Tripoli and Tunis. This language, again, has several striking points of resemblance with Coptic. If, as seems likely, the connexion between these three languages should be demonstrated, such connexion would serve to corroborate the Hausa tradition that their ancestors came from the very far east away beyond Mecca. The Hausa language has been reduced to writing for at least a century, possibly very much longer. It is the only language in tropical Africa which has been reduced to writing by the natives themselves, unless the Vai alphabet, introduced by a native inventor in the interior of Liberia in the first half of the 19th century be excepted; the character used is a modified form of Arabic. Some fragments of literature exist, consisting of political and religious poems, together with a limited amount of native history. A volume, consisting of history and poems reproduced in facsimile, with translations, has been published by the Cambridge University Press.

Religion.—About one-third of the people are professed Mahommedans, one-third are heathen, and the remainder have apparently no definite form of religion. Their Mahommedanism dates from the 14th century, but became more general when the Fula sheikh Dan Fodio initiated the religious war which ended in the founding of the Fula empire. Ever since then the ruler of Sokoto has been acknowledged as the religious head of the whole country, and tribute has been paid to him as such. The Hausa who profess Mahommedanism are extremely ignorant of their own faith, and what little religious fanaticism exists is chiefly confined to the Fula. Large numbers of the Hausa start every year on the pilgrimage to Mecca, travelling sometimes across the Sahara desert and by way of Tripoli and Alexandria, sometimes by way of Wadai, Darfur, Khartum and Suakin. The journey often occupies five or six years, and is undertaken quite as much from trading as from religious motives. Mahommedanism is making very slow, if any, progress amongst the Hausa. The greatest obstacle to its general acceptance is the institution of the Ramadan fast. In a climate so hot as that of Hausaland, the obligation to abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during one month in the year is a serious difficulty. Until the last decade of the 19th century no important attempt had been made to introduce Christianity, but the fact that the Hausa are fond of reading, and that native schools exist in all parts of the country, should greatly facilitate the work of Christian missionaries.

Bibliography.—El Hage Abd Salam Shabeeny, Account of Timbuctoo and Haussa Territories (1820); Norris, Dialogues and part of the New Testament in the English, Arabic, Haussa and Bornu Languages (1853); Koelle, Polyglotta Africana (1854); Schön, Grammar of the Hausa Language (London, 1862), Hausa Reading Book (1877), and also A Dictionary of the Hausa Language (1877). Schön has also produced Hausa translations of Gen. (1858), Matt. (1857) and Luke (1858). Heinrich Barth, Travels in North and Central Africa (2 vols., London, 1857); Central-afrikanische Vokabularien (Gotha, 1867); C. H. Robinson, Hausaland, or Fifteen Hundred Miles through the Central Soudan (1896); Specimens of Hausa Literature (1896); Hausa Grammar (1897); Hausa Dictionary (1899); P. L. Monteil, De St-Louis à Tripoli par le lac Tchad (Paris, 1895); Lt. Seymour Vandeleur, Campaigning on the Upper Nile and Niger (1898).