In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hausa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • History
  • Religion
  • Bori
  • Economic Anthropology
  • Economic History
  • Slavery and Emancipation
  • Labor
  • Mobility, Migrations, and Diaspora
  • Gender, Marriage, and Domesticity
  • Social Structure, Relations, and Personhood
  • Dress, Bodily Marks, and Decorations
  • Literature and Oralcy
  • Language and Linguistics

African Studies Hausa
Benedetta Rossi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0206


The term “Hausa” refers to a language spoken by over thirty million first-language speakers living mainly in the region now comprising northern Nigeria and southern Niger, with large Hausa-speaking enclaves in northern Cameroon, Ghana, Togo, and the Sudan. This term is also commonly used to refer to the society that speaks this language. However, historically Hausa society has been so internally diverse that it would be preferable to speak of “Hausa-speaking societies”: “It is almost impossible to say exactly what a Hausa is now, for he is admittedly a mixture of mixtures” (Tremearne 1911) Until the early-20th-century researchers of Hausaphone societies tended to distinguish between Muslim and “pagan” Hausa, with the latter comprising groups collectively labeled Maguzawa (northern Nigeria) and Azna, Arna, or Anna (southern Niger). Throughout the 20th century a regional process of Islamization resulted in the marginalization of non-Muslim and syncretic religious practices. Only a small minority of Hausa converted to Christianity. Political anthropologists distinguished between, on one hand, dynastic Hausa, politically centralized groups settled in the main Hausa cities, and on the other hand, lineage-based Hausa: farming communities living in the countryside. In the early 21st century these classifications are slowly becoming obsolete as all Hausa speakers are integrated in national political structures, and young people with rural origins gravitate toward large urban centers within and outside Africa in search of jobs and resources. While the literature on Hausa history, societies, and cultures in northern Nigeria is voluminous and primarily English, studies of Hausaphone southern Niger are fewer and mainly in French.

General Overviews

Works included in this section are milestones in the debate on how a Hausa identity, with its main characteristics as we know them in the 21st century, took shape in this region. Fuglestad 1978 exemplifies a revisionist critique of the interpretation of Islamization through trade foregrounded in two influential earlier studies by Abdullahi Smith and John Hunwick (see Hunwick 1985 cited under History). Fuglestad’s criticism emphasized the internal diversity of Hausa political institutions, and particularly the polarization between rural lineage-based society and the world of the fortified politically centralized city-states (birni, birane). Nicolas 1975 provides an anthropological analysis of the characteristics of these two poles within Hausa culture and societies. Lange 2004 is a collection of papers published by the author from the 1970s to the 1990s based on regional primary sources that highlight the interconnections between Hausa societies and their neighbors. Adamu 1978 considers the consequences of the transformations of Hausa society for the broader regional context. Studies on the economic history of Hausa trade were spearheaded by Paul Lovejoy’s doctoral research, published in 1980, and his seminal articles that had already appeared in the 1970s (see Lovejoy 1973, Lovejoy 1974, and Lovejoy 1978 all cited under Economic History). Sutton 1979 brought new momentum to research on the Hausaization process by integrating evidence from archaeology and linguistics, which he revisited in his contribution to the volume co-edited by Haour and Rossi 2010. Haour and Rossi’s multidisciplinary study was an attempt to re-ignite earlier debates that have not reached closure.

  • Adamu, Mahdi. The Hausa Factor in West African History. Ibadan: Oxford University Press, 1978.

    An original analysis of Hausa history that sees the spread of Hausa-speaking societies as a fundamental determinant of economic, cultural, and religious dynamics in West African history.

  • Fuglestad, Finn. “A Reconsideration of Hausa History Before the Jihad.” Journal of African History 19 (1978): 319–339.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0021853700016194

    An early attempt at interpreting the interconnection between urban Muslim Hausa societies and rural “pagan” lineage-based groups that introduced the theory of “contrapuntal paramountcy.”

  • Haour, Anne, and Benedetta Rossi, eds. Being and Becoming Hausa: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.

    Co-edited by an archaeologist and a historical anthropologist, this interdisciplinary volume revisits and advances fundamental debates on Hausa history and identity.

  • Lange, Dierk. Ancient Kingdoms of West Africa: Africa-Centred and Canaanite-Israelite Perspectives. Dettelbach, Germany: Röll, 2004.

    While Lange’s hypotheses about the alleged Canaanite origins of some West African societies, including Hausa, are controversial, his studies provide a thorough analysis of Kanuri (Kanem-Borno), Hausa, Yoruba, and Middle-Niger river societies based on a broad range of written and oral sources.

  • Lovejoy, Paul. Caravans of Kola: The Hausa Kola Trade, 1700–1900. Zaria: Ahmadu Bello University Press, 1980.

    A pioneering economic history of Hausa Kola trade that illustrates the place of Hausa traders (and traders who traveled in Hausaland) in the main ethnically defined axes of long-distance trade in West Africa.

  • Nicolas, Guy. Dynamique sociale et appréhension du monde au sein d’une société hausa. Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Travaux et mémoires de l’institut d’ethnologie 68. Paris: Institut d’ethnologie, 1975.

    A comprehensive anthropological study of Hausa societies and institutions. Based on extensive anthropological research carried out in the 1960s in Francophone Hausaland by Nicolas, it illustrates the relationship between “dynastic” and lineage-based “Anna” Hausa communities in the Maradi region. Emphasizes the connections between cosmology and social organization.

  • Sutton, John. “Towards a Less Orthodox History of Hausaland.” Journal of African History 20 (1979): 179–201.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0021853700017011

    A revisionist approach to the question of the “origins” of Hausa society that prioritizes historical linguistics in the reconstruction of the early migrations and assimilative processes that shaped Hausa speaking societies as we know them in the 21st century.

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