Nations: Nation-States and the Future of Mankind: Some Observations on the Historical Experience of the Formation of Kanawa in the 2nd Millennium A.D. – Late Prof. Yusuf Bala Usman

The end and the beginning, of the day and of the night, of the seasons, of the solar and lunar years, of decades, of centuries and of millennia, regularly pose to mankind the question of its future. In tacking that question; mankind come face to face with the reality of the primacy of motion in the natural world and in human society. For millennia, the primacy of motion in the existence of the heavenly bodies has been recognized and accepted. It is even used by astrologers to seek answers to question about the future.

Department of History, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria

The end and the beginning, of the day and of the night, of the seasons, of the solar and lunar years, of decades, of centuries and of millennia, regularly pose to mankind the question of its future. In tacking that question; mankind come face to face with the reality of the primacy of motion in the natural world and in human society. For millennia, the primacy of motion in the existence of the heavenly bodies has been recognized and accepted. It is even used by astrologers to seek answers to question about the future.

More recently, the primacy, of motion in the composition of the elements constituting all forms of matter, including the heavenly bodies, and all the cells of all living things has been recognized. The study of this has led to tremendous advances in scientific knowledge and in technology. But, the recognition of the primacy of motion in the composition and motion of human society, and in the substance and forms of human group and the relationships between these groups, is widely resisted. It is defined and evaded, in various ways.

One dimension of human society where this denial and evasion have become very serious, with the political implications, is over the nature and forms of political communities in which and right across the continents. These observations are intended to draw attention to these, with particular reference to the ways of concepts of ‘’the nation’ and ‘the nation-state’ have come to be used to obscure the realities of history, and to make projections about the future of mankind which have no basis in the actual historical process of the formation and transformation of the political communities in which mankind is organized. The historical experience of the formation of the Kanawa, from the evidence available, provides one of the best examples of how misleading these concepts are, and is used here to illustrate these observations, due to the very limited time available for putting together this contribution. However, these observations are rather sketchy and generalized.

The Premise

The attainment of European Imperialism of, military technological, economic and financial dominance over almost all sections of mankind, during the nineteenth century, was accompanied by the ideological imposition, world-wide, of a distinct perspective on the nature and form of political communities everywhere.

The basic premise of this perspective is that mankind has always been made up of distinct races, which are distinct biological entities, with distinctive physiological, mental and emotional attributes. Each race is said to be composed of distinct nations, made up of populations of largely the same racial stock, existing as distinct entities on their own territory, with their language, cultures and identities, going back thousands of years. This is the racio-ethnic conception of the nation. The term ‘tribe’, ‘ethnic group’ and ‘nationality’ are applied to smaller, or more dispersed, racio-ethnic groups, which are yet to attain nationhood, as they are seen to be economically, culturally and politically backward in comparison with the standard model of Europe, which are presented as representing the standard model of the nation.

This present nationality law of Germany is one of the best examples of the legal manifestation of this concept. Under this law, you cannot be a German citizen unless you have what is called “German Blood” in your veins. Once you can prove that you are German ancestry, and you gave “German Blood” through the male of the female line, you automatically get German citizenship, even if you do not speak the German Language, have never been to Germany and hardly know anything about Germany or German culture.

Several millions of migrants into Germany, from Central and Eastern Europe, have on this basis been given German citizenship. But the 7.4 million poles, Turks, Serbs, Kurds, Asians, West and North Africans, working in Germany for decades, many of when were born there, and can only speak German and know no other country, are denied German citizenship because they have no “German blood” in them. Other European countries have provisions along these lines in their nationality and citizenship laws, but they are not as brazen as those of Germany.

The racio-ethnic conception of the nation which informs this position is at variance with other conceptions of the nation found with most other sections of mankind and these conceptions have much deeper and wider roots all over the world.

These conceptions view the nation as essentially a political community, which may be multi-ethnic and even multi-racial, but whose citizen share closely related historical experiences and are bound by common citizenship and see themselves and are seen by others in a distinct political entity with defined territorial and other sovereign rights. Some of the conceptions of the nation within this broad type emphasize shared habitation and territoriality. Others emphasize common religious faith and cultural values. But what they all do not insist on is race, ancestry and blood ties.

But although the racio-ethnic conception of the nation is a peculiar one, it has been imposed together with the concept of “the nation state”. This is supposed to be a political community in which it claims ownership.

For most of mankind, this conception of the ‘”nation state” is an aberration, yet for most of the period since the  Second World War, most of Humanity has been expected to aspire to this peculiar type of nationhood and statehood, emanating from nineteenth century European contestations and conflicts.

The Future

Before we are even clear about what we are expected to turn our political communities into, it is now widely propagated that this entity knows as the nation-state is no longer viable or useful. It is said to have become redundant, and in some areas, like in Africa, to be destructive of peace, harmony and human development. A number of factors are said to be responsible of this. One of them is said to be the resurgence of sub-nation, anti-national, ethnic and communal consciousness, identity and organization, which challenge and reject the existing nation-state and are seeking to retain only formal links with it, or secede from it altogether. The nation-state is also said to be challenges by other “primordial” forces, in the form of fundamentalist, Christian, Islamic, Hindi, and Jewish, and other religious and cultural movements, which in the name of the purification and protection of religion and culture, reject the nation-state and its claim to secularity and modernity. The nation-state is said to have helped to create the conditions for these challenges to arise and to become serious, because of what is said to have been its failure in nation building, in the postcolonial milieu, where it is said to be virtually under siege.

It is in the light of what is said to be the failure of the nation-state that the future development of the postcolonial societies of Africa, the Caribbean, South and South-East Asia and the Pacific, is said to require the building of new types of political communities. Based on the formal recognition and empowerment of the sub-national ethnic and communal groups, which are said to have re-emerged to assert the rights of all those subjugate and marginalized by the power structures of the nation-state.

The other challenges to the nation-state, which is said to have made it unviable and redundant, is said to come from what is called “globalization”. This is said to be the process starting from the 1980s, which,  as a result of certain economic and technological changes, particularly, in the organization and structure of transnational corporations and in satellite and computer technology, has integrated almost every part of this planet, in a way in which it has never been done before, the development and application of digital technology and of fiber optics, among other technological advances, have made it possible for information to be communicated and processed in massive amounts, and in seconds, from any part of the world to another. This together with the new service sectors, it said to have created a single global economy, which has simply bypassed the horizon, the frontiers and the regulations of even the most developed of the model nation-states.

For the nation-states of Europe and North America, the future, beyond the nation-state, is said to be in the regional organizations they have already formed, particularly the European Union and the North American Free Trade Area, and the harmonization and eventual integration of these. For those of us in Africa, South and South East Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, the future is said to be in restoring sovereignty to the component nationalities of the nation-states and arranging for either a peaceful break-up of the nation-state or some confederal arrangement. Any failure to face up this future, and act now, to break-up the existing nation-state, or set up some confederal arrangements, is supposed to inevitably lead to the intensification of ethnic conflicts, to civil war and genocide.

This projection of the future, is as far as we are concerned in Africa, most alarming. For while Europe and North America moved towards integration into more cohesive, broader and powerful political communities, we either dismantle the existing nation-states like Nigeria, India or Indonesia by allowing the component nationalities to set up sovereign nation-states on their own or transform into confederations, or run the risk of sinking into chronic civil wars. Whichever of the three alternatives prevails, we appear to be doomed to further economic, cultural and political retardation and to further and more permanent subjugation to the large power blocs of Europe and North America. The consequence of this projection of the future and the alternative possibilities it sets before us is to undermine our confidence in our ability to control our destiny. It also paralyses our will to stand up and face up to the challenges of the next millennium. But is this projection of the future meaningful? Is it based on the realities of the historical development of political communities here and in the rest of the world?.

We have therefore, no alternative but to critically analyzed this projection of the future, going right down to the basic premises and concepts that inform it. And this is where the historical experience of the formation of the Kanawa, before and during the second millennium, becomes relevant and significant for formulating our plans and strategies for tacking the challenges of the next millennium.

The Kasar Kano

When we turn to the available evidence of the history of Kano, before and during the second millennium AD, we find that the concept of “the nation”  “nationality” “tribe”, ethnic group” and “the nation-state” as imposed on the rest of the nineteenth century, are not applicable and are misleading. The Kanawa, the citizens of the sovereign kingdom of the Kasar Kano, were not a racio-ethnic entity. In fact, the key historical process of their formation in the second millennium is the migration into, and within, the area that came to be known as the Kasar Kano of people of diverse origin, from all over Northern and Western Africa, who came to be absorbed, assimilated and incorporated as the subject of the Sarkin Kano and the citizens of the Kasar Kano.

A reading of the available evidence, including the archaeological and ecological, would indicate that a geopolitical entity made up of a distinct network of tungaye (hamlets) kauyuka (villages) garuruwa, (towns) and birane cities had emerged in parts of what came to be the Kasar Kano even before the establishment of the Birnin Kano and of the institution of Sarkin Kano. In other words, the establishment of the sarauta system centered on the Sarkin Kano and the Birnin Kano about one thousand years ago, was a key to turning point in the establishment of the kasar Kano and the formation of the Kanawa; but was not the beginning of this process.

It seems that well before the end of the first millennium A.D, a distinct type of economy had begun to emerge in what has come to be known as the Kano closed-settled zone, and perhaps elsewhere. The key features of what economy seems to have been intensive, permanent cultivation of cereals and legumes; livestock rearing particularly small local and long-distance trading in basic agricultural and manufactured products

A recent study by Frances Harris has brought out the factors that made the intensive farming on the Kano close settled zone possible. Among these are the recycling of nutrients through the use of crop residue as fodder for livestock, high labor availability and high labor/land ratio and dispersed settlement pattern, with the farmers living in compounds and hamlets very close to their farms.

Patrick Darling has pointed to the existence of thousands of furnace bottom in the Roni-Kazaure Hills, in the area of Sheme, where Bagauda is said to have ruled. From the slag heaps, Darling says that this has “one of the largest concentrations of iron-smelting works in the African continent” From the dating of one of the furnaces, 2400 BC 1100, he raises the possibility that this part of the Kasar Kano is part of the area of West Africa in which we may find the origins of iron-smelting for the African continent and possibly even for the world.

Putting all these together, we may find that the drought and famine recorded in the song of Bagauda, which is reported to have brought large numbers of migrants to Kano. Was only a “push” factor, as the demographers would say; and was probably not as important as the “pull” factors which led to the high density of Population, building up over several centuries, which had produced a distinct entity which the institution of the Sakin Kano was produced to subjugate as the Kasar Kano.

The evidence available indicates that the Kanawa did not have their origin as a segment of some racial or ethnic group, or as a distinct race or ethnic group, on their own right. The Kanawa are not bound by blood ties inherited from some common ancestor or ancestors, even the Bayajidda-Bawo legend, which is sometimes misrepresented to be making to appear to be about the origin of the Hausa-speaking people, does not ascribe an ancestor for the Kanawa or for the Hausawa, or the Hausa-bakwai. The legend was about dynastic changes in already existing states.

The Content and the Context

Allthis should not be read to mean that the area that become the Kasar Kano was empty of inhabitants before then  development of the network of intensive, permanent agriculture, iron-working, other manufacture and commerce, that brought in migrants from neighboring areas  and from many parts of Northern and Western Africa. There were inhabitants who were by all standards the autochthons of the various settlements. At some of these like Santolo, Birnin Kudu and Tamburawa evidence of Late Stone Age habitation has been found. What is being argued here is that it was migration within the area of the Kasar Kano and emigration from outside it, which produces the social, economic and cultural systems with a high capacity to absorb, economic and acculturate the Kanawa as a distinct nation of the Hausa speaking people.

Since local and long-distance trade in basic not just luxury and exotic commodities was crucial to the type of economy that developed, emigration from the Kasar Kano to neighboring areas, in connection with this commerce and with apprenticeships in technology was and relation to others. The content of the entity known as the Kanawa was inseparable from the context and that entity.

For example, it is not clear when the name “Hausa” began to be applied to the language now known as Hausa. Or, to which dialects of the language it was first applied. If we go by current usage in the western Hausa dialects, the name was probably first applied to these western dialects, or to others which may have now disappeared. It is likely, however, that by the 17th Century the nation of Hausa Bakwai had developed and the Kanawa would have been seen as belonging to this larger entity.

But by that time it is likely that the Kanawa,  perhaps largely the sarakuna, the attajirai, the masu sana’a and the ulama already saw themselves as belonging to the bilad as-Sudan, and to the large, universal community of the dar-al-Islam.

The evidence available regarding the role of the Wangarawa, of Muhammad B. Abd-al-Karim al-Maghili, the relations with the Mai’s of Borno and with the rulers of Katsina and Songhai; together with the significance of the scholars and merchants, all point to the possibility that the Kasar Hausa,  or more precisely, the Hausa Bakwai, came to be significant as a context only with the conflicts and crises arising from the rise and expansion of the Gobirawa in the eighteenth century that is after the broader context of the  bilad-as-Sudan and the dar-al-Islam had taken root, even beyond the intelligentsia and the ruling class.

The economic, financial, religious, cultural and political incorporation of Kano as part of these larger continental and universal of migrants and its sending out its own people as emigrants to various parts of Northern and Western Africa, the Mediterranean region and the middle East, the substantial scale of immigration into Kano, from Borno, would itself enhance this incorporation.

The Emirate of Kano

 The political community of the Kanawa at the beginning of the second millennium was not the same as the political community which was taken over by the juma’a of Kano and incorporated as an emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate, in terms of the asali  (origin) and salsala (genealogy) of its citizens and slaves. It was far more heterogeneous. This is brought out in the Kano Chronicle and in the written sources and oral traditions collected and used by Abubakar Dokaji and Abdullahi Mahadi.

But the difference between Kanawa in the right of Sarkin Kano Warisi, son of Bagauda (c. 1063-1095) and the kanawa in the reign Sarkin Kano Muhammad Alwali (c.1781-1807) was more than a matter of greater heterogeneity in their origins. For reaching transformations of the economy, demography, settlements, culture and the impact of the penetration of Islam into the public and private spheres of life, which accompanied all this, had made it difficult to continue to legitimize the government of Kano on any other basis than on Islam. The Sarkin Kano Alwali is reported not only to have refused to make sacrifices to a fetish known as the Dirki but they also had the Dirki cut open with axes. It is said that a copy of the Koran was found inside it. It is not surprising, therefore, that Alwali himself was said to have been personally inclined to accept the call of the Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, and join the Sarkin Zazzau Isak, and change over from a Sarki to an Emir. All this indicates how powerful Islam had become in determining among the Kanawa by the conduct and of political legitimacy the Kanawa by the early nineteenth century.

A measure of the extent of the Islamization of society and of political discourse and political practice in Kano is that the resistance to the emirate form of government under the Emir Ibrahim Dabo (c. 1819-1846) and subsequent emirs, was hardly tribalized into Habe versus Fulani  contest, as was the case in Kebbi, Gwandu, Sokoto/Gobir, Sokoto/Zamfara, Katsina and Zazzau, the term “Fulani” in the political discourse of the emirate of Kano came to mean members of the ruling aristocracy drawn from the leading families of the jama’a  of Kano while Habe come to be applied to the inhabitants of the old quarters of the city, largely merchants and artisans, away from the mansions of the aristocracy around the Emirs Palace. The distinction has remained with its local resonance, but it never served as a base for challenging the emirate and it incorporation of Kano into the Sokoto Caliphate.

Even when the Kano civil war (1893-95) broke out over a succession dispute within the ruling Sullubawa dynasty, the incorporation of the Kanawa within the Sokoto polity, and under its caliph, was not seriously called into question. The Habe-Fulani dichotomy did not seem to have featured in any significant way in the conflict.

Recent Experience

Perhaps the most dramatic consequence of the colonial conquest and of colonial domination of the emirate of Kano on the composition of the Kanawa was the abolishing of slavery and the immediate increase in the number of Kanawa with the status of citizens. The number of slaves freed is being debated, but there seems to be no doubt that their emancipation increased significant the number of people who were and saw themselves as Kanawa, whatever their origins.

Slavery had, throughout the second millennium, been one of the ,means used to populate the Birnin Kano  and provided the high labor/land ratio required for the type of intensive  farming and widespread rural industry developed in the Kasar Kano. The ending of slavery did not seem to have led to the significant. What is done was largely to increase the number of citizens of Kano, now a part of the Colony and protectorate of Nigeria.

When the emancipation of the slaves was accompanied by the “pull” factors favoring migration into Kano from other parts of Colonial Nigeria, the asali element in the formation of the Kanawa became even less important. Migrants from the Muslim and non-Muslim peoples of the Chad Basin, from the Biu Plateau, the Gwaza and the Mandara Mountains  literally flooded into the urban and rural areas of Kano where earnings and employment opportunities were better than almost anywhere in Northern Nigeria. Emigration into Kano, particularly to the urban areas from the Niger-Benue Confluence Area brought in the Nupe, Igbirra, Igala and the Northern Edo. Together with the Yoruba and Igbo, these came to form a significant portion of the population, not only in the Birnin Kano and its suburbs but even in the other cities and major towns in Kano.

The context of this migration is covered up by the relatively high rate of absorption and assimilation f the emigrants, particularly those who are Muslims, or at least not fervent Christians; and by the focus on Kano metropolis and the neglect of the flow of emigrants into the rural areas and the other cities and towns.

The emigration of the Kanawa to various parts of the Nigeria and of Western and Northern Africa continued and was accompanied by immigration into Kano from these areas. The range now extends down beyond the Zambezi in the south and beyond Saudi Arabia to the Gulf Sheikdoms in the east. This process is not only changing the large context in which the kanawa live and are reproduced but is changing the nature of the kanawa nationality.


The historical experience o f the formation of the kanawa shows thattheconcept of the “nation” and the “nation-state” imposed on the world by European imperialism since the nineteenth century is inadequate and misleading because it denies the primacy of motion and change in the formation of these entities. Nations and nation-state have, largely not distinct nations races, with their segments becoming arisen from the process of the integration of people of diverse origin whose concept and context changing over time as a result of the various forces that come to influence them. In other words, nations, nationalities and nation-states are not biological entities held together by blood ties, but political entities formed by geography and history and the imperatives of territoriality and communication arising from these.

A nation or nationality as a biologically defined natural community, linked, by blood, ties and possessing its own territory is a fantasy of nineteenth century European nationalism which European imperialism has since imposed postal and agricultural revolution of the last ten millennia, may be found hidden in some obscure corner of the globe. But and the social and cultural imperative imposed by the territoriality have made the continuation of these racio-ethnic entities almost impossible.

The nature of mankind, therefore, is not likely to be determined b the bypassing of the nation-state, because this “nation-state” which is said to have been bypassed has never really existed anywhere outside the ideological context of European romanticism. The existing nation-states constituting the United Nations, are as diverse in their composition, content and structure are the historical experience of mankind. What we have to do is to grasp the realities of the historical experience that has produced us and in the light of the present and future circumstances and needs of our people, work out, and get down to building the future, on the basis of foundations which war rooted in our actual historical experience. That is the only way we can show that we know where we are coming from where we are going.            

Notes and Reference

1.         The intensification of Agriculture in Semi-Arid Areas: Lessons From the Kano Close-Settled Zone, by Frances Harris, IIED, Gatekeeper Series, No:59,1996, pp 9-II.

2.         This settlement pattern compounds and hamlets dispersed over the farmland and a high labor/land ratio requires a level of security of persons and property and of land tenure.

3.         “Archaeology and the Dating of Historical Events in Kano”. By Patrick. J. Darling, in Kano and Some of Her Neighours, edited by B.M Barkindo, ABU Press, 1989, p34.

4.         Ibid, p, 34.

5.         Ibid. p, 34

6.         Kano Ta Dabo Ci gari, by Alhaji Dokaji, Kano, NNPC Zaria, 1978: and, the State and the Economy; the Sarauta System and its Role in shaping the Society and Economy of Kano, with Particular reference to the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century, By Abdullahi Mahadi, Ph.D Thesis, ABU Zaria 1982.

7.         Sudanese, Memoirs: the Volume in One, by H.R Palmer, Frank Cass Co. Ltd, London, 1967; p, 128


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