THE TRADERS OF KASAR KANO IN THE NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURIES

This scholarly article shall surely tell you more about the interaction between the Hausa people and their guests known as #BUZAYE #AGALAWA #AZBINAWA #AGADASAWA #BUGAJE #ABZINAWA #TOKARAWA or #TheBluePeople from the other side of the Sahel.

By Abdulkarim Umar Dan-Asabe (1995)…

The trading communities in the central and western Sudan, especially Kano region in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, varied both in specialisation and backgrounds. There were traders in livestock, slaves, natron, salt, cloth, gowns, mats, dates, European-Mediterranean imported articles, and many others. Some of these traders were indigenous Kano people (Kanawa), others were Wangarawa (Mande), Larabawa (Arabs), Nupawa (Nupe), Yarabawa (Yoruba), Barebari (Kanuri), Kambarin Barebari, Bugaje, and Agalawa. In Kano city, certain residential areas were first settled by immigrant traders from places outside Kano even in pre-jihad times or soon after. For example: Zangon Barebari, Borno immigrant traders and Malams, Tudun Nupawa-Nupe traders, Unguwar Ayagi-Nupe and Yoruba Traders, Yelwa (Qul-Qul), Katsina traders who came to Kano during the time of Emir Ibrahim Dabo (1819-46). Yelwa got its name when after a brief stay at Kan Tudun Madabo area, the leader of some newly arrived merchants and artisans complained to the Emir that his house was too small to accommodate his family and followers. He had made his approach through a slave official, the Maajin Watari (the royal treasurer) and they were given a land on the North-West side of the City. The Emir supposedly said that the area had more space – Yafi Yelwa. Hence, Yelwa.3 Koki was also first settled by Agalawa traders from Katsina, especially the Sarari section. Mandawari, Yandoya and Jujin Yanlabo were first settled by Wangarawa traders and Malams.4 Agadasawa, by immigrants from Agades, Dandalin Turawa (play ground of the whites)by Arabs, etc.

The objectives of this paper are to examine one of these trading communities – the Agalawa, because by the nineteenth and up to the first of twentieth centuries, most of the major traders in Kasar Kano were of Agalawa origin.

Who or What are the Agalawa? This is the question that has exercised the minds of scholars and generated much debate. The present generally accepted opinion is that they are a group of people of central Saharan origin who, in the distant past, might have been speakers of the Tamashek, the language of the Tuaregs, but who lost their first language and other characteristics when they finally settled in Hausaland after the sixteenth century. Their main occupation has always been trade. The name has in fact become synonymous with traders who use donkeys and other pack animals as their main system of transport.

The earliest reference to the Agalawa as a group available to me is in the Kano Chronicles, a very remarkable document which traced the history of Kano in particular and Hausland and Borno in general and whose original authors are still unknown6.

According to this source, the Agalfatia or Agalawa, came to Kano during the time of Sarki Yakubu Barja (1452-1463).7 The English translator of this document from Arabic original, Mr. Palmer, a one time D.O. of Katsina, concluded that Agalfatia and Agalawa were one and the same thing. He suggested that their first homes were Agar or Agel, a place north of Gidean in Borno, Shibdawa in Katsina Emirate, Garko in Kano Emirate and other places. “It is clear that” Palmer continued, “Agalawa founded the reputations of the Hausa as itinerant traders.”8 In 1909, Glenny observed large number of Agalawa or Katsinawa in Bebeji area.9 Another colonial officer (Gebb) reported their presence in 1911 in Dan Makwayo District, 13 km North of Kano City.10 The Agalawa were described by Temple as living mainly in Kano and Katsina Emirates in crowded villages. They were described as great traders who kept large herd of donkeys for the purpose. They were, according to this source, a mixture of Asbenawa and “pagan” Hausa.11

Gowers (1921) put the population of Agalawa in Katsina and Kano Emirates in 1921 as 121,00012. Some modern writers, taking clues from these earlier sources, concluded that Agalawa were descendants of the low-status Tuaregs who migrated to the Savannah from Agades areas and took up trading.13 However, Dan-Aguzumi, a Ba’agale who has recently migrated to Kano, gave the simplest and to my mind, the most convincing definition of the Agalawa origins. He explained that in Tamashek (the language of the Tuaregs), the term Agali means south and ahir means north; therefore, to the Tuaregs, (Kel-Tamashek) all people living to the south of them and especially those who were engaged in commercial activities using donkeys and other pack animals came to be called ahl Agali, meaning people of the south, or Agalawa in Hausa (sing, Ba’agale).14 The simplicity and elegance of this explanation must surely supersede the convoluted debates of earlier writers.

The Agalawa might be descendants of the people who once inhabited the extreme northern part of the Hausa areas (the Asben areas) before they were pushed down southwards by stronger forces (Kel Tamashek) by the first quarter of the fifteenth century. Their movements southwards were gradual, isolated and often non-systematic. However, by the mid-eighteenth century, they were fully established in large numbers in the kingdoms of Zamfara, Gobir and Kano. They might also have been well established in the Katsina area because up till the end of the eighteenth century, it was the main centre of attraction to most people moving down from North African regions.15

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Agalawa had become Hausa and were participating in most activities of Hausa society, just like other ethnic units who were assimilated earlier. One of them (Agalawa), Malam Agali, who was described by Sultan Bello as a man from Asben, supported Shehu Usman Danfodio when he mounted his Jihad at the beginning of the nineteenth century.16

By the first decade of the nineteenth century, the Agalawa as an informal association of merchants might have matured, being protected and encouraged by the Jihadists in their trading ventures. They gradually replaced the existing Wangarawa traders and scholars who in most areas remained loyal to Hausa rulers during the Jihad struggle. That might have been the main reason why some old Islamic centres with a reputation as the homes of respected pre-Jihad Islamic scholars and which had large concentration of Wangarawa, were destroyed or nearly destroyed during the Jihad.17 For example, Katsina which was a significant centre of the Wangarawa, was the home of many leading pre-Jihad Islamic scholars like Dan Marina (Ibn al-Sabbaqh); Dan masani (Abu Abdullahi Muhammed b. Masani); Yan-Doto the town where al-shaikh al-Bekri, a famous 16/17 century teacher said to be one of the famous ulema of Borno studied, and an important Wangarawa centre situated on the main trade route; Kurmin Dan Rankot now near modern Malumfashi in southern Katsina as the home of Dan Takum (Muhammad b. Ahmed al-Tazakhti), who was made a Qadi of the Birnin Katsina in 1529/30 and wrote a commentary on the Mukhtasar of Ibn Khalil.

However, by the second decade of the nineteenth century, the Agalawa and other merchant communities mainly, North Africans, started to abandon Katsina and neighbouring areas for Kano, because the local Jihad leaders could not check the hostile activities of the defeated Hausa rulers, who had re-located themselves in what is now Niger Republic around Maradi and other places.

In Kano, the immigrants settled in the areas which Mortimore had described as the “close-settled zones” that is within Kano city and immediate environment (about 50km radius), in the following villages and towns: Utai, Garko, Wudil, Kumurya, Rano, Kura, Bebeji, Madobi, Gora, Danshayi, Dorayi, Doka, Rimin Asbinawa, Bichi, Yakasai (near Bichi), Badume, Dawanau, Jalli, Kwanar Dumawa, Kunya, Minjibir, Lambu, Jirgabawa, Zabainawa, Rafin Malam, Gezawa and other places. It should be noted that all pre-and post colonial industrial and commercial activities of Kasar Kano were located within this area of Agalawa concentration.

In their new abodes, the Agalawa were accepted. Assimilation was easy because they needed no culture broker – they already spoke Hausa as a first language, were all Muslims, and in fact had already adopted most aspects of Hausa culture. They retained a few of their former customs and characteristics to facilitate economic activities. For example, they used distinctive face and body markings (Agalanci or Katsinanci) and were regarded and even now regard themselves as specifically Agalawa as opposed to Kanawa. But this was done with caution, for it was only within the Sokoto Caliphate that they were called Agalawa. Elsewhere they were Hausawa, Muslims and Katsina or Kano Merchants19. This early and easy assimilation of the Agalawa into Hausa society is an example of a process found in many such cases throughout the history of the Hausawa.20 Hausa culture swallowed many ethnic groups which came into direct relation with it. In Hausaland today, one finds, many people who claim non-Hausa origins like Kanuri, Fulbe, Tuaregs, Arabs Kambari, Wangarawa, (mande) Yorubawa, (Yoruba), Nupawa (Nupe), Jukunawa (Jukuns) and so on, but who know nothing but Hausa culture.

From the middle of the nineteenth century the Agalawa formed the largest single group of long distance traders (H. fatake) in the Sokoto Caliphate. Kasar Kano, (the land of Kano), was their centre and all the major trade routes radiated from it. For example, from Kano, traders travelled to Asante and Akan dominated Kola area of Gonja with mainly Kano cloth, potash, cattle, slaves, dried onion leaves, leather goods and so on, and brought back to Kano, kolanuts. They took cloth and leather goods to Adamawa area and returned to Kano with slaves and elephant tusks which they re-sold in Kano City market to traders from across the Sahara. From Borno, Kano merchants after disposing of their wares, black and white cloth, (i.e. indigo) returned with horses, donkeys cattle, slaves and cotton for both industrial and other uses, ostrich feathers and other goods. Because of the protection, encouragement and patronage, the Agalawa traders received from the Emirs and rulers of the Sokoto Caliphate and Borno, they became the most prosperous groups of traders by the end of the nineteenth century, many leading businessmen in Kano today are of Agalawa origin; and famous names like that of Kundila (d.1901); Umaru Sharubutu (d.1944); Adamu Jakada (d. 1942); Maikano Agogo (d.1946); Alhaji Alhassan Dantata (d. August 17, 1955); Iliasu Dandagomba (d. 1952); and others too numerous to mention were among them.21

The Agalawa Culture: The Agalawa adopted the entire culture of the Hausawa as earlier indicated, in dress, food, religion, residential accommodations, language and so on. But they remained largely endogamous, and thus because of this, they were in any particular area almost all related to one another. They were unostentatious, frugal and in most cases ate only once a day – usually a late evening meal. They maintained friendly relations with local rulers and attempted to avoid confrontations with them. They regard long-distance trade as their natural way of life and indeed, almost as a religious obligation. They rightly argued that the prophet Muhammad, and all his close companions were, by profession long-distance traders.

Though the Agalawa had a long connection with Islam even preceding their movement into the Hausaland and some of them even were Islamic scholars (like Malam Agali); none of them are known to have performed the Hajj before 192022. They consistently utilised their wealth to support Islamic education, and in the present century, Islamic brotherhoods especially the Tijjaniya movement of Ibrahim Nias. Thus, they resented the leadership of Dan Folio’s Jihad, a movement that they had supported through its most difficult times. They enjoyed the same type of Islamic schooling with their hosts (Hausawa).

All of them seem to have “begun, their career by serving a business apprenticeship as young hawkers of Kolanuts and other items from market to market or from house to house in Kano city or villages. At later stage they accompanied their parents or relations on trading expeditions to Gonja and other places, thus gaining business experience at tender ages. The young men remained with the family “company” (gandu) until they had the means if they so desired to leave and set up a business of their own. Most of the leading merchants maintained four wives, slaves, servants and large number of children. The merchants used to gradually transfer most of their important possessions (houses, farms, livestock, etc.) to their sons before death. In this way, however, daughters, small children and wives were cheated. The majority of the Agalawa failed to employ any form of book-keeping, even in the present century, and kept the business secret to themselves. Agalawa were internationally orientated with no really permanent homes, moving from place to place. They had only encampments even though they might have had houses, or bases, in Kano city and surrounding villages, otherwise most of the time, they were away on trading expeditions together with their household: wives, concubines, children, servants, domestic slaves and so on.

Majority of them avoided involvement in local politics, but they were always friendly to local authorities and Emirs who provided them protection. The Emirs patronised their goods, especially kola. In return, Emirs were generous in regard to land allocation to them. For example, Alhaji Alhassan Dantata, purchased his first house at the end of Koki after World War I and was able to extend freely after that. Alhaji Salga Maigoro of Kabuwaya was given the house where Hausa rulers had lived in Kano before the time of Muhammad Rumfa (1463-99 A.D.) by Sarkin Bai, Head of the Danbazawa Fulani clan (1930s), However, some of them became village heads in Minjibir Local Government area, Gezawa, Kura, Bichi, Dawakin Kudu and Ward heads in the Municipal Local Government. By the middle of this century the family of Dantata became fully involved in local and national politics. The family of Dandagomba also came to participate in political activities both at the local and national levels.

Following the defeat and subsequent colonisation of Africa by European Nations, the commercial activities of the Agalawa and other local traders were restricted by the new colonial boundaries. European rivalries led the new rulers to discourage international long distance trade24. Their occasional involvement in the slave trade led to the Agalawa as a group, being accused of slave dealings by Europeans25. The slave estates of the more prosperous merchants like those of other wealthy men maintained outside Kano city walls were soon deserted because the new regime discouraged domestic slavery26. The introduction of the Caravan tolls by Lugard’s administration after 1903 further complicated matters27. The coming of Lebanese traders28, the importation of cheap European cloth, dyes, salt, sugar, soap, iron implements29, improved communications30, currency exchange31, the 1913/14 famine32, the first world war33, the Great Depression34, etc, put many of them out of traditional business.

The Agalawa and other merchant communities were then encouraged to participate in the newly introduced colonial economy acting as agents – trading or relating for the larger European companies. In particular, they were active in agricultural produce buying and helped to provide transport services to the rural areas with their large number of pack animals35. Some of them, because of their cosmopolitan outlook and links with both the Talakawa (peasants) and the Sarakuna (rulers) were employed as political agents, spies, interpreters, messengers, etc36. At a later period in the 1930s, when lorries started to become common, merchants of Agalawa origin, because of their long established connection with European firms, became the first significant lorry transporters hauling goods – salt, soap, kerosene, building, materials, sugar, etc, from urban centres and railway stations to rural areas37. But the majority of the Agalawa found it difficult to adapt to the rapidly changing situation and many ceased to be independent traders38. However, some families naturally adopted but positively exploited the new condition to their own advantage. Two Agalawa families in particular became important exceptions – the family of Alhassan Dantata and of Dandagomba. Both of them coming from the same centre of long – distance traders – Bebeji, south of Kano.39

Both families came to Kano city after 1918, although not at the same time. That is when long – distance trade has clearly come to an end and when the new communication systems (particularly the railways) had begun to revolutionise the type and quantity of commercial transactions. Alhaji Alhassan Dantata, the son of Abdullahi participated in the colonial economy with enthusiasm buying agricultural produce for the European companies and distributing imported European goods to his fellow Africans. Within only a period of four years (1922) he (Dantata) became the wealthiest man in Kano overtaking established merchants such as Umaru Sharubutu, Maikano Agogo and others40, a position he maintained until his death on Wednesday August 17, 1555. Madugu Dandagomba (father of Salihi Iliasu), though not as wealthy as Dantata continued with traditional trade in Kola but by utilising the railways increased the scale of his operation. He enrolled all his children except the girls into western schooling in addition to the normal Islamic one. Both of them – Dantata and Dandagomba died some 30 years ago. The heirs of Dantata remain the wealthiest family in Kano – a position created by Alhassan, while the family of Dandagomba is the most educated family (in the western sense of the term) in Kano among the non-sarauta group…

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