The Background History and Demography of Kano State

The former Kano province of Northern Nigeria became known as Kano state on the 27th of May, 1967 by the military Decree No. 14.1.  The city of Kano has been famed to be one of the most advanced cities in pre-colonial Northern Nigeria, being probably the largest urban centre in Sudanic West Africa in the nineteenth century (jihad), oral traditions of its origins suggest that it was founded between A.D. 1000 and 1200 during which period centralized political authority evolved.  The oral tradition is based on the legendary Bayagida.

According to the Bayajida legend of the traditions of origin of the Hausa states, one Bayajida fled from Baghdad to Kanem-Bornu, a state in the Chad basin.  The Mai of Bornu gave Bayajida his daughter in marriage but deprived him of his follower.  Bayojida in a cautious move fled from the Mai for fear of the Mai’s intentions towards him.  Bayojida traveled westward but left his wife at Biran-ta Gabbas to bear him a son before stopping at Gaya near Kano.  At Gaya, Bayajida met some blacksmiths who made a knife for him to his specifications.  With this knife Bayajida delivered a people that had been oppressed and deprived of water from a well by a sacred snake called “Sarki”, by killing the snake.  Daura the queen of the place married him for his bravery and also gave him a Gwari concubine.  By Daura, Bayajida had a son called Bawo.  One of the traditions had it that Bawo had seven children who became founders of the Hausa States Hausa Bakwai.  These were Biram and Daura, the oldest; Katsina and Zaria, twins; Kano and Rano, twins; and Gabir, the youngest.  Whether these were names of persons or places is not certain, however in almost all Hausa traditions Biram and Daura are considered to be the earliest settlement of the Hausa people in their present location.  These states were independent of each other but were bound by language and culture.

According to traditions the earliest inhabitants of Kano were the Abagiyawa, borne by few Kano blacksmiths.  The Abagiyawa have it that one of their ancestors, a smith called Kano came from Gaya in search of iron stone and charcoal and settled at Dala hill.  The Abagiyawa also practiced the arts of medicine, beer-brewing, archery, drumming and dancing including smithing.  They were organized in local patrilinear groups each with its own head and distinguished by some special trait or skill.  Among the Abagiyawa was a man called Barbushe, the hunter priest of a local deity.  Barbushe had influence and power among the people of Kano of his day.  In subsequent time several immigrant groups arrived in Kano; one of them was led by a man called Bagauda and overwhelmed the Abagiyawa and settled at Sheme in Kano.  Probably among these immigrants were the men of the Bayajida invasion and the legendary seven children of Bawo, one of whom was called Kano.  The name Kano was ascripted to two different ancestors, this in a way describes the complete assimilation and identification achieved between the newcomers and the earlier inhabitants. From the Kano chronicle the city wall of Kano was built in the twelfth century  and was inaugurated in the reign of Gijinmasu (1095 – 1134).  The walls were later completed by his son and successor, Yisa Tsaraki (1136 – 94).  The early forms of social and political organizations in Hausaland were centred round the ‘birni’, the walled or stockaded town; as distinct from the ‘gari’ or kauyi’, the village or hamlet.  The community in the birni was self-sufficient and was united by trade, industry and engaged in agriculture.  In the times of wars or other conflicts, the ‘birni’ could support its inhabitants from siege and neighbouring hamlets could take refuge within the walls.  The gradual expansion of a birni into a Hausa state took the form of absorption or subjugation of outlying territory, population and power.  The expanding ‘birni’ developed from a village to a city town and its head – the sarki, changed from a village to a city chief with an elaborate court and official hierarchy.  The other neighbouring ‘birni’ became subordinate to it.  The earliest Hausa states were small in size and had limited sphere of influence being within a radius of only a few days’ march from the capital.

The political and social order in Hausa states had underlying support from religion, which closely integrated and regulated the societies with ritual sanction and forms.  In Kano, Barbushe and other senior lineage heads exercised ritual jurisdiction and leadership over the Abagiyawa.  The priest – king, town and royal deities, symbols and taboos were spiritual bonds which reinforced political unity.


Kano being at the centre of the trans-Saharan trade was influenced by the activities of the traders from North Africa.  Islam came through these traders to Hausaland in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  Islam became the religion of the ruling classes in the fifteenth century and onwards and had the consequences of altering the political and social institutions of the Hausa people.  The Sarki became more powerful but these were generally checked and limited by his central council composed of the chief ministers and territorial officials who were acting in advisory capacity but were not to be ignored.

The village or district head was in-charge of judicial affairs in his district in the early times.  The king sat in his compound in the capital with the Sarkin Fada (chief official of the household) and others to listen to grievances.  But if the matter was of great importance, and serious like in murder cases, the councilors were consulted.