Conversation with Fula (Puel) on the origin of the Hausa
|Main linguistic groups of Nigeria|
Alice C. Linsley
I've been having an interesting online conversation with a Nigerian named Digare Ahmed at my Biblical Anthropology group. Ahmed lives in northern Nigeria and is Fula (Peul), not Hausa, but he has raised the question about Hausa origins. I thought it might be helpful to present this in a Question and Answer format for others to read.
Ahmed asked: "How many languages are said to be Semitic? If the Hausa language is one, then are the Hausa people Semitic?"
A: The Semitic languages are Arabic, Aramaic, Amharic, Hebrew and Hausa. Hausa is linguistically close to Arabic, which is much older than Hebrew. The oldest Arabic documents were found in the region of Dedan in Arabia. The Hausa aren't Semitic. Hausa-speakers are a mixture of peoples, but their language is essentially Kushitic. Here's why:
Beginning in Nubia about 10,000 years ago, the Kushites spread into the interior of Africa along the Shari and the Benue rivers, establishing kingdoms and chieftains as far at Lagos in Nigeria and into the southern Kordafan. They also went west. The Ashante of Ghana were Kushites. Nte means "people of" and Asha is a proper name. The Ashante are the people of Asha, a Kushite ruler who established a kingdom in West Africa.
The name Asha is a priestly name in the Bible. One of Jesse's grandsons was named Asahel, which means "made by God." The priest Elkanah had a son named Am-asi (I Chron. 2:25, 35) and a Jerusalem priest was named Am-ashai (Neh. 11:13). This suggests that the origins of the priesthood of Israel are to be traced to the older Kushite civilization.
The word Akan is likely related to the biblical figure Kain, who was a Kushite. He is associated with the beginnings of metal work in Africa.
Kush is both a vast region and an ethnicity in the Bible. The various regions of ancient Kush later came to be called by different names. Nubia, the land of gold (nu (means gold) was later called Aithiopia by the Greeks. Aithiopia means black. When the Arabs arrived, they translated aithiopia into the Arabic equivalent soudan (Sudan) which means black.
Before the naming of modern nations, the Kushite territories were ruled by tribal chiefs and overlords of larger territories. Biblical Kush included southern Sudan, the Lake Chad region of Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. The culture was essentially Nilotic.
Linguistic and archaeological evidence supports the biblical picture of Abraham's ancestors coming from the Upper Nile region that was part of Kush and spreading their culture and religious beliefs by the great water systems across what I've termed the ancient "Afro-Asiatic Domnion." During this period the Sahara was a much wetter region. Genesis tells us that Abraham was a descendant of Kush and of the great Kushite kingdom-builder, Nimrod.
Hausa’s close relationship to Arabic is due to the common roots that the Kushite languages share with old Arabic. Before Judaism became a distinct world religion, these Afro-Asiatic peoples shared a common worldview and religious practices which the Bible calls Kushite. The Kushite civilization spread from the Nile Valley into southern Africa and into West Africa.
Kushite religion was characterized by the following features:
1. A deity associated with the number 3, a triune God. The number 3 is repeatedly found in connection to the most astonishing acts of God. Jonah was 3 days in the belly of the whale. Moses was hidden for 3 months (Ex. 2:2). Job's 3 friends struggled with the mystery of why the righteous suffer. Moses asked permission to go 3 days journey into the wilderness to worship. Abraham traveled 3 days to a mountain only God could reveal and upon which God provided His own sacrifice. The Covenant God made with Abraham involved cutting up 3 animals that were 3 years old. God in 3 Persons visited Abraham (Gen. 18). The 3 measures of flour made into cakes for those Visitors. The 3 gifts offered them: curds, milk and a calf. Abraham prayed 3 times for the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. Joseph had a dream of a vine with 3 branches (Gen 40:10-12). Saul was told "you will come as far as the oak of Tabor, and 3 men going up to God at Bethel will meet you, one carrying 3 young goats, another carrying 3 loaves of bread..." (I Sam.10:3) The “Son of Man” appeared with 3 men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). Jesus rose on the third day, “according to the Scriptures.” The Afro-Asiatic Canaanites had a name for the 3 God: "Baal Shalisha".
2. Veneration of the Sun as the Deity's emblem/chariot (against Babylonian worship of the Moon which merely reflects light). Abraham’s father, Terah, was criticized for being an idol worshiper because he left the land of this fathers (Canaan) and compromised with the religion of the land to which he moved (Ur and Haran, both known for the worship of the moon god Sin).
3. A fixed binary order in creation which speaks of God's nature, and helps seekers of God to know how they should order their lives. As the Sun was regarded as the emblem of the Creator, people faced the rising Sun to pray. This is what it means to be rightly “oriented.” Male-female, heaven-earth, night-day, dry land-seas, east-west, north-south, left-right, raw-cooked, hot-cold, life-death, good-evil, God-man: these distinctions order our world and our thinking. They prevent us from becoming lost, confused or disoriented. It is necessary to pay attention to these binary distinctions to understand holy Tradition. For example, Abraham was visited “in the heat of the day” by God in 3 Persons (Gen. 18:1). Compare this to the binary opposite of “in the cool of the day”, the time of God’s visitation to Adam and Eve in Paradise (Gen. 3:8). Why are the two accounts posed as hot and cool encounters with God? Because in the first God has come to punish the cities, and in the second God has come to enjoy being with the Man and the Woman He made in His image.
4. At least among the Horites of the Nile there was an expectation of Messiah/Anointed One, who like David (only greater), would be "Son of God". Muslims believe this is the Prophet Mohammed. Christians believe this is Jesus, Son of the Virgin Mary. Jews are still waiting for the Messiah’s appearing.
5. A hereditary office of priest and the intermarrying of priestly lines. I’m interested in your suggestion that Hausa might be hawassa, which might be derived from the Egyptian word for priest - harwa. This would fit the general picture of the Hausa’s origins being to the east of Nigeria, possibly in ancient Nubia (Sudan) which in the time of the black Pharaohs controlled Egypt. the word sarki which is translate emir in Hausa has an earlier meaning or ruler-priest. The priests of the ancient Afro-Asiatic dominion were called sarki and they spread all the way to Nepal and Cambodia.
6. Animal sacrifice at altars, many of which were associated with Horus, called “son of God.” This is why many of the oldest altars were shaped like falcons, the totem of the followers of Horus who are called Horites. Moses and his family were Horites.
7. Similar number symbolism, the number 7 having special significance, especially as related to the first-born son’s marriage and his reception of a kingdom.
8. Prophets and a tradition whereby true and false prophets were discerned. I recently read an article on prophets in ancient Nubia/Meroe which indicated that this phenomenon is very old.
Ahmed asked: Where did the Hausa come from?
A: This is an excellent question. I believe the oral tradition of the Hausa is reliable in the fine details. According to Hausa oral tradition, Bayajida (or Bayajidda) is the founder of the seven Hausa city states. He is said to have come to Bor’No (Land of Noah) from the east. He was a stranger to the area because his name is "Ba ya ji da", which means "he who didn't understand the language before, he was a stranger here." He likely came to Nigeria from Arabia. The name resembles the Arabic name 'Ub ay diyya. Al-'Ubaydiyya (Arabic: العبيدية) was an Arab village before it was depopulated on March 3, 1948. It was located in Galilee about 6 miles south of Tiberias, close to the Jordan River. The Canaanites referred to al-'Ubaydiyya as Bayt Shamash which means "House of God." Shamash was another name for the Creator Re, whose emblem was the Sun. He was worshiped by different names across the vast Afro-Asiatic Dominion.
In Bor’nu, Bayajida married the daughter of a local chief, but later fled after having a dispute with the ruler. This fits the biblical person of Cain (Kano) who married a daughter of the chief Nok. He is said to have fled after killing his brother.
The Hausa claim that their founder, Bayajida, came from the east in an effort to escape his father. It is possible that his father was a ruler in Egypt or ancient Nubia. The story goes on to say that Bayajida eventually came to Gaya where he employed blacksmiths to fashion a knife for him. This fits the picture as the region of Gaya, Nok and Kano is famous for blacksmiths, such as the Inadan. Gaya is said to be the origin of a man named Kano who first settled in the present Kano State in search of ironstone.
With his knife Bayajida proceeded to Daura where he delivered the people from oppression by a powerful serpent who guarded their well and prevented them from getting water six days out of the week. The serpent could not keep them from taking water on the holy day. In appreciation, the queen of Daura married Bayajida and she gave birth to seven sons. Each became a ruler and ruled the seven city states that make up Hausaland.
A problem arises when we attempt to put dates to these events. The Hausa states are recognized as entities only as early as 500 A.D., and they did not control the region until 1200 A.D. Their history is tied to Islam and the Fulani who wrested power from them in the early 1800s through a series of holy wars. It appears that the original Hausa story has taken on layers of interpretation since the influx of different peoples to the area.
Nevertheless, there are striking parallels between Bayajida’s story and the stories of Abraham’s ancestors who lived in west central Africa. For example, Bayajidda, the son of a ruler, met his wife at a sacred well where he delivered her people from a great serpent. Most of the heroes of Genesis met their wives at sacred wells or springs. Abraham married Keturah at the Well of Sheba (Beersheva). Issac (Yitzak) found a wife at a well in Aram. Moses encountered his wife at a well sacred to the Midianites and won her had after he delivered the women and flocks from Egyptian raiders.
Bayajida was associated with metal workers, as was Cain. The metalworkers of the ancient Kushite civilization were also rulers which is what the word Cain means. (The Eastern Afro-Asiatic equivalent is Khan, meaning king or ruler.) The Kushite maintained two wives in separate households. This is still done today among the metalworkers of the region. The metal working chiefs of the Inadan who live in the Air Desert surrounding Agadez, maintain two wives in separate households on a north-south axis (National Geographic, Aug. 1979, p. 389). There appears to be a connection between the Kushite priesthood and metalwork. This suggested by the story of Aaron (Ex. 32) who made a statute of a calf (the symbol of Hat-Hor, the virgin mother of Horus who was said to the "son of God.").
I believe that the root of Bayajidda's name is BJA, the ancient Egyptian word for meteroric iron. Bja meant "metal from heaven." The Beja of Sudan, Egypt and the Horn of Africa are metalworkers.(The Beja's metalworking kin in Niger and northern Nigeria are the Inadan.) Bja corresponds to the Sanskrit word bija, meaning semen or seed. Meteoritic iron was used in the fabrication of iron beads in
That the earlier layer of the Hausa origins account is very old is attested by the role which water plays in the story. In the ancient Afro-Asiatic Dominion shrines were built along rivers and at wells and springs from west central Africa to the Indus River Valley. Serpents inhabited these places and were both venerated and feared. In Sanskrit serpent is “naaga”, in Hebrew “nahash”, and in Hausa the serpent is “naja.”
Such shrines exist today in Africa and Asia. It is not uncommon for the serpent to speak through a woman who goes into a trace. This is regarded as prophecy. However, in the Hausa, Jewish and Christian tradition the serpent is regarded as an enemy whose head is to be crushed once and for all by the Anointed One. This is the meaning of Jesus’ saying: “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues, they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly they will recover; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Injil, Mark 16:17-18)
Christians believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of the first promise in the Bible, Genesis 3:15. This is called the "Edenic Promise" because it was made to Abraham's Kushite ancestors in Eden. Here God declared that "the Woman" (not Eve since she isn't named until verse 20) would bring for "the Seed" who would crush the serpent's head and restore paradise.
I hope that this will stimulate further discussion of the fascinating topic of Hausa origins. Please email me if you'd like to contribute to this information. I can be reached at aproeditor-at-gmail-dot-com.
Best wishes to you Digare Ahmed!
Related reading: Conversation about Igbo Origins; African Naming Practices; An African Reflects on Biblical Names; Who Were the Kushites?; Who Were the Horites?