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Being and Becoming Hausa is not straightforward Workshop participants

Being and Becoming Hausa is not straightforward

05 July 12

clothing, religion, the countryside and pots all play a part

The Hausa comprise 24 million people living in Niger and Nigeria as well as 15 million people spread throughout West Africa who speak Hausa as a second language. From the 15th century onwards, outsiders, including Europeans, have been impressed by the Hausa’s vast town walls, extensive trade links and manufacturing. But what is it to be Hausa? This is the question addressed by Anne Haour and Benedetta Rossi, funded by the Religion and Society Programme, who brought together anthropologists, archaeologists, economists, linguists and museologists from Africa, Europe and North America to address this issue in two expert workshops in 2008. Their answer uncovers the dynamic and multi-faceted nature of Hausa identity, in which religion plays an important part, but in which there remains considerable variety, tolerance, and flexibility. The project concludes that there are many ‘ways of life’ which can be identified as Hausa.

The rural origins of Hausa identity are important, and Hausa productive capacity in the countryside enabled the most renowned walled Islamic Hausa towns to come into existence. Although early Hausa society included a strong animist component, Islam played an increasing role to the point where today being Hausa is often associated with being Muslim. Yet animist rituals and beliefs persist, and some Hausa converted to Christianity. One thing which became apparent through the workshops was the centuries-long tradition of tolerance and respect, which belies many media representations of West Africa.

Material culture is another aspect fundamental to the definition of ‘Hausaness’ and the network found that this can be approached from many different disciplinary perspectives. Clothing is one important marker of identity, ceramics are another. Different forms of material culture have always been impacted by foreign influences, and the project discussed the tangible evidence for such an impact, including changes in ceramic decoration.

Workshop participants came from Niger, Nigeria, the USA, Germany, Italy, Sweden and France, as well as across the UK. The meeting in Liverpool included a chance to study the collections of the World Museum Liverpool and Dr A. Mahamane (University of Niamey, Niger) then gave a seminar at the Centre for the Study of International Slavery (CSIS) on ‘Contemporary Slavery in Niger’. Out of the workshops developed a dedicated mailing list which has enabled at least 150 scholars worldwide to become engaged with the research. Extra funding was attracted from the Sainsbury Research Unit, African Studies Association UK and CSIS. The network has led to a landmark publication in Hausa studies featuring papers by participants entitled Being and Becoming Hausa published by Brill in 2010, which has become the fourth bestselling volume in their African Social Studies series.

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