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Re: Is There Such a Thing as “Hausa-Fulani”?

Before I publish some of the reactions to last week’s column , I want to clarify that when I referred to the late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa a...

Before I publish some of the reactions to last week’s column, I want to clarify that when I referred to the late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as being half “Shuwa Arab,” I was only using a familiar Nigerian ethnic descriptor to refer to his paternal ethnic heritage. Many sources said he was descended, patrilineally, from the Bageri or Bagara ethnic group, who share linguistic similarities with the Shuwa Arabs of Borno and Chad.

I took the liberty to describe his paternal ethnic heritage as “Shuwa” Arab” because I thought people will relate more to that label than Bageri/Bagara.  “Bagara,” by the way, is the Arabic word for cattleman, and is used by Middle Eastern and North African Arabs to refer to sub-Saharan African Arabs, including Shuwa Arabs in Borno and Chad.

But someone who claims to have personal familiarity with the late Tafawa Balewa’s family disputed claims of the late prime minister’s Bageri/Bagara ancestry; he insisted the late prime minister was Jarawa/Gerawa. Other people, nonetheless, said the late prime minister’s patrilineal ethnic heritage was actually Sayawa, not Jarawa or Bageri/Bagara. If any family member of the minister is reading this, I would appreciate an email from them to set the records straight.

Well, read below a sample of the responses I received.

Thanks for your yet another interesting column. I am Hausa from Kano. As far as I know, I don’t have a drop of Fulani blood in me. I have never understood why people would call me “Hausa-Fulani.” That name puzzles me to no end. As you rightly said, in all Nigeria cultures, including Hausa AND Fulani cultures, people’s ethnic identity is determined by the ethnic identity of their father. We would never call a person who is the product of an intermarriage between an Igala and an Idoma (and there is a lot of that) an “Igala-Idoma.” If the label “Hausa-Fulani” is justified because you said our integration is “on a scale of intensity that is unexampled anywhere in Nigeria,” would we start hyphenating other ethnic identities once the “scale of intensity” of their integration equals that of the Hausa and Fulani? I doubt it. Well, you’re really spot on when you said the label is “meaningless.”
Sabi’u Umar, Kano

In Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah’s PhD thesis from SOAS London, “Religion and Politics in Northern Nigeria since Independence”, Kukah analysed the Hausa-Fulani issue in terms of “power relations.” He wrote:  “When I asked Umaru B. Ahmed, former Director of the Centre for Nigerian Cultural Studies, Zaria, himself a Hausa with Fulani blood in him, he said: "The romance over Fulani blood among many Hausa people is purely because of the Sarauta (traditional power) benefits. If you do away with the Sarauta in the political system today, no one will be bothered about their Fulani lineage, because the lines are already blurred through very many generations of intermarriages."
Mohammed Dahiru Aminu, London

I think we need to really get to the origins of the term Hausa-Fulani. Who invented? Or, better still, who first used it? Professor Jibo’s claim (via John Paden) that the term was invented by Barewa College students in the 1920s is too simplistic to be taken seriously. Even if this were true, which is frankly unlikely, it requires someone or some people with symbolic power to make the term stick and used as widely as it is today. That’s why I like your point (via Benedict Anderson) about the power of the media to create imagined communities. In the modern world, without the active participation of the media, no name or label or identity can travel beyond its place of origin.
Kamaldeen Olatunbosu, Ilorin

I am Fulani. To me, you are either Hausa or Fulani. Simple. I too am not fluent in Hausa because I learnt it for the first time in my university days. I only spoke Fulfulde and English in my youth. In Nigeria, you are your father's ethnic group.
Aishatu Suleiman

Talking about the non-existence of labels like Yoruba -Fulani despite the existence of Fulanis in Yoruba land reminded me of an encounter during my NYSC days. I came across some Fulani settlers in some parts of Saki East LGA in Oyo state. Being a Fulani myself, we easily became used to each other and related freely. In the course of our conversations, each time I chipped in some Hausa words, as Fulanis up north here do, they didn’t always get what I was saying. I later realized that these people knew nothing about Hausa language and its speakers. But they were fluent in Yoruba language. This kept me wondering whether they're the Yoruba –Fulanis (that is, if anything like that does exist). So, to be frank, I hate being referred to as Hausa-Fulani.
Abubakar Algwallary

I served in Okeero LGA of Kwara State, and I related with the Fulani there, although I am not a Fulani. I am a Hausa from Zaria, Kaduna State. But the only Hausa the Fulanis I met in Kwara could speak was 'Sannu.'
Abdulkadir Muhammed Yahaya

I think you are right that what the southern media mean by Hausa-Fulani is any person from Northern Nigeria that is a Muslim irrespective of the ethnic group he or she comes from— as long as they speak and appear Hausa. I read one of Femi Fani-Kayode's articles where, in trying to establish a relationship between Fulanis and Yorubas, he said he too, as a Yoruba, has Fulani grandparents in his lineage and, as such, coined the appellation "Yorulani."

Sadisu Abubakar Dangoggo

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