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“Ayagi”: Earliest Nupe-Influenced Hausa Name for Yoruba People

By Farooq Kperogi Twitter: @farooqkperogi I had no idea that “Ayagi” or “Eyagi” is the Nupe exonym (i.e., external name) for Yoruba people u...

By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I had no idea that “Ayagi” or “Eyagi” is the Nupe exonym (i.e., external name) for Yoruba people until I read a review of Idris S. Jimada’s 2005 book titled The Nupe and the Origins and Evolution of the Yoruba c. 1275-1897 by one Rasheed Olaniyi.

The first settlement of Yoruba people in Kano is called Unguwar Ayagi, which literally means “neighborhood of the Ayagi people.” It wasn’t called Unguwar Yarbawa, perhaps because Hausa people in Kano didn’t know Yoruba people by their current ethnonym until much later. 

Hausa towns and cities tend to name neighborhoods according to the ethnic identities of its earliest settlers. There are quarters in Hausa towns and cities called Tudun Nupawa (Nupawa is the Hausa plural for Nupe), Zangon Baribari (Baribari is the Hausa name for Kanuri), etc.

The fact that the first Yoruba settlement in Kano was called Unguwar Ayagi suggests that even Hausa people had used the Nupe exonym for Yoruba people to refer to the amalgam of people from what is now Southwest Nigeria before they changed to Bayarbe (singular) and Yarbawa (plural), which are derived from "Yoruba," itself derived from the Borgu (specifically Baatonu) word for Oyo people.

I learned that the Yoruba quarters in Bida is called Emi Ayagi, which I understand is the Nupe equivalent of Unguwar Ayagi—or, in today’s Hausa, Unguwar Yarbawa.

Hausa people became familiar with the name "Yoruba" from their interaction with the Songhai people who live north of Hausaland and who had related with Borgu for centuries. 

A Muslim scholar by the name of Ahmad Baba al-Timbukti is regarded as the first person to write the name “Yariba” in print in the 1600s, but he didn’t invent it; he merely wrote what Songhai people heard from their interactions with the people of Borgu.

Back to Ayagi/eyagi. What does it mean in Nupe, and why do the Nupe call Yoruba people by that name?

In a book chapter titled “Yoruba Commercial Diaspora and Settlement Patterns in Precolonial Kano” that Rasheed Olaniyan contributed to a 2004 book titled Nigerian Cities (edited by Toyin Falola and Steven J Salm), Olaniyan pointed out that in the Nupe language “ayagi” means a cunning man who eats snakes and frogs. Ha!🤣

But at least one Nupe person says that is not accurate. Jibrin Bala Jibrin Yikangi, a Nupe man, said Eyagi in Nupe refers to a type of facial mark "drawn from the forehead downward to the cheek" and that the Yoruba people "are the ones who mostly have this kind of" ritual facial mark. "To the Nupes," he said, "anyone who had such a tribal mark is 'Eyagi.'"

I know Yoruba people also call Nupe people "Tapa" (or "Takpa"--if we use the orthography of people who have both the "p" and "kp" sounds). 

I have no idea what it means, but I do know that the Baatonu people call Nupe people "Takpo," which is probably influenced by the Yoruba "Tapa." Does "Tapa" mean anything in Yoruba?

I am also curious to know if early Yoruba settlements in other Hausa towns and cities are also called ungwar ayagi. Or is this exclusive to Kano? If yes, why?

1 comment

  1. Tapa refers to wrestling style of the Nupe people of Kwara origin. The wrestling tactics include the kick (Ta ipa) akin to Taekwondo.


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