Hausa communities, situated across various regions in West Africa, predominantly in Nigeria’s northern towns and cities such as Sokoto, Kano, Kastina, Zaria, and Kaduna, have a rich artistic heritage that dates back to prehistoric times.
The long-standing trade connections with the Arabs and Tuaregs have influenced this artistic tradition, as revealed by research from the archives of the late Chief Akpallah Okenyodo. The Hausa people excel in various forms of art, including weaving, dyeing, carving, leatherwork, pottery, calligraphy, and Quranic writings.
Weaving has been an integral part of Hausa culture for centuries. Both men and women engage in this craft using different types of looms. Women use vertical looms to create cloth for women’s clothing, while men employ horizontal looms for various garments, including gowns and turbans.
Hausa artists adorn their textiles with stripes and inlaid linear contrasting colours. While traditional weaving methods are not as prevalent due to the availability of manufactured clothing, they remain popular among Hausas in rural areas and among the Fulani herdsmen and Tuareg, who still prefer their traditional attire.
Similar to their Yoruba counterparts, the Hausa people are skilled indigo dyers. They grow indigo plants locally and use a unique dyeing method involving cemented dye pits. The process results in beautiful shades of blue, and various techniques, such as tie and dye patterns and the “resist” method, are also employed.
Hausa embroidery has a rich history dating back to the 15th century. Influenced by Quranic scholars, the patterns combine interlacing forms from the Orient with angular spiral shapes found in African art. These motifs can be seen on clothing, bed sheets, pillowcases, woodwork, utensils, pottery, and woven items.
Hausas excel in basket making, utilizing both coiled and woven methods. They collect raw materials during the rainy season, including elephant grass, dum-palm fronds, and roots. The traditional colors used are black and red, obtained from potash or sorghum leaf sheaths.
Calabash decorations are an essential part of daily life for the Hausa people, as these decorated containers are used for food, drinks, and various purposes. The decorations involve linear designs, carving, sawing, burning, and colouring, often done by male artisans.
Hausa leather artisans produce a wide range of items, from bags and wallets to horse trappings. They use traditional tanning techniques that involve soaking the skin in water, using the ash and seed pods of Egyptian Mimosa, and whitening with milk and vegetable colours.
While iron mining has a long history in Hausa land, modern influences and the importation of manufactured items have impacted traditional metal production. Cold smithing with materials like old kerosene tins and oil drums is becoming more common. Nevertheless, Hausa artists continue to create items like wire storage baskets, oil lamps, spoons, buckets, and more.
The Hausa people’s commitment to preserving their artistic traditions reflects their enduring cultural heritage and the importance of passing down these skills through generations.
Extract from the archives of the late Chief Akpallah Okenyodo’s research on history.