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Gidan Makama: Kano’s 500-Year-Old Palace-Turned-Museum

A Makama in those days of kingship in Kano is a personal assistant to the king but in today’s Emirate Council he is a District…

A Makama in those days of kingship in Kano is a personal assistant to the king but in today’s Emirate Council he is a District Head and king maker. Oral history shows that in the era of kingship in Kano there was no permanent palace. By the time Muhammadu Rumfa became king, the former palace was in the ancient settlement of Dala. He was persuaded to move his palace from Dala to be free from the non-Islamic customs that were associated with the area at that time. When he moved to Gidan Makama it was on record that he added other structures to it to make it a befitting temporary palace. History has it that King Rumfa even initiated and built what is today the permanent palace of the Emir of Kano. That is why the Emir’s palace is up till today called Gidan Rumfa by people who are familiar with the history.
The Makama house was built during the reign of King Abdullahi Burja, the grandfather of King Muhammed Rumfa. The king, according to historians, built the use for Mansur his grandson who he made Makama when he was seven years old because of a brilliant advice the little boy gave the King on how to build a local verandah called Rumfa.
According to historical accounts when the British colonialists captured Kano in 1903, the structure was used by Lord Lugard as his office during the reign of King Abass Muhammadu.
When government declared it a national monument in 1959 it was divided into three sections. The first section was managed by the then Federal Department of Antiquities, second section, which is the central part of the structure, still remains the traditional home of the Makama of Kano, while the third section is dedicated for a primary education.
Gidan Makama, as it is popularly called, has nine functional galleries which showcase some of the city gates of Kano: Kofar Gadankaya, Kofar Na’isa, Kofar Dan-Agundi, Kofar Dukawuya, Kofar Waika and Kofar Kabuga through which the British colonialists penetrated Kano in 1903. It also has the samples of  local building materials common with Kano people such as the local bricks, laterites stones, red mud mixed with straws of locus bean, the symbol of Kingship, materials that are attached to the Dakin Malami Da  Allo (Islamic scholar), sample of the Jihad flag and the Jihad message of Shehu Usman bn Fodio.
The museum is regarded as one of the national monuments that people are proud of in the country. Almost on a daily basis people from within and outside the country visit the 500-year-old structure which is situated in Gwangwazo area of Kano city to look at artifacts that relate to Kano historical arts, science and technology. It also serves as a center where communities often come to make research, especially as it relates to history of the artifacts that are in the house. Research on Hausa architecture is also made in the house because of its historical artifacts on Hausa traditional architecture.
Speaking on the historical importance of Gidan Makama, the Curator of the museum, Malam Mustapha M. Bachaka, said the house was built mainly for the Makama to live in as a traditional home. He stated that there are a lot of advantages attached to the structure. “Besides being the Gidan Makama of Kano, it was once a palace used by a Kano king for some period of time. It has become a tourist’s attraction in Kano and beyond. People often come to Kano from different parts of the world just to see the 500-year-old structure.  It became a public place where exhibition was put in the galleries when it was officially opened in 1985. Now it is a museum where people come to look at artifacts that relate to Kano State historical arts, science and technology. It serves as a center where communities can make their research. People often come to Makama house for research because it has historical artifacts concerning Hausa traditional architecture. The public are enlightened about the Hausa history and tradition even through the exhibitions in the museum.
“There is no specific time of the day for tourists to visit the house. But there are seasonal times that visitors normally come into Kano to see the artifacts. This happens during festivities like the Eid festivals. Sometimes they come twice in a year during the Eid -Fitr, Eid -Kabir and during the Dubar festival which is one of the state’s grandest festivals. At this period people in other states and neighbouring countries come around from time to time through organized visits like school excursions.
“Some primary schools visit the house every term to learn more about the history of Kano and we educate them about the artifacts and how they were used and made in the olden days. We have professional guides who usually take people round the house and explain to them everything that are in the galleries.
“Except for the recent insurgency issue that the country is faced with, people from virtually every part of the world come here to see this structure.  Though we now have a low turn up of tourists, we still have people from China visiting . Before the insurgency, people from Britain, America and France used to visit the house on a regular basis. Also, we have people from neighbouring countries like Niger, Cameroon and the Republic of Benin visiting here,” he added.
Conducting Daily Trust on Sunday round the galleries, a Principal Technical Officer (Guide) , Mr. Dominic Yarima, said the many historical artifacts in the gallery exhibition are to highlight Kano before the Jihad of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (PBUH) and after. “The first gallery which we call ‘Gallery One’ is about the Hausa architecture.  It demonstrates the way Hausa people build their houses and even displays some of the building materials like the local bricks, mud and stones that are used for the foundation and other building materials. The major attractions in the first gallery are the heavy iron doors that were used at the various city gates and we have two of them.
“The second gallery showcases the traditional Hausa occupation and itemizes about three or four Hausa occupations,  like the blacksmith, how irons are heated and used to construct different materials. Hunting was also one of the early Hausa occupations.  Hunting materials are also showcased, materials like the bow and arrow, leather bags, knives and guns are in the second gallery. 
“The third major occupation is farming, which is very common among the Hausa. The Hausa are good farmers and they use different farm tools for their farming processes. We exhibit some of those tools, ranging from the ridge-making hoe, which they use to plough the land, the long hoe which is for weeding, small hoe for planting and sickle for weeding of grasses and harvesting of rice and millet. There is also an artistic impression of ancient settlement of Dala. It shows the Dala hill and some of the activities associated with the hill which includes the worship by the Chief Priest called Barbushe, who was in charge of a spirit called Tsunburbura at that time. The artistic impression also shows some of the worshippers who go round the hill, dancing and performing their annual festival.”
“The most attracting equipment in the third gallery however is the warfare.  War equipment is being showcased. There are also symbols of kingship and the ancient currencies.  The warfare showcases the type of weapons used by the Kano warriors in those days during wars and battles. We have iron armours which they used to protect themselves against weapons. We also have the spear, long knife and also a war cap. The war cap is a very strong cap that was used to cover their heads as a means of protection and then the chain ware which is made of pieces of iron that are joined together and used as a protection for the chest area. Royalty in Kano is one of the symbolic activities that attract people. People of Kano love their emirs and as such, they always admire whatever kind of outfit they put on. So we showcase symbols of kingship like the royal turban. There is also the trumpet which is normally blown to call the attention of the people and inform them of the emir’s presence.
There is the royal slipper made out of ostrich feathers which is specially made for the king and is not allowed for usage by anyone except the king. Then we have the local fan which is also made from ostrich feathers. There is a display of musical instrument ranging from the flute, string instruments, to various types of drums especially the royal drums. Whenever people come to visit, they always ask about that particular drum because it is made specially and is only played in the palace. It is also not permissible for it to be used outside the palace. There are other drums as well like the talking drum, long drum, farming drum, among others. Ancient currencies are also showcased in the third gallery where we showcase samples of different ancient currencies used in Nigeria in the past as a medium for exchange after trade by barter. We have the coiled manila which was used as currency particularly in the eastern parts of the country and was used for paying bride price and also as a medium of exchange for purchasing slaves. We also have the brass currency, the cowry shells which were used in the northern parts of the country. We have other currencies that came into existence like the coins, the Nigerian pounds, before the use of naira and kobo came to Nigeria in 1973. The items in the fourth gallery are pictorial in nature and they tell stories about the British occupations in Kano and their influences and impact in Nigeria. We showcased all the leaders who led the country right from the premier times. We have the picture of the premier of northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the premier of eastern Nigeria, Michael Okpara, the premier of the western region, Chief Samue Ladoke Akintola.  It also showcases the early British leaders and Governor Generals who ruled the country, starting with Sir Fredrick Lord Lugard who amalgamated the northern and southern protectorates and was the first British Governor General of Nigeria. It showcases the pictures of all the British Governor Generals that we have had from the first to the last, Sir James Robertson who handed over power to the citizens during the independence of 1960. There are pictures of all other Nigerian leaders right from the colonial period to the time of independence. From the first Nigerian Governor General, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first and last Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. We also have the symbols of Nationhood where we highlight some of the symbols starting with the National Pledge, the National Anthem, the Nigerian Coat of Arms and Flag”.
Also speaking about the house, the Principal Ethnographer, Mallam Abdul Tela told our correspondent about a small hut which entails learning about Islam. “We call the hut Dakin Mallami  Da Allo (the room for the teacher and the board). When we say Dakin Mallami Da Allo, children are usually happy because of the familiar learning centre that is till today available within their community and environment. So we make the hut and put up a picture of a mallam holding his rosary for counting to indicate he is leading the children in learning about Islam. His Allo (small board) is by his side, his kettle by the other side and he is sitting on a local mat made from animal hide. We also give the history of the coming of Islam, when Islam came through traders especially during the Trans-Saharan Trade.
The last one is another attractive gallery called Dakin Amarya(The traditional bride room). It is very unique and is usually requested for by most of our visitors. We showcase the way brides decorate their rooms when they are newly married.  On one side of the gallery is a local bed with a mat and the local woven bed sheet. On another side is the local box that is called Adudu in Hausa. On another side is the mud pot for water storage, then the canter. The canter is like a cupboard or show glass for showing some fine cutlery and important plates and dishes. In those days it was in-built and was attached to the wall where traditional plates were arranged like the traditional brass bowl and plates and other things like the wooden food flask which was also very attractive and is called Akushi in Hausa. There are also some hanging calabashes which are being hung from their ropes so that they can beautify the interior part of the room. Those are the most important things in the room. Outside the room is a display of the local grinding stone. Some children do not even know what it is, so sometimes we have to go down on our knees hold the stone and demonstrate the way women usually grind corn or pepper with the stone in the olden days. Very few people use the grinding stone these days”.
On the corpse of Mai Tatsine which people believed is being kept in the museum, the Guide said “History shows that his body was carried by his followers and buried somewhere secretly. When the place was discovered, it was dug out and pictures of his remains were taken and then it was burnt by the military. The ash was reported to be saved but we do not know how true that was. All we have at Makama house is the picture of his body before it was burnt after it was dug out from the ground”.

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