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In Kano, traditional Hausa architecture is vanishing

For over a thousand years, it is said that traditional Hausa architecture has been part and parcel of the Hausa civilization itself. In every city,…

For over a thousand years, it is said that traditional Hausa architecture has been part and parcel of the Hausa civilization itself. In every city, town or village, there was a clan of building experts who exclusively built and maintained buildings in their domains. Richness in the architectural design often signifies royalty, power, wealth and scholarship. From Kano, Rano, Gobir, Hadejia, Zaria, Katsina, Daura, Sokoto, some Niger Republic cities and other ancient places, the architectural design that once adorned these towns have now been replaced with the modern architectural designs – often laced with the traditional Hausa architectural touch.

But the designs are now getting increasingly absent in many places. Even the royal palaces – once epitomes of the old-style buildings – are now changing their look. Instructively, the traditional fence that surround the Kano Emir’s palace, Dutse, among others are now being replaced with modern structures.

Principal Curator of Gidan Makama Museum, Abdurrashid Musa, said the high influx of modern architectural designs is the greatest threat to those of old. He said despite the beauty and quality of traditional architecture, people now go for contemporary designs.

Citing some threats, he said: “Maintenance is another factor. People find it very difficult to maintain the traditional designs because the materials are difficult to find and the expertise is also fast-vanishing.” Musa advised that people dealing in building materials should supply traditional building wares so that people can easily access and obtain them in the market. “Once the traditional materials become difficult to obtain, instead of people adopting the traditional buildings styles, the existing ones too will be phased out,” he said. According to him, lack of research and transfer of technology to the younger generation are some other factors militating against the development of the traditional designs.

Musa also cited lack of promotion of the designs. “Governments and NGOs should partake actively in the preservation of the designs so that they do not become extinct. If they are rigorously promoted and people are told the value of the designs, it would be a fad, thereby remaining.”

He also informed our correspondent that the museum recently had a quarrel with a construction company that demolished the famous Kofar Na’isa gate. “It is dismaying that while we are trying to maintain and promote traditional architecture, a construction company recently rolled out its bulldozers against the 500-year-old Kofar Na’isa,” he said.

Asked what efforts government are doing to preserve and promote the traditional designs, the curator revealed that a department under the National Commission for Museum and Monuments called Centre for Earth Construction Technology (NCMM) in Jos Museum is making effort to promote Hausa and other traditional architecture. He also said that another directorate at the NCMM headquarters known as Heritage Monuments and Sites has been mandated to maintain the traditional buildings and sites.

When Weekly Trust contacted the Sarkin Ginin Kano (Chief Builder of Kano), Alhaji Ibrahim Muhammad, he appeared too sick to speak with our correspondent but delegated his next in command, Alhaji Gwadabe Yamulo, to speak on his behalf. According to Yamulo, the vanishing Hausa designs appear pervasive. He said apart from a few places they maintain, hardly do they get contracts for the construction of the new traditional ones.

“Barring a few places like the Emir’s palace, Gidan Makama, Gidan Dan Hausa, British Council, among few others, there are no other buildings to maintain. People usually go for contemporary style buildings,” he said.

The acting Sarkin Gini said the traditional building contracts are no longer coming, just as the business is no longer thriving. He said in the past, almost all their kinsmen engaged in building and they are known and mandated by the past traditional rulers to build and maintain structures in the city.

He said modern buildings are not as rugged and robust as the traditional ones. “The traditional building is usually coated with a kind of plaster that makes it hard to be washed off by rain and the blocks are resistant to cracking. Traditional buildings don’t crack and they last for centuries,” he said.

Determined to promote Hausa traditional architecture, an NGO called INTBAU, is making efforts in the areas of seminars and workshops among others towards the promotion of the designs. The founder of the NGO, Architect Ruqayya Bashir Tofa, revealed that INTBAU decided to work with stakeholders in Nigeria in order to promote and preserve Hausa traditional architecture.

She explained that without intervention, the traditional designs appear to be facing extinction. According to her, people should not restrict themselves to modern designs but also adopt the traditional designs. “Lack of enlightening local inhabitants on the importance of the walls and traditional Hausa buildings as tangible heritage of the Hausa people, effects of overpopulation and poverty in the state and the influx of modernity in Hausaland , are some of the challenges responsible for the threat of extinction the Hausa traditional building is facing,” said the architect.

While calling on state governments, individuals and organizations to work hard and educate the people on the rich culture and the opportunities in restoring the Hausa traditional buildings, she said INTBAU poised to make a mark in the restoration of the traditional designs.

Until all hands are put on deck, INTBAU’s efforts appear onerous and as a Hausa proverb observes, one hand cannot hoist a thatch roof.

But Architect Suleiman Ibrahim Khalid said the traditional Hausa architecture is not disappearing. “For most laymen the traditional Hausa architecture is disappearing, but that is not true. The elements of traditional architecture are still employed in design of modern buildings. The gigantic ECOWAS Secretariat at Asokoro is an example of traditional Hausa architecture built in a modern way. The Ecowas Secretariat is a complete replica of old Zaria court. The other problem is inferiority complex. Because people believe that living in mud houses is a sign of backwardness, forgetting that there is a lot of science in mud houses.”

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