Kano city has always fascinated me. It is a city so steeped in culture, tradition, learning, history, politics and above all commerce. In its long history, the city has recorded many firsts. For instance, it is here that the first aircraft landed as well as the beginning of flight operations in Nigeria took place in 1925 and 1935 respectively. Kano’s Mallam Aminu Kano Airport is also the first and oldest International airport in Nigeria.
I first visited as a teenager in 1975 when I accompanied my dad to receive my grandmother who was returning from the Hajj. Since then, over the years, I have always had one reason or the other to visit the ancient city. Indeed, it was here that I spent three years for my university education at Bayero University.
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Compared to Jos where I was coming from with its sedate and leisurely lifestyle, Kano is a city, which pulses in a continuous cacophony of noise and chaos. This sprawling, bustling metropolis throbs at a frenetic pace that underscores its reference as a centre of commerce. Kano does not wait for you to discover it; it thrusts itself in your face inviting you to buy or sell from its numerous markets, streets and alleyways where wares of all descriptions are displayed.
But when you are finally able to catch your breath after all the exertions that Kano subjects you to as a visitor, you will find that the bedlam that Kano is noted for has a rhyme and reason that makes its natives and residents alike justifiably refer to it in the Hausa language as ‘’Kano ta Dabo tumbin giwa, Yaro ko da me kazo an fika” (Kano the city of Dabo, the Elephant’s belly, young man whatever you are up to, you will more than meet your match here)
There I was then at the old Kurmi Market pricing out some unique antiques for which this centuries’ old market is noted. In many ways, this market defines the essence of Kano city. If today Kano is known as the centre of commerce, then this market is largely responsible for this reference.
Kurmi Market is one of the oldest markets in West Africa and certainly the oldest of the numerous markets in Kano. You have to go back over 2,000 years to trace the year that this market was established. It was to this market that slaves, ivory, salt, grains, hides and skins, bronze, brass etc were brought from the hinterland and trans-shipped through the Sahara desert to Tripoli, Algeria, Morocco, Cairo and further afield establishing Kano as the largest and most important of the three West African hubs of the ancient Trans Saharan trade routes.
The fame of this market attracted a continuous wave of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East who came to settle in the city. The Syrians and Lebanese traders who came to this city after the North Africans established the Syrian quarters where the famous ‘’Kantin Kwari’’ market ( Kwari in Hausa mean a valley or depression ) is presently situated. It is Kano’s equivalent to the Balogun market in Lagos.
I also visited the famous Dawanau Grains Market which is arguably the biggest grains market in West Africa. It was just as well because as we are at the beginning of the harvest season, produce from all parts of Nigeria and beyond are making their way to the market. I saw scores of trucks bearing number plates from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger being loaded with grains and other farm produce for onward transportation to those countries.
Then, there is the Singer Market where traders mainly from other parts of Nigeria have their shops and businesses. This market is fittingly situated at the point where Sabon Gari (non-indigenes quarters) and the old colonial era business district is located.
Why is Kano called the city of Dabo?
It is so called in reference to Emir Ibrahim Dabo, who was the second Fulani Emir of Kano and who established the present ruling dynasty in the city. Dabo was at the head of the Fulani rebellion against the Habe rulers of Kano who sought the approval of Usman dan Fodio the leader of the Fulani-led Jihad of 1804. Dan Fodio had given his approval but with a caveat that Imam Suleiman, Dabo’s friend be made the leader instead. But Suleiman, who was more inclined to religious matters, was never really effective as Emir. Upon his death, Ibrahim Dabo took over in 1807 and one thing he did, which strengthened his position as Emir and established his dynasty to this day, was to disperse his close companions and potential rivals to outlying districts. Thus to this day, Kano unlike other Hausa city states has only one ruling house, the house of Dabo from which all its past and present rulers are descended.
Kano itself was first established by hunters and farmers, the Abagayawa from Gaya at the precincts of the Dala Hill, which was a defensive position from which they could ward off potential raiders.
Kano’s rise to prominence as the centre of commerce owes to fortuitous circumstances. Katsina, which was actually the centre of commerce was riven by civil wars making the area unsafe. Gradually, the trade shifted to Kano which had never looked back since.
As a result of its reputation as a centre of commerce, which attracts all and sundry, Kano can deservedly be called a continuous settlement of settlers. The various settlements or quarters in Kano reflect the origin of the people who first settled there.
Apart from the aforementioned North African and Syrian quarters, there are settlements, which were established by immigrants from other parts of Nigeria and beyond. Yakassai, which is arguably the largest native quarters in the city was set up by the Jukuns of Kwararafa. The word is an adaptation of the Jukun term ‘’Ya ya kasen’’meaning ‘’we will be back’’. Kofar Mata was the main gate reserved for women movement in and out of the city. Then there is the Tudun Nupawa for Nupes; Ayagi quarters had a mixture of Yorubas, Nupes and Barutens. Sabon Gari and the adjoining No man’s land are inhabited mostly by Igbos, Yorubas and other southerners. Indeed, it is no surprise that a preponderant number of Igbos resident in Kano are from the Arochukwu extraction, another set of people well known for their pedigree as traders. Yolawa quarters was established by Fulanis from present Adamawa and other ethnic groups from that area; Fagge was first set up by people from Damagaram in the Niger Republic and subsequently became quarters for Hausas and Muslims from Northern Nigeria like Kanuris and Badawas from Yobe.
The Kano person comes across variously as swashbuckling, in-your-face and self-confident disposition (some will say arrogant), which rubs off negatively. There is a healthy, mutually abusive jocular jousts between Kanawas (as Kano people are called) and other Hausa towns, which stems from ancient rivalries for dominance and influence. The Katsinawas neighbours of Kano to the west often regard Kanawas as Jews or Igbos of the north on account of their aggressive commercial orientation. And between the Kanawas and Zage-zagis of Zaria to the south, there is a competition on who has the bragging rights on superiority. Zage-zagis are quick to point out that Emir Ibrahim Dabo first came under the tutelage of the teachers in Zaria who trained and educated him.