Dr. Musa Fadama Gummi

Department of Hausa

Zamfara State College of Education, Maru


Gsm No. 07065635983




Rabi’u Aliyu Rambo

Department of Nigerian Languages

Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto


Gsm No.08125507991



A Paper Presented At the International Conference on Kebbi/Dosso Relationship Held At Dosso, Republic of Niger on 15th - 17th December, 2014.





It is a well known fact that at one time in history, Kebbi before its rise to become one of the powerful Hausa states, was a territory of the famous Songhai empire which flourished in the fifteenth century. The political dominance of Songhai over Kabi brought about a cordial and beneficial relationship between the people and the socio-political leadership in Kebbi and their neighbors’, Dosso. The relationship between the two communities had impacted positively on every facet of life of the people which includes the social, political as well as the economic spheres of human endeavor. It is the intention of this paper to explore the extent of this relationship most especially its impact on the artisanal fishery in Kebbi. This will include the aspects of fishing gear transfer, fishing techniques and some forms of water rituals in Kebbi.


1.0   Introduction

Kebbi is situated at the north western part of Nigeria. It is blessed with abundant land suitable for the cultivation of rice most especially along the flood plain (fadama) areas of the river Kebbi whose major tributaries include the river Rima, and river Sokoto. The flood plain is a stretch of land said to cover an area of about four kilometers wide. Alongside the banks of the river Kebbi, abundant fishing grounds exists especially the lakes and ponds that abounds. This water resource has helped greatly in the migration of people into the area of gulbin Kebbi both for the purpose of fishing and the cultivation of rice in the low land and other crops that are mostly grown up land. According to Alk’ali (1969:45), since the 11th century, there were waves of migrations into Kebbi area most especially of the ‘sorko’ who first came into Tillberi area before they finally settled down in Kebbi. This migration is said to have continued up to the 15th century.

The influx of people from Songhai into the area of Kebbi coupled with the political subjugation of Kebbi by Songhai has helped in bringing about a relationship between Kebbi and her neighbour, Dosso. The 19th century Islamic revival efforts of the jihadist under the leadership of Shiek Usman bn Fodio had also paved way for a stronger tie and bond of relationship between not only the people of Kebbi and Dosso but also the political leadership of the two kingdoms. In the course of the jihad which saw the rise of hostilities between the jihadists on one hand and Kebbi on the other, the division within the Zarma nation became more manifest as those Zarma of Dosso entered into alliance with the kingdom of kebbi to suppress the activities of the jihadist. The Zarma of Ndounga on the other hand aligned with the jihadists (Alk’ali: 1969:33). These two alliances had helped greatly in bringing a reasonable number of Zarma people not only into the area of Kebbi but also in the other areas neighbouring the kingdom.

The zarma people had earlier contact with Sorko such that it became very difficult for a lay man to distinguish between the two. Their settling into  Kebbi land had immense impacts on the fishing activities of not only the Kebbi people but also the entire Hausa land. It is therefore the wish of this paper to explore the areas of fishing that were influenced by the Kebbi/Dosso alliance.

2.0  Sarkanci Defined

The word Sarkanci, according to (Alkali, 1969:30) is derived from ‘Sorko’. They are professional fishermen of Songhai origin who in the course of searching for more condusive fishing grounds migrated to the area of Tilliberi and then finally settled in Kebbi. They are professional fishermen who also hunt water animals. They intermarried with the Hausa population and became assimilated. Due to their expertise in all aspects of fishing, from the beginning of the 19th century onwards, the craft came to be referred to as ‘Sarkanci’, while the professional fisherman came to be known as ‘Basarke’.

3.0 The Impact of Dosso/Kebbi Relation On Fishing In Kebbi

The relationship that flourished between the kingdom of Kebbi and Dosso has a number of impacts. This is so because whenever a contact is established between individuals or groups, one is duty bound to be influenced by the other. In most instances, it is the one with superior civilization that will exert impacts on the one with inferior instincts. Let’s now turn our attention to those areas in which this alliance turned out to be beneficial in the area of artisanal fishery not only to Kebbi, but also to other parts of Hausaland.

3.1 Substitution of Hausa  ‘Kamun kifi’ with ‘Sarkanci’.

It is quite evident that there were a large number of ‘Sorko’ and ‘Zarma’ who settled down in Kebbi kingdom. They inter married with their host community and became assimilated into the society. These people came with an acceptable civilization, not comparable to what obtained in Kebbi. The civilization was not only in the realm of political spheres but also on agriculture and fishing. Prior to the arrival of the ‘Sorko’, the host communities who were mostly of Hausa do engaged in fishing which was being referred to as ‘Kamun kifi’ in Hausa.

Realizing the fact that the ‘Sorko’ displayed outright superiority in terms of the fishing skills, the superiority of the fishing gears they use and even their knowledge of water and high ability of how they manipulate water and the creatures within it, and also their expertise in water rituals most especially supplications in the form of water incantations of various kind, the kabawa came to succumb. Gradually, the Hausa phrase name for fishing, ‘Kamun kifi’ was replaced with ‘Sarkanci’.  Any Bakabe that is a professional fisherman is and come to be referred to as ‘Basarke’. The occupation itself was given a new nomenclature of ‘Sarkanci’, a derivation from ‘Sorko’. This undoubtedly happened as a result of the good understanding and cordiality which people of the two kingdoms enjoyed as a result of the alliance they entered into.

3.2   Impacts on Fishing Gears

Fishing gears refers to the tools and instruments used by the fishermen to enhance their practice. These are in the form of nets, traps, hooks, spears, etc. The Kabawa have a number of fishing gears which they made for their own use  prior to the arrival of the ‘Sorko’ from Songhai. A good example of this was the clap net referred to as ‘Homa’ in Hausa language. They also had the seine net which they operate along with the homa (Harris, 1942: 23).

However, the arrival of the ‘Sorko’ into the land of Kebbi witnessed the introduction of more sophisticated fishing gears which were brought by them. Because of the efficacy of the introduced fishing gears, they gained wider and total acceptance and usage by the kabawa fishermen. Such fishing equipments that gained acceptance are the ‘Babban taru, ‘Ara’, ‘Mamari  and ‘Kamba’.

  1. 2.1 The Big Seine Net (Babban Taru)

Harris (1942:23) has posited that even before the arrival of ‘Sorko’ in Kebbi, Kabawa employed the use of seine net which was being operated alongside the clap net (Homa). The operators of the net will drag it towards the fishermen using Homa. The fish is frightened and pushed in the direction of clap net users, then caught with the use of the clap net. However, the coming of the ‘Sorko’ into fishing activities in Kebbi witnessed the introduction of a big seine net which is being operated and dragged by fishermen on boats. It was introduced by the Dankanawa whose leader was said to be Magaji Alfa. To date, the descendants of Magaji Alfa hold the title of Magajin Dankanawa who is the head of all fishermen who operate the seine nets (taru) in Argungu. Today, the Dankanawa who are entitled to this office can be found at ‘Yarmahauta quaters of Argungu town. The title of Magajin Dankanawa as the leader of the seine net operators is peculiar to Argungu only. In other parts of Hausaland, the same title is referred to as ‘Sarkin Taru’.

3.2.2   The Ara (Basket Trap)

Ara is a fishing gear that is made in the shape of a bucket using the sticks of certain shrubs like the ‘geza’. It is usually operated in the shallow waters of lakes during the dry season. The ara is used to encircle fish when its movement is noticed by the fisherman or when one is certain of where fish lay at the bottom of water. It is also used during the rainy season to catch migratory juvenile fishes as they swim in water that flows. This is referred to as ‘gala’ in Hausa. The instrument of Ara is said to be introduced to Kebbi fishermen by the Sorko and Zarma fishermen much later. According to Harris (1942: 28) the ‘ara’ was not in use throughout Kebbi prior to colonial administration in the area. It gained wider acceptance not only in Kebbi, but also most parts of Hausaland.

3.2.3   Mamari and Kamba. (Hooks & Line And Hook Sticks)

 Mamari is the Zarma word for hook. Kamba refers to a short stick that is used in arranging the line on which the hooks are tied. The hooks are arranged on the stick for easy spread in water, so much so that it is not intricately interwoven to warrant hardship in using the gear in the future. In an interview made with Baidu, (2012) it is understood that the word mamari is derived from Zarma language. The Hausa word for mamari is K’ugiya’. In Argungu and other part of Hausaland, Zamfara inclusive, the word mamari is referring to the hook use in fishing (mamari/kugiya).

 In an interview made with (Baidu, 2012) an old fisherman, he is of the view that, Kamba is derived from the Zarma word ‘kambe’ which stands for hand. To fully neologize the word into Hausa, it went through transformation where the last ‘e’ vowel was substituted with ‘a’ vowel. In Zarma, the phrase ‘mamari kambe’ is translated literally as a ‘hand of mamari’. It is figuratively coined because the length of the stick called ‘kamba’ is almost the length of a hand from the ankle to the fingers hence the reason for the phrase, ‘mamari kambe’.

This apart, the leadership structure of the artisanal fishing in Kebbi includes in its line of authority, the title of Kamba who is the head and leader of all the fishermen whose instrument or gear of operation is line and hook known in Hausa as ‘K’ugiya’. The title is a derivation from the name of the gear which is of Zarma origin. It suffices for one to assert that if Kebbi/Dosso alliance and relationship is not an intimate and strong one, this cultural and linguistic borrowing of terms in fishing as a local craft wouldn’t have suffice up to the present.

3.3   Impacts on Water Rituals

Fishing is an important craft that takes place only in areas with abundant surface water which could be rivers, lakes, streams, or ponds. It involves entry into the water with the intent to catch fish for food, for commercial purpose or some part of the fish to be used in preparing local concoctions for the cure of illnesses and for other trade-medicinal purposes. Water is known to be an abode to vicious and dangerous animals like the hippopotamus or reptiles like the crocodile. It is also a dwelling place for spirits that may be harmful to humans. It is in realization of these dangers that the artisanal fishermen engage in a number of water rituals so as to ward off evil and avoid danger of water accidents. The ritual may be ‘Daurin ruwa’ (tightening the water) which is done to seek for protection and safety in the business. There is also the ‘Tsaraka(traditional water ritual for good luck) ritual purposely done to invoke good luck and enhance big catch. There is also the ‘K’ulle ruwa’ (traditional water ritual for bad luck) ritual which is done with the intent to prevent or deny a rival from making catches during fishing. Though it is a pure display of voodoo and African medicine, it involves the invocation or recitation of some incantations in the form of abracadabra which is a mixture of words from different languages that are often without meaning. Greater number of these incantations invoked by the Kebbi and largely Hausa fishermen for the purpose of offering rituals of this nature are derived from the Zarma language. They may not be necessarily meaningful words in Zarma language but they rhyme with the words in Zarma. One example of the incantations will suffice here. It is recited when one intends to literarily lock the water i.e. wards off evil spirits and harmful water animals. In an interview conducted with (Naba’u, (2012) he says One will recite:


  Bismillahi langwarmai,

                           Kwarma gwarmai,

                           Mainan jaboga

                           Barnan jaboga.

                           Alako akwai ijikwai jaboga

                           Ai sanka karai, ainan tinti da.

                           Ai nan wai banda kulma da.   

        This is in fact not the only aspect of fishing in which the Zarma language has impact in the Sarkanci of Kebbi. Sarkanci as a craft that is dominated by the male folk, has its own form of oral literature in form of oral songs which are composed in praise of those who show high commitment and have excelled and are successful in it. The persons to whom the songs are sang resort to the chanting of personal epithets in which they praise themselves. This is known as ‘kikirari” in Hausa. Most fishermen in the course of chanting their  personal praises tend to employ the use of words that rhyme with the Zarma words just as cited above. A good example is the personal epithet of one Alu Danhoma of Bubuce village. It has code mixtures of Hausa and Zarma words as pointed out by Argungu (2007:153). It goes thus:

Bismillahi Rabbina na hwara

Islande biga ai Annabin Sulaima kwaiga

                        Ai hwantimi ai dosine ai gisi

                        Ai hwargo ai Harakwai maiga

                        Gindi gura, kwamba gura sidisi gimbiya

                        Sinisigi d’igi kwanda harago kwanga

                        Ni gimbiya ma minde

                        Ni shalshabani shalshabani kanda ishirin

                        Iskwai Dandi iskwai danga

                        Ai Annabi lango-lango ko har abada

                        Kuwara ta yi kwadarko

Kuwara ta yi kwadarko

Kwad’d’o ya wuce shi giwayo tabki 

       The question one is likely to ask is, why a fisherman from the Hausa tribe should go to the extent of code mixing his own language with a language he does not even understand. This really point to the fact that at one time in history, there was a strong bond of relationship between the people of Kebbi and Dosso. The bond was so cordial and intimate to warrant a lot of borrowings and usages of some lexical items in the area of fishing. It is the Hausa that benefitted because the ‘Sorko’ has a superior civilization in the field of fishing as such, they seems to make impacts into the aspect of fishing in kebbi.

3.4   Names of Water Spirits

Prior to their contact with any civilization whether from the West or the East, the Hausa people to which the inhabitants of Kebbi belong have strong belief in the existence of the Spirits which cannot be seen with the human eye. It is believed that water bodies are one of the abode of these creatures. Hausa people believe in the spirits like ‘Jittakuku’, ‘Zodo’, ‘Tamashaya’, ‘Hajiruwa’ and hosts of others believed to inhabits the waters in which fishing is conducted. To these Spirits, some offerings and sacrifices were made in the olden days, in order to appease them. That was why before the emergence of Islamic revivalist movement of the revered Sheikh Usmanu bn Fodio, the Bori cult enjoyed quite a large number of adherents not only in Kebbi but in every part of Hausaland.

The relationship between Kebbi and Dosso paved the way for increase contact and mutual understanding between the political leadership and the subjects. This led to further understanding and acceptance of the Spirits that are believed to be Zarma. Gobir (2002:26) has advanced a list of Spirits which are believed to be Zarma and to which the Hausa fisherman also has conviction. They are Sulaimanu, Baba Dango, Harkwai, Markwai, Dango Musa and Garkame. Some of these Spirits termed as Zarma are believed to inhabit the fishing grounds as such are strongly revered and appeased by the fishermen. These Spirits are Harkwai and Markwai who are most often made mention of by the fishermen in their self epithets and. An extract from the ‘kirari’ epithet of Alu Danhoma Bubuce, cited in Argungu (2008:151) will be a testimony to this assertion. It reads:

Na yi sallama gidanka Harakwai

                                    Ko da niy yi sallama kak kar’ba

                                    Ka ba ni babban kina

                                    ko ko ka ni babban nagge

Ya ce ka ga saniya na baka.

4.0 Conclusion

This paper has attempted an explicit description of how the cordial relationship between two neighbors from divide of Nigeria and Niger became beneficial to the aspects of artisanal fishery particularly in Kebbi and in Hausa land generally.  The relationship had brought about the introduction and wider use of a good number of fishing gears. This include the seine net, ‘ara’ and the ‘Mamari’. This a part, relationship had also helped in enriching the lexical items from the Zarma, which have direct bearing on Hausa language most especially fishing nomenclatures. The Hausa word for hook is K’ugiya’ and fishing itself is called ‘Kamun kifi’. However, with the bond of ties between these two kingdoms, these fishing nomenclatures were substituted with the ones of Zarma origin. This did not stop there as it had touched and strengthened the belief of the Kebbi fisherman in Spirits, some of which are strongly said to live in the water that serves as fishing area. From what has been discussed however, one will assert that the people and culture of the ‘Sorko’ and Dosso had direct influence on all and every aspect of fishing not only in Kebbi but also most parts of Hausaland and beyond. This came about as a result of the cooperation and peaceful co-existence that the  kingdoms Kebbi and Dosso enjoyed over time. In essence, the bond led to the intermingling of the people including the ‘Sorko’ who exerted their influence in the area of fishing not only in Kebbi but also her neighbors.


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Individual Contacts

Adamu Baidu, Kamba Town of Kebbi State Nigeria, age 72 years old. Interview held on 20th, May, 2012 at 12:30 a.m.

Sani Naba’u,  Homan Kebben Sarkin Kabin Kebbe, age 67 years old. Interview held on Saturday at Sarkin Kabbin Kebbe Residence  in Kebbe Town  of Sokoto State Nigeria,  5th, May, 2012 at 10:15 a.m.