The Occupational Crafts Of Zarma In Argungu Emirate

Being a paper presented at the International Conference on the Relations between the Regions of Dosso (Niger) Sokoto, and Kebbi (Nigeria), organized by Abdou Moumouni University Niamey (Niger), Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto, and Kebbi State University Aliero, on 14th – 17th December 2014.

Dr. Abdullahi Sarkin Gulbi
Department of Nigerian Languages
Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto.

Dano Balarabe Bunza
Department of Nigerian Languages
Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto.


The paper examines the relationship between Zarma community and Kabawan Argungu which is dated back from the reigned of Muhammadu Kanta to the present day Argungu emirate. The cordiality of their relationship gave birth to the economic development of Argungu emirate in particular and Kebbi State at large. This can be seen through their active participation in economic entrepreneurs both within and outside the emirate. The major areas of the economic participation of Zarma community in Argungu emirate includes; traditional skills such as farming, weaving, pot making, blacksmithing, woodcarving and traditional barbing etc, they also participates in modern business such as sale of second hand clothes, electronic devices, mechanics of different types, gold trading, drug peddling as well as water vendors, thereby enhancing economic growth of the entire emirate.


The paper is intended to assess the role of Zabarmawa in the economic development of Argungu Emirate in particular and Kebbi state at large through their traditional skills. The long cordial relationship between the Zarma people of Dosso in Niger Republic and Kanta Kingdom has yielded a positive result. This can be seen through the effort of Kanta warriors where three among the four prominent warriors are from Dosso under the leadership of Dauda Bugara of Dosso and this is one of the factors that leads to the spatial distribution of Zarma people across Argungu emirate and beyond. The paper is therefore segmented into titles and subtitles as will be seen in the course of our discussion, The first segment of the paper has discussed the people of Zarma, their cultural heritage as well as their religious belief, the brief history of Argungu emirate, the climatic nature of Argungu and their occupations, the reasons of Zarma migration to Kasar Kabi and Nigeria at large and the relevance of Zarma occupational crafts toward the economic development of Argungu emirate.


Zarma, also spelled Zerma, Djerma, Dyerma, or Zaberma and Zabarmawa, a people of westernmost Niger and adjacent areas of Burkina Faso and Nigeria. The Zarma speak a dialect of Songhai, a branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family, and are considered to be a branch of the Songhai people that was why they are called Zarma-Songhai .
The Zarma live in the arid lands of the Sahel. Many live in the Niger River valley and exploit the river for irrigation. They grow millet, sorghum, rice, corn (maize), and tobacco and raise cotton and peanuts (groundnuts) as cash crops. They own cattle, but their herds are tended by Fulani or Tuareg herders. Milk is an important element of the daily diet. Horses are kept by important persons, and in the past the Zarma were skilled cavalrymen. Horses and especially cattle are an important source of wealth for the Zarma, and there has long been a trade pattern whereby cattle are driven south for sale in coastal countries.
Niamey, the capital of Niger, and the towns of Dosso and Tillabéry are in Zarma territory. For a long time Zarma have migrated to coastal countries, especially to Ghana, in search of work. The Zarma numbered more than two million at the turn of the 21st century.
It is believed that Zarma originated from the country of Mali. (Zarma is also spelled Djerma, Dyerma, Zaberma, and Zerma.) The Zarma people are descended from the great Songhai Kingdom that flourished in the 14th and 15th centuries. Since that time, they have migrated from Mali to live in the southwestern parts of Niger and Nigeria along the Niger River. The language of the Zarma is a dialect of the Nilo-Saharan language family. Traditionally, the Zarma and Songhai people view themselves as one family. The Zarma should more accurately be called the Zarma-Songhai. They have, in general, a less strict attachment to Islam and have in many ways resisted the full and com¬plete conversion experience.
Although it is estimated that 75% to 80% of the Zarma profess to be Muslim and 1% to 2% to be Christian, traditional African spiritual systems serve as the unrecognized grounding belief for all Zarma-Songhai. In general, the Islamic beliefs of the Zarma-Songhai have been by way of syn-cretism blended with traditional spiritual beliefs.
Among the Zarma, the Islamic rituals and ceremonies are centered on the observance of Ramadan, which involves fasting and the paying of alms for the poor, Tabaski, which is also called the Festival of Sacrifice, and the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. The syncretism is obvious in the ritual of the naming day ceremony of children that is prevalent throughout much of Africa, where prayers are bestowed on the new¬born after seven (7) days of life. This ritual seems to be an ongoing traditional African ritual without regard to Islam or Christianity. The practice of taking more than one wife also preceded the advent of Islam. Although the Zarma practice polygamy, as in the past, is mostly associated with older and wealthy men, its pre-Islamic root meaning remains associated with spiritual evolution, cul¬tural maturation, and family enhancement.
The Zarma-Songhai believe, as is true with most African peoples, that all living things have a knowable and knowing spirit and that as human spirits people can directly and deeply communi-cate with the spirit realm. Spirit work and reunions (often misunderstood as spirit posses¬sion) are common practices that are believed to have healing powers. The Zarma, like other African peoples, know that humans live among the diverse forces of the environment and the energy of the earth completes human society. In effect, the traditional beliefs of the Zarma utilize and channel the collective life force to recognize that these "forces and waves" are God in motion. The Zarma-Songhai believe that the different con¬centrations of spiritual energy have different pur¬poses and effects. There are, for instance, "cold" spirits that control the forces of nature and there are spirits that control illness, as in the case of Hausa and other African Cultures. The Zarma are people who are proud of their heritage and resist the changes that are occurring around them.


Argungu is the Headquarters of both Argungu Emirate and Argungu Local Government Area, but it is pertinent to note that Sarki Nabame was the first ruler that founded Argungu town as the new headquarters of Kabi Kingdom after Surame dated back in 1849 . The population of Argungu Local Government area was estimated to be 195,484 (NPC, 2007). Argungu is an undulating highly drained region blessed with numerous rivers, streams. lakes, ponds and pools. The most important rivers are the River Rima and the Gulbin Kebbi. The region has a very good flood-plain of an average of five kilometers wide. From the foregoing, it is not surprising that Argungu has become an area where intensive fishing and rice cultivation takes place. Consequently, there is a high population concentration in the Argungu region.


Argungu Local Government Area comes entirely within the Sudan/Sahel Savannah, climatic and vegetational zone. It experiences three dominant seasons. The wet season (damuna) extends from June to September. Starting from August, the numerous streams, lakes and ponds, notably the Gulbin Kebbi overflow their banks. The cool season (dari) extends from October to January and is usually characterized by a relatively long spell of dryness and dust (Harmattan) from the Sahara. The hot season (bazara) starts from February and lasts until May. This period is marked by intensive heat with temperature of nearly about 60ºC. The vegetation is generally the Sudan type characterized by open woodlands, short, tender grasslands and stunted scrubs. The trees are deciduous, and in recent times, the impact of man and soil erosion is greatly felt. The vegetation becomes sparser along the marshes where dense populations are encountered. The long dry season has a relatively negative impact on both vegetation and human activities. However, the short rainy season and subsequent over flowing of banks significantly encourage rice cultivation and fishing industry. Paddy rice is harvested mainly during the dry, cold period; communal fishing rituals and festivals commence shortly after. Millet, corn, cassava, beans, groundnuts and maize are also grown during the short, wet season. Some pastoral activities are carried out along the banks of the river.


In general, Argungu people or the Kabawa are noted for rice cultivation and fishing industry. Most Kabawa are fishermen and about 75% of the districts within Argungu Emirate engage in fishing industry. Up to 1950’s some three quarters of the population combine fishing with rice cultivation. The rice culture of the marshes provides the necessary nourishment for the fish within the lakes, ponds and streams. Apart from agricultural activities, the Kabawa has also been famous for salt and tin mining, mostly surface mining. Small portion of their population engaged in white color job both in the public and private sectors.


The reason for the migration of Zarma community to Nigeria and other coastal regions can best be understood under the following basis;
i. The concept war, more especially after the formation of Kanta Empire by Muhammad kanta and subsequent formation of Argungu as the new headquarters of Kabi many people from Dosso trouped to Kasar Kabi, and they were hosted by the then Sarkin Kabi Yakubu Nabame in 1849.
ii. Famine (food shortage).
iii. The searching for shelter.
iv. The quest for the perfect location.
v. Economic reasons.
vi. For Islamic scholarships and Tijjaniyya Movement.
vii. Intensive tax and force labor by French colonial policies.
viii. Assimilation Factor, example enforcement of French culture.
ix. Unemployment rate.


Zarma people were believed to be one of the major ethnic groups in Argungu emirate in terms of size and population. The major tribes in the area are Kabawa, Arawa, Lekawa, and Zabarmawa etc, that is why you can hardly see a settlement without a Zarma people residing in it across the emirate and maintaining their cordial relationship with one another.
Therefore, the spatial distribution will be discuss under the following categories:
 Those residing in Argungu local government area.
 Those residing in Augie local government area.
 Those residing in Arewa local government area.
 Those residing in Dendi local government area.


Zarma has occupied a reasonable portion in Argungu town and other spotted villages in the local government area. For instance, there is an area in Argungu town called “ Gwazange” which is entirely dominated by Zabarmawa, even though the town has expanded and surround the village.
Apart from the above explanation, there are several villages across the local government which are settlements for Zarma people these includes the following;
1. Tungar Alle 10. Katanga
2. Raya 11. Kadu~~a
3. Unguwar Shayau 12. Unguwar Malam Hassan
4. Maina kaina 13. Tobe
5. Dani Fandu 14. Dadale Fanda
6. Rangamawa 15. Mata Wade
7. Unguwar Dawa 16. Raba
8. Isawa 17. Tashar ‘yan kwalama
9. Bakaramba (Gidan Galeji)


Augie local government is among the towns that constitute the Argungu emirate council. There are uneven distributions of Zarma scattered in the area. These villages include;
1. Bagumi
2. Banidai
3. Bagura
4. Tu~~u Kaina
5. Sisiribanda
6. Kwasare
7. Tungar Zabarmawa
8. Sablar Zabarmawa
9. Lugga Babba
10. Lugga Karama
11. Lugga Badariya


Arewa local government with headquarters at Kangiwa is one of the area that formed Argungu emirate. Among the towns and villages that we can found Zarma communities are as follows;
1. Yamama
2. Kwanawa
3. Kangiwa
4. Kwalaye
5. Dutsin Fakara


The term “Dendi” is used to refer to two different regions in West Africa: the southernmost historical province of the Songhai empire (16th to 17th centuries), located downstream from the capital of Gao (Urvoy 1936), and the contemporary border area intersected by the Niger River over 120 km between Niger, Benin and Nigeria. Now one of the local government areas of Kebbi State. The area is populated by six main ethnic groups namely: Kyanga, Zarma, Songhai, Hausa from various sub-groups (Arawa, Toulmawa, Gobirawa, Kabawa, and Komawa), Baatombu (or Bariba), and nomads and sedentary Fulani (Bako-Arifari 1998, Dambo 2007).
Some of the villages that happened to be the settlements for Zarma in Dendi local government area are as follows;
1. Ba ni zumbu
2. Mallam Yaro
3. Watale
4. Wattali
5. Ika
6. Aljannare
7. Dole Kaina
8. Tanka Sare
9. Ba ni gwaro


Occupational craft are activities involving the traditional making of decorative objects by hand, example weaving, pottery, woodcarving blacksmithing traditional barbing etc. The major occupation of Zarma in Argungu emirate is farming and other traditional and modern entrepreneurs as will be discuss below;


Zarma people carry about 70% upland farming activities in Argungu emirate. The types of food which they cultivate were mainly sorghum, millet, maize, bean, and cassava. Very few of them engage themselves in fishing activities. As such, farming is one of the greatest avenue through which Zarma people contributes to the economic development of Argungu emirate.


Weaving is a way by which something is woven by interlacing strands of any material. But in the course of this paper, weaving is referred to as the local textile industry for making things such as the clothes and other useful materials by the use of interlacing threads vertically or horizontally especially in a loom. Zarma are skilled people who specialized in the weaving industry for the development of their economy and the entire Argungu emirate at large. Both male and female in Zarma community involved themselves in this business to earn their leaving. Some of the things that they produced and sell it to the public are as follows;
1. Weaving of clothes of different types.
2. Mats
3. Caps
4. Local Fans
5. Traditional kits for keeping and safeguarding of materials.


This refers to the traditional industry for making and repairing iron and metal objects such as horseshoes, cutlass, gun, iron pots etc. Blacksmithing is one of the major activities of Zarma people in Argungu emirate. They produced hoes, cutlasses, guns, and other instruments that are use in farming activities and other purposes. In the past, they are ones that produced weapons for the war and other spiritual purpose.


This is a traditional industry for making ceramic materials like pots. Zarma people were known for the production of pottery materials of different shapes, they produced clay pot containers (like tuluna, tukane, kwatarne, kasake, Asusu etc.) for safe keeping and safeguarding of food items and watery materials. They sometimes produced them in large quantity and sell them to the public. This has greatly helps in facilitating the economic development of the emirate.


Apart from the traditional occupational crafts of Zarma discussed above, there are some specific modern businesses carried out by Zarma people for the economic development of themselves and the emirate at large. Some of these businesses are as follows;
1. Trade in electronic devices like; mobile phones, radio/ video cassettes, televisions, dish and receivers etc.
2. Trade in second hand clothes and fiber.
3. Exchange of Currencies more especially Nigerian and Niger currencies.
4. Selling Jewelries and blouses.
5. Sell of spectacles and Islamic books
6. Drug peddling
From the above discussions, one will admit that Zarma people has contributed a lot to the economic development of Argungu emirate to a greater extent, this can be seen through their effort in creating job opportunities to the teeming youth that are perambulating on the streets as well as making it easy for them and the host community to have access to desired products like clothes, mats, local fans, local pots, hoes, guns, second hand clothes, cosmetics, drug peddlers, motor cycle riders and water vendors. By so doing, they also help in promoting revenue generation of the state, because those who are opportune to own their shops they do pay their tax to the government from time to time.


In conclusion, we come to admit that the paper has been able to come up with the sketch of Zarma –Argungu relationship which is dated back from the reigned of Muhammadu Kanta, to the present day Argungu emirate. The spatial distribution of Zarma across Argungu emirate revealed that there are about forty (40) towns and villages which are occupied by Zabarmawa. The role played by Zabarmawan Dosso toward the economic advancement of Argungu emirate in particular and Kebbi State at large was deliberated more especially in the areas of traditionally based occupational crafts and modern entrepreneurs. With hope that the paper will be of immense contribution to knowledge and scholarship.


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