Supernatural Forces in Hausa Trado-Medical Practices (A Wanzanci Balance Sheet)

Being a Paper Presented at the 8th MICOLLAC 2014 International Conference on Languages, Literatures and Cultures, organised by the Department of English, Faculty of Modern Languages and Communication, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang, at Rainbow Paradise Beach Resort, Tanjung Bungah, Penang Malaysia, between 12 – 14 August 2014

Supernatural Forces in Hausa Trado-Medical Practices (A Wanzanci Balance Sheet)


Dr. Bashir Aliyu Sallau
Department of Nigerian Languages
Umaru Musa Yar’adua University,
Katsina – Nigeria


It is unbelievable to think that a human being can possess a super natural power that can be used to harm his fellow human being in such a way that he can wet the penis of another person and make it to start bleeding with blood. Such powers can also be used to make the layers of skin that was removed during circumcision to reappear and cover the place it was removed from earlier, or even cause the uvula to become enlarged thereby depriving the person food or water. If he attempts to, he will face a serious pain. These and many other magical practices are performed by the practitioners of Hausa barbers tradition, popularly called Wanzamai, in Hausa language. This paper discusses the art of Wanzanci (Hausa Barbers Tradition) in relation to the practice of sorcery as practiced by the practitioners of the said art. It will also show how the Hausa people view them both (i.e. before and after the coming of the Islamic religion into Hausa land) and its influence on such practices.

1.0 Introduction

Available historical, educational and socio-cultural records at our disposal related to the history of Hausa land shows that, before the coming of Islam into Hausa land the Hausa people practiced traditional religion in which they worshipped spirits, ancestors and believed in superstitions. In their practice of traditional religion, the Hausa people did not curve any object for worship, neither did they worshiped any structure. They are of the belief that in their surroundings beside human beings, there are other super human beings that are more superior than them. In Hausa language, they call them iskoki ‘spirits’ ‘Jinns’ (plural) iska ‘spirit’ ‘Jinn’ (singular) or Mutanen boye (plural) or Mutumen boye (singular) ‘the hidden people’, or ‘people that cannot be seen’[1]. They also believe that these super human beings possess super natural powers which they use in helping human beings when they are in utter need, so also they use that power to destroy those that offended them. It is for this reason that the Hausa people worshiped them, and believed they could give them health and wealth, protect them from their enemies, raise them above others, and if they offend the spirits, they will be punished and forced to appease before forgiveness. The Hausa people also used traditional religion to settle disputes in matters relating to marriage, birth and death rites.

In some cases, the ways and manners in which the Hausa people practiced Hausa traditional religion differ from one family to the other, from one community to the other, and from one village/town to the other. Besides these practices, there is a universal Hausa traditional religion which is practiced everywhere in Hausa land without differences and it is called bori ‘exorcism’.

The belief and practice of traditional religion among the Hausa people during the pre-Islamic era in Hausa land was a necessity, since there were no revealed books, or rule of law. It was a time when might was right, and there was no guidance from any of the major religions such as Judaism, Christianity or Islam. One can therefore only acquire power and strength through the possession of spiritual powers from iskoki ‘spirits’ or mutanen boye ‘the hidden people’, or ‘people that cannot be seen’. To excel above others, each family, community or town has their own iska which they worshiped. In Hausa land, there are skilled crafts and occupations such as farming, blacksmithing, Hausa barbers tradition[2], wood and calabash carving, cloth weaving, animal husbandry, butchering, leather works and born setting. Each of these crafts is controlled and inherited by a particular family or community, and they are responsible for safeguarding and projecting the image of the craft their family or community inherited from their forefathers. In accordance with traditional religious belief, each of the aforementioned crafts possess a certain sorcery power which they used to protect themselves and the craft they practice from intruders, those that offend them, and other enemies.

In line with the above thought, this paper will focus its attention on sorcery as an aspect of Hausa traditional religion, Hausa barbers tradition, and the practice of sorcery as practiced by the Hausa traditional barbers in order to protect themselves and their craft past and present i.e. before and after the coming of Islamic religion into Hausaland, and its influence on such practices.

2.1   Sorcery as a Religion

Merriam Webster, an online Encyclopaedia Britannica Company dictionary, defines sorcery as “the use of power gained from the assistance or control of evil spirits especially for divining”. In Microsoft Encarta Premium 2009, sorcery is defined as “an art of attaining objectives, acquiring knowledge, or performing works of wonder through supernatural or nonrational means”. These two definitions have a close relationship with the way the Hausa people practiced sorcery in their various communities. This is because, to a typical Hausa man, sorcery means the use of spiritual powers obtained from spirits to perform certain actions that are beyond the recognition of common sense in order to project and protect one’s integrity, excel above others, or harms other people, and the performance of extraordinary activities for entertainments (Bunza, 1990: 101 - 104).

As earlier mentioned, the Hausa traditional religion involves the belief in the superiority of iskoki over human beings, and those that practiced the religion believe that, if they co-operate with the iskoki they will protect them from their enemies and any external aggression. They will also give them health and wealth, foretell them what will happen tomorrow or a year or so to come, and many other things. It is also the belief of the Hausa people that all human beings possess iskoki within their bodies, their household and the community at large. As such, they mingle and interact with them in whatever activity they are performing. In line with this belief, they classified the iskoki into two categories; Fararen Iskoki ‘White Spirits’ (plural) Farin iska  ‘White Spirit’(singular), and Bakaken Iskoki ‘Black Spirits’ (plural) Bakin iska (singular)[3]Fararen Iskoki includes Sarkin Makada Dafau, Sarkin Aljan, Sarkin Rafi, Uban Dawaki, Inna (Bafulatana or Fulfulde), Dangaladima and Malam Alhaji, to mention but a few. The Bakaken Iskoki on the other hand, includes Uwar-gona, Bako, Kure, Gajimare, Danko, Duna and Kakare.

It is the belief of the Hausa people that Fararen Iskoki are simple, co-operative and good. If one needs health, wealth, protection, prosperity, and integrity, Fararen Iskoki will guide him on how to get them. They are also consulted in cases of illness in which they give advices through their middle men on how to get medicine for curing diseases even if it is caused by Bakaken Iskoki. While on the other hand, the Bakaken Iskoki are wicked and they don’t tolerate nonsense, as such people who want to destroy, or kill other people and many unwanted things, consult them to assist, through their middle men in order to achieve their wicked intentions.

Whoever is interested in getting the assistance of Fararen Iskoki and that of the Bakaken Iskoki must offer sacrifices to appease them for their help. The sacrifices depends on ones needs, as some of the Iskoki can request some parts/complete parts of animals or birds for lighter sacrifices, while others, most especially the Bakaken Iskoki, can request some parts/complete parts of a human being as sacrifice for higher demands.

For individual needs and cases of illness, the client/patient has to undergo Girka ‘initiation or spirit possession’ which in some cases can take seven to fourteen days under the guidance of a Boka ‘soothsayer’; quack doctor (Bunza, 1998:133-134). For collective and community needs, there are religious shrines in some major towns of Hausa land where the people forwarded their requests to the Iskoki for assistance. Some of these shrines include, Dutsen Dala (in Kano city) where they worshipped Tsumburbura through its agent Barbushe, Dutsin Birchi (in Kurfi Local Government of Katsina State, Nigeria), where they worshipped Dantalle through its agent Sarkin Noma Na-Goda, the Arnan Suna living around Dutsen Kwatarkwashi (in Bungudu Local Government of Zamfara State, Nigeria), who worshipped Maiki ‘Falcon’ (Sallau, 2013:2). Before presenting their requests to these Iskoki living in the aforementioned shrines through their agents, the people around these religious centres has to offer some sacrifices of animals or birds to appease the Iskoki. The sacrifices, as stated earlier, depends on the request of each Iska.

3.1 Hausa Barbers Tradition Wanzanci

Hausa Barbers Tradition (Wanzanci) is a craft practiced among the Hausa people and some tribes in West Africa. It is very difficult for one to say when and where this craft originated. This is because the craft has been in practice from time immemorial, but research findings show that the craft came as a child of necessity. Natural human needs and demands forced humans to think of the ways to solve their daily problems. In line with the above theory, it was assumed that the art of Hausa Barbers Tradition came as a result of human needs, in which when hair grew too much on the head of a man, in an attempt to reduce it or shave it all he learn the art. The same applies to all other aspects of the craft that are performed today. Gradually, the art developed to the extent that some families made it to be their occupation one which they solely relied on for sustainance (Bunza, 1990:149-150).

The art is mainly practiced by men, but in some cases women do perform the art. This is because, according to Hausa tradition, it is men that inherit their father’s crafts and occupations. The craft is also organised in such a way that every Hausa traditional barber has his own domain where he practice the craft. The domain is not determined by any natural boundary or boarder, but depends on the choice of the people. In other words, from time immemorial, each family or community has its own traditional barber who performs the art among the people of such family or community. In cases of migration, the family or community still send for their barber they inherited when the need arises[4]. According to Hausa cultural norms and values, barbers don’t have the right to encroach other barbers domain. It is only the barber and his children/family or any other barber he delegates that will do so. In cases where one barber encroaches the domain of another barber, there will be conflict which will result in the use of sorcery by the barber whose domain was encroached in an attempt to harm the other barber who encroached his domain. In some cases, this kind of problem can even affect the member of the family the art is performed on him in the domain of the first barber. This can also force the encroached barber to use sorcery to defend himself and his family.

 The art of Hausa barbing include shaving men’s hair, cutting uvula, performing circumcision to male children, cutting haemorrhoids/vulvar haematoma from female children, incision of traditional, decorative and medicinal facial marks on the face and other parts of the body for men and women, giving traditional medicine to the sick and those in need, to mention but a few (Sallau, 2010:33-34).

3.2 Pre-Islamic Aspects of the Said Art

Before the coming of Islam into Hausaland, the only way one can defend himself and his community against any external aggression and excel among equals and be prosperous, or to cure some diseases, or harm other people, was through the use of sorcery. Each family/community and practitioners of crafts/traditional occupations possess some kind of sorcery which they used to achieve certain desired goals. In terms of performing sorcery among the practitioners of crafts and occupations in Hausaland, the Hausa Traditional Barbers excel above all. For this reason, the Hausa people are afraid of them, as such they don’t offend them,[5] but rather honour them. In some cases, people that are in need of traditional medicine which will make them prosperous and excel above others or those who want to harm their enemies or rivals, or they wanted to protect themselves from their enemies and rivals, usually visit Hausa Traditional Barbers for assistance. The Barbers on their part will use the sorcery power they possess to assist them. There are three main reasons that made the Hausa Traditional Barbers to use sorcery, which includes; entertainment, to harm other people, and to protect themselves, their families and their craft.

3.1 Using Sorcery for Entertainments

Entertainments are used to cheer or make people laugh. Most of these performances go beyond the assumption of common sense. The Hausa Traditional Barbers are among those that perform wonderful performances to entertain people. These performances include; kiran zabira, ‘calling zabira[6]’, burga askar aski cikin baki, amongst many others. They are performed whenever there is a ceremony in the barbers’ families such as wedding ceremony, naming ceremony, turbaning of a new Sarkin Aska, community leader or other crafts leaders, to mention but a few occasions. The Hausa Traditional Barbers do these performances with the help of their traditional drummers and singers who praise them.

3.1.1 Zabira Magic

During a ceremony for the barber to entertain the audience, when coming to the ceremony he will leave his zabira at home. By the time his praise singers start praising him, he, through the use of sorcery he obtained from the Iskoki he believed in their assistance will bring the Zabira to him when he call it. For the barber to succeed during the ceremony, there are things that are requested by the Iska are, a black piece of locally weaved cloth, a cobweb that joins two trees and, a newly hatched turtle (which is alive). The barber will then tie the turtle with the cobweb and put it on the cloth and tie with a locally made spinning thread. He will keep it and in the morning he will get a red cock and slaughter it in such a way that the blood will pour over the charm, and put it inside his Zabira. From that time onwards whenever he is not with his Zabira, he can call it and with the assistance of the sorcery obtained from the Iska it will reach him wherever he is, every month, however, he will have to take out the charm and slaughter a red cock over it as sacrifice to the Iska.

3.1.2 Knife Tricking

The barber can also swizzle a sharp shaving knife in his mouth without cutting any part of his mouth. Instead of cutting him however it will become blunt. The medicine used by the barber to perform this act is to get hakin gadon-maciji ‘serpent’s bed’ (Boerhavia repens, Trianthema pentandra, Trianthema portulacastrum), and ganyen kirya ‘leaves false locust, a hardened acacia like tree’ (prosopis africana). They should be put together and pound. Whenever the barber is going for such a ceremony he will then take a little of the medicine, chew it and swallow the watery content. For that day, whatever way he swizzles the sharp shaving knife in his mouth it will not cut him, but will become blunt.

3.1.3 Supernatural Cupping

Cupping is a therapy applied to human body and performed by Hausa traditional barbers to extract blood for treatment of certain diseases. The barber’s cups are fastened on the affected part of the body, and after some minutes the barber will remove the cups and use his sharp knife to make some incisions on the place. After the incisions, the barber will reapply the cups on the earlier place to collect the blood that will run from the incision holes.

During ceremonies, Hausa traditional barbers use sorcery to entertain their spectators through applying their cups on non-living objects such as pots or walls. The cups will be fastened and blood will be extracted as in human beings. The sorcery used in such occasions is through kurkura (which will be explained later).

3.2 Causative Sorcery

There are cases when rivalry, enmity and misunderstanding can occur between two or more traditional barbers, and in some cases between a barber and another person who is not a barber. In the case of non-barber, the barber will perform sorcery to harm him in such a way that he can kill him, inflict a certain disease that will be dangerous to him and many other unwanted things. If the rivalry that existed between the two barbers was as a result of encroachment into the domain of one barber, the barber whose domain was encroached will perform sorcery that will harm the other barber or the member of the family of the domain that was encroached[7].

3.2.1 Intra-Professional Conflict  

In the case of one barber to the other, the barber intending to harm will get the excrement/faeces discharged by the barber, zangarniyyar maiwa ‘a head of a variety of bulrush-millet’ and firewood made from iccen kirya ‘false locusts, and a hardened acacia like tree’ (prosopis africana). When he collect all the things listed above, he will rub the head of the variety of bulrush-millet with the faeces of the barber and keep them for seven days, and then he will set the false locusts, hardened acacia like tree on fire. When the firewood is completely burnt and leaving behind live embers, that barber will then put the head of the variety of bulrush-millet rubbed with the faeces of the other barber on the live embers. The moment it starts burning, the body of the other barber will intense.

The barber can also use this sorcery to damage the work of another barber. For example, when he comes to shave hair or perform circumcision, his hand will start shivering to the extent that he cannot shave or perform normal circumcision and instead will cut the person he is supposed to shave. This can also happen during circumcision, whereby he will cut another part of the penis where he is not supposed to cut. Sometimes after cutting the normal layers that covers the head of the penis, blood will keep flowing instead of stopping after few minutes. In such situation, the barber will have to get another medicine to check the sorcery performed that led to the problem. If the barber is not able to take an emergency care, the blood of the boy will run out all and at last he will die. If such a barber is not fully prepared to face such challenges he will loose his people and make them replace him with another barber from his family or elsewhere, one that can face any challenge.

 In performing this kind of sorcery the barber will use kurkura sorcery to achieve his aim.  This kind of sorcery will be explained later.

3.2.2 Blood Letting Sorcery

There are cases that will lead to misunderstanding between a man and a woman most especially lovers. A situation where a lover/husband suspects his wife of having affair with another man can lead him to seek assistance from Hausa traditional barber, who will in turn use sorcery to make the woman bleed from her vagina.

In performing this sorcery, the barber will ask the person requesting for the sorcery to get the menstrual pad of the woman and put it together with the blood of a black goat and hakin karan-dafi ‘guinea-corn’ (sorghum bicolor), with a little water in goran duma ‘a bottle shape gourd used by travallers for containing liquid food or water’. After putting them all together, he will then get a spear and squeeze the content and hang them in his room, and use the same spear to make a little hole on the bottom of the goran duma where it will leak. The moment it starts leaking, the woman will start bleeding from her vagina like menstruation and it will not stop unless she gets another medicine that will counter the sorcery.    

3.3 Defensive Sorcery

  There are situations that will force a Hausa Traditional Barber to use sorcery in order to defend himself, his family and his craft. One of such situations includes committing a mistake in performing the craft. In other words, occupational hazard can force a Hausa Traditional Barber to use sorcery so that he can solve the problem[8].   

Challenge from friends and other people can also force a Hausa Traditional Barber to use sorcery. For example, a friend can challenge a barber by saying to him “if you are a true son of your father”, or “if you are a real Hausa Traditional Barber, cause my penis to start bleeding with blood, or replace its layers of skin that were removed during circumcision”. This and other challenges can force the barber to use sorcery in making all these things and many others to happen as dared[9].

In performing the above, the barber will use kurkura sorcery. Kurkura sorcery is a kind of sorcery which is performed to achieve evil intensions and to defend the barber, his family and his craft. Any body that possesses this kind of sorcery can achieve whatever evil he intends in his mind, or cause to happen whatever he utters. He can also defend himself, his family and his craft whenever he is faced with a problem which is related to his craft. For example, if he is faced with the problem of occupational hazard as explained in footnote 8, he can use kurkura sorcery to solve the problem as performed by our father and Ali Wanzami.

In performing kurkura sorcery, the barber (under the guidance of the Iska) will get three sticks of spit meat on skewers which are not fried and nothing applied on them. From then whenever the barber eased himself he will use small sticks to clean faeces and keep them until he is able to collect ninety nine (99) sticks. He will also collect ninety nine (99) pieces of kayar Aduwa ‘thorn of pigeon-pea’, ‘desert date’ (Balanites aegyptiaca, cajanus cajan), and another ninety nine (99) thorn of farar kaya (Acacia sieberana). He will then put all the thorns together and pound them in a mortar until they turn into powder. The barber will take the ninety nine sticks he used to clean his faeces and set them on fire to fry the three sticks of spit meat on skewers. When they are fried, he will then apply the powder of the thorns on the meat and eat it all alone. From that time, whatever he intends in his mind or say by the word of mouth will happen to whomever he intends to. For example, if a friend or another person challenges him (as pointed above), whatever the barber intends in his mind or says with his mouth will happen to the person that challenges him. So also, if it is a mistake committed by the barber or any of his family, he can use this sorcery to correct it.        

4.1 The Practice of Sorcery by Hausa Traditional Barbers Today

The practice of sorcery by Hausa Traditional Barbers today is experiencing serious challenges which are necessitating a lot of changes. This began with the coming of the Islamic religion into Hausaland in the 13th-14th centuries and how the new faith was accepted by the majority of Hausa people including Hausa traditional barbers. The coming of the Europeans in the 19th century and the imposition of British/French colonial rule in Hausaland has also to a great extent contributed to the decline in the practice of sorcery by Hausa traditional barbers. First and foremost, we will look into the role played by the Islamic religion in bringing about change in the practice of sorcery by Hausa traditional barbers.

4.1.1 The Meaning of Islam and Its Teaching

 Islam means to bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to offer Salat, pay Zakat, fast during the month of Ramadan and make Hajj (the pilgrimage to Makkah) if you are able and have the means to make the journey (Jamil Zeno:1996:19). These are the pillars upon which the Islamic religion was built. Besides the five pillars of Islam, there are also six pillars of Iman ‘faith’ which require the believe that:

1.      Allah (in His Existence, His Oneness, in His Attributes) His deserving to be worshipped alone and supplicated and His right to legislate.

2.      His angels (being created from light for obeying Allah’s Orders).

3.      His Books (the Torah of Moses, the Gospel of Jesus, the Psalms of David and the Qur’an revealed to Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) which is the best of them).

4.      His Messengers (the first of them was Noah and the last of them was (Muhammad, Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) being the seal of the Prophets).

5.      The Last Day (by the day of resurrection for the reckoning of the people according to their deeds, and their appropriate compensation (reward or punishment).

6.      And to believe in Qadar (Divine Preordainment) that all which occurs of good and evil is by Devine decree, accompanied by the employment of means to achieve desired results with satisfaction of what happens of good or bad, the sweet and the bitter, because it occurs by Allah’s Decree.

After believing in the Oneness of Allah, every Muslim believer must also bear witness that Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) was sent as a Messenger by Allah. So, he must believe in what he reported as truth, he must obey him in whatever he commanded, he must abstain from whatever he prohibit, and he must worship Allah in the manner he prescribed.

4.1.2 The Position of Islamic Religion on the Practice of Sorcery

Islam prohibits any form of association with another other than God, which by implication is what sorcery instils. Practitioners of sorcery seek for assistance from others apart from Allah, as such ascribing partner to Him. In the Holy Qur’an (Chapter 51, verse 56) Allah the Almighty said:

And I (Allah) created not the Jinns and men except they should worship Me (Alone).

In Chapter 16, verse 36, Allah the Almighty also said:

And verily, We sent among every Ummah (community, nation) a Messenger (proclaiming): Worship Allah (Alone), and avoid (or keep away from) Taghut (all false deities etc. i.e. do not worship Taghut beside Allah).

 In this regard, whoever worships Allah alone without associating Him with any partner in worship will be protected and rewarded in the Hereafter. In the Holy Qur’an (Chapter 6, verse 82) Allah the Almighty said:

It is those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah and worship none but Him) and confuse not their belief with Zulm (wrong i.e. by worshipping others beside Allah), for them (only) there is security and they are guided ones.

In the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him), as narrated by Ubadah bn As-Samit (May Allah have Mercy on him) Allah’s Messenger (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) is reported to have said:

Whoever testifies that there is nothing worthy of worship in truth (no God) except Allah Alone, Who is without (peer or) partner, and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger, and that ‘Iesa (Jesus) is the slave of Allah, His Messenger, and His Word which He bestowed in Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (created) from Him, and that Paradise and Hell are realities, Allah will admit him into Paradise, whatever his deeds might be. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Hadith No. 3252).

For those people that ascribe partners to Allah in their worship, Allah the Almighty said:

Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him in worship, but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He pleases. (Qur’an, Chapter 4, verse 48, 116).

In a prophetic tradition of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) narrated by Ibn Mas’ud (May Allah have mercy on him), who said, he heard the Prophet saying:

Whoever dies while ascribing partners to Allah enters the Hell-Fire. (Al-Bukhari).

In another related tradition, Muslim reports from Jabir (May Allah have mercy on him) that Allah’s Messenger (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) said:

Whoever meets Allah (on the Day of Judgment) not having associated anyone with Him (in worship), shall enter Paradise; and whoever meets Him having committed Shirk in any way will enter the Hell-Fire.          

4.1.3 Supernatural Powers Given to Some Selected People by Allah

Allah in His infinite powers has bestowed some form of supernatural powers to His selected, believing, respectful and hardworking servants. Powers of this nature is categorized into two; Mu’ujiza ‘miracle’, which was conferred on prophets and messengers of Allah, and Karama ‘spiritual powers’ which is conferred on reputable saints that are neither prophets nor messengers of Allah.

Mu’ujiza ‘Miracle’

Mu’ujiza is an Arabic word which in English means miracle. Encarta dictionaries defines miracle as an:

Act of God: an event that appears to be contrary to the laws of nature and is regarded as an act of God.

Amazing event: an act or action that is amazing, extraordinary, or unexpected

Marvellous example: something admired as a marvellous creation or example of a particular type of science or skill.

In Islam, Mu’ujiza or miracle is only given by Allah, the Almighty, to His prophets so that they can convey Allah’s message to mankind. In most cases the prophets do not know they possess such powers, until they find themselves in difficult situations. Allah, the Almighty bestowed powers to prophets such as Musa (Moses) (May Allah have mercy on him), Isa (Jesus) (May Allah have mercy on Him) and Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) to mention but a few. If we can refer to the Holy Qur’an, we will find many verses that describe the miracles performed by prophet Musa (Moses), during his encounters with Pharaoh. This is captured in Chapter 7, verse 103-109, in which it was stated:

Then After them We sent Musa (Moses) with Our signs to Fir’aun (Pharaoh) and his chiefs, but they wrongfully rejected them. So see how the end of the Mufsidun (mischief-makers, corrupters) was. (Verse 103).

And Musa (Moses) said: “O Fir’aun (Pharaoh)! Verily, I am a Messenger from the Lord of the Alamin (Mankind, jinn and all that exists). (Verse 104)

Proper it is for me that I say nothing concerning Allah but the truth. Indeed I have come to you from your Lord with a clear proof. So let the children of Israel depart along with me. (Verse 105)

[Fir’aun (Pharaoh)] said: If you have come with a sign, show it forth, if you are one of those who tell the truth. (Verse 106)

Then [Musa (Moses)] threw his stick and behold! It was a serpent, manifest! (Verse 107)

And he drew out his hand, and behold! it was white (with radiance) for the beholders. (Verse 108)

The chiefs of the people of Fir’aun (Pharaoh) said: “This is indeed a well-versed sorcerer. (Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali, 2007/1427 AH: 215).

As a result of the miracle’ shown by prophet Musa (Moses) (May Allah have mercy on him) he was challenged by the sorcerers of Pharaoh and he won, thereby convincing these sorcerers of the oneness of the God in worship. Consequently, they all believe in his message as reported in the following verses:

 They said: O Musa (Moses)! Either you throw first, or shall we have the first throw? (Chapter 7, verse 115).

He [Musa (Moses)] said: Throw you (first). So when they throw, they bewitched the eyes of the people, and struck terror into them, and they displayed a great magic.” (Chapter 7, verse 116).

And We revealed to Musa (Moses) (saying) Throw your stick, and behold! It swallowed up straight away all the falsehood which they showed. (Chapter 7, verse 117).

Thus truth was confirmed, and all that they did was made of no effect. (Chapter 7, verse 118).

So they were defeated there and returned disgraced. (Chapter 7, verse 119).

And the sorcerers fell down prostrate. (Chapter 7, verse 120).

They said: We believe in the Lord of the ‘Alamin’ (mankind, jinn and all that exists). (Chapter 7, verse 121).

The Lord of Musa (Moses) and Harun (Aaron). (Chapter 7, verse 122) (Al-Hilali, 2007/1427 AH: 216).

The Mu’ujiza ‘miracle given to prophet Isa (Jesus) (May Allah have mercy on Him) it was clearly manifested before his birth. He was born of a mother but without a father as decreed by Allah. In the Holy Qur’an, Chapter 19, verse 16-21, Allah the Almighty said:

And mention in the Book (the Qur’an) O Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him), the story of Maryam (Mary) when she withdrew in seclusion from her family to a place facing east.

She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her Our Ruh [angel Jibril (Gabriel)], and he appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects.

She said: Verily, I seek refuge with the Most Gracious (Allah) from you, if you do fear Allah.

(The angel) said: I am only a messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son.

She said: How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, nor am I unchaste?

He said: So it will be, your Lord said: That is easy for Me (Allah)[10]: And (We wish) to appoint him as a sign to mankind and a mercy from Us (Allah), and it is a matter (already) decreed, (by Allah).(Al-Hilali, 2007/1427 AH: 403-404).

After the birth of prophet Isa (Jesus) more of such Mu’ujiza became evident, as indicated in the Holy Qur’an, Chapter 16, verse 27-33, in which it was reported that:

Then she brought him (the baby) to her people, carrying him. They said: “O Maryam (Mary)! Indeed you brought a thing Fariyy (a mighty thing).

O sister (i.e. the like) of Harun (Aaron)[11]! Your father was not a man who used to commit adultery, nor was your mother an unchaste woman.

Then she pointed to him. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?[12]

He [Isa (Jesus)] said: Verily, I am a slave of Allah; He has given me the Scriptures and made me a Prophet,

And He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and has enjoined on me Salat (prayer), and Zakat as long as I live.

And dutiful to my mother, and made me not arrogant, humblest.

And Salam (peace) be upon me the day I was born, and the day I will die, and the day I shall be raised alive! (Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali, 2007/1427 AH: 404-405).

Allah, the Almighty, bestowed more of such miracles on prophet Isa (Jesus) whereby he was able to perform many wonderful things that were beyond the recognition of common sense, such. Such miracles include curing the blind and the deaf, to mention but a few. This is testified in the Holy Qur’an (Chapter 3, verse 49) in which Allah the Almighty said:

And will make him [Isa (Jesus)] a Messenger to the children of Israel (saying): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I design for you out of clay, a figure like that of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave; and I heal him who was born blind, and the leaper, and bring the dead to life by Allah’s leave. And I inform you of what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely, in that is a sign for you, if you are believers (Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali, 2007/1427 AH: 75).

Such miracle was also given to Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) right from his childhood. In those days (before and after the birth of Prophet Muhammad) the Arabs in the cities do send their children to Bedouins to be nursed so that they can grow up and acquire skills that were not available in the cities. In this case, the Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) was entrusted into the hand Haleemah bint Abi Dhuaib from Bani Sa’d bin Bakr. Before taking young Muhammad for suckling, the entire family of Haleemah were living in abject poverty, but as soon as she brought young Muhammad home, the entire household was favoured with successive strokes of good fortunes. This continued for a long time, even after she took Muhammad back to his family in Makkah (Al-Mubarakphuri, 1996: 57-58).

  Prophet Muhammad demonstrated his Mu’ujiza ‘miracle’ during a conversation with an iguana lizard. The Prophet asked the iguana lizard some questions, which it was able to answer. The conversation is as follows:

Prophet Muhammad:     Who is your Lord?

Iguana Lizard:               Allah, the Only One.

Prophet Muhammad:     Who is your Prophet?

Iguana Lizard:               Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him).

Besides this miracle, prophet Muhammad also showed much more, one among them was when he summoned the moon and the moon came to him divided into two (Bunza, 1990:111).

(i)                 Karama (Spiritual Powers Conferred on Reputable Saints)

Karama in this context refers to spiritual powers given to some religious, devoted and selected people or reputable saints who are neither prophets nor messengers of Allah. Many reputable saints that worshipped none but Allah were given such powers and even today there are such people. In an authentic Hadith, narrated by Abu Hurairah (May Allah have mercy on him), reported that, the Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) said: “There was a man from Bani Israel called Juraij. While he was offering his prayer his mother called on him. He said (to himself), Shall I answer her or keep on praying? He then went on praying and did not answer her. His mother said: O Allah! Do not let him die till he sees the faces of prostitutes. So, while he was in hermitage, a lady came and sought to seduce him, but he refused. So she went to a shepherd and presented herself to him to commit illegal sexual intercourse with her and then later she gave birth to a child and claimed that it belonged to Juraij. The people came to him and dismantled his hermitage and expelled him out of it and abused him. Juraij then performed ablution and offered prayer, and then came to the child and said: O child! Who is your father? The child replied: The shepherd. After hearing this, the people said, “we shall rebuild your hermitage of gold”, but he said: “No, of nothing but mud” (Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali, 2007/1427 AH: 75). 


Islamic religion has indeed brought about serious changes in the way and manner societies (the world over) performed their cultural activities, most especially in terms of religious practices (of which the Hausa society is not an exception). Before the coming of Islam into Hausaland, Hausa people were in serious need of assistance, and that made them consult their oracles for help. But with the coming of Islam and its teachings there was a great turning-point, a situation where people were taught to believe in the oneness of Allah and when in need to offer prayers and ask for Allah’s assistance, protection and guidance as He is ever ready to answer the prayers of the needy and those that ask for His help. Consequently, the Hausa people, including Hausa barbers, abandoned their gods, oracles and all forms of fetish religious practices and surrender themselves to Islamic monotheism. This brought about the decline, if not the end, of sorcery as practiced by Hausa barbers in the past.


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[1] It’s the believe of the Hausa people that if a human being have a look at a spirit and saw it with his eyes in its natural physical appearance, that person will die instantly.

[2] By birth and practice, the writer and presenter of this paper belongs to the family that safeguard and project the image of Wanzanci ‘Hausa Barbers Tradition’ in his community, which he inherited from his father, and was able to succeed him in 1996 before his death in 1999 to the throne of Sarkin Aska ‘Chief of Hausa Traditional Barbers’ in Safana District of Safana Local Government, Katsina State, Nigeria.

[3] The names given to classification of the iskoki are based on the habit as well as the actions and duties they perform. The words fari (singular) and farare (plural) in Hausa language means white colour. In Hausa traditional belief, anything associated with white colour is considered to be good and to some extent excellent, while baki (singular) and bakake (plural) means black colour. The Hausa people also associated the black colour with bad or unwanted things. Due to the fact that Fararen Iskoki are simple and good they are associated with white colour, while Bakaken Iskoki are wicked and dangerous, and as such are associated with black colour.

[4] There are cases that will force some families/communities to change the barber they inherited from their fore-fathers. These includes migration to a long distant place by the barber or members of the families/communities of the barbers domain, old age or death on the part of the barber who doesn’t have some body to inherit him, or conflict between members of the family/community with the barber they inherited.

[5] For the fact that the Hausa people are aware of the knowledge of sorcery possessed by the Hausa Traditional Barbers, they don’t offend them even in situations that are not associated with their craft. For example, I being a practitioner of the craft which everybody in my community and beyond knows, was faced with a dilemma in the year 2011. The scenario started when I took my car for minor repairs and washing to a garage which I left it their and went home. In the car I forgot my handset which I did not remember until after taking the car from the garage. Back home, I recalled and checked the place I kept it but found out it was not there. So, I immediately rushed back to the garage and narrated everything to the mechanic, and he summoned all his co-workers and the person that washed the car and asked them, if any had seen the handset. All of them declined having seen the handset. When I realized that I will not be able to recover the hand set I left the garage. During the discussion there was another person from my locality. After I left the garage, he called the attention of the mechanics and told them;”Look! Let every one of you remember that the person you stole his handset is the Sarkin Aska of Safana, and every one of you is aware of that, I am afraid of what will happen to the person that stole the handset, as such, in strong words I am advising the thief to return back the handset for his own good”. The following day in the evening while I was in my house, I was called outside. When I came out, I saw my tailor, and he gave me the handset. I asked him where he found it. He told me that it was given to him by Musa Giraza (the person that intimidated the mechanics the previous day). It was there he told me what had transpired between Musa Giraza and the mechanics after I left the garage. This seriously upset the thief, and the following morning when he was sure nobody will see him, returned the handset and kept it under a tree in the garage. In the morning when some of the mechanics came, they found the hand set and gave it to Musa Giraza so that he could return it to me. The mechanics also assigned Musa Giraza after delivering the handset to me, to beg me and forbear what had happened and do not harm the thief.

[6] Zabira is the bag that is used by the Hausa traditional barbers in putting all their working material. It is made from the skin of animals. 

[7] In 1961 as a result of encroachment into the domain of Sarkin Askar Kauran Katsina, District Head of Rimi by another traditional barber in Kankia, the Sarkin Aska of Rimi harm the child whose hair was shaved. The scenario started when the wife of Malam Bala Rimi a Sanitary Inspector posted to Kankia from Rimi delivered. Without consulting his family that was supposed to tell the barber they inherited at Rimi, he invited another barber in Kankia. According to tradition in Hausaland after seven days of giving birth to a child male or female after naming the child, a traditional barber will be invited to shave the hair of the baby. So, on the seventh day the child was named Bello and the barber from Kankia invited by Malam Bala Rimi shaved the hair of baby Bello. After that barber left the house of Malam Bala Rimi, the Sarkin Aska of Rimi after being told of the birth at Rimi, also came to the house being the traditional barber the families of Malam Bala Rimi inherited from time immemorial to perform his duties. He ordered for the child to shave his hair, but he was told that the baby’s hair has been shaved. With an exclamation of sign of surprise, he said. “The baby’s hair has been shaved! That’s all!” From there he left the house and went back to Rimi. It was later discovered that, “That’s all” he said, means the baby has his first and last shaving of his hair for life. From that day up to the time Bello Bala Rimi died in 2007 no single hair grow in any part of his body. In other words, from the time the barber shaved his hair it stop growing up to the time of his death.   

[8] In 1961 my elder brother with the name Alhaji Abdulkadir Gawo committed a mistake by incision wrong tribal marks on the face of a child whose family doesn’t inherit any facial mark on their faces. This created a serious problem and our father was informed of the unfortunate incidence. Confidently, he said it was a lie, and he ordered the family of the child to go and check. By the time they checked the facial marks have disappeared and up to date there is no sign of such mark on the face of the child (named Mannir Basalihe living in the village of Kunkunna Bayan-Dutse in Runka Village Area of Safana Local Government, Katsina State, Nigeria). So also in 1990 in Dutsin-ma town of Katsina State, Nigeria, an elderly person invited one Ali Wanzami to shave his hair. Unfortunately, he forgot and shaved all the hair including the beard. When that elderly person realized that his beard had been shaved he became furious. His reason was, according to Hausa culture it is a cultural taboo for an elderly person to shave his beard. Also in accordance with Islamic culture, all male adults are not supposed to shave their beard in order to imitate the actions of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him). He also said, it’s an abomination for him to approach his family and community with a shaved beard while everybody knows for years he doesn’t shave his beard. People around including the barber, begged him to bear with the situation, but he did not listen to their appeal. From that place he went directly to Dutsin-ma Magistrate Court and sued that barber. When the Judge invited Ali Wanzami and narrated to him the allegations leveled against him, he denied and asked the Judge to look at the face of the man that sued him. When the Judge looked, instead of seeing the face of the elderly person with shaved beard he saw him with a long beard. The Judge told the elderly man that “you sued this man for shaving your beard, but now I and all the people in this Court and every body that looks at you will see you with your beard”. The man torched the place and found there was hair. The Judge then dismissed the case for lack of evidence. By the time he went outside the Court the beard disappeared and he returned back to the Judge and told him the beard had disappeared, but when the Judge looked at him, he saw him with the beard. These dilemmas continued up to the time the real hair of the beard grew. These two Hausa barbers, my father and Ali Wanzami, performed such sorceries in order to protect themselves, their families and their craft.  

[9] From the sorcery we inherited from our family we can wet the penis of a male adult if it is not more than sixty (60) years from the day it was performed. Any circumcision that is not more than sixty years can be damaged or made to start bleeding. The skin layers of the penis that were removed during circumcision can also reappear as if they were not removed before.

[10] It is said that Jibril (Gabriel) had merely breathed in the sleeve of Maryam’s (Mary) shirt, and thus she conceived.

[11] This Harun (Aaron) is not the brother of Musa (Moses), but he was another pious man at the time of Maryam (Mary).

[12] In an authentic Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah, may Allah be please with him, said: None spoke in cradle but three: (The first was) Jesus. (Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali, 2007/1427 AH: 74).

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