The Role of Traditional Architecture in the Preservation of History and Culture in the Ancient City of Katsina: An Overview of the Significance of Gidan Korau and Gidan Yarima

Published in Al’adunmu Journal of Current Research in African Studies, First Edition, Vol. 1 No. 1, January, 2018, page 81. Katsina State History and Culture Bureau in Collaboration with Faculty of Humanities Umaru Musa Yar’adua Katsina – Nigeria

The Role of Traditional Architecture in the Preservation of History and Culture in the Ancient City of Katsina: An Overview of the Significance of Gidan Korau and Gidan Yarima

Dr. Bashir Aliyu Sallau
Executive Director
Katsina State History and Culture Bureau
P.M.B. 2146, Katsina-Nigeria 


Danjuma Adamu
Research and Documentation
Katsina State History and Culture Bureau
P.M.B. 2146, Katsina-Nigeria


The aims of the paper is to explore the historical importance of Katsina traditional architecture in the preservation of history and culture in the ruling dynasty, and their social, political and economic relevance in the transition of kingship and their role in the development of Katsina.  The program evidence from archaeological findings, oral interviews and Arab manuscripts that dealt with the history of Katsina as an ancient city in Northern Nigeria will be pursued.  There was a historical belief that Katsina was a center of trade and learning in the 15th and 16th Century which was characterized by series of migration of Berbers and Arab traders and scholars who served as teachers, judges in the world wide renowned ancient Gobarau  Islamic  University, a symbol of great architectural building in the ancient city of Katsina. This paper will also discuss the significance of traditional architecture in Gidan Korau and Gidan Yarima as source of security to the Emir. The building also justified professionalism in the building industry in Hausa Land. In another way, it served as a symbol of a Royal architecture in the past and present day. It also preserved the history and culture in the ancient city of Katsina.


African tradition clearly rest on respect for established customs and wisdom of the ancestors. Our historical traditions tell us about the founders of communities, cities, kingdoms and empires. The myths, epics and folklore recount the deeds of culture, heroes, but also moralize about the villains whose bad ways have to be avoided. Similarly, the proverb and philosophical expression codified in many form of poetry, songs and riddles and jokes, etc. post the experience of ancestors as the yard stick for the evaluation of our present actions, and antiquity as the ground on which the present stands.

Hausa Traditional Architecture    

Homes that were built in older communities to create the standard for what a traditional architect seek to maintain, particularly those communities that are well over a century or centuries old. The homes and buildings that were constructed established the tradition from which traditional architecture seek to maintain. The structure of doors, windows, building heights and roofing element are carried forward in new construction, typing the present to the past and maintaining a community’s tradition. The main component of traditional architecture style is the ways in which the past building style and present are merged together, creating a shameless tradition. With traditional architecture, much difference is paid on the materials used in building and how they function and work. Traditional style does not depart from the norms in the way that contemporary architecture does, nor is it rigidly devout to form and function as the case of mode architecture. Traditional architecture in an older way of building homes and building that stands the test of time and continue to link to the past and move the future forward.

Gidan Korau as an Epitome of Cultural Landscape in Katsina

The Katsina Royal Palace ‘Gidan Korau’ is a huge complex located in the centre of the ancient city. It is a symbol of culture, history and traditions of ‘Katsinawa’.  According to historical account, it was built in 1348 AD by Muhammadu Korau who is believed to be the first Muslim King of Katsina.  This explains why it is traditionally known as Gidan Korau (House of Korau) (Usman, 1981: 10-11).  It is one of the oldest and among the first generation Palaces in Hausa land.  The rest are that of Daura, Kano and Zazzau.

            The Palace was encircled with a rampart ‘Ganuwar Gidan Sarki’ (which is now extinct).  The main gate which leads to the Palace is known as Qofar Soro while the gate at the backyard is called Qofar Bai (now extinct).

            The Emir’s residential quarters which is the epicenter of the Palace, is a large compound built in the typical Hausa traditional architecture.  The buildings are made of conical-shaped and sun-dried clay bricks (Tubali), Kwavavviyar Qasa (mud), and Qyami (rafters). Other materials include Asabari (rafters), iron doors and windows, Jangargari (red soil), Loda and Makuba (colorants).  The Qyami is a strong and termite-resistant wood flank which is obtained from the deled palm tree (Borassus Flabeliyer) called Giginya in Hausa. Loda is a plant, the leaves of which when pounded and soaked, provide a viscous fluid which is mixed with Jangargari or Makuba.  The Makuba is a colorant as well as protective paint obtained from the empty pods of locust beans tree. Asabari is door mat made from a long hollow grass called Tsabre.

            The wall of the house is about 90 centimeters at the base.  It is enforced with high quality clay mixed with cow-dung and grass.  A mixture of JangargariMakuba, Farar-Qasa and Loda was used to adorn the outer walls and the interior of the rooms with beautiful artistic designs.  The mixture also serves as protective plaster. This explains why the buildings withstand the effects of harsh weather for many centuries.

            The roofing of the rooms is made of Qyami and Asabari.  The main entrance and reception room, Babban Zaure which is bigger and higher than the others leading to the compound is supported with an array of semi-circular pillars called Bakan-gizo (Cobweb) or Xaurin-Guga designs. Other buildings with such designs include the visitors’ waiting rooms.  Attached to the edges of all the roofs are the Indararo (Water Chutes) to drain rain water.  The four corners at the top of the building are decorated with many Zonkwaye.

            The royal compound is divided into three sections:

(1)              Soro: Is the section where the Emir and his family live.

(2)              Barga: Is the yard where the Emir’s royal stables, slaves and house servants live.

(3)              Gidan Ganye: This section contains the royal garden and the Emir’s guest house.  This area also serves as a relaxation area for the Emir.

Other parts of the compound include a mosque, clinic, a stable and children’s playground.

Attached to the Babban Zaure is the Emir’s inner chamber in which he sits with his Senior Councilors to receive State Officials and other important people. To the north-west of the house is the old Council Chamber (Tsohuwar Majalisa) which was built by Emir Dikko (1906-1944)).  Close to the house to the south stands the Masonic Council Chamber (Sabuwar Majalisa) which was built by Sir Usman Nagogo (1944-1951).  The two council chambers serve as venue for the Emir, his Councilors and District Heads to meet and deliberate on matters affecting the Emirate.  Also attached to the Emir’s inner chamber is a room which was converted into a Polo Gallery ‘Dakin Kwaf’.  It contains pictures of Katsina’s earliest polo teams and cups won by the Emirs dating back to early 1920’s when the game was introduced in Nigeria.

Beside the Emir’s residential house are two other quarters called ‘Cikin Gida’ and Saulawa. These quarters house the Emir’s personal servants such as the Sarkin DogaraiShamakiTurakiSarkin ZagiShantali, Baraya, Sarkin Lihidda, Sarkin Mota, Rumbuna etc.  The Saulawa quarters may have been the area where the royal granaries stood.

The Katsina royal regalia are among the most important historical materials kept in the palace.  The Emir is the chief custodian.  The regalia consist of two swords, a large camel drum and a bronze pot made of overlapping plates riveted together.  All these are said to have come down from Have times and were taken over by the Fulani at the time of the Xanfodiyo jihad in 1804.  The short sword, ‘Gajere’ is said to be the one used by Korau to kill Sanau.  The story of this wrestling and subsequent death of Sanau is told in traditions that:

“At a particular time in history, the Have of Katsina used to meet yearly for feasting and wrestling under a tamarind tree known as Bawada.  At one of these gatherings, Korau, a wrestler from ‘Yandoto, challenged King Sanau. Sanau was a noted wrestler but Korau discovered that the secret of his wrestling power depended on a string of charms he wore round his waist.  Korau therefore intrigued with Sanau’s wife to steal the charms.  Sanau, powerless without his charms, was quickly overthrown and stabbed to death with a sword.  As a result, Korau became the new Sarkin Katsina” (Usman, 1981:10-11).

This sword suggests a Moorish or probably eastern workmanship.  The blade is engraved with an inscription in Arabic characters which is translated as follows:


 “Help come from God and victory is

 high, so announce glad tidings to the

 faithful! O slave, there is no sword save

 Dhul Fiqar and no hero save Ali”.

During Sallah festivals, the Emir holds this sword on his way to and from the Eid praying ground. He acknowledges the traditional greeting of ‘Jinjina’ from his subjects, holding it firmly in his right hand.

The second sword is known as Bebe (the deaf one). It is known by this name because it was used to cut across any barrier during battles, no matter the strength or number of the enemy.  It is so sharp that it could injure a person by mere touch.  Traditions say that this sword was part of the spoils of King Agwaragi when he made war with Yakubu, King of Gobir.  When Agwaragi slew Yakubu, he brought back his head and hung it upon the Rimi tree at the gate of his house.  The sword was found in the tent of Yakubu.  When Malam Ummarun Dallaje drove out the Have, he found the sword in the chamber of Agwaragi.  He took it with him and later gave it to his son Iya Goje.  From his descendants it came into the possession of the late Emir Muhammadu Dikko, who made a silver scabbard for it.  During Sallah festivals, the Emir puts it across his body on his way to and from the Eid prayers. 

The third item of the royal regalia is the bronze pot of Korau.  This is the pot referred to in the following popular song:


“Korau, abu gungurum,

Korau mai tukunyar qarfe


 Korau the invincible,

 Korau! The owner of the iron pot! (Usman, 1981:13).

Traditions say that it was in this pot that concoctions were prepared and given to warriors to drink before they went into battle so that their hearts would be hardened.

The last item is ‘Gwauron Tambari’ (Bachelor drum) which is the largest of all palace drums and is used for several purposes.  When a new Emir is installed, the Galadima, one of the Kingmakers, beats the Gwauron Tambari three times in honor of the new monarch.  Also at the installation of Qaura, the bachelor drum is beaten three times by Tambura.  Similar honor is bestowed on Durvi, ‘Yanxaka, Sarkin Sulluvawa, Dambo, Gazobi and Ilala during their installation as District Heads.

Also within the precinct of the Palace is the grave-yard of the ‘Dallazawa’ and the present ‘Sullubawa’ Emirs. The two deep ponds near the Emir’s compound may have been the sites where the clay was obtained for the yearly renovation of the massive buildings.

The Katsina Emir’s Palace also houses the first Treasury in Northern Nigeria (built in 1908), the Emirate Council Conference Hall and the Office Complex of the Secretary to the Emirate Council.  The establishment of the first Polo Gallery in Nigeria and the first modern treasury in the Palace explains why Katsina is considered the leading centre for adoption and expansion of foreign ideas and innovations.

The significance of traditional architecture in Katsina maintains its link to the past. It is this link that keeps Katsina latched to the traditional building and style that can be incorporated into building designs. The utilization of traditional architectural styles and elements of building, provides residents with a sense of calm and consistency throughout their community without a wild departure from their traditions and heritage. This and many architecture in Hausa land are subject to all weather and it produces heat during the cold season and vice versa which are different from other modern buildings?



Gidan Yarima as an Epitome of Cultural Landscape in Katsina

Gidan Yarima was built in 1870 by the emir of Katsina, Ibrahim Dan Bello as royal residential complex for his son Yarima Abubakar who later became emir after the death of his father. It is a large compound stretching between Unguwar Alkali and Sararin Kuka quarters in Birnin Katsina. In the east it borders with Bello Na Ande’s and Runka Mamman house. In the west it borders with an untarred road which links Unguwar Alkali with Adoro. While in the north it borders with Magaji Safana’s house. In the south it shares border with Hajiya Zinare’s house, Tafkin Bayan Gida and Alhaji Abashe’s house.

The fact that, despite the simplicity of building materials and tools, traditional Hausa architecture reached its final mature stage excellence due to the decisive human factor; the quality of Hausa building work force. The behavior of the traditional Hausa builder was purposeful economical of effort and component.

Obviously the result of long training in accordance with firmly established standard of professional efficiency. This was noticed in the Gidan Yarima when observing a single man at work, and even more in the corporation of a team of three men or more. They proceeded quietly with a clear mutual understanding and therefore in almost complete silence. The traditional architecture provide security to the Emir and his family. The walls of most of Gidan Korau and Gidan Yarima were built on foundations, the depth and thickness of the foundation varied considerably, the decision factor being the dimension of the walls to be built upon them. The cross section of the foundation was usually an extension of the footing of the wall, according to our informant, foundation of wild building in Royal Houses consist of two parts: at base was footing of 15-20 tubal and it reduces according to the length of the building. The depth of the foundation varied from 45 centimeter to the height of a man’s chest (it is referred as gaba in Hausa language), used to indicate the depth not the width which was based on the dimension of a man with a arms spread. Its function was not unlike that of wax parts of a honeycomb, the tubali within each shell became resistance to compression, bullet, local bomb, and other war implement in  the past, thus creating reliable structure complex. Door (Qyaure) were made from a few vertical planks (gizago) held in position by rails (mafyaxi) set on each side into a style referred in Hausa language as Kafa. All these were fixed together with nails (qusa) which had wide frequently decoratively shaped heads. One of the qusa often served as pivot for door. Usually it was made of (azara) the lower end revolving in a stone socket (dutsin qofa) the top end in the place with an iron holder (mariqi). Doors in Gidan Korau and Gidan Yarima were closed with a pair of short chains (sarqa). Occasionally, the outer surface of a door was covered with horse’s hide, or narrow strips of iron.

There is no mention of the building of Katsina palace, but among the ancient insignia of the Emirate of Northern Nigeria, the construction of Gidan Korau was dated to the 13 and 14th century. Probably, it was there even earlier, but as it happened in many Hausa cities, it might have been the only one, or one of the very few buildings erected in loam masonry. Until the mid-nineteenth century the majority of Hausa city dwellings were circular cornstalk huts as noted by Barth. The palace interiors were erected in the mid-nineteenth century, perhaps using some element of the original palace. The very large area sarari (open field) occupied by the palace compound barga, had a sizeable square Kangiwa surrounded by Native Authority officers. All the other wards were constructed at the western side of the house. The first gate occupied almost the whole width of a tower. The two other zaure had much simpler roofs supported by corbelled beams lavish arrangement of eight that looks like rain bow (bakan gizo). In the south-east corner of babban zaure a door led to the courtyard where the main complex of palace interiors had been erected. This was enter through an inner zaure which had two doors. The one on the north was framed with elaborated moldings. The interior had a most imaginative composition on which made full use of corbelled construction. Palace of Katsina Emirate stands on point of justification in the field of royal building and specialization in the traditional architecture in Hausa land and beyond.


The traditional architecture in Hausa land was a justification of knowledge and efficiency in the Hausa tradition, as discussed above the significance of the architecture if maintained can be source of living economically and otherwise. Hence, the traditions provide enough employment to the youth and vindicate Hausa tradition in the eyes of the world when compared with other people of other communities within and outside the country.


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