Colonization of Crafts and Occupations in Northern Nigeria: An Assessment of Wanzanci Craft after Colonialism

Published in KADAURA, Journal of Hausa Multidisciplinary Studies, Vol. 1. No. 3, September, 2017, page 17 – 23. ISSN: 2536-7609, Kaduna State University.


Colonization of Crafts and Occupations in Northern Nigeria: An Assessment of Wanzanci Craft after Colonialism 

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


The progress and development of any nation world over depends on the commitment of its members in defending the good norms and values of their respective communities from all forces of external aggression and dominance. The British conquest of the Sokoto Caliphate in the late 19th century added with colonial cultural policies played an important role in destroying the good norms and values of communities living in present day Northern Nigeria. As such, the imposition of colonialism and its policies was responsible to a large extent in destroying the traditional crafts and occupations of the people of Northern Nigeria today, which were, during the pre-colonial era the backbone of the economy in the region. In this view, the focus of this write-up is on the colonial policies that were responsible for the partial destruction of our famous cultural heritage. It is the intention of the paper to address a selected craft that was severely injured by the colonialism. In this attempt, the paper would peep through "the art of Hausa Barbers Tradition" (Wanzanci) through the 50 years of Nigerian independence in its cultural perspective.

Key Words: Colonization, Crafts, Occupations, Northern Nigeria, Wanzanci.



The present day Northern Nigeria is a name given by the British imperialist to most parts of the region which in the early years of the 19th century and beyond was referred to as the Central Sudan, and it housed various ethnic groups with diversified cultures. Among them are Hausa, Fulfulde, Angas, Kanakuru, Kanuri, Shuwa Arab, Tiv, Kaje, Kagoma, Kagoro, Jaba, Dakarkari, Babur, Tangale, Waja, Idoma, Igala, Ganawuri, Kamuku, Kambari, Gungawa to mention but a few. At present, it covers most parts of the three out of the six geo-political zones of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which includes North-Western with Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi States. The second zone i.e. North-Eastern covers, Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe and Bauchi States. While the third zone i.e. North-Central housed, Plateau, Benue, Kogi, Niger, Kwara and Nasarawa States.

Before the coming of the British Colonialists to this region and their introduction of western type of education which gave birth to the present day white-collar jobs, each of the above aforementioned ethnic groups lived independently and had their own civilization which goes hand-in-hand with their socio-economic, political and religious activities. It was only the coming of the European Imperialists that united these diversified communities to be one people administratively. In some cases before the 20th century, what existed between them was only raiding to capture slaves and warfare to acquire wealth and land, but in other cases there were times when they share economic activities through internal and external trade relations.

Since time immemorial, the present day Northern Nigeria has traditionally been a place where many crafts were and in some cases are still practiced. These crafts include iron and leather works, cloth weaving, raffia and pottery works, wood and calabash carvings to mention but a few. They also practiced traditional occupations such as farming which include agricultural and animal husbandry, traditional Hausa barbing ‘wanzanci’ and many others.

The art of iron smelting was a great scientific and technological achievement of the people in the region. This is because for many years back the people of the region had acquired the technical knowhow in identifying and extracting iron ore from the deposits, crush and smelt it to metal, which is forged into various tools and implements which really improved the living standard of the people of the said region and beyond. Similarly, other crafts such as pottery assumed an important increasing position of importance, so also leather work which became an important industry which produced excellent materials for home use as well as for other markets in West African sub-region.

The agricultural sector also played a very prominent role in enriching the region with food and cash crops. This was through the cultivation of grains such as millet, maize, guinea corn, cotton, ground nut and many others. Other traditional occupations such as traditional Hausa barbing ‘wanzanci’ serve as a way of curing sickness and illnesses which every member of the community needs their services.

The Hausa people respected their traditional occupations and crafts for the purpose of sustainable development which they were able to achieve before this time.

In this view, the focus of this write-up is on the colonial policies that were responsible for the partial destruction of our famous cultural heritage. It is the intention of the paper to address a selected craft that was severely injured by the said wicked hoodwink. In this attempt, the paper would peep through "the art of Hausa Barbers Tradition" (Wanzanci) through the 50 years of Nigerian independence in its cultural perspective.



Hausa land is bestowed with abundant human and natural resources which in the late 19th and early 20th century its inhabitants fully utilised them in such a way that they were able to carter for their daily needs. Traditional crafts such as weaving, wood and calabash carving, pottery and raffia works, blacksmithing, etc, and occupations which includes farming and animal husbandry played a very prominent role in shaping the economy as well as the well-being of the people of Hausa land. There are other traditional occupations practiced by the people of Hausa land which includes Hausa Barbers Tradition ‘wanzanci’, butchering ‘sana’ar fawa’, bone-setting xori and many others which were and are still among the prominent ones practiced by the Hausa people. According to tradition each occupation or craft is controlled by a particular family or community and they are responsible for safeguarding and projecting the image of such craft and it was an abuse or to some extent an abomination to anybody that deliberately refused to learn the craft of his family or community. We will now examine these traditional occupations one after the other and assess the contributions they gave to the development of Hausa land before the coming of the British Colonial masters in the 19th century. For a sustainable development in Hausa land to be a reality we must copy the Asians i.e. Japan and China through applying the knowledge we acquire from the Western world and transform our crafts and traditional occupations in such a way they will go hand-in-hand with modernity.



It is difficult to say when the art of Hausa barbers tradition originate, but is agreed that it came into being as a result of solving human problems that are associated with health care services. One hypothesis states that this art came into being in order to solve the problem of too much hair that gradually develop on human head and face. This forced the client to look for an alternative to reduce or shave the hair so that he can be comfortable (Bunza, 1990:  149-150).

The art of Hausa Barbers tradition Wanzanci consists of shaving hair (aski da gyaran fuska), performing surgery that include cutting of uvula (cire belun-wuya), circumcision (kaciya), inciting facial marks (tsagar gado, tsagar kwalliya and tsagar magani), cupping (kaho), dispensing with traditional medicine (bayar da magungunan gargajiya) and many other practices that are helpful to Hausa people (Sallau, 2000:7).

Before the coming of the Europeans to Hausa land the traditional barber was a physician as well as a doctor who takes care of different kinds of diseases and illnesses. He treats those that needs medicine and perform surgery to the ones that are complicated. This made the art to be a craft that its practitioners are respected by all male and female, old and the young. Through the services they rendered to the community they were able to get what to eat and take care of their families without any difficulty.


By the end of the 19th Century after series of resistance and warfare from various city-states that included the Sokoto Caliphate, Bornu Empire, the Tiv, the Jukuns and other smaller communities in present day Northern Nigeria, they were all defeated and some submitted peacefully to the British Imperial Army of Royal Niger Company and became colonized. After the conquest the British colonial masters were in dare need of a work force that will assist them in carrying out their colonization agenda. This forced them to plan a colonial policy that affected the life of the people of Northern Nigeria politically, socio-culturally, morally and economically. The British Colonial Policies in Northern Nigeria were carried out through the introduction of western education in which they established schools to train natives reading and writing skills that will make them serve as messengers, clerks, etc.

The introduction of Indirect Rule in Northern Nigeria was another colonial policy by the British, in which they ruled the land through the established traditional authority they met. This made it easier for them to open schools in some parts of Northern Nigeria. The first elementary school was opened in Sokoto and it failed as the people refused to send their children in fear of being Christianized. The second school was opened in Kano under the leadership of Hans Vischer (Dan Hausa) and it succeeded.

The first middle school was opened in Katsina in 1921 and it produced most of the eminent elite sons of Northern Nigeria that include Premier of Northern Nigeria Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna of Sokoto, first Prime Minister of Nigeria Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, etc.

University education was delayed in Northern Nigeria until the first years of Independence when the famous Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, University of Ilorin and Bayero University Kano were established in 1962, 1975 and 1977 respectively.

The wide spread of western education in all parts of Northern Nigeria marked a turning point in the history of the region.

Political structure and socio-economic activities were all changed, in which a new social order replaced the traditional pattern of living. This seriously affects the lives and activities of the people of the region.



Having firmly established themselves in Northern Nigeria the British Colonialists embarked on their colonization agenda. First, the imperial government pursued mercantilist policy whose primary purpose was to reconstruct Nigeria into a trading economy supplying the raw materials needs of industrial Britain in exchange for her manufacturers. By this theory, Nigeria was to be condemned perpetually and be a raw materials producer while Britain was favored as producer of industrial and consumer goods. Njoku (2001:167). This policy seriously affected the performance of crafts and occupations in Northern Nigeria as they became stagnant and unprogressive.

Secondly, the acquisition of western education by many people including children of those that perform crafts and occupations neglected their crafts and occupations in place of newly found jobs in colonial office and companies.

The first professional craft that felt the impact of colonialism immediately after the military conquest of Northern Nigeria was Wanzanci (Hausa Barbers Tradition). First of all, the colonialist discouraged traditional healing art which the Wanzamai are in forefront.

It’s a fact that the practitioners of Wanzanci craft possesses supernatural powers which they can use to perform things that are beyond human imagination either to harm, entertain or defend. Based on this, the colonialist developed the phobia that, the Wanzamai and other peasant traditionalists might use the opportunity to demonstrate against the colonial authority. An example, was the Satiru riot of 1906 in Sokoto (Bunza, 2003: 23). 

The aftermath of the riot was a bitter experience to the British colonialists as they lost many soldiers of European origin. This made them to discourage and banned any supernatural/magical practice in the whole of Northern Nigeria.

In place of them they imposed western and Christian healing tradition on the people, but it never succeeded as the peasants refused to abandon their traditional medicine which they considered as divine revelation from Almighty to their ancestors. All the same the colonialists did not give up as they continued harassing them.

Introduction of modern health care services was another blow suffered by Wanzanci craft. As earlier mentioned, before the coming of the Europeans into Northern Nigeria, it was the Wanzamai and other traditional healers that administer health care services, but with modern health care herbal medicine was neglected. This seriously led to the loss of so many genuine herbal medicines.

Secondly, the so-called northern elite that acquired western education did not patronize our crafts and occupations, in place of them they prepare anything that come from Europe and America over and above ours.

Third, the children of Wanzamai neglected the craft and replaced it with office work in government ministries, parastatals, companies, etc. This made the craft to decline seriously.

The menace of HIV/AIDS is another setback faced by Wanzanci craft. This is because most of the works of Wanzamai deals with blood, such as, circumcision, cupping, facial marks, shaving hair, etc. Research showed that, Wanzamai can spread this deadly disease through the above mentioned works. Despite the fact that Wanzamai do sterilized their working implements, but all the same many people run away from them. 



In one way, we can never dispute the fact that colonialism brings good to the people of Northern Nigeria of which they used education as catalyst in servicing the political, socio-cultural, economic, etc. of the people of the region. In another way, one can also agree that it was the same education they used to destroy most of the crafts and occupations practiced in Northern Nigeria in their attempt to succeed with their colonial agenda. This is because, the type of education given to the people of Nigeria at large did not favor the country in such a way that will make it develop politically, socio-culturally and economically.


Abba, N. (2013) “The British Conquest of Katsina and Its Impact on the Smithing Industry” (1903 - 1907), Excerpts of International Seminar on the Deterioration of Hausa Culture Today (Tavarvarewar Al’adun Hausawa a Yau), organized by Katsina State History and Culture Bureau in Collaboration with Department of Nigerian Languages, Umaru Musa Yar’adua University, Katsina, from Tuesday 25th to Wednesday 26th June, 2013, at Umaru Musa Yar’adua University Auditorium, Katsina.

Bunza, A.M. (1988) “Hayaqi Fid da na Kogo”, Maqala. Kano: Bikin Makon Hausa na 18, Qungiyar Hausa, Sashen Koyar da Harsunan Nijeriya, Jami’ar Bayero.

Bunza, A.M. (1988) “Exorcism in Hausa Tradition”, Maqala. Sakkwato: Sashen Koyar da Harsunan  Nijeriya, Jami’ar Usmanu Xanfodiyo.

Bunza, A.M. (1990) “Hayaqi Fid da na Kogo (Nazarin Siddabaru da Sihirin Hausawa”, Kundin Digiri na Biyu. Kano: Sashen Koyar da Harsunan Nijeriya, Jami’ar Bayero.

Bunza, A.M. (1995) “Magungunan Hausa a Rubuce: (Nazarin Ayyukan Malaman Tsibbu)”, Kundin Digiri na uku, Juzu’i na Xaya. Kano: Sashen Koyar da Harsunan Nijeriya, Jami’ar Bayero.

Bunza, A.M. (2000)“Gurbin Laya a Magungunan Bahaushe”, cikin Xegel Journal. Sakkwato: Tsangayar Fasaha da Addinin Musulunci, Jami’ar Usmanu Xanfodiyo.

Bunza, A.M. (2003) “Hausa Medicine: Its Relevance and Development in Hausa Studies. The Second Inaugural Lecture. Sokoto: Usmanu Danfodiyo University.

Bunza, A.M. (2006) Gadon Fexe Al'ada, Jerin Litattafan Cibiyar Nazarin Al'adun Hausawa, Lagos: TIWAL.

Ikime, O. (1977) The fall of Nigeria, the British Conquest, London: Heinemann.

Jaggar, P.J. (1994) The Blacksmith of Kano City: A Study in Tradition, Innovation and Entreprenuership in the Twentieth Century. Rudiger.

Mahadi, A. (1996/1997) “Colonial/Neo-Colonial Education and the Underdevelopment in Nigeria. Zaria: Ahmadu Bello University Inaugural Lecture Series.

Mani, A. (1966). Zuwan Turawa Nijeriya ta Arewa. Zariya: NNPC.

Mashi, A.A. (2000) “Zama da Maxaukin Kanwa: Tasirin Zamananci kan Rayuwar Hausawa”, Kundin Digiri na Biyu. Kano: Sashen Koyar da Harsunan Nijeriya, Jami’ar Bayero.

Nababa, I.D. (1997) Katsina State Historical Guide II: Crafts Development, Produced by the Katsina State History and Culture Bureau, Katsina, Government Printer.

Njoku, O. (2001) Economic History of Nigeria in the 19th and 20th centuries. Enugu: Magnet Business Enterprises.

Rodney, W (1972) How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, London. Bogle- L ‘Ouverture.

Sallau, B.A.S. (2000) ”Wanzanci: Matsayinsa na Al’ada da Sana’a a Qasar Hausa”, Kundin Digiri na Biyu. Kano: Sashen Koyar da Harsunan Nijeriya, Jami’ar Bayero.

Sallau, B.A.S. (2005) “A sha a yi Wanka, Magani ga xan na Gada: Nazari da Tsokaci kan Magungunan Gargajiya na Wanzaman Hausawa a Wannan Zamani”, Takardar da aka Gabatar a Sashen Hausa. Dutsin-ma: Babbar Kwalejin Ilimi ta Isa Kaita.

Sallau, B. A., (2013) “Tarbiyyar Hausawa a Matsayin Ginshiqi na Samar da Ingantacciyar Al’umma”, with English rendition as “Hausa Moral Behaviour as a Pillar of Building a Better Society”, being a paper published from proceedings of a Three Day 1st National Conference on Hausa Language, Literature and Culture, Organised by the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages, Bayero University, Kano, from 14th – 16th January, 2013.

Sallau, B. A. and Ibrahim, A., (2013) “Barazanar Qarni na 21 Ga Cirar Belun-Wuya”, with English rendition as “Challenges of 21st Century on Castration of Uvula”, Excerpts of International Seminar on the Deterioration of Hausa Culture Today (Tavarvarewar Al’adun Hausawa a Yau), organized by Katsina State History and Culture Bureau in Collaboration with the Department of Nigerian Languages, Umaru Musa Yar’adua University, Katsina, from Tuesday 25th to Wednesday 26th June, 2013, at Umaru Musa Yar’adua University Auditorium, Katsina.

Sallau, B. A. (No. 7 January – March, 2014) “Negligence of Traditional Occupations as Contributory Factor in Youth Unemployment in Northern Nigeria”, an article published in Journal of African Culture and International Understanding, a UNESCO Category 2 Institute at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta, Nigeria, page 26 – 31.

Sallau, B. A., (2014) “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, from 12 – 14 August 2014.

Smith, M.G. (1957) "The Hausa System of Social Status" in Africa Vol. XXVII. No.1.

Tsiga, I. A. (2014) “One Hundred Years of Karatun Boko: Education, Language and Value Change in Hausa Land, Address Delivered at the Presentation of the Book, Ruwan Bagaja in Perspectives: Eight Decades of a Hausa Masterpiece in Prose (1933-2013), Umaru Musa Yar’adua University, Katsina.

Yahaya, I.Y. (1988), Hausa a Rubuce: Tarihin Rubuce-Rubuce Cikin Hausa. Zariya: NNPC.

Post a Comment