Sansan Hausa: Prosperity and Decline of an Important Market in Western Niger in the 19th Century

Cite this article: Alassane, A. (2021). “Sansan Hausa: Prosperity and Decline of an Important Market in Western Niger in the 19th Century”. in Sokoto Journal of History Vol. 10. Pp. 35-42.


Hassimi Alassane
Abdou Moumouni University
Email : alas_hass@yahoo.fr


This study focuses on Sansan Hausa, considered the biggest market in "Western Niger" in the 19th century. Located on the left side of the River Niger, the main chanel of communication between western and central Sudan. It was the meeting point for agricultural, livestock products and attracting traders from distant countries who brought in various articles such as fabrics. Despite its importance in the socio-economic life of the populations of western Niger in the 19th century, it is somewhat forgotten in historical studies. The purpose of this study is to determine the factors for the market's prosperity, the importance of commercial transactions and the factors of its decline at the end of the 19th century. The study which draws its data from previous researches, archival sources and oral sources reveals that the Sansan Hausa market in the 19th century was not only a meeting point between sedentary and pastoralists from the region but also between traders from distant lands.

Keywords: Decline, Niger river, market, Western Niger, prosperity, Sansan Hausa

DOI: 10.36349/sokotojh.2021.v10i01.005

Sansan Hausa :
prospérité et décadence d’un grand marché de l’Ouest du Niger au XIXe siècle


Cette étude
porte sur Sansan Hausa, un des plus grands marchés de « l‘Ouest du Niger » au
XIXe siècle. Situé sur la rive gauche
du fleuve Niger la principale artère de communication entre le Soudan occidental et le Soudan central, il
était le lieu de rencontre des produits de l‘agriculture, de l‘élevage, de la chasse et attirait des
commerçants de pays lointains qui amenaient des articles divers comme
les étoffes. Malgré son importance dans la vie socio-économique des populations de l‘occident
nigérien au XIXe siècle, il est quelque peu oublié par les études historiques.
Il s‘agit dans cette étude de
déterminer les facteurs de la prospérité du marché, l‘importance des
transactions commerciales et les
facteurs de son déclin à la fin du XIXe siècle. L‘étude qui tire ses données des travaux antérieurs, des sources d‘archives
et des sources orales révèle que le
marché de Sansan Hausa constituait au
XIXe siècle non seulement un lieu de rencontre entre sédentaires et pasteurs de la région mais également entre des commerçants venant
de contrées lointaines.

Mots clés
Décadence, fleuve Niger, marché,
Ouest du Niger, prospérité,


Sansan Hausa
is best known in the history of Niger Republic through studies on the
occupation of Nigerien space by the
troops of France towards the end of the 19th century including the atrocities committed
by the ‗‘Voulet-Chanoine‘‘ mission in the locality
and its surroundings in January 18991.

For more details
on these massacres, see K. Idrissa, 1981, A. Salifou
1989 and D. Hamani 2010.

By visiting
its pre-colonial past, we realize that Sansan Hausa was the biggest trading
center in western Niger in the 19th
century. The market has played an important role in the socio-economic life of the people. Place of exchange of
greater products, the market also plays a social and cultural role in Africa
in general and in the Nigerien space in particular. G. Nicolas emphasizes in this regard that the market is:

Above all, a high place of social life and a point of meeting and
appointment, where one finds friends,
makes contact with strangers and escapes the narrow framework of the small rural establishment or of the area.
Market day is thus a day of
celebration, which contrasts with the mediocrity and monotony of daily life. Multiple wealth is exhibited
there for the joy of the eyes and the imagination.
Romantic or erotic meetings were made
there. And above all, news is taken there ‖. (Nicolas, 1975: 168-169)

The Sansan Hausa market was attracting traders from distant
lands and housed trading representations from Kano. The objective
of the study is to question the past of the populations of the region in order to determine the
importance of the market and its role not only as a place of products
exchange but also of meeting
people and ideas.

Most of the
work done on the precolonial history of Niger Republic has addressed the issue of exchanges
focusing on specific regions and addressed all aspects of the life of the
populations there. Some of the
studies reported the importance of the Sansan Hausa market in the 19th century.
The work of K. Idrissa (1981) and M.
Djibo (2015) provide important information on the nature of the role of Hausa traders. However, there is
no specific study dedicated to this market. Many aspects of its history remains to be clarified. This
is the case of the factors that explain its importance and its role in
social integration as a regional market. This work aimsat
addressing the following :

Ø  The importance of the Sansan
Hausa market in the
19th century

Ø  The actors and the products
of exchanges systems in the market

Ø  Factors for the decline of Sansan Hausa market at the
beginning of the 20th century

These are the
questions that this study attempts to answer.
This required the combination of data
from previous studies, oral
sources and especially archival documents.

Thisstudy is structured in three main domains. The first assesses
the importance of business transactions in the Sansan Hausa market.
The second domain deals with the factors that gave the market a regional scope. The third domain attempts to determine
the causes of the decline of the market at the end of the 19th century.

1.  Importance of Business Transactions in the Sansan
Hausa market

This part
analyzes the factors that explain the importance of the market in the 19th
century. Such as agricultural and
craft products relatively high and the favorable geographical location. This
part also deals with the products subjects to exchange.

1.1.  The Importance of Agricultural and Craft Products

The agricultural production of the region was significant and generated surpluses likely to supply
the commercial circuits. The Wogo of the irlands, for example, were
prosperous farmers. The Kourtey
are the other occupants of the river were agro-pastoralists and excellent boatmen.
The populations
were cultivating a variety of plants but especially millet, rice, cotton and
tobacco. E. Hourst (1898, p. 263) who
visited the region towards the end of the 19th century mentions the existence of superb attics. The Kourtey
had large herds of cattle and sheeps as well as many horses. The region around Sansan Hausa was a great
horse-breeding zone. The Songhay of the region also had herds of cattle 
but less important.

The village
benefited from an important breeding
hinterland. Indeed, the people who lived on the left
bank of the river had large herds of cattle.
The Tuareg groups
who were nomadizing in Anzourou and
Azawak were supplying this market with cattle. The Tuareg from the banks of the river of Anzourou and Azawak were
supplying the exchanges center. It is important to emphazise that the population of tuareg of Azawak had always commercial exchanges with sedentary
populations living in the regions
bordering the areasthey
occupied. Thus, certain
groups were trading with the populations of
Zarmaganda. The Kurfey also had trading relations with the Tuareg. The Kurfayawa traders, especially those
from the Madougou Mabey group, were getting to Azawak to exchange the products they brought back from the Hausa
countries, including fabrics for ostrich feathers.

The market is also supplied
by cattle from Gurma and Mosi. According to Haruna Idé2, « the
Sansan Hausa market was a large livestock market. Caravans coming from Mosi and Gurma brought cattle, sheep
and goats to sell. They returned with salt and products from the Hausa countries such as fabrics. »

1.2.  The market located at the Crossroads and Enjoying
Relative Security

Sansane Haoussa
is located on the river, the main chanel of communication between western and central Soudan. Most of the caravanners
coming from the Hausa countries follow the side of the Niger where there were also several important villages like
Boubou Kirtashi, Say, Bubon and Karma.
It constituted in "western Niger", one of the three main crossing
points on the river with Kirtashi and
Niamey. There were many boatmen who ensured traders and breeders the crossing
of the river. Trading products
between Timbuktu and Yawuri passed through this market. All the villages of the neighboring regions came
to sell or buy there. including the villages of the irlands, Anzourou,
the Tuareg of Azawak and Zarmaganda.

To this
geographical position, it is necessary to add the security provided by warriors
recognized for their mastery of the
art of war. Located on the left bank of the Niger River, the village was surrounded by a straw enclosure, hence the
name Sansani was given to it.
"No one attack the stronger
village of Sansane, Hausa3" It "was the meeting place for riders leaving on an expedition
on the Hausa4". These warriors ensured the security of
the traders if necessary in return for some rewards.

In the second
half of the 19th century, the Kourteys became militarily powerful. They
organize several expeditions in the
Gourma and in Songhay countries. They keep raiders at bay. They help to ensure
the safety of the caravanners
that frequent the market.

Information collected on March 22, 2021 in Sansan Hausa

ANN 22.1.5 Notes sur le régime des terres et quelques coutumes
dans le canton du Kourtey par Séré de Rivières,

ANN 22.1.6 Note sur l‘ancien
canton de Sansane-Haoussa 1943

It was these factors that mean that in the 19th century, the main market in pre-colonial western Niger was Sansané-Haoussa‖. It was
frequented by various actors and that commercial transactions involved local products or brought by caravanners from other regions.

2.  Commercial Products
and Actors

This section
deals with identifying the local and foreign actors who frequented the market
and the various products subjects of exchanges.

2.1.  Commercial Products

Various products were
exchanged on the market: cattle provided by the Tuareg and the Kurtey, Hausa wrappers brought by many
caravanners... The Kurtey had many herds of cattle and sheep as well as many horses5.   Sansan Hausa is considered with Jidikmet in
Taghazar and Bubon on the river  as
 slave  markets  of  western  Niger‖
 J.  P.
 Olivier  de  Sardan
(1984: 47) notes that in Sansan Hausa slaves constituted one of the bases of transactions. A certain
equalization of captives
took place there,
for the benefit of the nobles and the dominant
(J.P. Olivier de
Sardan Tuaregs and Songhay horsemen exchanged their surpluses for clothes and horses.

The main suppliers were the Kourteys
who inhabited the islands of the river. They were professionals
in the production of slaves. They settled in the 18th century on the islands
between Ayoru and Gao. They operated
in canoes, most often at night, and their expeditions took them as far as in the loop of the River Niger. Women and children
were their main victims. They also intervened in neighboring populations
(J.P. Olivier de Sardan, 1984 :45). Another group of slave production are the Zarma warriors.
The Kurteys operated in canoes. Their river raids, always directed
to the upstream, sometimes brought them close to the end of the river loop, nearly 500 km from their bases, but most often in the Gao region. Sailing at
night, they were stealing more than they
fought. Their booty was mainly made up of women coming to fetch water, children
guarding the herds (J.P. Olivier de Sardan,

A large mass of slaves is provided by the Zarma warriors of Babatu. Having left in the second half of the 19th century, these warriors put
themselves at the service of the kings of Dagomba who were to provide a heavy tribute to the Ashanti.
They ended up raiding on their own account; they mainly intervened in Gurunsi country and sent captives to the Salaga
market in Ashanti country, to Mossi and Zarma-Songhay countries. The slaves were brought
from this region
by Zarma warriors
from the Ndounga region (J. Rouch, 1992). The Zarma warriors also lead expeditions on both banks of the river,
in this case in Zarmaganda, Anzourou and in
Gourmantché country.

Some Tuareg
groups are also among the main suppliers of slaves. The Tuareg of Imanan and Taghazar organized expeditions to obtain
cereals and slaves in the villages of the sedentary people. Some of the people rounded up are taken to
and sold on the Sansan Hausa market (A. Hassimi, 2014). The main destinations for slaves are the Sokoto Empire.
It was the Hausa traders who supplied
the market with fabrics that returned with slaves convoys. In 1904 again the colonial
reports underline « sales of captives in Sansan Hausa. The Tuaregs and
the Hausas engage in this odious trade.
Cows are traded
for slaves6 ». The Wogo nobles and chiefs came to look for slaves

ANN 15-1-1 Documents sur le pays zarma, p. 39

ANN Rapport 4e trimestre. Cercle
de Dounzou

who constituted the dowry of their daughters
wedding (J.P. Olivier
de Sardan 198: 47). In aristocratic or wealthy families, the slave was also one of the components of the

Sansan Hausa
was a real regional market. It was frequented by traders from the Hausa
countries and Songhay. Hausa
traders brought fabrics
and clothes and they left with slaves
provided by the Kurteys and the Zarmas.
The prices of slaves was depending on several factors
including age, gender and time. (plus de précision) In 1895, an adult slave cost 5,000 cowries.

However, we consider going along with K. Idrissa that ―the exports of captives from Sansan and Bubon to the Hausa countries and Gao
have never shown any character of the Atlantic or Saharan slave trade‖ (K. Idrissa, 1981, p.27).
Indeed, a large number of the slaves is intended for local consumption and used within the framework
of economic production. Thus, the export of captives from Sansan Hausa and Bubon towards the Hausa countries
and Gao have never shown any character of the Atlantic or Saharan
slave trade which drained millions of 'men to America and the Arabo-Persian world. The captives
were exchanged for clothes, horses and therefore
prestige products or food products such as millet and
sorghum (K. Idrissa, 1981 :27).

The market was
also a center for the sales of horses, food products andstuffs. E. Hourst (1898
:264), who visited the village in
the late 19th century on the eve of the market day, noticed the influx of ivory and ostrich feather traders. The
prices charged vary according to the size of the arrival of the traders. A complete corpse is worth
250,000 cauris, nearly 75 francs of that time. Caravans coming from Rhat7
to obtain them (E. Hourst, 1898

The traders
were also coming from Adar and Sokoto,
passing through Matankari, Imanan, Zarrmaganda to
reach Lossa and from there to Sansan Hausa8. This was a prosperous
market where large trading houses
were represented. For example, an Arab trader called Sidi represented a trading house
in Kano and was buying 200 ostrich
skins each year before the French occupation9. According to L. Kaziendé, (sd, p.16), ―The feather of the males, of a shiny anthracite black, was sold more easily in the Kano market.
The Arabs who were the only buyers before the English conquest, were very fond of them. The gray, white and spotted
feathers also found buyers‖.

Kola nuts were
also sold on the Sansan Hausa market.
This product was brought to the
market by the Hausa traders who,
since the 17th century, had established trade with the producing countries, particularly Bonduku and Gondja. In 1898, when E. Hourst was sent by France to study the lenght of the river, a kola nut was sold for 150 cauris (1898, p.264). K. Idrissa (1981) notes that ―caravans
from Sokoto...were taken the Gulbin N'Kabi route, then the river route to
Sansan-Hausa leading to Dori‖.

Poor groups
from Anzuru sometimes sell their slaves for millet and rice. According to D.
Laya (1967), the river regions produced
as much rice as millet and sometimes more.

Another product
that was playing
an important role in the market transactions is salt from Zarmaganda. It is produced
in the Tinga Valley. It is offered
in small blocks
(ciri gum), in bars

Rhat or Ghat is a Saharan oasis located east of the Tassili n'Ajjer, about twenty kilometers as the crow flies from the Algerian
border. It is in the wide valley
of the wadi Tannezrouft which separates the Tassili and the Tadrart

ANN15-1-2 Notice sur le cercle du Djerma par le capitaine Salaman
1903-1909, P4

ANN 15-1-2 Notice
sur le cercle du Djerma
par le capitaine Salaman
1903-1909, p4


(zallo) or in
powder (sarou), and was the main product that the Zarmaganda supplied to
neighboring regions (A. Hassimi,
1999). The Tuareg provided pastoral products like animals. The caravanners, mainly from Hausa country, offered
handicrafts including cotton, wrappers and bubus, dates10, phosphore, and perfum. There were
also dyed wrappers from indigo offered by Gurmanche.

2.2.  Trade Actors

Trading actors
can be grouped into two categories: occasional sellers and professional
traders. Occasional sellers are farmers
or breeders who occasionally come to market to sell the products of their activities. As for the farmers, they
come from Anzourou, Zarmagannda and Songhay. The breeders are made up of the Tuareg of Azawak who come to buy
food and slaves. They usually propose cattle and salt to farmers. It isgood to notify that the Tuaregs were established

At the Sansan Hausa market, groups
from various backgrounds met. These were the nomadic
groups like the Tuareg, the sedentary people like the Songhay of Anzuru, the populations of Zarmaganda,
the Kurtey, the Gurmantché, the Mossi and the Hausa traders who came from
Sokoto, Jega and Kano. The caravans were regular.

The Hausa
traders were an important link in the commercial chain. Coming from Kano,
Sokoto, Katsina and Kebi, they longed
the river to Sansan Hausa where they sold their products, the main ones being fabrics of all kinds. These
were mainly wrappers, bubus and turbans. Some of these traders came only on the market day to purchase a number of
products such as ostrich feathers and slaves.
Others arrived in caravans on market day or not. After the transactions they
continue to the kola nut producing
regions. Those that were easily accessible to traders at that time were the
region from eastern Sierra Leone to
Daloa and the western groups of Bonduku and northern Kumasi (R. Mauny, 1961:366 ) on the right bank of the
river. They passed through Touré which was another major market in the region
in the 19th century.

The Traditions11
of Sansan Hausa highlight the arrival of traders from Gurma and Mossi. They mainly brought cattle which they exchange
with salt and fabrics. They organized themselves into caravans to face a possible attack.

3.  The Market

This part deals with factors explaining the loss of the importance of Sansan Hausa market, particularly the effect of the French
colonial occupation and the coming up of Gothey’s commercial center.

The Consequences of Colonial Occupation

To occupy the
Nigerien space, France sent several military troops. On January 2, 1899, the
column led by Captain Paul Vouet
coming from Timbuktu and that of Captain Charles Jules Chanoine coming from the Mossi country joined at
Sansan-Hausa. In this village, ―Apart from the usual exactions are added sadism and cruelty without
dimension‖ (K. Idrissa,
1981: 88). Indeed,
the village was set on fire
and bloodshed. Men, women and children who were coldly murdered are numerous.
According toa report from the early colonial
period,400 people were killed. Murderous

These dates are transported to Hausa country
through the trans-Saharan trade. In the 19th century,
the trade had several routes
leading to Kano, the main commercial metropolis in Hausa
country, and to Sokoto
and Katsina.

Information gathered from Issaka Mossi
in Sansan Hausa on March
22, 2021


expeditions are also
conducted in the neighboring villages.
For several months, the village of Sansan
Hausa remained empty. The granaries making the pride of the populations were
simply burned. The Central Africa
mission spends 10 days12 there. The requisitions are made to to make
the populations poorer.
To this ruin caused by the Voulet-Chanoine mission, we must add the very poor agricultural production between 1900
and 1901, which caused two successive years of food shortage. The end of the 19th century was thus a difficult
period for the populations of Sansan Hausa.

France wanted
to make the village of Sansan Hausa the capital of the Third Military
Territory. But Lieutenant-Colonel Etienne
Péroz, in charge of the organization of the territory, fearing the reluctance of the populations because of
the atrocities committed by the Voulet-Chanoine mission, chose to settle in Sorbon Hausa. With the installation of the
chief town of the circle in Niamey, Sansan
Hausa lost its importance and its influence. In 1905, it was completely
supplanted by the Niamey market
(Rothiot, 1984, p. 254). Trade caravans coming from Sokoto, Kebi and Kano now have Niamey
as their main destination.

The Emergence
of Gothey

The Gothey
market was established at the very beginning of the colonial period opposite
that of Sansan Hausa, on the right
bank of the river. The two localities are separated by a set of islands. Its position on the right bank of the river
offers it some advantages. It allows it to offer more guarantees of security to traders coming from a far
distance, mostly from Mossi and Hausa who fear possible attacks from certain Tuareg groups settled on the right
bank of the river.

Gothey quickly
becomes a large cattle market
to the detriment of Sansan
Hausa. Most of the animals were supplied by Mossi traders
who do not have to look for fords to cross the river or pay boatmen fees to transport the animals. On
August 8, 1904, 80 beefs, 352 sheep, 33 donkeys and 14 horses were brought to market and all were sold at a good price14.
In 1904, its importance began to supplant that of Sansan Hausa.


It appears at
the end of this study that the importance of the Sansan Hausa market was not
only due to its position on the
river, which is the main channel of communication between western and central
Sudan, but also to the importance of agricultural and pastoral products. It was
frequented by occasional traders
(local producers) who offered live animals, cereals and long-distance traders
who brought in various products such
as fabrics, natron, salt. It was also noticed in the village the existence of representatives of trading
houses established in large commercial metropolies such as Kano. At the end of the 19th century, the
market declined due to the abuses of the French colonial conquest missions, particularly the Vouet-Chanoine mission and
the emergence of Gothey as a new large
commercial center. The Sansan Hausa market has attracted local and foreign
traders and it became the meeting
point of populations of Anzuru, Songhay, Azawagh, Mosi, Gurma, Hausa country and Zarmaganda, a factor
of social and economic integration.


ANN 22.1.6 Note sur l‘ancien canton de Sansan Hausa

References Archival

ANN 22.1.5
Notes sur le régime des terres et quelques coutumes dans le canton du Kourtey
par Séré de Rivières, 1943

ANN 22.1.6 Note sur l‘ancien canton
de Sansane Haoussa

ANN 15-1-1
Documents sur le pays zarma. Monographie ancien cercle du Djerma ANN15-1-2 Notice sur le cercle du Djerma
par le capitaine Salaman 1903-1909 ANN 1Q1-3 Cercle
de Dounzou. Rapport commercial 1er
octobre 1904



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