19 March 2009

Nigeria: Daura's Tales of a Snake, Many Queens


Lagos — Putting the history of Daura in perspective, Danjuma Michael writes on the evolution of the town, its warrior, many queens as well as the death of the snake that has become a symbol today

A beautiful and large work of art is engraved on the front entrance wall to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the State's (SGS) of Katsina State. Made from thousands of tiny square-shaped coloured tiles, the art depicts the upper body of a snake coiled around a sword, with the reptile's lower part hidden in a well. To those not familiar with national history, the art is not just another piece of work created to beautify an office building. But to those who know, it is an engraving that represents and symbolises important historic event some 1,000 years ago.

Daura lies to the north-east of Katsina's capital. It is some 50-minute drive on a road that still has two old single-lane bridges built by then colonial masters, with arid vegetation surrounding vast land as far as the eyes can see. The town is a mixed combination of urban and rural setting; with the latter forming much of the town's environment with a Hausa and Fulani dominated population. It is here that the oldest known kingdom, said to be second only to China, is recorded to have held sway for past 1, 500 years.

The ancient emirate is said to be the first settlement to be founded in North of Nigeria with pioneering centralised system of leadership under an Emir or traditional ruler. Its ancient rulers had migrated from the Middle East with the present emir being a direct blood descendant. It is an emirate that once had women reigning for close to 20 generations before it was changed to patrilineal leadership millennia ago. It has the oldest existing palace built over one and half century ago; it was here that Bayajidda killed the notorious snake called Sarki. It was also in this town that the historic seven Hausa states (Hausa Bakwai) and seven sister states (Banza Bakwai) had their origins from.

Daura's present traditional historian referred to as Wakilin Tarihi, Alhaji Mamman Siya Abubakar took us down history lane in his small office at the emir's palace. According to him, the history of Daura did not begin with the coming of Bayajidda as some historians erroneously put it, but that it was because of the seven Hausa and seven sister states that they often begin with him first. He said it should be realised that there was no leadership anywhere in northern Nigeria except in Daura, and that it existed even before Bayajidda come to dwell in the ancient town.

Abubakar said the beginning of leadership started in a place about 10 kilometers north of Daura, called Tsohon Birni (old city). It was the first settlement before the present-day Daura. The historian said Najib, son of Lamarud who was a leader in Canaan land in present-day Palestine, had broken away from his father and went to Egypt. His eldest son, Abduldar decided to change a place from that of his father also, and he moved to the west and decided to stay in Tripoli, Libya. Then Libya was under Egypt; but the people were afraid of him that he might want to take over their kingdom. They planned to assassinate him, but he escaped when he got wind of the plot.

After his death in the desert, they saw the need for a replacement, but he had no son except daughter, and she was appointed to head them. She was given the title Magajiya (one who replaces another). She ruled for some years and also died. Abubakar said the system the same until Daura experienced the leadership of 17 queens.

"At Tsohon Birni, nine queens ruled before moving to the present Daura. The first queen who replaced her father was called Kufuru, then Gino, then Yakumo, then Yakunya, then Wanzamu, Yanbamu, Gizir-gizir, Innagari and then Daurama. Daurama became the ninth queen of Daura. It was during her time that her people found water pouring out from the ground like spring water in the forest," he narrated.

After Daurama, eight more queens ruled Daura. They include, Gamete, Shata, Batatima, Saidamata, Jamata, Hamata, Zama, and Shawata. Daurama Shawata was queen number 17 in the town's history. She was the one Bayajidda met when he came to Daura. According to Abubakar, "historians are saying that Bayajidda came to Daura and married Daurama. He married Daurama by title not Daurama by name; that's where the confusion lies. People were thinking that he married Daurama, but it was just a queen with the title. But Daurama was called Magajiya during her time".

While the original Daurama queen lived 1, 500 years ago, Bayajidda's wife, queen Shawata, lived just some 1, 000 years ago, a glaring difference of half millennia between them.

Abubakar explained that the emirate's book of history, referred to as Girgam, which was taken away by the colonial masters to the London museum; had recorded that Bayajidda was the son of a king in Baghdad but his original name was Abu Yazid. When people saw he was an Arab who spoke the Hausa language, they decided to nickname him Ba ya ji da, literally meaning 'he does not use to hear the language before'. He said war in Baghdad had scattered Bayajidda and his followers who decided to move west. The first place of reach was the kingdom of Borno. Like the Libyans, they feared he would seize their kingdom. But the Borno people planed a different strategy on him. They told the chief to give out his daughter Magira, to Bayajidda, and to borrow some of his followers whenever the kingdom went to war. They would then kill them and return back without his followers, with the intention of gradually weakening him.

Their actions prompted him to leave and head west to Garin Gabas or Western city in Hadeija emirate in now Jigawa State. He stayed briefly but left due to fears of the Borno chief coming after him. He continued west again to Gaya in present-day Kano State. The Abagayawas, as they were called, were blacksmiths, and he joined them briefly and learned the trade. They made him a special knife as gift as he left. Before then, he had his original weapon a sword which he had come with from Baghdad. The knife and sword have since become the symbol of the Daura throne. Anytime a new emir is appointed, he would be given the sword and knife to keep for life.

Bayajidda was said to have moved northwards from Gaya where he arrived in present-day Daura. He arrived in the night where an old woman accommodated him. He asked for water but was told he could get none till the next day being Friday, as people could not fetch water from the towns well except on that day. Before this, a creature had appeared in the well and people were afraid, describing it as Dodo, or monster.

He asked the woman to lead him to the well. While he fetched the water, he sensed heaviness on the rope he was drawing and became alerted. Soon, the large snake poked out its head, but before it could strike; Bayajidda drew his sword and killed it thereby freeing the town of the dreaded creature. The snake's body then coiled around the well after it died. That was how people came the next day to find it.

On a closer look, they noticed it was dead and notified the queen. She asked who killed the creature and the old woman came forward to testify of what how a stranger had brought her water after killing the snake. The queen offered him half of Daura to rule as reward, but he declined preferring to marry her instead, which she accepted. But being quite old she could not bear him children, and so she freed one of her young slaves, a Gwari by tribe and gave him as wife. He slave woman is ancestor to what is today known as the Banza bakwai or the seven sister states.

The queen, worried that a slave's offspring would ultimately rule her kingdom, decided to patronise local herbalists where she was lucky to conceive and bear a male child. Hers was called Bawo, meaning the rightful heir or right owner, while the slave woman's son was called Karab-da-gari, meaning leader if all others are not available. Bawo became father of the seven Hausa states.

The historian said while the word Banza used to mean stranger or outsider in the old Hausa language, the word is now being used as an abusive word due to changes in the language over the years. The seven sister states, as the emirate and some historians choose to call them, ruled over non Hausa speaking states, including Kebbi, Yauri, Zamfara, Ilorin, Nupe land, Gwari and Kwararafa.

Bawo's children ruled Daura, Katsina, Kano, Zaria, Gobir, Rano, and Garin Gabas, where Bayajidda had left his first wife. She had given birth to a male child, and was called to Daura and appointed to be first emir of the place. Abubakar said that checking the history of all the seven Hausa and seven sister states, one would find that their first emirs or traditional rulers had Daura origins, as they descended from Bayajidda through his three sons.

He also said that all of the traditional rulers were appointed directly or received their authority from Daura at the Daurama palace. They continued to rule in their various kingdoms while receiving instructions and directions from Daura, and it continued for 1, 000 years.

According to the Daura historian, the entire emirs or chiefs continued to lead northern Nigeria and would come to Daura yearly for a seven-day meeting to know how they could help themselves continue to maintain the leadership in the North. The annual meeting which used to be called Sallar Gani, or meeting of the leaders, was later changed to fit a general meeting of sorts.

As stated earlier, the snake which Bayajidda killed was called Sarki, and he was given the title Makassarki or the Sarki or snake killer. The title was later shortened to Sarki which all the emirs still bear. In today's Hausa language, Sarki is used for a king, an emir or traditional ruler having similar status with an emir. The sword, snake and well engraving mentioned earlier symbolises Bayajidda's bravery, and how the Hausa came to be.

It is common to find the symbol on stickers, walls, engravings, on book covers as well as in Katsina and Daura today. It is still Daura emirate's symbol and has been used for generations past.

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