AFRICA | AFRICAN STORIES | CARAVANS ACROSS THE DESERT: MARKETPLACE

Caravans stop at Kano

In the late 1400s Muhammad Rumfa, one of the most famous kings and scholars of the city-state of Kano, established the Kurmi Market. Since then Kano has been the last stop south for many desert caravans. Traders empty their bags there and load up with fresh supplies for the long trip back north.

The Hausa ruled Kano
for 800 years

A Hausa man named Bagauda founded Kano in 999 A.D. He and his descendants built the city and its protective walls and established its political system, which was headed by a king, or sarki.

The Hausa ruled Kano until 1807, when the Fulani leader Uthman Dan Fodio waged a Holy War to cleanse corruption from the old Islamic cities. He conquered Kano and established a Fulani dynasty there.

Hausa Proverb

At first the new Fulani king tried to rule Kano without moving into the Hausa palace. His advisors warned that if he moved there, he would become Hausa. But the people of Kano refused to listen to a leader who lived anywhere else.

Finally, the Fulani leader moved into the Hausa palace. And sure enough, today the people of Kano, and its Fulani leaders, including its current Emir, speak Hausa.

The arrival of Islam

Although Islam first came to Kano in the 1300s, Kano didn't become an Islamic city until the late 1400s. During that time, a Muslim religious scholar had a vision in which the Prophet Muhammad told him to establish Islam farther west.

Taking soil from the Prophet's birthplace, Medinah, the scholar set off on his journey. When he arrived in Kano, he found that Medinah's dust perfectly matched Kano's soil. The reigning sarki, Muhammad Rumfa, welcomed the scholar into Kano, and it has been an Islamic city ever since.

The Kurmi market today

Today the Kurmi Market in Kano is an outlet for decorated calabashes, baskets and other traditional artwork. Each type of merchandise has its own section. Old adobe shops are mixed in with recently built wood and tin shops.

There are no price tags in the Kurmi Market stalls. Vendors and buyers bargain over items, each vying for the best deal.

Besides being a trading center, the modern city of Kano is a thriving metropolis. Major universities and institutes for Islamic studies are located there. Industries-such as printing and manufacturing thrive. And flights across the Sahara often refuel in Kano's airport before completing their journeys.

Traders come to Kano from all four direction

Like a spider in the center of a web of trade, Kano is a hub of commerce to and from the desert, the coast and all four directions. The Tuareg bring salt, paper and other goods to sell in the Kurmi Market; they take home things from southern Nigeria, surrounding African countries or the far reaches of the globe.

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Photo by Eliot Elisofon 1950
National Museum of African Art
Eliot Elisofon Archives
Smithsonian Institution

Earth photograph from University of Pennsylvania African Studies Multimedia Collection.

jca