The Seven Hausa city-states (Hausa Bakwai) were first mentioned by the Arab historian Ya'qubi in the 9th century and they were by the 15th century vibrant trading centers competing with Kanem-Bornu and the Mali and Songhai empires. The Hausa Bakwai were fully Islamized by the end of the 14th century.
Unlike its more powerful neighbors (Songhai, Mali and Kanem) the Hausa never have formed a coherent single political unit. Several times one of the city-states attempted to conquer its rivals but none of them had the military or economic capacity to dominate the region. Consequently the birane (city-states) maintained a loose confederation sometimes working jointly but more often as economic and political rivals.
At various moments in their history, the Hausa managed to establish central control over their states, but such unity has always proven short. The severe rivalries between the Hausa Bakwai never allowed permanent military alliances leading to periods of domination by major powers like the Songhai and Kanem.
The primary products and exports of the Hausa Bakwai are slaves, indigo, cotton, leather, gold, horses, cloth, salt, kola nuts, iron, animal hides, and henna. Hausa merchants in each of these cities collected trade items from the rain forest region to the south (Niger Delta), processed (and taxed) and traded them in markets (kasuwa) them and finally sent them north or south along the Trans-Saharan trade routes. However the main trade between and produce of the birane are agricultural crops (millet, sorghum, fonio, rice, cotton and indigo). Handcrafts and metalworking also occupy an importan place in the economy of the region.
Islam and Influence
By the 14th century, Islam was becoming widespread in Hausa Bakwai as Wangara scholars and traders from Mali, Songhai and the Maghreb brought the religion with them. By the early 15th century the Hausa were using a modified Arabic script known as ajami to record their own language. Politically the Hausa Bakwai were oligarchies with a king (sarkin kasa) as its leader, chosen among the members of the ruling family, and a council. Under the influence of Islam its leaders took the title of emir, or in same cases when it briefly controlled large parts of the zone, sultan. The galadima (chief minister) became the vizier.
The city states
The major birane of the Hausa Bakwai are;
Legitime (the main Hausa Bakwai cities)
- Zaria (Zazzau)
- Biram (Hadejia)
- Zamfara (state inhabited by Hausa-speakers)
- Kebbi (state inhabited by Hausa-speakers)
- Yauri (also called Yawuri)
- Gwari (also called Gwariland)
- Kwararafa (the state of the Jukun people)
- Nupe (state of the Nupe people)
- Ilori (founded by the Yoruba)
- ↑ Hausa for city-states, sing birni pl. birane
- ↑ The Wangara (also known as Wakore) were Soninke clans specialized in trade, Islamic scholarship and law (as lawyers and cadis). Particularly active in the gold trade, they were a group of Mande traders, loosely associated to the medieval West African Empires of Ghana and Mali.