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Kano City Walls: Ancient Hausa artistry

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By Abraham Adekunle

Was this Northern Nigeria’s version of the Great Wall of China?

In faraway Asia, the Great Wall of China has bedazzled every tourist and curious person about the ancient site. At over 20,000 km long, the Great Wall of China has been said of as being one of the greatest works of art of humans. It was built for over 2,000 years by about nine dynasties. However, there is a miniaturized version of this wall in West Africa: the ancient Kano City Walls which were 14 km long and were built to protect the inhabitants of Kano.

The ancient Kano City Walls (known as “Kofar Na’isa” in Hausa language) were defensive walls built from the 11th century (from 1095 AD through 1134 AD) and completed in the 14th century. According to World Heritage Sites, the ancient City Walls were described as “the most impressive monument in West Africa.” The foundation of the walls was laid by Sarki Gijimasu, who was the third king of the Kingdom of Kano from 1095 to 1134 and was the son of Warisi and Yanas.

Lord Lugard said that he had not seen a wall like that in all of Africa.

Bawuro M. Barkindo of the Department of History at Bayero University (Kano) writes that after the arrival of the colonial masters, the then Governor-General of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, Lord Fredrick Lugard, wrote in a 1903 report after capturing Kano alongside British forces that he had never seen anything like it in Africa. The walls were completed during the reign of Zamnagawa in the 14th century. It was further expanded in the 16th century.

The ancient Walls of Kano are made up of Dala Hill (a 534-meter-high hill that contains a stairway with 999 steps to the top and a settlement that dates back to the 10th century), Kurmi Market, and the Emir of Kano’s Palace. The walls were about 50 feet high, and about 40 feet thick at the base. The walls were topped with rampart walk. The builders further dug trenches in front of the walls to further protect the ancient city.

Over 80% of the wall has been destroyed by various factors.

In 2018, the curator of the Gidan Makama Museum in Kano, Mustapha Bachaka, told the press, “If you look at the wall generally, almost 80 percent of it has been destroyed.” He added that despite efforts being made to put the Kano City Walls on the World Heritage Site map, people have continued to abuse the ancient site. In 2007, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) applied to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to put Kano City Walls on the World Heritage Site list.

Presently, the Kano City Walls have been put on the Tentative List. Aliya Abdu from the NCMM said that the Kano State Government is the main cause of the destruction of the ancient site. He said that the state government was giving out land around the walls to political supporters as compensation. This has aided the degradation of the city walls and encroachment of the site. People who did not build residence where the walls once stood simply broke off the clay and used it as building materials elsewhere.

Will the ancient Kano City Walls finally disappear?

The ancient Kano City Walls has about 14 gates, all of which have almost been destroyed. Two of those gates have been repaired and repainted in attempts to restore the heritage site, but the Kano State Government has said that renovating the site is not its priority right now. Aliya Abdu in a review wrote, “Though seriously encroached, Kano City Wall still remains an intriguing testimony of African indigenous use of its Architecture to define political space, defense and Security system, labor organization and management, etc.”


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