Dr. Babangida Hamza

Department of Architectural Technology, Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic, Dutsin-ma road Katsina

Telephone: 08136846970, email;



Among the factors that shape the character of traditional built environments are aggregate individual and collective building practices of people. These building practices have been accepted and recognized by the society as tradition in time series. The aim of this paper is to bring to the fore such traditional building practices of the Hausa society, and to specifically explain their influences on the form and architectural character of the traditional house using the traditional city of Katsina as a case study. The study was facilitated through qualitative data collection approach involving extensive literature search and physical documentation of house floor plans and still pictures. A personal interview with key informants such as local builders, householders and community leaders was carried out to identify latent information on traditional building practices and their underlying motivations. Results of the study indicated heavy influences of adapted traditional building practices inherited from the pre-Islamic times and which were due to socio-cultural needs, practicality and the nature of trade of the Hausa society. The findings of the study support earlier views that the Hausa traditional houses accommodate social habits as well as economic production.


Keywords:  Architectural Character, Hausa, Traditional building practices, Traditional house, Urf


According to Laldin, (2006) the literal meaning of the term urf, is to ‘to know’. As a social concept, it was defined as ‘what is established and practiced by people from their sayings and doings, or not doing’ (Khallaf, 1983). Other definitions of the term were put forward by a number of Muslim scholars as reported by Hakim (1994), among which include those that relate to building practice and socio- cultural behaviors. Two among these definitions are relevant to the objective of this paper; what is customary to a people and which they follow in their living pattern ( Abdullaziz Al-Khayyat ,1977), the habit (or custom) of a people in their sayings, or acts (Mustapha Al-Zarka, 1945). A further understanding of the concept of urf lies in the meanings of the recursive word ‘customs’ in the definitions above. The Webster’s dictionary (1961) offered two definitions of the word ‘custom’; as long established, continued, peaceful, reasonable, certain and constant practice considered as unwritten law and resting for authority on long consent and as a form of action or cause of action characteristically repeated under like circumstances. For the purpose of this paper the urf shall refer to the traditional building practice of the Hausa society either inherited from the pre-Islamic period, encouraged by local traditional authority, or as a direct response due to the introduction of Islam. The basis for urf in Islamic jurisprudence is covered in the primary Shari’a sources as shown in the following verses of the al-Qur’an and two Hadiths of the Prophet (pbuh):


“Take things at their face value and bid to what is customary (or accepted local tradition), and turn away from the ignorant (Qur’an, Al-Araf 7:199)

“What the Muslims deem to be good is good in the sight of Allah”(Al-Amidi, Al-Ahkam, vol. 1, pp 305)

“Take from his property what is customary (ma’ruf) which may suffice you and your children” (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, and Ahmad)


Ibn Taimiyyah (cited in Hisham, 2004) indicated two types of acts for a Muslim; a) act of worship and b) customary practices such as eating, drinking, buying and building. Similarly, the urf was further classified as linguistic or verbal urf lafzi and practical urf amali (Laldin, 2006). The practical aspect, urf amali shall be the focus of this paper since it affects building practices. Hakim, ( 1994) gave examples of the former to include localized language and vocabulary used as basis for rulings; judgments’ and or settling of disputes while ordinary acts such as building activity and civic transactions constitutes examples of the latter (Hakim, 1994). He also identified three situations by which urf could be initiated as by the order of local authority or by its encouragement, inherited from previous generations and finally, evolve locally in response to certain conditions or changes within the milieu of the environment. The underlying condition for accepting urf is that it should not go against the tenets of the Islamic legal system- Shari’a. This means that it is accepted as long as it is not haram (unlawful) but falls within the concept of halal (lawful) in Islam. The importance of urf practices in a community include the creation of identity for the community, consideration for the needs of the community since they have equal rights to the development of their community and enhancement and promotion of some form of public participation (Suraiya, 2007).


With its well established structured socio-political system lead by the sarki emir and Islamic religion lead by the learned malamai in the area of Islamic affairs, the Hausa traditional society can be said to be highly stratified (Ola, 1996; Sa’ad, 1981). The urban Hausa live in a traditional housing cluster unguwa where neighbors share two or three perimeter walls. The traditional city is also the center of the religion, governance, commerce as well as its indigenous architecture (Sa’ad, 1981). In the traditional Hausa society, traditional religion of ancestor worship, nature of trade, sources of economic production and family kinship were identified as key factors that influenced the form and character of the Hausa traditional house (Moughtin, 1985; Schwedtefeger, 1972; Nwanodi, 1989). Trade and occupation in Hausa culture were predominantly farming and farming related professions such as blacksmithing, making of farm implements, rearing of animals and poultry. Other common trades are dyeing, pottery, weaving, and house building (Ibrahim, Yahaya & Bello, 1968).

The Hausa traditional house could be classified broadly based on their architectural characters into three prototypes:  rural, semi-urban and urban (Hamza, Ismawi & Zaiton, 2009; Hamza, 2010). The urban Hausa traditional house is the concern for this paper.  It is spatially divided into three or two zones; public, semi-private and most private kofar gida, sashen maigida, and cikin gida, or kofar gida and cikin gida respectably. The number of spatial hierarchies largely depends on the social and economic status of the household head (Sa’ad, 1981; Oumar, 1997). As shown in Figure 1, access to the house is through the entrance hall zaure, which opens to the forecourt kofar gida, barga or sarari. In this area, or within the zaure itself a room or shop shago is usually provided for the adolescent male children. Next is the master’s quarters turaka, considered as the semi-private zone. Further inside, the most private zone cikin gida is exclusively a women domain. The architectural impact of urf on the Hausa traditional house are presented at two levels; external and internal characters. The external characters refer to those in the public zone while the internal characters refer to those within the private zones of the house.

Legend. 1.Entrance hall (Zaure), 2. Boys’ room (Dakin samari), 3. Forecourt (Danfili/Kofar gida/Barga/Sarari).  4. Second entrance hall Shigifa 5. Courtyard (tsakar gida), 6. Living area (Rumfa), 7. Bedrooms, (Dakuna) , 8. Kitchen, (Dakin dahuwa) 9. Toilets, (Kewaye) 10. Fixed Mud seat (Dakali), 11. Animal pen, (Dabbobi) 12. Pigeon hall, (Dakin Tantabaru), 13. Master wing (Turaka),14 Poultry,(Akurkin Kaji), 15. Well, (Rijiya)

The traditional house is characterized by irregular walls and enclosed spaces which are a result of the indigenous building technology and working implements including the traditional method of measurement. The Hausa traditional house evolve from one or two rooms affair consisting of one nuclear family to a compound consisting of several families living together which may consist of monogamous/polygamous family and their own children, their married children or descendants from common ancestors. The house continues to increase when additional structures are added for married sons and or divorced and or widowed sisters or daughters (Oumar, 1997; Nwanodi, 1989; Hamza, 2010). Nwanodi, (1989) identified four possible building materials for use in traditional Hausa building as earth (laterite), vegetable matter, metal and stone. Three types of wall and two types of roof constructions are found; tubali (conical laterite blocks), wattle-and daub and stalk or matting walls. The roof types include flat or domed earth roof and thatch.

1.3 Aim of the paper


The aim of this paper is to identify the role of urf on the architectural character of the urban Hausa traditional house. To achieve this aim, the following objectives are considered:


  1. To identify the pre-Islamic traditional building practices which are adapted and still applies and their resultant impact on the architectural characters of the traditional house.
  2. To discuss the architectural characters of Hausa traditional house that emerged pursuant to the introduction of Islam.
  3. Illustrate the material by studying Katsina traditional city as a case study of Hausa built environment of northern Nigeria

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