In this paper, personal interviews and physical observation of the traditional houses were employed for data collection. According to Yin, (1994) interviews are essential source of case study evidence because they are about human affairs. Human affairs according to him should be reported and interpreted through the eyes of interviewees, and that well informed respondents can provide insights into situations. The interviews were held with three respondent groups. Community leaders as custodians of culture and elders were first to be interviewed followed by traditional builders, and finally the householders and owners themselves. Through oral traditions the first group provided latent information on the sources, meanings and traditional significance of the building practices. Interviews held with the second group was undertaken to elicit insights to establish basis on which houses were built the way they were built. Owners and householders were asked to describe changes or modifications made on their houses if any, due to modernisation and restrictions imposed by space. The physical observation of the architectural characters of the traditional houses was undertaken through documentation of floor plans using scaled drawings and still and motion pictures, in order to identify the visual and spatial qualities of the house samples. The data results presented relies heavily on the outcome of analysis of still pictures.



In Hausa society, it is a common building practice to convert part of the public zone of a house to a mosque or build a new structure in the frontage of the house for the use of the community. The type referred to in this paper is the mesjid el-jami, this is the type used within a residential area by the community for daily prayers. Figure 2 shows a mesjid jomah which forms part of a house. In the Hausa community mosques generally performs two functions; the religious functions which include prayers, learning and teaching of al-Qur’an, and socio-religious obligations such as wedding and naming ceremony. The aristocrats and the affluent in the Hausa society specifically provided the mosques. And since the aristocrats, the rich and the poor live together within the same housing cluster, this particular urf results in high number of community mosques in the Hausa built environment and thence a reduced distances between the mosques and any house to an average of 49.5m radius. According to interviews with respondents two possible factors were attributed to this practice. Firstly, it could be emulation of the prophetic practice in Medina where the Prophet (pbuh) was reported to have built mosque in close proximity to his house after hejra to medina and secondly, the pre-Islamic traditional religion where households consists of shrines for traditional worship. After the introduction of and acceptance of Islam this practice may have been adapted in this form.

The use of the public zone of traditional house as Islamic school thus rare for teaching and learning of the Qur’anic and other aspects of Islamic education is another key influence of urf. As shown in Figures 3, this school system which is referred to as tsangaya attract male children of school age and young adults to live with their teacher malam in his house for the purposes of acquiring Islamic knowledge. It was introduced in northern Nigeria early after the introduction of Islam, as a strategy to increase the number of Islamic scholars. The zaure (s) or the entrance hall(s) is used for the school. Where the house has more than one zaure, the first one is usually used for giving classes such as Islamic Jurisprudence, hadith and other aspects of Islamic knowledge. The next zaure is for the malams children or his trusted adult students while the last zaure is used as food storage (Abdulaziz, 2008). The architectural impact of this traditional practice is measured in the number of zaures in the house, provision of long verandah at the house entrance used for lessons during the day and for night sleeping for the pupil’s in the hot season and the high ceiling levels of the zaures for enhanced air circulation.


Other architectural characters in the public zone and located at the entrance of the house and which influenced the form of the Hausa house as a direct result of urf include exterior verandahs and shades (Figure 4). These elements are primarily used for the purposes of social gatherings and receiving of condolences. Twenty five percent of surveyed houses have exterior verandahs and shades. These elements are also used for carrying out traditional handcraft and trade.  Similarly, in this area room or shago for the adolescent male children is another important architectural character of the urban Hausa traditional house as a result of urf. This element is used for sleeping for male adolescent children and also serves as accommodation for overnight quests. Due to its strategic location it also serves as a privacy and security element for the family against the outside world. In this survey, fifty percent of urban traditional houses were found to have rooms in public zone and only three percent of houses provided this element within the most private zone.

Another key role of urf manifest in the Hausa house is the space in the fina (spaces abutting a property wall between 1.00m to 1.50m from the wall of the house) and within the most private zone of the house for keeping domestic animals. This practice used to be the exclusive preserve of the merchants where animals such as cows for farming, donkeys and horses for trades, and for personal use, goats and sheep are kept (Abdulaziz, 2008). In the public zone they are placed at the adjacent, rear or the front of the house. Two spatial arrangements are usually employed for this purposes; a temporary one whereby the animals were moved to the house at the night and brought out for feeding during the day, and permanent, in which case they are secured by low level fencing as shown in Figures 5.  Due to increased pressure for space as result of population growth and modernization in traditional Hausa cities, the external spaces are gradually converted to rooms, garages, or simply annexed into the expansion of roads and access. In the survey, at least sixteen percent of the surveyed houses were found to have this element. In the interior of the house, the animals are kept at the rear of the house where they could easily be moved out for grazing. In the survey, at least thirty six percent of houses have interior animal pen, thirty five percent have birds pen and twenty percent have some form of poultry in the house. The bird’s pen is built in form of cells at a standing height or as an enclosed space whose size depends on the number of the birds as shown in Figure 5 c.

Orientation of house entrance doors to west direction where practicable is another building practice that has attracted the attention of scholars. This is because in ancient Hausa society cardinal points were ascribed to gender and that cosmology played an important role in determining building orientation. Extant literature indicated that this practice had a pre-Islamic root (Moughtin, 1985; Nwanodi, 1989). Due to space restrictions this practice is most noticeable in the ancestral houses of aristocrats’ saraki, being the custodians of cultural values and tradition. For example, in the study area, the emir’s palace and entrance doors of the houses of other key traditional title holders were oriented to the west so that entry will be to the east. Figure 6 shows a house entrance which could have faced the south direction but the entrance door was rather awkwardly oriented to face the west in tune with the tradition.

The use of laterite sourced from the building site in ancient traditional building practice to build perimeter fence and partition walls gave rise to steeping of floor level of enclosed spaces and rooms. In this process the laterite used for house building was excavated on the site thus results in having a lower floor level than the courtyard. Although other sources for the laterite were identified in close proximity to communities and which gave rise to burrow pits scattered all over traditional Hausa cities, this practice still persist at a lower proportion. In the study area, this practice is most prevalent in the two oldest housing sectors wakilin yamma and wakilin gabas. As shown in Figures 7 the implication of this practice is in the appearance of door heights, which although provide normal and adequate height from within the enclosure, from without, the height seemed lowered, making it necessary for entrant to bend to a certain level.


4.0 Conclusion

This paper has identified the traditional building practices urf of the Hausa people and their impacts on the traditional house form and character. Some practices as shown were directly attributed to the introduction of Islam e.g. the integration of mosque in a house, using the house as Qur’anic school system, and others that are adapted from the pre-Islamic period, such as the orientation of house towards the west direction, and spatial provision of  animal pen, poultry and birds within and outside the house. Other factors include the need for new materials, such as use of excavated laterite on the site for construction lead to the lowering of rooms below the courtyard level. Contemporary lessons derivable from this study include the need for professionals in the built environment to incorporate elements of traditional building practices using contemporary design approaches to achieve the socio cultural needs of the people. Local planning authorities should also recognize and provide necessary impetus in form of policies for the incorporation of such building practices in the local planning rules for the Hausa built environment at housing scale.

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