Kufena Hill: Queen Amina And Relics Of Trans Sahara Trade Route
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THE very spot where I stood one aftrenoon recently in Zaria, had played host to Trans Sahara Trade some 700 years ago. People from coastal areas of Nigeria from Port Harcourt to Lagos and the hinterland carried foods needed on their heads. They could not use horses because they would be exposed to tse tse fly bites, a deadly disease. The loads were thus carried on human heads through the forest in the heartland of Yorubaland in Osogbo and Sahel Savannah to Tripoli. Zaria in Northern Nigeria was a flourishing route. From Zaria, businessmen took luggages from human load-carriers and put them on camel backs for journey across the desert to Tripoli, Libya; from there the goods got across the Mediterranean to Europe.
In 1830, Clapperton, the European explorer was in the same area where I stood. Clapperton had looked at Kufena Hill situated in Zaria from the location. He thought that the hill looked like “a silhouette of a sleeping woman”. Clapperton also felt that the silhouette of a sleeping woman inspired the legend of Queen Amina.
Queen Amina was believed to be the legendary daughter of Bakwa. The name Bakwa, according to a school of thought means, “female stranger.” She was the one who led a movement of people from Turunku to found Birni, which means fortified towns at Kufena.
Experts at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria noted that there are evidences from the “Kano Chronicle” suggesting that the town of Zazzau (qariyyat zakzak) as (Zaria is known) already existed near Kubanni River early in the 15th century. Amina, according to history was a mighty warrior who campaigned beyond Zaria as far as Nupeland in present Niger State as well as Kwararafa in present day Taraba State with on the Cameroon border.
Series of archaeological studies confirmed that the walls at Kufena Hills belonged to an era before Queen Amina — possibly about 11th and 13th centuries. An archaeologist known as Sutton, in 1977 confirmed this while another expert called Echedom, in 1986 observed that “unfortunately, the Kufena hill walls have not only been abandoned but reduced to a point of insignificance in that the cultivation there has led to the destruction of these walls by the present day villagers.
These walls are now threatened. Environmental experts, geologists and tourists fear that Zaria and the world may lose a vital cultural heritage and one of the vital links in the Trans Sahara trade routes. Satellite images have, however, revealed the remaining parts of the Kufena hill walls.
I HAD embarked on a journey of about 900 kilometres from Lagos to spot the Kufena Hill walls as well as the ones built by Queen Amina. And in the process, I discovered some of the human chains, links and descendants of Yoruba people, who had gone to Zaria in search of the golden fleece of trade. They lived in the Yoruba’s Sabon Gari, (stranger’s quarters) area.
Except for the name of the town, the people looked every inch Hausa or Fulani extraction of Northern Nigeria more than Yoruba. Some of them have strong historical lineage to Yoruba land in the South West. Their ancestors had been lured by commerce into Zaria through the Trans Sahara network as well as business in recent centuries.
I met some of them on the way to the Kufena Hill. They welcomed me in Hausa language but when I replied in Yoruba; that changed the tone of our conversation. It was as if one of their sons had come home.
Sitting outside his house, 80 years old Alhaji Busari Adelabu, who hailed from Osogbo. He has been in Zaria for over 50 years. There were other older people in the community. Alhaji Adelabu was brought by one of his brothers to do business in Zaria in those days. That was how many Yoruba people got to Zaria through the same business chain. Today, Zaria is their home. Osogbo is just their source. There has been cultural fusion.
“We have been marrying their daughters and we have been giving them our daughters,” said Alhaji Adelabu. He confirmed many Yoruba brought to Zaria for trading by their forefathers have spread into other northern cities such as Kaduna, Kano and Maiduguri. Mallam Moshood Adelabu, who is in his 30s corroborated this. He recounted that some of his brothers, married Hausa women.
“My nephew is married to a Yoruba of Zaria, called Amina, said Mallam Yusuf Ruma, a Hausa/Fulani by extraction. The Octogenarian confirmed that there have been serial relationships between the kings in Osogbo and the emirs of Zaria, adding that the relationships run through decades.
Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola confirmed the cultural link between Yoruba land and other cities in Northern Nigeria and across the world. Aregbesola told The Guardian that it’s not only people from Osogbo, Ilesa and other parts of Yorubaland who were engaged in commerce with northern Nigeria and other parts of Africa such as Burkina Faso and Congo.
Said Aregbesola. “Osun is the heartland of the Yoruba. Whatever you talk about the Osun is the general trait of the Yoruba. The Yoruba people are adventurous, they are chivalrous, and they are self-motivated. They are irrepressible on whatever they believe will be an advantage to them. So they are found all over the place.”
Despite their cultural fusion, the Yoruba still preserve their age long cultural identity. One of the women in the compound was frying “akara” (bean cake) is used to eat eko (corn-meal) by the Yoruba as we set about the trip to Kufena hill walls, on which the Environment Committee of ABU has written to the University authorities and the Federal Government to protect as a cultural heritage site.
The document prepared by the experts showed that at the southern foot of Kufena Hill, Satellite map reflects embankment 300 metres long, running from South West to the North West point. All the preserved fragments of defense structures total 1,340 metres.
On Amina defense wall itself, the experts said that it “was lowered and flattened by rains of summer and hands of house builders since the British colonial government early in the 20th century prohibited the maintenance of defensive walls and their need lessened and disappeared. We journeyed through the landscape, which also had outcrops of granite of about 169.8 hectares. The outcrop looked like a dome Inselberg and what scientists call, bornharot type. There were little vegetation on top of the inselberg and it is believed that there are no solid minerals in the rock. There are two small quarries in the area and many people including children were seen working to earn a living on the quarries.
Shoeinick said that the walls have to be protected so that the monuments of the nation’s past glory during the Trans Sahara Trade will not disappear.
We later climbed and walked through. Not far away on top of the outcrop, many people working on the quarry continued to blast. Then, some young Fulani kids carrying firewood were seen returning from the farm. “Sonu Nku!” they greeted us and we replied in the same vein. On the other side was was a man cutting a tree.
Professor Shoeinick told The Guardian as we moved around the walls in Kufena Hills that Africans through the Trade routes and link with countries in the North were able to get their goods into Europe, India and China.
We spotted a Fulani herdsman, with his children, grazing his cattle. Prof. Shoenick recalled how cattle came into Africa from India through the Trade Routes in the North as well as the port of Mombasa in the East and Egypt. A school of thought had submitted that what was known as Moroccan Leather in Morocco in those years in Europe were actually hides and skins which were transported from Kano area in Nigeria.
The image of Amina is at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. Her name in Arabic means someone who is faithful and trustworthy. She was known to have forced Katsina and Kano to pay tribute to her. It was believed that she refused to marry like the first Elizabeth of England for the fear of losing her fighting prowess.
Some historians said it was Amina who introduced the cultivation of kolanut, which is eaten all over Nigeria and revered at every ceremony by the Ibo in Eastern Nigeria. Old cities such as Timbuktu, Gao in the Sahara Desert were the trade routes, which link up with Ghadames in Libya.
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