Hausa - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. One of the most salient principles in Hausa society is the segregation of adults according to gender. Throughout Hausaland, seclusion of married women is normative, and the extradomestic impact of sexual segregation and stratification is that women are legal, political, and religious minors and the economic wards of men. Although women are central to kinship matters, they are excluded from extradomestic discussion and decision making. Both within the household and in the public domain, patriarchal authority is dominant and reinforced by spatial separation of the sexes.

The senior wife of the compound head, the mai gida, is the uwar gida. She may settle minor disputes among residents and give advice and aid to the younger women. Domestic authority rests with the male head of compound/household.

From childhood, males and females develop bond friendships with members of the same sex, a practice continued into adulthood and marked by reciprocal exchanges. Given their seclusion, women tend to formalize their bond ties more than men do. Formal relationships that emphasize differences in status (patron/client) are also established by women, as they are by men.

Political Organization. Organizational structure is hierarchic; the centralized kingdoms, known as emirates, are the primary groupings; districts are secondary and village areas tertiary.

The institutions of kinship, clientship, and office (and, in the past, slavery) in the emirates, have provided the fundamentals of Hausa government from the sixteenth century until the middle part of the twentieth century. Rank regulates relations between commoners and rulers.

"Traditional and modern government proceeds through a system of titled offices . . . , each of which is in theory a unique indissoluble legal corporation having definite rights, powers and duties, special relations to the throne and to certain other offices, special lands, farms, compounds, horses, praise songs, clients, and, formerly, slaves" (Smith 1965, 132). In most states, major offices are traditionally distributed among descent groups, so that rank and lineage intertwine. The traditional offices differed in rewards, power, and function, and were territorially based with attendant obligations and duties. Within communities, the various occupational groups distribute titles, which duplicate the ranks of the central political system.

Clientship links men of unequal status, position, and wealth. It is a relationship of mutual benefit, whereby the client gains advice in his affairs at the minimum and protection, food, and shelter at the maximum. The patron can call upon the client to serve as his retainer.

In applying his notion of government to Kano, the Fulani religious and political leader Usman dan Fodio, when he launched his successful jihad against the king of Gobir in 1804, he followed the basic premise of a theocracy within a legalistic framework; government, and its chief agent, the emir, were perceived as an instrument of Allah.

Social Control. Legal affairs fall under the jurisdiction of the emir, and he is guided by Islamic law. The Quran, the word of Allah, and its hadith, the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed, along with the dictates of secular reasoning provide answers to legal questions. The Sharia, the canon law of Islam, is fundamentally a code of obligations, a guide to ethics. Sanctions of shame and ostracism compel conformity to Hausa and Islamic custom.

Conflict. When disputes arise, the Hausa may opt to go to court, submit to mediation, or leave it to Allah. The basic process involves deference to mediation by elders.

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