Cloth, Dress, and Art Patronage in Africa

By Judith Perani; Norma H. Wolff | Go to book overview

5
Historical Context Leadership,
Trade and Art Patronage

The Hausa, Nupe and Yoruba are geographically contiguous ethnic groups historically organized into pre-industrial states with strongly defined systems of leadership. There are no significant geographical barriers between the groups. 1 The Hausa are located in the arid Northern High Plains savannah that merges into the southern edges of the Sahara. Historically, the seven Hausa city states were dependent on trans-Saharan trade. Hausa cortmodities have been traded throughout the region and beyond for centuries. The society is stratified with differences in rank and occupation marked by a system of titled offices. The Hausa accepted Islam and Islamic culture early and actively spread the religion to the south through trade routes. Their language, belonging to the Chadic family, is related to Arabic. Due to their trade activities, the Hausa language has been used as a lingua franca in the region for centuries.

Bordering the Hausa to the south, the Nupe live in the savannah lowlands of the Niger River. The Nupe are geographically and culturally transitional between the Hausa and the Yoruba of the southern forest. Linguistically, the Nupe language belongs to the Kwa family (closely related to Yoruba), but Hausa is widely spoken as a second language in Nupeland. Contact with the north exposed the Nupe to many influences from the Islamic world, whereas contact with the south opened up trading relations with Europe. Due to their intermediary position along a north-south continuum of diverging trade routes, the Nupe on the Niger River were a gateway culture, channeling ideas and art products in both directions.

The Yoruba homeland extends from south of the Niger River to the coast with savannahs in the north changing to rain forest in the south. Yoruba kingdoms are among the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa with over fifty Yoruba kingdoms existing before European contact. Moreover, the Yoruba have been urbanized longer than any other sub-Saharan people. A rich tradition of leadership and ritual arts, now counted with the world's great art traditions, developed in these early cities. With European contact, the Yoruba became

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