The Former Kano? Ethnoarchaeology of Kufan Kanawa, Niger

Article excerpt

A stone enclosure, rectangular, several metres high and still visible today, scaled the hills, ran along the crest over kilometres and protected [Kufan Kanawa] on four sides. Fifteen gates gave access to it ...

(BROUIN 1938: 469-70).

Kufan Kanawa is an abandoned settlement of the Republic of Niger, West Africa (FIGURE 1). The flat thorn savanna characteristic of these Sahelian regions is here enlivened by rocky hills 150 m high -- and by a number of ancient walled sites.


Kufan Kanawa is remarkable for an unbroken trapezoid stone enclosure 6 km round. The 2-m high wall is clearly visible both on the ground (FIGURES 2, 3) and on aerial photographs. The locations of wells, dyeing workshop, cemetery and habitations are still known. Dense concentrations of potsherds pinpoint past areas of human activity. Corroded metallic objects, slag, ceramic pots and cowries are routinely unearthed during agricultural labour.


Local oral tradition asserts that 900 years ago a divine message told the inhabitants of Kufan Kanawa to emigrate. The entire population set off, leaving a trail of seedlings behind so that any latecomers could follow, and settled 200 km to the south in the place that later became Kano.

Much is known about the Hausa metropolis of Kano. By the 16th century it had become the equal of Fez and Cairo (cf. D'Anania, in Berthoud & Lange 1972: 338-9), by the mid 19th `an African London, Birmingham and Manchester' (Barth 1857: II, 92). Kufan Kanawa, on the other hand, remained abandoned after the departure of its people, though a number of centralized political units, with walled capitals, developed in the area (cf. Maman Saley 1982; 1993-1994).

Despite its obvious importance Kufan Kanawa remains almost unheard of outside Niger, barring early mentions by colonial administrators (Landeroin 1909-1911; Brouin 1938) and recent work by the historian Maman Saley on the development of the walled settlements of this area. No work had been carried out by archaeologists.

In spring 20001 undertook a 6-week ethnoarchaeological investigation of the site, accompanied by three researchers from the university of Niamey, aiming to investigate Kufan Kanawa and place the site on the archaeological record.

Water erosion through a wide gully in one portion of the stone enclosure provided us with an opportunity to investigate the wall construction and occupation sequence at this part of the site. This section, oriented east-west, measured approximately 3.50 m in width and 3 m in height, reaching sterile ground (FIGURE 4).


The wall is made up of large stone blocks, carefully assembled, possibly with mortar. The artefact-poor and homogeneous soil adjacent to it implies rapid accumulation. An ashy pit a metre below it yielded vast amounts of sherds, charred bone and two charcoal samples to be submitted for radiocarbon dating. A continuous yellow sandy stratum, 15 cm thick on average and on which the wall rests, unambiguously seals off the pit and other lower layers, indicating that these stem from a pre-wall occupation of the site. …