Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

Hausa Concepts of Masculinity and the 'Yan Daudu

Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

Hausa Concepts of Masculinity and the 'Yan Daudu

Article excerpt

The Hausa category of 'yan daudu offers a challenge to the simple dichotomy of male-female gender identities. These men are categorized as neither male nor female but as an ambiguous middle category. As such they challenge the rigid divisions of Hausa ideal culture between males and females. Examination offers insight into the categories of male-female and provides incentive for further research.


There has long been an argument between advocates of nature and nurture regarding the function each has shaping human behavior. Recently, sociobiologists like Napoleon Chagnon (1997, 1988), Edward O. Wilson (1975), and Robin Fox (1997) have had particular influence in shaping the argument regarding the inherent, or biological nature of masculinity. The significance of the cultural construction of masculinity and femininity and of gender roles in general has been relatively neglected in the elevation of biological theories in the social sciences and their employment to explain cultural issues. I am not denying the importance of biology, simply stressing the manner in which culture gives meaning to it in its social landscape. (For relevant works on sociobiology see Jerome H. Barkow, et. al., 1992 and Robert Boyd & Peter Richerson, 1994.)

Specifically, this article examines the manner in which the Hausa people of Nigeria define ideal masculinity. That definition has a role to play within the complex ethnic sociocultural framework of West Africa in which the Hausa operate. Much of what it is to be a Hausa, and, therefore the shape of Hausa interaction with their neighbors is inextricably bound within the Hausa concept of masculinity. Challenges to that concept, and reinforcements of it, come from men and "men who talk like women," the 'yan daudu.

Ideal masculine behavior and challenges to that behavior flow from a cultural definition of masculinity shaped to permit the Hausa to gain success as rulers and traders within their cultural landscape. Maintenance of ethnic identity toward other groups is essential in structuring daily interaction in the West African landscape. This maintenance of ethnic identity is particularly crucial at the borders of the area, where groups can and do switch ethnic identities to gain favorable positions. Therefore, although the Hausa are concerned with guarding their concept of masculinity throughout their territory, they are exceptionally careful in safeguarding their concept of the ideal masculine role at the borders, where new recruits to the Hausa identity are made.

The Hausa in the Context of West Africa

There are about 50 million Hausa speakers in West Africa, primarily in Northern Nigeria and Southern Niger. A common language masks immense variation from community to community, a variation made greater by the process of "becoming Hausa" in which minority groups change their ethnic identities to gain various privileges reserved to the ruling class.

The "Hausa" consist of the Hausa-speaking population of Northern Nigeria and those areas of Niger in which Hausa is spoken, plus those Hausa who have emigrated for trade or other purposes to other countries of West Africa, such as Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso. Additionally, in West Africa, people apply the label 'Hausa' to any stranger who speaks Hausa and practices Islam. This is a departure from the original use of the name to denote the Habe people's language. The Habe established seven independent but related states in the area: Biram, Daura, Kano, Katsina, Gobir, Rano, and Zazzau or Zaria.

The Fulani conquered these states in the early 19th century, waging a jihad against them for not being Muslim enough. Under Shehu Usman dan Fodio they established the Sokoto Caliphate, incorporating 15 states headed by Fulani Emirs. The Habe set up states at Abuja and Maradi, successors to those of Zaria and Katsina. They also established a new state at Argunga. These states have preserved Habe customs, largely independent of Fulani ones. …

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