“Needless to say, I have never seen or ever imagined anything like it in Africa.”
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Those were the words of Sir Frederick Lugard, writing in 1903 about Kano’s walls after the British troops had captured the city. Lugard, who would go on to become Governor-General of the colony of Nigeria, was struck by the massive structure that he and his forces met en route to subjugating Kano.
He may not have been exaggerating. It was indeed a sight to behold.
Rising from the ground to tower 30 feet above any human, the walls were a defence against intrusion from enemy attacks. The 40 feet thick edifice was also hard to break down. Anyone attempting that with the fighting weapons of the day would have been worn out by what they met.
It’s not just the physical image of the walls that were impressive. Their age was something to ponder. Historians say they began to be built between 1095 and 1134– a thousand years ago. Expansion followed in the 14th and 16th centuries. These projects were undertaken by different rulers (Sarki) of the city, with the aim of defending Kano against attacks.
In those days (well before the British arrived), the fortification had a 14km radius, covering an area of about 24km. Kano was home to about 50,000 people– large for the time, but no much compared to the city’s 4 million or so inhabitants today. Entry into and exit from the city was controlled by the 15 gates built into the walls.
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Areas through which the walls ran include the Dala Hill, Kurmi market, and the Emir’s palace. Dala Hill is an old Post for craftspeople, which dates to at least the 9th century. Folk memory suggests that it was the first inhabited district of the city. Kurmi is one of the oldest markets in West Africa. The Emir’s palace is also fairly old; it was built by Muhammadu Rumfa, who ruled the city in the latter half of the 15th century.
Today, the fortifications– or whatever is left of them –are a World Heritage Site.
Unfortunately, most of the ancient walls now lie in ruins. They haven’t been maintained through the years. Large stretches have crumbled, and are now built upon or used for other purposes. Although a few people have campaigned for the structures that are left to be cared for, not much has been done in this regard.
Ironically, a structure that has protected the people of the city for almost a millennium now needs their protection. We can only hope that Kano’s inhabitants begin to appreciate the treasure that their city’s wall is, and keep it from disappearing altogether.
Featured Image Source: The Guardian NG
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