A road trip to Kano (1)

Palace gate, Emir of Kano

[By Bolutife Fakoya]

The night before we went to Kano, I couldn’t sleep. I had heard grand tales about the city, and I couldn’t wait to experience them for myself. The morning of the trip, we took a ride to the Transcorp Hilton and thereafter hired a private-taxi, well air-conditioned Peugeot. In it itself, the trip to Kano was uneventful; I fell asleep after we passed Zuba and woke up at the Mr Biggs on the outskirts of Kaduna.

By this time my nostrils were dry from the cold blast of the AC. I shook the sleep from my eyes and started to pay attention to the road ahead. I interrupted the conversation between my mum and the taxi driver about the state of Nigeria today to ask where we were, and they said that we were near Zaria, Kaduna State. We drove into Kano at 2 p.m.

At first we were lost. The taxi driver did not know where the hotel we had reserved was, and my GPS map was too old to pinpoint the hotel’s exact location as well. Eventually, we hailed an Achaba (motorcycle taxi) which then guided us to the Tahir Palace Guest House. After checking in and settling down, we hired a localtaxi to take us around the city. He knew the way to the Emir’s palace, and that’s where he headed first. I had heard about the palace’s splendor and magnificence, and I was very eager to see it.

“City within a city”

Kano is very different from the other cities in Nigeria that I have been to. For one it is the second largest city by population in Nigeria. Then there is the heat. Kano is practically in the middle of the Sahara desert, and the heat was almost unbearable. The air, which was dry and dusty due to the harmattan winds, seemed to leech the moisture from my skin and dehydrate my nose. It was like being trapped in an iron forge. Luckily, I had a bottle of water with me and I frequently guzzled from it.

After about ten minutes, we got to the palace. The gate loomed ahead as we weaved through the throngs of elegantly adorned horses being readied for the Sallah Durbar. The size of the palace itself was also startling. The driver explained that the palace was a city within a city, totally capable of providing all of the goods and services required for daily living. It even had its own mosque with 2 minarets that seemed to touch the sky.

We passed through the first gate without any difficulty. Unfortunately, we were not permitted to enter the palace itself because the Emir was inside. But the sheer beauty of palace’s exterior was enough for me. I simply clicked away. The tree-lined avenue provided shade for the horde of Achaba riders nearby (by this time the temperature was nearing 44 degrees Celsius).

I noticed some children playing football on the grass not too far off. All in all, it was an idyllic scene, one that I did not expect to see in the heart of such a metropolis. We made our way out of the palace under the watchful eyes of the security guards who manned the gate, to reenter the main flow of traffic.

Palace, Emir of Kano

The word is ‘Bango’

After the palace, we made our way to Old Kano city. It was very different from the Kano that we had just left. The streets were narrow and winding and the houses, small and with open doorways, were made of mud. As we drove through, the taxi driver emphatically told us: “If dem dash me room here free sef, kawai I no go take!”

According to him, the rooms were too small and poorly ventilated. He was right about that, from what we could see. The houses seemed to melt into each other and I could not tell where one ended and the other started. There were old women clad in burqas sitting around the open doorways, gisting. Young men were ducking and navigating on their Achabas through the narrow passages, carrying produce to the market. The road we were on then came out into Kurumi market, where we saw women hawking brightly coloured wares; men hammering brass bowls that glinted in the sun; and children screaming at each other as they came home from school.

As we left Old Kano, we asked the driver for the famed Old Wall, because we wanted to see it. Unfortunately, he could not understand our English, and my entire Hausa vocabulary is limited to counting from 1 to 20. My mum searched hers but still could not fathom the word for wall. After several phone calls and text messages between friends we discovered that the word was ‘bango’. But the taxi driver still did not understand where we needed to get to. In the end, we asked him to take us to the National Museum, from where we hoped we would the get directions.

The museum was interesting. First of all it is made entirely of mud and a brown plaster made from the bark of the beetle tree. Secondly, there were two cannons pointing at us as we approached the front desk. A man in a white dashiki approached us and introduced himself as the Curator. We decided to explore the museum before asking him where the wall was. The moment I stepped into the museum, I felt the temperature drop at least eight degrees. The curator explained that this was the mud at work. It kept the rooms cool in the heat, and warm in the cold. He then told us that the two cannons had been used by the British to conquer Kano in 1903.

The museum itself used to be the old Emir’s palace. It was in use until the new one was completed in the early 15th century. When the Emir changed residency, his Personal Assistant (or Makama) took over the buildings and it became officially known as the Makama’s quarters, hence the name of the museum – the Gidan Makama Kano Museum.
Gladdened by our presence, the curator led us through the history of the five ruling families of Kano and the artifacts that that had been excavated at Old Kano, and the history of the British colonial masters in Nigeria.

Interestingly, the original Kano people were animists and it was not until 1819 when the Hausa Fulani conquered Kano that Islam became the religion of the City and a new ruling house established.