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This study is on Birnin Zaria in the period between 1350 and 1902. Birnin Zaria is the core
of the Zaria metropolis, which is one of the most important urban centres of contemporary Nigeria
with a history of urbanization going back to many centuries. The city is also the capital not only of
an Emirate, but also of a distinct community of Hausa speaking known as the Zazzagawa or Zage
zagi, whose formation goes back over centuries and whose settlements and distribution covers
many parts of Nigeria, Western, Northern and Central Africa.
The study traced the emergence of Birni Zaria to the processes of urbanization, integration
and community formation taking place several centuries ago on the Zaria plains. The study also
reconstructed how Birni Zaria was formed in very concrete and specific terms of its geography, its
ecology, its walls, its gates, its architecture, its quarters, its Palaces, its Mosques, its Markets and
other major economic centres.
The Jihad in Birni Zaria in the 19th century constituted a major theme in the history of the
Birni. The inherent contradictions existing within the Birni that gave birth to the Jihad was
examined in details. The Jihad brought certain changes of political, social and economic
importance, was also examined.
The appearance of British at the tail end of the 19th century threatened the existence of the
Emirate administration in the Birni. Through diplomatic and military manoeuvres, the British
firmly established themselves in Zaria. The British saw the conquest of Zaria as necessary in their
bid to establishing control over Kano and Sokoto. Zaria was militarily weak at this time and
therefore passively responded to the British attempt at colonial conquest. Zaria was taken over by
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the British in 1902. This finally brought an end to the almost hundred years of the Emirate
administration in Zaria and ushered in the beginning of European control of the Birni.
THE HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY OF BIRNIN ZARIA
This chapter attempts to examine the natural environment of Birnin Zaria with a
view to finding out its relevance to the development and interpretation of the course of
human history in Birnin Zaria up to the beginning of the 20th century. In the course of
doing so, particular attention shall be paid to such environmental features as, the geology,
topography, climate, soil, fauna and flora of the area.
A close study of the natural environment in the historical development of any
society is imperative. This is because it is only when the environmental background to
man’s activities is properly established that we can have a proper grasp of the dynamics of
human development. This assumption is based on the fact that the first premise of history is
the existence of man, whose primary role in historical development is the production of
goods and services to satisfy his needs.36 Hence, there is a dialectical relationship between
man and his environment, which creates inter-relationship between man and nature. That is
to say while the environment plays a major role in shaping human history, man also shapes
and utilizes the environment for his benefits depending on the level of man’s technological
There are two dominant views in relation to how a historian looks at and studies his
environment. One of the views tends to see man as a passive actor in his environment and
therefore only adopts himself to it and nothing else, while the other view insists on the
centrality of man in influencing, and controlling his environment. Kar1 Marx clearly
demonstrated man as a socially active producer:
36 Karl Marx, Capital: A critique of political economy, vol. One, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, p.175
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(Man)…. confronts the material of nature as one of his own forces. He sets in motion arms, legs, heads and hands, the natural forces of his body in order to appropriate the material of nature in a form suitable for his own needs. By thus acting through this motion on the nature, which is outside him and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature.37
In our discussions here, we did not view the relationship between the natural
environment and man from the deterministic perspective in which man is always
responding passively to environmental factors. Instead, we see the relationship as a
dynamic one involving a two way process in which the two actively interact with one
another resulting in peculiar cultural and socio-economic developments.
Zaria is located between Latitudes 11o4”N and Longitudes 7o42” E. It forms a vast
plain (penne plain) worn down through geological time dotted with crystalline rocks of
long antiquity dating to the pre-Cambrian age.38 These materials are hard contorted and
foliated rocks, consisting mainly of gneisses, schist, biotites and quartzite.39 These were
good materials for the production of stone tools. This may explain the presence of
assemblage of stone stools on the Zaria plains.
Lateritic ironstone also developed during the Pliocene period, which was covered in
most areas by Pleistocene alluvial deposits consisting of clay, sands and gravels ranging
between 12.32 and 24.64 meters thick.40 This formed an important source of iron ore.
There are evidences in the form of iron slags and abandoned smelting ovens, in many parts
38The Leverhulme Trust, The West Africa Commission 1938 – 1939, Technical Reports, Waterlow and sons Ltd London, 1943, p.9 39Ibid. P.9
40 Wright J.B. and McCurry P. “Geology” in M.J. Mortimore (ed) Zaria and its Region, Geography Department occasional paper No.4, 1970 , pp 8-10
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