A simple love story of courage, adventure and loyalty, depicted at the time when one of the most civilized empires in West Africa, Songhai Empire, fell.
THE HAUSA WAR LORDS
Jano was beginning to think that his mission was not as easy as Hamma thought it would be. It took him two days to convince the Gobir lord – one of the five Hausa lords making the Hausa kingdom, to make alliance. The lord’s demand for hostages did not surprise Jano. As soon as they had an agreement he moved on to Kebbi – the Hausa kingdom ahead, where his request was lightly turned down. That too did not surprise him; the Hausa people of Kebbi had more encounter with the Songhai than the rest of the four. They fought bitter battles in the past until the kingdom was subdued. Soon after, the governor sent from Songhai to rule over the Kebbi people betrayed the Emperor, and expelled all his influence out of the kingdom.
Though the Hausa kingdoms and the Songhai Empire were no longer enemies, the bitter wars they fought in the past were not to be forgotten easily. The five Hausa kingdoms comprising Katsina, Kano, Kebbi, Gobir and Zaria were enjoying a respectable degree of independence from the vast empire in the north, yet they were not ever willing to be beaten around by the mighty power. They fought amongst themselves on a constant basis, the result of which weakened them as an entity. If the five kingdoms could unite by virtue of their common language, culture and geography, they could have formed a formidable force to rival Songhai or even overpower it. But they stayed autonomous and rivalled one another to their detriment.
Jano decided to bypass the Zamfara and Katsina kingdoms and go straight to Kano – the richest and most influential of all the Hausa kingdoms. Kano city was more or less the capital of all Hausa kingdoms, and it basked in affluence and military might. If he could get the super-rich city-state of Kano to form alliance, Katina and Kebbi would be dealt with eventually.
Now, in the city of Kano he wasn’t sure if the king would even concede to Songhai’s requests and offers. If he fails, that would result in disaster and Hamma would not be over joyous to see him when next they meet. If he knew Hamma well, he knew that the man would nail even the most difficult desert people into a favourable agreement. For him not to be able to entice even the greedy Hausa lords would be a failure he would be too ashamed to relate to.
Sitting on the floor of The Throne Room, which was decorated prominently in predominant reds and greens – the dominant colours of Hausa lords in all the five kingdoms – hides of different exotic wild animals, amidst the circle of district heads, Jano’s three days’ stay was supposed to end now, and he was getting the decision of the Kano city-state.
When he arrived in Kano three days before, security at the twelve gates of the wall protecting the city was considerably elevated. Obviously the news of Songhai mobilization at Takedda reached them. Inside the walled-city business of the day went by as if nothing was happening elsewhere. Caravans constantly arrive from the southern forest kingdoms and northern kingdoms, bringing countless commodities. It would seem the whole city was a market. Lavish markets transacting in cowries as well as the Moroccan coin formed the central life of the city’s inhabitants. Seeing that vast wealth once more, Jano knew that there was no any other option, they needed Kano, and he had to deliver it to Songhai.
Jano had a hard time to be allowed entrance into the city, even after presenting himself as an emissary from Songhai. They asked him all forms of questions without caring for courtesy. These savages, he thought, need some taming. He made note in his mind that after this war the empire would need to tighten grips on them or soon they will begin having ideas of their own. Finally he was allowed entrance and on that same day he met with the king, before he was told to stay for three days until they decide.
On the third day, Jano waited anxiously to be summoned but it wasn’t until after sunset that he and his men were finally taken to the king. In his customary babban riga, with heavy embroidery of thick thread forming different geometric shapes encircling the famous dagi sigil found in many Hausa states’ banners, the king was sitting on a throne covered with fur, and highly polished and finished leather upholstery. The wealth of the kingdom can easily be seen from the lavishness of the chiefs occupying the court room. Jano realized that the tribute the city state was paying to the seat at Gao was insignificant compared to the tax-money that was fast making the lords of the kingdom rich and fat.
“What kind of weaponry are we talking about?”
King Baguji of Kano asked. His voice was course with deep throated puffing of the Arabic language he was pronouncing. Jano was not sure if it wasn’t a deliberate effect meant for intimidation. As if there was need for that. The court room was intimidating enough to make an amateurish plotter expose himself. The war generals, with heavy turbans of deeply and darkly dyed indigo material that looked something similar to miniature drums, were everything one needed to sight to have last meal turn into slurry in seconds. But Jano was not someone not used to wars and governments. To him it was just another court among hundred many others he had been to. Apparently, the imposing Hausas have their kinds of fear. The story of the weapon he just finished telling them about was elusive to them.
“The kind we never heard of.”
Jano answered. He thought they went through all that the first day he came here. The weapon was their central concern and the king was making sure, that’s all. Jano was capitalizing on their fear for the mysterious weapon for cooperation, so he created more mystery and shrouded it around the weapon. He could see the effect of that –the Kano lords were nervous.
The heavily headed court occupants murmured amongst themselves. Feed your fires of fear, Jano thought. The more scared they are the better are my chances of getting it done with and return to realism back in the empire.
The king cleared his pipe of a throat, and the court fell to dead silence.
“We have terms for alliance.”
Jano’s relief was almost visible. They will form alliance.
“That is why I am here, to discuss those terms.”
“After this war, we will pay no tribute to the emperor anymore.”
The chiefs murmured agreement. Hamma was a wise general, Jano thought. But then if you know these war mongers very well one shouldn’t expect anything else.
“You have the emperor’s word on that.”
King Baguji’s dark face reflected his surprise. Apparently he wasn’t expecting it to be this easy. Well, wait until I start squeezing you dry. Jano pretended he hadn’t notice the surprise.
“In that case we have an alliance, we will give you five hundred men each with an iron-tipped spear, however we are not in the right position to give you horses. Not long ago we had battles with Zaria and lost a sizable amount. We are currently breeding, but I am sure you can manage without that.”
“We will take one thousand men and we also must have horses. If you are in short of that, then how many can you provide?”
Jano’s expressionless face held no significance to what he was demanding. From what he saw during his stay in Kano, they were nothing near shortage of horses. He instantly realized that even the agreed five hundred men must be prisoners and slaves from the Zaria battle the king mentioned. As for their spears, Kano ironsmith could do ten times more than that in a week. They were not doing much.
The king was taken aback.
“Seven hundred men and one hundred horses.” He said, cannily.
“Nine hundred men and four hundred horses.”
Jano bargained hard, not flinching from the king’s heated gaze.
“Eight hundred men and two hundred and fifty horses. That’s all we can give.”
The emir appeared like he was cheated out of the bargain.
Jano thought it was ok if the king was sweating to meet up.
Outwardly Jano appeared like he was disappointed with the numbers they agreed on.
“You are a wise man.” The king said.
“You will squeeze us dry for that independence.”
“It is still cheap, considering the fact that it is Zaria men who would fight the war, not Kano soldiers.”
The king smiled mischievously.
“You will be given everything you want. Lucky for you we had a good harvest.”
Jano managed a smile, for Zaria farms could be paying for that, too, he thought. A deal has been struck and he was sure that both Hamma and the emperor will be happy with his bargains. He can afford himself a little celebratory smile.
“Who do you have fighting for you besides Kano?” The king asked Jano unexpectedly.
Jano wasn’t prepared for that question, but he decided they have had an agreement, so there wasn’t a bigger danger. “Gobir, Kebbi is not joining in.”
“Of course they won’t, those back-lashing traitors. What are you giving Gobir in return?”
Ok, now Jano decided the king’s curiosity is getting dangerous.
“I don’t know, I was not the emissary put in charge of the alliance bargain with the Gobirawa of Gobir, and there is some sort of confidentiality that even I was not aware of the outcome.” He lied.
“Hmmm.” The King just nodded.
Jano could see that the King was not satisfied so he moved to level grounds to save himself and escape with their prior agreements intact. Hausas were volatile with their politics; things could change within a split second.
“But, Katsina has not been contacted. In my opinion that should not happen. Kano is the heart of power amongst the Hausa kingdoms. With your independence you will prevail more than you ever did before. Of course his royal highness knows what I mean.”
“Hmmm.” King Baguji got the message and liked it at once.
“That is our business and decisions to make, not yours.” He said openly, without betraying any emotions.
“As you wish, your royal highness.”
Jano knew that he already planted an idea in a mind that is always engineering a similar craft.
“As you leave, I want you to take our envoy to the emperor to sign the agreements we reached today. I will have a total independence if we deliver our end of the bargain, that is what I want to have the emperor’s signature for.”
King Baguji’s mind was reeling in dozens of directions, dominating the Hausa lands being a priority.
“That won’t be a problem, I assure your highness.”
Jano was happy it was time to go. As he prepared to take leave after granted such, the king said:
“And you can inform the central government decision makers that you don’t have to seek alliance with Katsina, as you sagely suggested to me; you will have more supplies from us if you could make them see the wisdom in that.”
Jano smiled as he left.
When Jano returned to Takedda after staying longer than presumed necessary for the mission in the Hausa lands, Hamma was more than three days back from Agadez, and was beginning to get anxious. He was worried for tens of reasons, what could explain Jano’s delay? What would be taking him so long to get back? Perhaps something went wrong? What could possibly go wrong? May be he was attacked by bandits or had an accident? Hamma thought that was unlikely. If something similar happened to Jano he would have had words by now. It had been three days since his return from Agadez, and seven days since Jano’s departure. On his arrival he gathered that Jano was escorted to the Hausa lands by twenty robust men for the mission. That definitely cleared the suspicion of attack. It could only be that he was having trouble convincing the Hausa lords. Hamma hated to think of that as the reason for his delay.
Not everything though was gloomy in Takedda camp. Hamma noticed the exponential increment of recruits in the camp. The recruits were also doing well with their training. He noticed that they do behave themselves pretty much like the soldiers they should be – crude but ok for the time being. Discipline was obvious within the ranks and files of the soldiers; that too was obvious. By the time fresh recruits start coming they won’t have problems training them at all.
If Jano could get the men they were expecting from the Hausa lands, they would definitely not be skilled soldiers, the Hausa lords would rid themselves of clumsy lads without even the hunting skill. But if they were lucky to get even that, he was sure with Jano’s supervision and these senior recruits, they could be turned into average fighters in a couple of months. That was why he wanted Jano back. He wanted him back to know how many men they were getting, and how to continue with their training. He wanted to discuss with him how to handle sending men to Agadez, also. That part was very crucial for the success of establishing a strong military headquarters, as well as the supply centre he was hoping to transform this camp into, in the next few weeks.
Hamma folded the recruitment papers he was studying; not bothering to finish reading the details of the lengthy list of the new recruits. Khare, the sergeant waiting on him, announced the arrival of riders. The sound of the horses’ hooves thunderously coming through into the camp was pleasant to Hamma’s ears. Alhamdulillahi. He instantly knew who they were.
Jano didn’t have the time to rest from his long journey. Hamma wanted to meet with him right away.
A few minutes after Khare departed with the message, Jano ‘salaamed’ and enter the tent. Jano was not the only attendant of the meeting and he didn’t waste time to begin introduction.
“This is Shamaki-Dauda, an envoy from Kano city; his king wanted a signed agreement that his city will not pay tribute to the emperor after the war, as their only demand for alliance. On that, he will give us eight hundred men each with iron tipped spear, two hundred and fifty horses with as much food as we need. The kind king even offered leather horse items and riding boots.”
Jano stopped as Shamaki and Hamma shook hands and touched their hearts three times. Hamma noticed sarcasm in Jano’s last comment, but he decided to leave that for later.
“Mallam Shamaki please forgive my manners for not allowing you time to rest and for the many inconveniences you might face in this not so attractive establishment. But I am sure you understand that we are experiencing challenging times.”
Shamaki flashed a diplomatic smile. My lord, you don’t have to worry about that. I have seen worst situations I assure you. And if we don’t share such difficult times with people we call friends, then where is the friendship?” He added, with a dose of exaggerated sympathy. Hamma nodded at the man’s well-tailored words accompanied with the perfect emotions.
“In that case I will not tie you here with us any further. You need to rest.”
With that, the general called Khare and asked him to call two sentries standing at the entrance of the tent, told them to take Shamaki to one of the freshly built shelters and make sure he is comfortable, and has all he needs. Shamaki had a brief moment of hesitation before following the boys.
Hamma was sure the man would rather stay hungry and tired than hug the hospitality he offered him.
“That was really a nice guest we have there.”
Jano smiled. “His king wasn’t that sweet and ready to do things for friendship sake.”
He narrated his ordeal with King Baguji as Hamma listened with admiration.
“Well done, Jano. I know King Baguji very well to expect less. What do you think he will do with Katsina? That was brilliant of you there, I must say.”
“Expect offensives in all towns and cities around Kano. I saw it in his eyes; this independence will open the charlatan’s purse. God save poor Zaria from his wickedness.”
“Yes.” Hamma nodded in agreement. “What about the Gobir people? I didn’t want to discuss about them in front of our Shamaki.
“I wouldn’t, either” Jano removed the mouthpiece of his turban.
“The Gobir lord formed alliance easily, demanding independence as well. His terms are not formal as that of the Kano king. He wanted that close relatives of the emperor, with as many as fifty Songhai families, be relocated to Gobir as leverage to the agreement; to keep both sides committed to what they agreed upon.”
“Hostages – not unusual, what do we get from him?”
“Seven hundred men with iron-tipped spear, leather saddle items, hundred horses, but no food, his kingdom is still reviving from the famine.”
“It appears this camp will soon be bursting with the Hausa men. I wonder if they have farms where they grow men. The number they promise is a lot, don’t you think, Jano?”
“On that” Jano started like he was instantly being reminded of something important. “We will be having a lot of work to do around here. These men the Hausa kings promised to give are without doubt prisoners of war. These people are always fighting, so they never run short of slave prisoners. It will mean that we will be dealing with reluctant soldiers.”
Hamma thought for a while.
“This is something I somewhat envisage. What if we end up with deserters? The Hausas will have their end of the bargain but, we will be left stranded.”
“We will have deserters, no doubt, and there is nothing we can do to prevent that. What we need to do is minimize such number to a negligent figure. That is why I tried to get them give as many men as I can get out of them.”
Hamma nodded in agreement.
“Let’s not stale our small victories with worries of what is yet to come. First thing in the morning I want Shamaki to be on his way to Gao, to get the emperor’s signature for his king. Also the king of Gobir should get what he asked for. I will see to that because I will travel with Shamaki.”
“You are leaving for Gao tomorrow?”
“I think my presence is not much needed here anymore than it is in the west. Besides you are back and two tigers cannot live on the same tree.”
Jano nodded, suddenly looking exhausted.
“How was it in Agadez?”
“About that, the Tuaregs won’t fight a full war with us, but they will train our soldiers and lend us a few mercenaries.”
Hamma narrated his mission to Agadez summarily, seeing how tired his interlocutor was.
“In return for what?”
“That is good enough, I think. Especially that we are freely given independence and our people to unsure kings in order to get their alliance. Can the Tuaregs be trusted?”
“I hope so; also the Tuaregs might prove more helpful.” Hamma paused.
“Soon as we get the supply of the Hausa recruits, you will extract a best three hundred and send them to Agadez. I might not return to this camp soon. I have borders in the west to protect and Takedda is your responsibility now. Tomorrow first thing in the morning before we set for Gao I will brief you on that, for now do yourself a favour and go catch some rest.”
He also needed that rest before embarking on the journey back to the capital. He wondered what was happening at the capital.