Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Book Burning in Nigeria (1) - The Yandoto Experience

This posting and the next to follow deal with an event that was not widely reported in Nigerian newspapers – the first Book Burning in modern Nigerian literary history. In the next posting, I will give full details.

In this posting I want to reproduce an academic paper written by Dr. S.A. Albasu of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS), Nigeria on the first Book Burning in Nigerian literary history – the destruction of the Islamic Scholar community at ‘Yandoto, near Tsafe, in Zamfara, Nigeria, by Jihadist forces led by Muhammad Bello. This is to serve as a pre-quel to the modern Book Burning that took place in Kano, Nigeria, on Thursday 3rd May, 2007.


Islamic learning and intellectualism in Katsina outside the Birni: The Yandoto experience

S.A. Albasu
Department of History
Usmanu Danfodiyo University

Taken from
Tsiga, Ismail Abubakar. and Adamu, Abdalla Uba (eds) 1995. Islam and the History of Learning in Katsina. Abuja, Spectrum; pp. 187-197.

Available separately. Click to download.

Studies in the origin and spread of Islam in the western and central Sudan are many and varied.1 Whereas a great deal of these studies focus attention on the process and dynamics for the spread, quite a number of others highlight the role of agencies and institutions in facilitating the diffusion of the religion. One such institutions were Islamic schools, which, apart from promoting Islamic scholarship became great centres of population concentration, commerce and politics. The cities of Timbuktu, Gao, Jenne, Aghades and Borno became famous as, first and foremost, centres of Islamic learning. Others like Kano, Katsina and Zazzau owe their development and fame to the important position they occupied as centres of learning. Timbuktu had the reputation of being the most famous having attained its peak under the Mali and Songhai. It produced eminent scholars and thriving Islamic culture known as "Timbuktu Tradition" for over five hundred years. Its inhabitants in recognition of the significance of their town as a great centre of learning, claimed that there was never a time worship had been offered to pagan gods within its walls".2

Gazargamu from about the mid-17th century became famous Islamic centre throughout Borno Hausaland. Eye witness accounts report that the Mali's court recorded "highly educated Ulama who indulged constantly in learned disputations".3

Birnin Kano had assumed similar role with an emergent Ulama class. Similar developments took place in Katsina particularly after the fall of Songhai, when it became supreme in Islamic learning and home of renowned scholars like Dan Masani and Dan Marina.4

Of all these great centres in learning and intellect the least known, but equally significant, was Yandoto. Like Timbuktu, Kano, and Borno, Yandoto was a prominent Islamic centre, but unlike these towns, it received little attention from scholars and researchers.5 This seeming neglect accounts for the lack of appreciation of Yandoto and its scholars despite the fact that several scholars in Kano, Zazzau, Birnin Katsina could have their origin straced to Yandoto. In some accounts, Yandoto was reported as abode to one of the three Muslim Universities in central and western Sudan; the two others being Timbuktu and Cairo.6 In about the 16th century Yandoto was one of Kano's scholarly neighours in addition to Birnin Katsina and Birnin Zazzau.7

This not withstanding, we are yet to read any comprehensive work on Yandoto. This chapter therefore is an attempt to highlight the significance of Yandoto as a leading centre of Islamic learning and sscholarship in pre-jihad Katsina and draw attention to the need for a wider study.

Methodological limitation
A word or so need to be said on the problems associated with this study. Generally, information seem scanty on the developments in the central and western Sudan before the 19th century. Yandoto suffers from this inadequacy. Secondly, the jihad on Yandoto leading to the burning and destruction of scholarly materials leaves no room for unearthing the pre-Jihad historical and intellectual development of the area. Thirdly, the jihad leaders seemed to have deliberately discouraged study on Yandoto scholars probably because of the general apathy in classifying them as evil scholars. Fourthly, no remnants of uncomprimising scholars can be found in Yandoto presently, having decided to migrate than to remain under the tutelage of the jihadists.

Yandoto: The area and its peoples
Yandoto is a small village about fifty kilometres east of Gusau. It is situated on the main road between Gusau and Funtua. Little is known about the origin of Yandoto settlement. Like the old towns in Hausaland, Yandoto had no written history about its distant past and so, this necessitates reliance on oral tradition to reconstruct its history. According to one such tradition Yandoto was founded long before the emergence of Hausa states.8 Another tradition went further to claim that Yandoto was founded before the birth of Jesus Christ and was among the first one hundred and seventy settlements created by God.9 Apparently these claims lack corroborative evidence, but the existence of walls and dye pits at Yandoto lay credence to its ancient origin.

Presently, there are three settlements that bear Yandoto. Yandoto Birni was founded first, but abandoned due to ecological problems. Yandoto Ramo was abandoned after its destruction by the Jihadists. Yandoto Daji had since then became the settlement inhabited by the decendants of the great city most of who deserted the territory after its capture by the Jihadists.10

The origin of the earliest inhabitants of Yandoto is also obscure. However, some traditions maintain that the area was originally inhabited by Maguzawa (non-Muslim Hausa).11 We do not know where they came from or the reasons for their settlement in the area. At most this claim can be considered part of the general assetion that most of Hausaland was originally inhabited by Maguzawa. At a later date Yandoto witnessed influx of immigrants of Fulani, Barebari and Adarawa background probably in response to the intellectual position of the area.12

However, some sources claim that Yandoto was inhabited by immigrants from Mali and, in fact, the area bore the name Wangara in recognition of their original home in Mali, "which controlled the famous gold bearing region on the upper Niger known far and wide as Wangara."13 Furthermore, the legendary Korau of Yandoto who founded the Korau dynasty of Katsina is spoken of as "red, that is, light skinned person usually associated with the colour complexion of the Malians.14

Yandoto and Katsina: the linkages
No precise date can be given for the commencement of close relation between Yandoto and Katsina peior to Korau-Sanau incident. Even for this event, it seem the evidence available is not clear over the issue of date and characters involved. Usman was swipt in identifying the inconsistencies in the Yandoto Katsina connections and by extension the emergence of Birnin Katsina and its Sarauta system.16 According to Bath, the first Sarkin Katsina was Kumayau, grandson of the legendary Bayajida. Before establishing his kingdom in Katsina, Kumayau overthrew an older one, that of Durbawa. Later, Kumayau's kingdom was toppled by Korau who came from Yandoto.17 In another tradition, Kumayau kingdom was overthrawn by one Muhammadu Korau presumably the first Muslim ruler of Katsina. He was also reportedly of Yandoto origin.18 This inconsistency apart, both versions agreed that Korau came from Yandoto. Thus, Yandoto occupies a special position in Katsina history as home of founder of Katsina kingdom and more importantly, the spread of Islam and Islamic learning. Mohammad Korau being the first Muslim ruler of Katsina and having came from Yandoto is a further testimony to its significance as a centre for learning.

After giving birth to Katsina Yandoto continued to maintan centuries of political and intellectual relations with Katsina as seat of the kingdom. Yandoto became central to the region known as Katsina Laka.19

Islamic scholarship and the intellgensia in Yandoto
The major obstacle to a full understanding of Yandoto's scholarly tradition is the lack of survival of their works and the scattering of the uncompromising Ulama. However, intellectual position is acknowledged far and wide to the extent in search of scholarship. There is no evidence to show that any of the principal jihad leaders had studied there. This, however, does not suggest that none of them might have gone there to study considering its scholastic culture and proximity to the centre of Jihadist activities. Moreover, there is evidence that Muhammad Saad, a newphew of Sheyk Usman Danfodiyo, had lived and married at Yandoto before moving to Kwanni.20 What is not clear is whether the Shaykh himself had ever gone to Yandoto to study or preach considering the fact that he had lived in the Zamfara area. Perhaps also, the Jihad leaders had blood relations with Yandoto Ulama. The exact nature of this relationship cannot be ascertained as there is no evidence of inter-marriage except with the Sheykh's nephew. Due, principally, to this inadequacy it is safe to conclude that the relation of the Yandoto scholars and the Jihad leaders was purely intellectual. According to some sources two leading scholars of Yandoto, who also play a tremendous role in the emergence of Gusau, Malam Umaru son of Alhaji Mustapha and Muhammad Sambo son of Ashafas used to frequent Shehu’s school at Degel.21

The scholars of Yandoto
Yandoto was endowed with numerous scholars, but not much is known about them or their scholarly activities. Two of the most fairly known scholars were Alhaji Mustapha and Malam Abdul-Rahman. Alhaji Mustapha was either born in Baghdad or in the Hijaz, but originally of Fulani background. Little is known about how he came to Yandoto, but probably through the imigratory movements in the 17th or 18th centuries he found the Yandoto area attractive and so decided to settle there. Together with his son Umaru, Alhaji Mustapha occasionally returns to the Hijaz to perform the Hajj. In one such trip he was followed to Yandoto by a close associate Malam Andul-Rahman, father of Muhammad Ashafa. In an effort to further cement their relationship Umar's daughter was married to Muhammad Ashafa. The marriage was blessed with a child, Muhammad Sambo, who later founded Gusau.

There were other prominent scholars like Malam Buhari Na Yandoto who was adviser to Sarakunan Katsina. One of his sons, Malam Abubakar became a leading scholar in Kano in the 18th century, whereas the other, Malam Yahaya, found a famous school at Gafai in Birnin Katsina.23 Other scholars include Alhaji Mustapha Ibn Zangi al-Baqdazi, Malam Halilu, who authored Lamiyyatus Sagairi (a poem). Malam Baki al-Barnawi who authored Balagul Muna; Malam Dan Madina, the supposed author of Baru and Bacca.24 Interestingly, Yandoto had also produced female scholars of repute despite the neglect suffered by women education in pre-Jihad Hausaland. Among the female scholars were Hadiza, Raliya and Umm Hari.25

Ethic and belief system
Here again, there is very little information on whether or not Yandoto scholars had some unique characteristics. The sources available seem to potray them as strict adherent to the Qur'an only. But more than this, they are described as scholars who encouraged innovations often mixing Islam with other practices peculiar to the pre-Jihad Hausa Muslims. If this description is true then it would have formed the basis of the jihadist attack on them.26

However, it is unlikely that scholars of Yandoto were syncretists. Already Yandoto role as a leading Islamic cetnre had been demonstrated. The Jihad leaders themselves, and acknowledged this position otherwise the Shaikh would not have accepted them as his pupils or even approved his nephew's search for knowledge there. More importantly, neither the Shaykh nor his son Muhammad Bello ever made such accusation against Yandoto scholars even during the period of hostility.

The Yandoto scholars have been described as law abiding, peace loving and strict believers in predestination. According to them whatever happens is from God, and for this reason they emphasis the need for strickest observance of the tenents of Islam. A true believer is one who does what is required of him anbd avoid what is forbidden.

There is nothing fundamental that distinguishes Yandoto Islam from the rest of the Muslims, although some authors tried to give a picture of them as syncretists.27 However, the few research works on Yandoto have all agreed on the fact that the contribution of Yandoto scholars to Islamic learning is tremendous. Apart from pioneering the teaching of the Qur'an in a simplified format they were described as the first to introduce the use of Zaure as school.28 In a study of their intellectual tradition, Alhassan recorded more than eighty works attributed to them, although some appear suspect.29 Given the long period of Islamic culture and learning that flourished at Yandoto one is bound to ask why the jihad leaders extended their campaigns to the area.

The Jihadists versus Yandoto scholars
To the Yandoto scholars the significance of Jihad in the form of preaching, teaching and enlightenment was not doubt. They themselves were Islamic scholars who indefatigably promoted Islamic learning and scholarship. Therefore, when the Sokoto jihadist asked for their allegiance the scholars of Yandoto could not understand the basis for such question beyond naked display of political opportunism. Why should they be asked to submit to a human being (a mortal) despite their absolute submission to Allah. The scholars, therefore, viewed Shehu's call for submission with disdain and totally rejected it. Only Malam Ashafa and Muhammad Sambo who had been students of the Shehu accepted the call. For doing this, they were expelled from Yandoto.

To the jihadits, the Yandoto scholars were seen as representing an obstacle to the submission of the town as well as surrounding villages and communities in the Zanfara territory. Nadama pointed out the danger and imminent setback Yandoto opposition would create on the jihadist in the Zamfara area:

"At the earlier stage of the jihad the support of the Sarakuna of Zamfara had proved crucial in the trying days of 1804. However, by the end of 1805 some of the towns were becoming increasingly hostile, raising the banner of tawaye against the jihadist. If action was not taken against the Yandoto community in good time, the whole movement would been endangered".30

Moreover, since the basis of the jihad as put by the jihadist was to reform Islamic religion, opposition to this reform from leading Muslim scholars like Yandoto would be more dangerous than even a hostile army. This town had to be brought to submission, but since they could not be charged of heathenism the jihadists had to provide justification for attacking it, which they never did.31

Towards the end of 1805 Bello led an expedition to Yandoto, but first "camped close to it in order to talk with its scholars. He sent a message to them that:

"If it should prove that we were in the right they should repent and follow us, but if they were in the right then we would repent and leave that on which we were set".32

The unyielding Yandoto scholars who had never accepted Shehu's superiority and now provoked by an army on their doorsteps determined to fight them sent a reply to Bello:

"We will not talk to him at all, we do not even wish to see him, lest God join us with him and his father Shehu in this world and the next".33

This rebuff proved too much for Bello's tolerance and so, he marched against Yandoto. Most of the scholars were reported to have fled during the attack and thereafter Bello camped in the town for several days.

Aftermath of the conquest
The Yandoto scholars not only challenged the authority of the Shehu, but more fundamentally, the legality of the jihad. To them the Shehu had no right (moral or theological) to force them to submit to him. Not only were they Muslims and their territory Islam, their town had the reputation of being a famous centre for Islamic learning. What then, was the justification for waging jihad against them? The attack on Yandoto was unjustified, especially because the people of Yandoto were never accused un-Islamic practices like the people of Borno who were accused of:

(a) Making sacrifices to trees and other objects at certain specific places.
(b) Failure of free born women to cover their heads.
(c) Taking bribes by officials.
(d) Falsification of judgements by law courst.
(e) And embezzlement of property of orphorus by officials.

Even in the case of Borno, el-Kanemmi emphatically rejected that such acts, which he considered as acts of disobidience (ma'asiya), (enough to) constitute unbelief and hence justify jihad against the people of Borno.34

The attack on Yandoto much more than that on Borno, was a political and intellectual issue further than religious one. Because the two incidents were similar, el-Kanemi found it expedicent to refer to the jihadist attack on Yandoto during his intellectual controversy with Bello. One of his accusations against the jihadist was that they had been guilty of destroying Islamic books at Yandoto:

We see among you a thing which every Malam rejects. You are destroying books; you are scattering them in the roads; you are throwing them in the dirt. But the name of God is on these books and you know that he who throws the name of God in the dirt is heathen.35

Bello rejected the charges in a reply to el-Kanimi:

You say you see among us a thing which every Malam is opposed to; let me inform you, el-Kanemi, I went out on an expedition and captured one of the Katsina towns...I saw papers being blown about by wind. They were falling into the dirt. I endeavoured to pick them up, till I was weary for they were so many. So I returned and was vexed all day. Then I gathered the people together... they said the cause of what had been done was a quarrel that arose over the spoils of war. They further said that if anyone had intentionally thrown these papers away, he could only be one of the lowest of our people and if we had seen him we would have... punished him severely.36


1. The following are few of the literature on islamic in western and central Sudan Trimmingham, J.J., Islam in West Africa, London, 1966; Lewis, I.M. ( ) Islam in Tropical Africa, London and Clark, P.B., West Africa and Islam, London, 1982.
2. Kani, A.M. "The Role of the Sokoto Caliphate..." World Seminar on Impact of Nationalism on the Ummah, London, August 1985, p.3.
3. Adeleye, R.A. "Hausaland and Borno 1600-1800", in Ajayi, J.F.A. and Crowder, M. History of West Africa, Vol.1, Second Edition, Longman, 1979 (reprint).
4. Ibid. See also Paden, J.N., Religion and Political Culture in Kano (Berkely: University of California Press) and Hiskett, M. An Islamic Translation of Reform in the Western Sudan from the 16th to the 18th century: BSOAS, XXV, 1962.
5. So far I have known only two "direct" studies on Yandoto, These are: (a) Alhassan, H Su Wanene Malaman Yandoto? A paper presented at International Seminar on Intellectual Tradition in the Sokoto Caliphate and Borno. Centre for Islamic Studies, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, June 1987. (b) Chafe, S.S., The Relationship Between Yandoto Scholars and Sokoto Jihadists, B.A. Islamic Studies Project UDUS, 1988, The Works of Usman, Y.B. The Transformation of Katsina: 1400-1883. The Emergence of and Overthrow of the Sarauta System and the Establishment of the Emirate, ABU Press, 1981 and Nadama, A.G., "Urbanization in the Sokoto Caliphate: A Case Study of Gusau and Kaura-Namoda", in Usman, I.B. (ed) Studies in the history of the Sokoto Calipohate, Zaria, 1979.
6. Hunwick, J. "Ahmad Baba and the Moroccon Invasion of the Sudan" JHSN,2, 1962. See also Yandaki, A.I., "Islamic Scholarship and Revivalism in Hausaland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries: A Prelude to the twentieth century Revivalist tendencies". PG Seminar, History Department, UDUS.
7. Last, M., "Beyond Kano, Before Katsina: Friend and foe on the Western Frontier", Second International Conference on the History of Kano, Bayero University, Kano, 1985, p.2
8. Alhassan, H., op cit.
9. Ibid.
10. Oral Information, Malam Habib Alhassan, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, March 28, 1992.
11. Alhassan, H. op cit see also Chafe, S.S., op cit.
12. Alhassan, H. op cit In addition Yandoto was described as "a junction town of trade routes passing to the various areas of Hausaland", Na Dama, A.G. "Urbanization in the Sokoto..." in Usman Y.B. (ed) Studies in the History.... p.148, It had also been described as a fertile land conduceive for agricultural production see, Chafe, S.S. The Relationship... op cit.
13. On this issue see Ajayi, J.F.A. and Crowder, M., History of West Africa, Vol.1, p.191 and Usman, Y.B., The Transformation... p.12.
14. Ibid.
15. For a detailed description of the origin of Katsina's Sarauta system viz-a-viz Korau - Saana "contest" see, usman, Y.B. The Transformation... p.10-34.
16. Ibid, p.11.
17. Ibid, p.11.
18. Yandoto at one time lived under the supervision of Katsina represented by Madawakin Katsina based at Yandoto. See Chafe S.S. The Relationahip..., p.8, see also Na Dama, A.G. Urbanization..., p.148.
19. Gusau, M.S. and Gusau, M. Gusau Ta Malam Sambo.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. Usman, Y.B. The Birnin Katsina in Cities of the Savannah, n.d.p.
23. Alhassan, H., Su Wanene...? p.6. Alhassan listed thirty Scholars attributed to Yandoto.
24. Chafe, S.S., "The Relationship...", p.
25. So far as I know, the Yandoto scholars had not been accused of any wrong doing by the Jihadists. However, their alleged closeness to the Sarakunan Katsina could have earned them the wrath of the jihadists. According to Nadama, a section of the Yandoto community had established a modus vivendi with Katsina ruling class, who had repressed the Jama'a. Nadama op cit, p.148-150.
26. Alhassan, H. "Su wanene...? p.7-8.
27. Ibid.
28. It appears to me that some of these works attributed Yandoto scholars are simply imaginary. Some do not exist in any form and/or are associated with sooth sayers and magicians.
29. Na Dama, A.G. in Usman, Y.B. "Studies...", p.150.
30. See Note 26. The Jihadist hostility to Yandoto could have arisen due to its special ties with Borno, Sokoto's traditional rival. See Johns, H.S. The Fulani Empire of Sokoto. Or because of their classification as venal scholars (Ulama al-su') one of the three religious categories of people identified by the jihadist. See Minna, M.T.M., Sultan Muhammad Bello and His Intellectual Contribution to the Sokoto Caliphate. PhD. Thesis University of London, July 1982, p.222.
31. Arnett, E.J., The Rise of the Sokoto Fulani being a paraphrase and in some parts a translation of the Infaqul - Maysur of Sultan Muh'd Bello, p.87.
32. Ibid.
33. Minna, M.T.M., p.200.
34. Amett, E.J., p.102-103.
35. Ibid, p.107.


myabubakar said...

Thank you abdalla for bringing this paper. It gives us a new dimension in the Jihad campaigns. Never thought Yandoto has a historical linkage with my village -katsina.
if you have time viit my blog...

Zahratique said...


Prof kwana biyu ba ka yi updating ba. I would like to hear ur view first hand on all the turmoil facing the film industry. especially on the film burning.

iFaqeer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
iFaqeer said...

Maadallah! I just discovered your blog yesterday. And your blog roll was fun to follow, too!!

I was... An ka haihai ni a can Birnin Shaihu Bello (of course, I know that you Kano types have a rivalry of sorts with us Sokoto folks), but I am a Pakistani who "moved back" to Pakistan at the age of 14 or so. My Hausa is rusty now but nan da ina a can kasar Hausawa, ana ce min na iya Hausa kaman jakin Kano. And the affinity with the culture, the land, and the history remain.

And of course, my brother and I often swear at each other in Hausa ;).

I look forward to engaging with the Hausa blogosphere via your blog and connections I find here.

Na gode, Alhaji.

Allah ya ba mu sa'a. Ka zama lafiya.

Anonymous said...

Assalamu alaikum,
Thanks for prof. for allowing have the link i can see there lots of stuff here. Allah ja zamanin Prof. Engr. Tukur ML

musa said...

prof,you are really doing a wonderful job of preserving and promtoting the rich arewa hausa culture. looking forward to more and more of such write of. more grease to your elbows.
Musa S Baba

Mustapha Bichi said...

Kiyaye ka!
Quite interesting. Will keep a date with the blog.Got the link through your reply to Aminu Aliyu, which he copied to me.

Anonymous said...

I want to inform everybody about a useful online English-Hausa dictionary.

知道 said...

cool blog,期待更新.........................

Anonymous said...


Mary said...

Sannu malam!

I am writing not so much to comment on your blog but - as a person learning Hausa - to ask you why so much of boko Hausa literature on the Internet is not written using standard Hausa orthography.

Do people who use modern media choose not to write Hausa with hooked 'b, 'd, 'k because these boko letters are problematic on a standard qwerty keyboard?

Does this mean there is there a trend away from the standard orthography???

Ka gai mutanen BUK duk!