By Shamsudeen Sani

Author: Heidi J. Nast
Date of publication 2005 Number of pages 245

Concubinage as a phenomenon has been with us since ancient times and had spanned across various geographic, religious and cultural boundaries. This practice had existed in this environment for centuries before it waned down over time almost completely now. Not much is known by the outsiders about fine details of the concubinage within the traditional leadership structure in Kano, Nigeria. That’s what this book attempts to explore.

Sometimes in 1988, a then doctoral student from the US began an extensive field work research which ended in 2003 and subsequently culminated with this book. This detailed work provided a rare insight into an aspect of the Kano royal palace that has seldom been well documented in the literary circles.

It is broadly broken down into 5 chapters providing a comprehensive review of the major milestones in the lives of the concubines of the Kano royal palace dating back to the 1500s. The chapters successively underscore the powerful role of the slave concubines in the grain treasuries with its tax and price control. Its amazing how pivotal the role of concubines, with their distinctive title, to the overall day to day operations in the royal palace. The book goes to show how the concubines served as the reproductive engine of the palace and the helped in the consolidation of rulership might in those times.

The book carefully analyzed how the palace concubines had to grapple with changes in the regional political economy over hundreds of years through engagement in large scale cloth dyeing for the practical and political needs of the palace and to an extent generate some economic currency. In addition to that, Heidi explained how the creation of eunuch colony and the cloth dyeing vocation redefined the utility of fertility and reproduction in the palace of those ages in Kano.

The author was able to extensively explain the effects of Fulani reform and colonialism on the role of concubines especially with the first 3 Fulani emirs. Essentially marking the beginning of the end of the rise of the concubinage practice; referred in the book as the ‘great transformation’. She highlighted the re-elaboration of a state system of agricultural slave estates dedicated to feeding the palace community and royal cavalry. But beyond that, the book shows how the pre-occupation of the Fulani overloads with ethnic purity might have engineered the concubinage to begin circling the drain.

As the book ends, Heidi demonstrated the significant role of colonialism in finally extinguishing the fire of concubinage through expropriation of emirate lands, subsequent monetization of the economy, concomitant changes in the currency of taxation and abolition of the palace slaves and slave estate system.

Given that, there is scanty similar literature on the Kano concubines, the author did a great job of drawing an impressive amount of materials towards writing this book. Written in a very simple language, enough for the non-academic folks to have a full grasp of the meat of the discussions therein. The book also had wide-ranging interviews with multiple palace insiders while collecting data for this work. To me, that’s where this book might have been exposed to bias. Who knows?

Heidi J. Nast is a Professor of International studies at DePaul University, Chicago, USA. With this publication, she was the book Winner of the African Studies Association’s annual Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize, 2005. She is said to be able to speak Hausa language.

Shamsuddeen

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