Please note that on our website we use cookies to enhance your experience, and for analytics purposes. To learn more about our cookies, please read our privacy policy. By clicking ‘Allow cookies’, you agree to our use of cookies. By clicking ‘Decline’, you don’t agree to our Privacy Policy.

No translations available

Maguzawa in Nigeria

  • The Hausa Animists, or Maguzawa as they are more popularly known, are a subgroup of Hausa People who are neither Muslims, nor Christians. The Maguzawa opt to follow a traditional way of life, retaining an ancestral form of cosmology and worldview vis-à-vis the physical, the metaphysical and supernatural. Today, the Maguzawa comprise Hausa-speaking followers of traditional spirituality living in rural areas within Kano State, in Northern Nigeria.

    The majority of Maguzawa are farmers, although some practise traditional hunting (Yan farauta), especially in and around Falgore Forest and Yankari Game Reserve. For years, local authorities have denied the Maguzawa access to their ancestral lands, thus depriving them of resources and access to heritage sites.

    The Maguzawa belief system is often referred to as ‘animist’, This is because of a traditional belief among the Maguzawa of spirits that are said to reside in nature, especially trees, rivers and stones. Hausa animists practice a possession-based spirituality, similar to Vodun in other parts of Nigeria.

    Maguzawa believe in a great number and variety of spirits or iskoki, which in Hausa language means ‘winds’. The dominance of Islam in the region has impacted the meaning of iskoki in Maguzawa tradition. The word iskoki is conflated with Al-Jannu (singular Jinn) also known by the Westernised term ‘Genie’. The Iskoki are divided into ‘farm spirits’ who are tame and easier to control, and daji or ‘Bush Spirits’ who are wild and can only be contacted through the mediation of specialized members of the community.

    The cutting down and burning of trees is forbidden within Maguzawa customary laws, because ancestors are believed to reside in trees. Due to climate related drought affecting the region, the Maguzawa spiritual connection with trees has been affected, especially in the case of the kuka or African baobab (Adansonia digitata), whose numbers have drastically declined in recent years. Tree worship is observed by Maguzawa communities especially around the African Myrrh, or dashi (Commiphora Africana), which is a species of enormous importance to local communities. Kure, the main protector spirit, is believed to reside in this tree.

  • By the beginning of 13th century, most Hausa cities and towns in Northern Nigeria had converted to Islam. Those who opposed the new religion migrated from the cities and towns to rural areas in the south and southeast, settling in forested plateaus where they were allowed to retain their traditional way of life.

    The famous story of Gwandara people in central Nigeria speaks of a branch of Maguzawa people who left Kano after the King of Kano converted to Islam. Many people argued that traditional dancing is preferable to prayer, hence the Hausa saying ‘Gwnada rawa da salla’.

    By the early 1800s, most of Hausaland had became part of Sokoto Caliphate, which imposed a stigma on those communities who did not following the Islamic faith.

    During the British colonial era, Christian missionaries converted Maguzawa communities to Christianity and paved the way for Muslims missionaries to convert many more, not least through the introduction of the indirect rule, which gave much power to the Sultan of Sokoto and his Emirs around Hausa State. Thus, the Muslim and Christian faiths gained control over religious minorities in Northern Nigeria, forcing people to migrate even further away from large urban settlements.

    Various laws and government policies have been approved since the colonial era, which fail to acknowledge the freedom of religion or beliefs of the Maguzawa people, and their right to maintain a belief system embedded within nature and the belief in nature spirits. For instance, most forestry laws in Nigeria fail to recognize forests as sacred sites for the Maguzawa people. Thus, the 1956 Law for the Preservation and Control of Forests, and the National Forest Policy of 2006, both fail to even mention Maguzawa and the use of forests as sites of spiritual value within animist communities.

    Increasingly, forested lands in the state of Kano have been seized by the Government without consideration of the religious, cultural and ethnic minority rights of Maguzawa people.

  • Insecurity in the region due to banditry, the presence of Boko Haram insurgents and armed groups of pastoralists, means that forests in the area have become extremely dangerous for local communities, including for the Maguzawa. The presence of armed bandits within forest and game reserves is a common phenomenon in Northern Nigeria, especially since the settlement of Boko Haram’s main training camps within Sambisa Forest in Borno State.

    Located in Kano State, Falgore Forest is about 100,000 hectares in size. In recent years, this large forest been seized by Kano State Government and members of the Armed Forces. In 2021, the Nigerian Army took over large sections of the forest, arguing that it had been overran by bandits, turning into a closed-off military training area.

    In September 2023, the Kano State Zoological and Wildlife Management Agency (KAZOWMA), together with the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, (NESREA), jointly constituted a 12-man Forest Guard Committee to protect Falgore Forest from poachers. The rights of the indigenous people around the forest were, however, ignored. No free, prior, informed, consent was obtained in the process of seizing sections of Falgore Forest.

    Simultaneously, large portions of ancestral forest have been re-allocated to wealthy families and elites for commercial farming, including Yarmariya Forest, which is approximately 2,000 hectares in size, and which has been seized in the last decades by farmers, leading to extensive deforestation and land degradation. Overgrazing, depletion of freshwater and deforestation has had a major detrimental impact on local Maguzawa communities.

    Yankari Game Reserve, located in Bauchi State, was also seized by the Federal Government and police following the presence of armed bandits in August 2023. Since then, indigenous people living around the forest have had their traditional lifestyles disrupted given lack of access to traditional hunting grounds and sacred sites.

    In Taraba State, many local communities, including Hausa-speaking animists, were removed from their ancestral lands because of a new hydroelectric project in the Dongo River. Mambilla Hydropower Project is a 3.05GW hydroelectric facility being developed near Baruf, in Taraba State, which is marred by allegations of corruption and fraud.

    Given the increasing pressures of extractives on water and forest resources, the way of life of the Maguzawa and other animist groups in Nigeria is increasingly under pressure. Lack of recognition of the rights of animist groups within state and national legislation means that there are no formal legal frameworks in Nigeria for the protection of the cultural, religious and civil rights of those who, like the Maguzawa, choose not to follow the majority religions of Islam and Christianity.

No related content found.

  • Our strategy

    We work with ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, and indigenous peoples to secure their rights and promote understanding between communities.

  • Stories

    Discover the latest insights from our global network of staff, partners and allies.

  • Events

    Join us for insightful discussions at webinars, screenings, exhibitions and more.