This article does not set out to “prove” that queerness was inherent among the Hausas. Rather, it offers a brief exploration into the origins of Yan Daudu, perhaps the earliest queer people among the Hausas of northern Nigeria.
To understand the origins of Yan Daudu, we have to go back to the early post-Islamic northern Nigeria, when Islam began to thrive in major Hausa cities. Hausa animists, also known as Maguzawa, who resided within those cities, were expelled to the fringes of society because their cultural and religious beliefs greatly contrasted with Islam. It is among this group that Yan Daudu would come to find some level of acceptance that allowed them to take root at the fringes of major Hausa cities.
Yan Daudu are named after a flamboyant male spirit in the Hausa pantheon of spirits. He is often described as a loose, gambling, and well-dressed male spirit (Voice, 1999; Sinikangas, 2004), and the name yan Daudu translates to “sons of Daudu”.
Yan Daudu have always existed within the Hausa community; the fact that their name derives from an old spirit in Hausa animism is a testament to that. They are often feminine-presenting men who sometimes engage in sex work even though they do not necessarily identify as homosexuals. They are also known to occupy socially ambiguous spaces about their faith as either Muslims or adherents of Hausa animism (Gaudio, 2005).
Salamone expands on this ambiguity in Hausa concepts of masculinity and the ‘Yan Daudu (2005).
He writes: “In this system, men who are more or less exclusively homosexual (not always, but often trans […] or at least effeminate males) have sexual relationships with men not culturally distinguished from other men. These “men who talk like women” form a link between the old non-Muslim Hausa and the Muslim Hausa, indicating where stress lines still exist between the old and new Hausa identities for the coming of Islam to West African societies necessitated a rethinking of numerous cultural and social arrangements, not least of which were the relationship between men and women and the organization of family life.”
Even though they were perceived as an ‘other’, many Yan Daudu married women and kept families. However, as Salamone (2005) adds, this did not mean they stopped engaging in “homosexual behavior.”
In his words, “The sexual experiences of many ‘Yan Daudu and other gay Hausa men, however, indicate that heterosexual marriage and homosexual behavior are in no way mutually exclusive in Hausaland. Like other Hausa men (gay and straight), married Yan Daudu take seriously their responsibilities as husbands and fathers, and expect their wives, children and other dependent kinfolk to show them due respect.”
Yan Daudu are often placed as co-habitants with Karuwai (female sex workers) at Gidan Mata. Loosley translated to “house of women”, Gidan Mata is typically a living quarters for Hausa women who have left their husbands or parents to fend for themselves. Many of these women eventually resorted to sex work, Karuwanci, to make ends meet.
In Houses of Women: a Focus on Alternative Life-Styles in Katsina City, Renee Pittin (1983) describes Gidan Mata as follows: “‘Houses of women’, as the term is used in Hausa (gidajen mata; sing. gidan mata), do not necessarily house only women…Rather, the term is a euphemism for the houses which accommodate women on their own, who support themselves completely or in part by selling their sexual services, and which accommodate also other independent women, and the men [Yan Daudu] who are, economically and socially, an integral part of what may be treated as the sexual demi-monde of Hausa society.”
Yan Daudu favored living among women and mainly desired to associate with women. Consequently, they often assumed roles predominantly carried out by women. However, perhaps the most important reason Yan Daudu became inhabitants of Gidan Mata was that they felt a kinship with Karuwai because their sexual identities were considered inappropriate and ‘uncontrolled’ within the male-dominated Islamic society.
Both men and women who lived at Gidan Mata often became adherents of Hausa animism and participated in spirit possession ceremonies known as Bori. Sometimes to meet ends which were otherwise not attainable to them. However, for women, becoming an adherent was appealing because the Maguzawa did not practice the seclusion of women. On the contrary, women held high positions within the Bori belief system, owned farms, and played significant roles during religious rituals and spirit possession ceremonies. In addition, the leader (Magajiya) of the Gidan Mata was often an influential Bori practitioner and/or priestess who performed sacred rites and rituals.
Where are they now?
Yan Daudu continue to exist within the fringes of the now predominantly Islamic northern Nigeria. However, in the recent past, they have been persecuted by their kinsmen because their lifestyle is considered an abomination under Islam, even though their presence preceded Islam within the existing region where they once freely thrived.
Furthermore, being a sexual minority in Nigeria means that the issues that affect Yan Daudu are not typically mainstreamed in development interventions and programming. As a result, the population has been adversely affected by HIV/AIDS. Insufficient institutional action has meant they have not been adequately reached with the necessary health interventions (Tocco, 2014) needed to live safer and healthier lives.
Notwithstanding, the Yan Daudu are a resilient group whose presence remains within the fringes of major Hausa cities in northern Nigeria.
Gaudio, R. P. (2005). Male Lesbians and Other Queen Notions in Hausa. In A. Cornwall (Ed.), Readings in gender in Africa. James Currey Publishers.
Immigration And Refugee Board Of Canada. (2019, February). The Situation Of Sexual And Gender Minorities In Nigeria (2014-2018). Research Directorate Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. https://irb.gc.ca/en/country-information/research/Pages/situation-gender-minorities-nigeria.aspx
Sinikangas, M. (2004). Yan Daudu A Study of Transgendering Men in Hausaland West Africa.
Stephen Murray & Will Roscoe (eds) (1998), Boy Wives & Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities, London: Macmillan
Sullivan, J. (2005). Exploring Bori as a Site of Myth in Hausa Culture. Journal of African Cultural Studies, 17(2), 271–282. https://doi.org/10.1080/13696850500448378
Tocco, J. U. (2014). The Mode of Transmission That Dare Not Speak Its Name: Islam, AIDS and the Public Secret of Homosexuality in Northern Nigeria (N. Beckmann, A. Gusman, & C. Shroff, Eds.). British Academy. https://academic.oup.com/british-academy-scholarship-online/book/292/chapter-abstract/134878543?redirectedFrom=fulltext
Voice, V. (1999, June 22). ‘Yan Daudu’ And Proud – The Village Voice. The Village Voice. https://www.villagevoice.com/1999/06/22/yan-daudu-and-proud/