Hausa & Queer; the origins and existence of Yan Daudu in Northern Nigeria

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.”

Gidan Mata

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.

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.

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.

Voice, V. (1999, June 22). ‘Yan Daudu’ And Proud – The Village Voice. The Village Voice.

African Time: cyclical or linear?

Mmere Dane, the Adrinkan symbol and phrase meaning “time changes.”

This is a brief synopsis of three articles discussing how societies across the African continent understand and perceive time. As usual, these answer some personal questions and open up a range of so many other questions. I hope you find them useful!

Time in traditional African thought by John Parratt

This critique of John Mbiti’s work on how African societies perceive time. Mbiti has asserted that in the African conception of time, the future is non-existent since it looks toward things and events that are yet to happen, thereby nullifying the concept of time as a linear concept composing of a past, present, and future. 

Mbiti asserts that time for the African is composed of a past and a present now being experienced, and a present which has yet to occur but the occurrence of which is certain because it is on the rhythm of nature. Mbiti’s claims are backed by the fact that certain African languages have no words to describe the concept of a future time.

Pratt argues against Mbiti’s assertions claiming that linguistics alone cannot be the basis of Mbiti’s claims about time. He cites another scholar who shows that Niangoran-Bouah in the Ivory Coast used a calendrical system to tell time, largely based on seasonal rituals. This gives rise to the claim that time in many African cultures is regulated based on certain festivals known to be held after certain intervals, for example, the New Yam Festival by the Igbos held in August.

Similarly, the Kaguru and Tiv people are observed to record time-based on events experienced by the collective groups.

This leads to the assertion of time either as oecological – relating to the cycles and rhythms of nature – or structural, relating to a person’s relationship with their society at different phases of life.

For all of his arguments against Mbiti, Parratt concludes that three overlapping circles represent time in the African perspective. He says: “Time in Africa…could perhaps be better illustrated in terms of three successive and partially intersecting circles, representing respectively the mythical past, the remembered past, and the present…a straightforward linear time scale is not involved.”

Parratt, J. (1977). Time in traditional African thought. Religion, 7(2), 117–126.

African Concept of Time, a Socio-Cultural Reality in the Process of Change 

In this paper, the authors explain that African view time as a socio-cultural phenomenon collectively experienced. Furthermore, they argue that time is a phenomenon which stretches beyond the physical realm into an ontological dimension, making it both secular and sacred. 

The authors argue that the significance of time is drawn from daily events – such as milking cattle at sunrise –  or social events – such as planting and harvest seasons.

The authors raise a point about idleness – the gap between the time for planting, harvests, and other communal events. Although, according to Europeans, Africans were often found idle and “wasting time”, the authors argue that idleness was, in fact, “preparation for time”, adding that “the economic circumstance of the day would dictate the pace of activities.”

They argue against Mbiti’s notion of no future in the African conception of time, highlighting the system of checks and balances in the old Oyo Empire, dating back to 1754. The Empire had a plan to prevent any ruling monarch from becoming either despotic or autocratic, thus making it mandatory for the Alaafin to consult the Oyomesi council of chiefs before taking decisions on the affairs of the state. According to the authors, the checks and balances in the Oyo Emirate were in place to ensure a good future and a peaceful one for the Oyo kingdom. 

According to these authors, checks and balances indicate that Africans are conscious of a distant future, contrary to what Mbiti has argued. 

Fumilola Babalola, S., & Ayodeji Alokan, O. (2013). African Concept of Time, a Socio-Cultural Reality in the Process of Change. Journal of Education and Practice, 4(7).

Africa’s understanding of time and history: The line over against the cycle Jan AB Jongeneel

The author argues for linear time over cyclical time while recognizing that many Africans still regard the former over the latter. According to the author, “the power of the cycle in African traditional religions and the power of the symbiosis of the cycle and the line in various circles of African Christianity, African Islam, and African secularism is much bigger than the investigated publications of Mbiti, and Bosch suggests.”

The author attests that many African societies had a cyclical approach to time, however, Judaism, and eventually, Christianity, and Islam, brought the concept of linear time to the continent. It’s worth noting here that Jongeneel asserts that the Jews were bound by “divine historical events”, which places them as forward-looking people who believe in a God that reveals his purpose for humanity over time and who will eventually bring his will to fulfilment in the “eschaton”, or at the end of time.  

This belief is in contrast with the cyclical notion of time which is referred to in the text as “reversed teleology”, where “the final purpose [of human life] is in the past rather than in the future.”

While the author references Mbiti, he introduces new scholars such as John A.A. Ayoade, who is said to have distinguished between various types of time cycles based on the traditions of Yoruba peoples in West Africa. Ayoade differentiates between the celestial/cosmic cycle, primarily concerned with the sun, moon and stars, and the terrestrial/ecological cycle, concerned with the changing seasons.

Jongeneel discusses the presence of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and secularism (humanism and secularism) and how they have shaped the modern perception of time in Africa. The paper also briefly discusses the work of Asian theologians and their views of cyclical time, which is also prevalent in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto.

Jongeneel, J. A. B. (2009). Africa’s understanding of time and history: the line over against the cycle. Missionalia: The South African Missiological Society, 37(3), 37–50.