IndexAfricaNigeria → Hausa


Also featured: Badjju, Nupe, Kadara, Kagoro, Efik, Tiv, Kanuri, Ijaw/ Ijo, Bini, Marghi, Jekri, Lala, Kofjar, Ibibio, Woodabe Fulani, Borroro Fulani, Ibo [ Afikpo Igbo, Asaba Ibo], Rukuba, Irigwe, Yakoe, Igbira, Igala, Orri, Dakarkaki



Dry (1956)[1] only refers to modesty codes. Faulkingham ([1972:p163])[2]: “Boys and girls freely play with one another; sexual experimentation is condoned”.


““As a yaaròo [child] begins to purchase his own clothes with money he has earned and when he works in earnest on his father’s farms, he comes to be considered a sarmàyi. He comes under the charge of the Sarkin Sàamàarii (pl. of sarmàyi) who may recruit the youth’s labor at the command of the Sarkin Noomaa. The youth generally builds his own sleeping hut near the entrance to his father’s gida . Throughout this period until the birth of his second child, the youth is expected to engage in courtship and sexual play with many girls younger than he; this does not cease at marriage”(p163).


Prepubertal girls flirted with and accepted gifts from young men as they wandered around the villages and markets hawking goods for their secluded mothers. Hausa women are married just before puberty (villages) or after (rural dwellers), to adolescents some seven years older (Barkow, 1972)[3]. “Youngsters” may have “inconclusive” [nonpenetrative] sexual interactions. In some area, Hausa boys and girls may be married as early as age 12-13 (Rehan and Abashiya, 1981)[4]. As Baba of Karo[5] points out, “A girl’s first marriage is established by a rite de passage, and this is also carried out for a man’s first marriage. By means of this rite, an individual exchanges the status of a youth or girl for that of an adult. To be an adult, it is therefore necessary to have been married”. Smith (1955)[6] stated that “[m]arriages between pre-adolescent children [.] are permitted, but the marriage of a pre-adolescent girl to an [.] is, in theory, regarded as undesirable. In the past, and to some [.] still, these marriages were frequent among the important aristocracy, [.] family providing her with an elderly chaperone until her first [.]”.

Thus, Hausa girls were traditionally expected to marry at puberty, and thereafter were considered adults. The widespread introduction of western schooling in 1976, especially universal primary education, began to postpone marriage for girls (Callaway, 1984:p438)[7].

“In most parts of Hausaland, child marriage is the rule; both boys and girls are married by age 12 or 13 years in the large towns, and at even younger ages in the villages[8]. Girls may be married before they reach puberty[9] […]” (Rehan and Abashiya, 1981:p233)[10]. Despite this betrothal in Muslim Hausa, “[…] the lengthening of the period of social adolescence as a result of the increasing number of years young women spend in formal schooling creates amply opportunity for sexual experimentation among the relatively better educated and Christian Yoruba and Igbo youths in Southern Nigeria (Makinwa-Adebusoye, 1992:p68)[11]. In the early fifties Hassan (1952) reported on this degeneration of the betrothal system, and the emergence of a sexually free adolescence[12].


Kleiner-Bossaller (1992)[13] states that marriage occurred preferably before menarche, to a man not uncommonly 20 years older than she.


“No sex-education is provided to girls. Sex-related subjects are tabu and are not touched upon in discussions between parents and children. Young girls marry and are brought to their husband’s house often before they have reached the menarche and they are therefore unprepared for marriage both with regard to their own physical development and to the knowledge of the sexual expectations of their husbands”.


“Although it is said that full cohabitation between the husband and the minor should not take place until the girl has reached puberty, it does not happen in practice and quite often children under thirteen years of age and scarcely developed are subjected to intercourse with their husbands long before they attain maturity” (Uzedike, 1990:p88)[14]. This intercourse may be forced, and aided with a so-called gishiri cut. Callaway (1987:p35)[15] speaks of “forced sexual cohabitation at puberty regardless of mental and emotional development”.

One author (Holthouse, 1969:p111, 117)[16] states that the apparent lack of sexual inhibition in Hausa may partially result from the practice of tsarance, group visits of children to other wards than their own. “During these visits, the boys and girls sleep together. They stroke each other, talk and tell stories; rarely do they have sexual intercourse even after they reach puberty. Tsarance is continued until the girl marries, at puberty or “almost always by the age of 14”. Girls do not marry their tsarance partners, and couples whose marriages have been arranged from their infancy do not practise tsarance together [a footnote here in the original text was not printed]. “Also, children wear little clothing for their first few years and have ample opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about sexual differences. This permissive attitude toward childhood sexual experiences continues into adulthood and into marriage”. The Hausas “almost eliminate adolescence” by early marriage.


Salamone (1974)[17]:


“The Hausa permitted a form of sex play they called tsarance, which stopped short of full intercourse. Furthermore, tsarance partners were forbidden to marry. Occasionally, partners broke the rule regarding sexual intercourse but only at the risk of tremendous shame. A pregnant girl brought a small bride-price. However, it seems likely that some tsarance partners who wished to marry attempted to do so through having children (Hassan and Shuaibu 1962).[…] There is a very strong double standard explicit in the Islamic view regarding non-marital coitus. While both young men and women are encouraged to have premarital sexual knowledge, young women are culturally expected to be virgins at marriage. The tsarance relationship was a socially sanctioned means of obtaining sexual knowledge while safeguarding a girl’s virginity […]. Barkow (1971) writes that the relationship is called tada or hira among the Hausa of Zaria, and that premarital sex is often a part of the relationship. In Yauri, the premarital petting between a boy and girl follows the more traditional tsarance relationship. Where tada or hira (literally, chatting) is supposed to end in marriage, tsarance was not. The tsarance relationship prevails in Yauri, and a young boy and the girl of his choice have little to do with one another until they are ready to make marriage arrangements”.


Authors, however, blur the terminological difference between Tsarance—“sleeping together, cuddling, etc., of unmarried youths and girls” and Tsaranci—sexual intercourse between them.


Concluding, unmarried girls are courted privately and at public ceremonial give-aways, over which certain praise-singers and drummers preside, both with a view to marriage and the institutionalised premarital love-making known as tsarance. Girls are married between the ages of thirteen and fourteen, and probably re-marry two or three times, on average, afterwards.


A long excerpt from Esiet et al. (2001)[18] (read in full: IES):


“Sexuality education among the Hausa is imparted by parents and by the Qur’anic schools (Islamiyyah). Parents teach the rudiments emphasizing the gender roles expected of men and women, while the details of sexuality are left to the Qur’anic school teachers who instruct the children in fiqh, the law of Islamic jurisprudence. The fiqh curriculum for children and adults of both sexes include lessons on the onset of puberty, menstruation (a sign of maturity for girls, when fasting becomes obligatory), and ritual purifications after menstruation, sexual intercourse, and childbirth. For the boys, instruction includes the discussion of wet dreams and voice changes as marks of the onset of puberty, when fasting becomes obligatory. Boys are also instructed in the requirement of a purification bath after sexual intercourse and wet dreams. All Muslim Hausa children routinely attend fiqh lessons, which prepare them for the prayers and fasting, the two fundamental requirements for Muslim men and women. Fiqh lessons also focus on what constitutes sexual intercourse, the virtue of abstinence for unmarried people, and what the law stipulates about fornication and adultery. [Yusuf]


Although adolescents in the predominantly Muslim Hausas are expected to learn about sexuality in fiqh, many Hausa boys, and most of the Hausa girls, are withdrawn from school, both Qur’anic and public, before they get to the stage of learning about fiqh. Those girls and boys who stay in school to the stage when fiqh deals with sexuality, often find that the instruction does not include much, if anything, beyond the rituals, purification baths, marriage, and divorce, because of shyness that is part of the societal culture and the culture of silence that surrounds sexuality issues in the Hausa society. [Bello]

Fiqh teaches that married couples are entitled to sexual satisfaction from their partners, and the absence of sexual satisfaction is a valid reason for divorce. Likewise, fiqh enjoins Muslims to maintain their chastity and avoid high-risk sexual behaviors. Affliction with a communicable disease, such as leprosy, and perhaps by extension one could add HIV/AIDS, is also a valid reason for divorce. [Yusuf]


Among Hausa parents, sexuality education is constrained by the cultural practice of kunya or modesty, whereby parents are too embarrassed or shy to impart sexuality education to their children. The observance of kunya varies from parents who do not show affection in the presence of their children and do not talk to their first child, to those who only refrain from calling the child’s name and/or feel too shy to discuss sexual and reproductive topics with their children. In the extreme cases, kunya ensures that the child grows up without knowing who his mother is, with the father, stepmother, or grandparents filling the communication and affection vacuum created by the kunya-observing mother. The practice of kunya is being gradually eroded by the interaction of the Hausa with other ethnic groups, and young Hausa mothers these days refrain from observing kunya, calling their first children by their names and openly showing them affection. [Yusuf]


However, an aspect of sexuality education solely entrusted to parents in Hausa society is the expression of sexuality during courtship and marriage. Both Islamic and Hausa culture do not permit dating, but the suitor is allowed to visit the girl in her parents’ house, discuss with her gifts (zance), and give her token money or presents (toshi). During such visits, the young couple is not allowed to stay alone in a secluded place. Although Hausa sexuality education and socialization is replete with measures designed to prevent premarital sexual intercourse, such attempts are being steadily undermined by the prevalent Hausa practice of sending children and young girls to hawk (talla). These hawkers (street venders) run the risk of early exposure to sexual overtures, sexual abuse, and harassment from unscrupulous men posing as buyers of their wares. [Yusuf]”.




Wall (1998)[19]:


“The most important organizing principle behind female social status is reproductive status, and it is most useful to think of Hausa girls and women in prereproductive, reproductive, and postreproductive age categories. The young Hausa girl from toddler to preadolescent has great personal freedom, just as do young Hausa boys. Brothers and sisters of the same mother commonly sleep with one another in their mother's hut inside the family compound, and they may play together throughout the village. As they age, the separation of the sexes becomes more pronounced, girls spending more time with the women of the compound, boys with the men. Girls are given increasing responsibilities for household chores, particularly those involving the itinerant sale of snacks and foodstuffs throughout a village, because the seclusion of adult women limits their economic activities (Hill, 1969; Schildkrout, 1978, 1979, 1981, and 1982). Nonetheless, the preadolescent Hausa girl (bera) has great freedom of movement and may engage in open joking and friendly banter with men (and women) throughout a village. Indeed, this forms one of the most important outlets for social activity as she sells foodstuffs and runs errands for the female members of her compound. The adolescent Hausa girl is called a budunva, a word which signals the onset of puberty, most noticeably in the formation of breast-buds. A budurwa has many of the same social freedoms as her younger sisters, but is expected to assume a more modest demeanor appropriate for one approaching womanhood. In this period of her life, she may even engage in innocent (or sometimes not so innocent) sex-play with males, but intercourse is strictly forbidden by social custom, and illegitimate pregnancy remains a rare, but heinous, offense against community standards. In order to ensure proper control and to prevent potential sexual misconduct, marriage usually occurs early for Hausa girls, frequently before menarche. Girls are commonly married between the ages of 12 and 14 and sometimes as early as 9 or 10 (Longhurst, 1982; Rehan, 1984)[20]. This practice stems largely from the requirement that female reproductive capacity be under strictly acknowledged and well-defined male control. […] Because marriage occurs at an early age in Hausaland, sometimes even before menarche, it is not surprising that early teenage pregnancy is commonplace”.




“The Hausa cultural imperative to insure that female reproductive capacity is always under strict male control means that girls marry early (often as young as 13 or 14) […]. The age of marriage is young in Hausa society, and many girls are married before they are physiologically prepared for childbearing”[21].




Additional reading:

§         Anuforo, Prisca O.; Lola Oyedele, and Dula F. Pacquiao (2004) Comparative Study of Meanings, Beliefs, and Practices of Female Circumcision Among Three Nigerian Tribes in the United States and Nigeria, J Transcult Nurs 15:103-13





Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Oct. 2004


[1] Dry, E. A. (1949) The social development of the Hausa child, Int West Afr Conf, Proc 3:164-70, see p167, 169. “The beginning of this period is marked for the girl by the introduction of the idea of modesty. She is a girl and therefore her genitals must not be seen. She will be given a short overlapping underskirt, which is kept in place by two long ends like apron-strings which wind round twice and then tie. This underskirt is worn by all Hausa women in this area, and the small girl is immensely proud of it. Unfortunately she is usually so potbellied that twenty minutes is about the maximum time that it will stay in place, and most small girls therefore have a short frock which they wear normally, adding the underskirt on special occasions. Even more important than the skirt, however, is the art of disposing the legs so that the genitals remain hidden. Whenever the child sits down someone will notice her and a female, even another child, will come and arrange her legs for her. Occasionally someone who is too busy to come will call out and remind her, but broadly speaking the method of instruction is always the concrete one of putting her in the proper position and adding verbally the positive injunction to keep herself covered […].The boy, […] ceased at circumcision to be a small child and is now properly a boy, and he will remain a boy until about the age of fifteen, when he will become a youth with many adult responsibilities and an adult’s share of the work. After circumcision a boy will never go without his loin-cloth and he will now be as circumspect as a girl about hiding his genitals. He will also, if it is at all possible, wear clothes to cover his whole body and a small fez-like white cap, but these, though very desirable, are not absolutely essential. (A girl, of course, never goes out without a wrap and a head-cloth.)”.

[2] Faulkingham, R. H. (1971 [1972]) Political Support in a Hausa Village. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms

[3] Barkow, J. H. (1972) Hausa women and Islam, Can J Afr Stud 6,2:317-28; Barkow, J. H. (1971) The institution of courtesanship in the northwestern states of Nigeria, Geneva-Afr 10,1:58-73

[4] Rehan, N. & Abashiya, A. K. (1981) Breastfeeding and abstinence among Hausa women, Stud Fam Plann 12,5:233-7

[5] Baba of Karo (1954) Baba of Karo, A Woman of the Muslim Hausa. London: Farber & Farber

[6] Smith, M. G. (1955) The Economy of Hausa Communities of Zaria. London: H. M. Stationery Off. for the Colonial Office

[7] Callaway, B. J. (1984) Ambiguous Consequences of the Socialisation and Seclusion of Hausa Women, J Modern African Stud 22,3:429-50

[8] Madauci, I., Isa, Y. & Daura, B. (1968) Hausa Customs. Zaria: Northern Nigerian Publication Comp.

[9] Harrison, K. A. (1978) Child-bearing in Zaria, New Nigerian 3870:28

[10] Op.cit.

[11] Makinwa-Adebusoye, P. (1992) Sexual Behavior, Reproductive Knowledge and Contraceptive Use Among Young Urban Nigerians, Int Fam Plann Perspect 18,2:66-70

[12] Hassan, M. (1952) A Chronicle of Abuja. Ibadan, Nigeria: Ibadan University Press. Adolescents sought frequent get-togethers. “This sleeping together was not a prelude to marriage between the pair, for they would normally have been promised to some friend of the family long before, so that we think the reason for this custom may have been to allow boys and girls to learn something of the ways of the other sex before the time came for them to be married; but when it came, these two would part, and have no more to do with each other ever again, unless perhaps they might happen to meet by chance and be reminded of their former friendship […] the majority of girls go and sleep with anyone they fancy for as long as they fancy him, and some will go to four or five different youths in the same night, so that no-one knows where they may be sleeping. Nor do they tie up their bodies or practise any restraint so that nowadays few girls come to marriage as virgins, and the old word for a virgin in Hausa has come to mean only “an unmarried girl”. If therefore the parents are not watchful, and do not do their utmost to prevent it, they will find that their daughter is with child. When this happens, an evil thing is done in secret, for they find medicine which they give her to drink so that she may miscarry before her condition is seen. Some parents, in order to forestall such misfortune, marry their daughters before they reach puberty, in which case the girl is taken to the house of her husband’s parents who will see that nothing happens to spoil her. Or if the parents find no opportunity to marry the girl whilst she is still quite young, they may keep her strictly to the house and compound, and forbid her to wander about at large”.

[13] Kleiner-Bossaller, A. (1992) No youth for Hausa women?, in D’Almeida-Topor, H. Et al. (Eds.) Les Jeunes en Afrique. Paris: L’Harmattan. Vol. 1, p116-29

[14] Uzedike, Eu. (1990) Child abuse and neglect in Nigeria- sociological aspects, Int J Law & Fam 4:83-96

[15] Callaway, B. J. (1987) Muslim Hausa Women in Nigeria: Tradition and Change. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press

[16] Holthouse, K. M. W. (1969) A study of the influence of culture on the personality development of the hausas of kano city, Int J Soc Psychia 15,2:107-19

[17] Salamone, F. A. (1974) Gods and Goods in Africa: Persistence and Change in Ethnic and Religious Identity in Yauri Emirate, North-Western State, Nigeria. New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files, Inc.

[18] Esiet, U. E. et al. (2001) Nigeria, in Francoeur, R. T. ( chief) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Vol. IV. New York: Continuum. Online ed.

[19] Wall, L. L. (1998) Dead Mothers and Injured Wives: The Social Context of Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Among the Hausa of Northern Nigeria, Stud Fam Plann 29,4:341-59 []

[20]Longhurst, R. (1982) Resource allocation and the sexual division of labor: A case study of a Moslem Hausa village in northern Nigeria, in Beneria, L. (Ed.) Women and Development: The Sexual Division of Labor in Rural Societies. New York: Praeger, p95-117; Rehan, N. (1984) Knowledge, attitude and practice of family planning in Hausa women, Social Science & Medicine 18,10:839-44

[21]Wall, L. L. (2002) Fitsari 'Dan Duniya: An African (Hausa) Praise Song About Vesicovaginal Fistulas, Obstetrics & Gynecology 100,6:1328-32 []