Biography of selected Kano merchants

1853 - 1955


Scholars on the central Sudan have directed considerable effort at studying the late ninetieth and early twentieth-century trade of local commodities and manufactured goods for items such as salt from the Sahara and kola nuts from the Akan forest regions (bair 1980, cohen 1966, Johnson, 1976, lovejoy 1980). However, rarely have they focused attention on those individuals who were actually responsible for the trade itself. It is to fill this gap in the literature that this paper offers a brief biography of some selected Kano merchants. The paper develops the biographical stories behind the lives of Adamu jakada, umaru sharubutu Koki, and Alhassan Dantata. All these had been prominent traders who belonged to the Agalawa ethnic sub-group. The accounts below are based largely on oral sources, including descendents and business associates of the subjects.

            The biographical approach to historical reconstruction does offer valuable insights into the personal and structural factors that influenced the personal fates of these subjects. An example is Adamu Jakada’s loss of his entire capital holdings during a single caravan trip. The biographical approach gives insights into the roles such powerful business people played within their native communities, ranging from local trade and political activity to altruistic endeavours.

            Because the biographies presented here not only document the economic activities of three influential traders but also offer valuable information regarding their family backgrounds and early life, they shed light on the manner by which these individuals handled the competitive business of long-distance trade. While each of the traders examined came from wealthy commercial families, it is evident that their long-term financial success sprang not only from their families’ capital reserves, but also from the store of knowledge that allowed them to recover from financial disaster and adapt to changing economic environments. Indeed each of the biographies presented here covers roughly the same period, from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, a period that saw the coming of colonial rule and the integration of the region into a wider world economy.