The Story Behind Gidan Dan Hausa

Located in Kano State, Gidan Dan Hausa played an important role in the modernisation of northern Nigeria, but only a few know the history behind this beautiful building. Michael Oche reports from Kano.

Gidan Dan Hausa is said to be more than 250 years old, and was originally owned by a local chief responsible for managing the Emir’s farmland.

The name Gidan Dan Hausa literally means ‘The Son of Hausa residence” in Hausa, it became the birth place of western education in northern Nigeria.

As Kano’s first colonial residency, it was here that the English language was first taught in the North of Nigeria by Hanns Vischer, a British Educational Officer who was its first British resident in 1908. He taught all the young princes of the Kano Emirate how to speak and write in English and was given the traditional title Dan Hausa, meaning ‘Son of Hausa.’

Available records show that the school, which started with 30 pupils in 1909, had a student population of 209 in 1913 with students drawn from the 11 Northern provinces.

According to Historians, Vischer arrived in Nigeria in 1906 after travelling by caravan from Tripoli, Libya, and first stayed at the Emir’s Palace before moving to the house. His wife Isabella joined him in 1912. But the house was built more than 150 years before Vischer occupied and re-designed it and was used by the British until 1960.

Despite its pivotal role in the history of Nigeria, many northerners know little or nothing about the building’s illustrious past. ]

Its significance goes beyond its architectural design, which is one of its most interesting features and an outstanding example of Hausa mud-walled architecture. The fact that it still remains standing to this day shows how accomplished the architects of that era were.

Rebuilt in 1901, Gidan Dan Hausa has managed to maintain much of its original and unique structure. It has since been converted into a museum adorned with pictures of Vischer, his wife and housemaid, and is also home to the Kano state History and Culture Bureau.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, the Executive Director of the Kano state History and Culture Bureau, Mallam Ali Abubakar Bature said “Hanns Vischer was an educational officer in the British army who was posted to Kano as an educational officer.

He was the second man sent by the British; the first was Mr. Miller, who failed to win the trust of the people of Kano because he came with the missionary approach, in contrast to the Islamic culture of the people. Mr. Vichser was a bit smarter because he was able to combine Islamic and western education.”

He went on to say that Mr Vichser “studied the culture of the people of Kano very well, he was even able to speak the Hausa Language. He mingled with the people and got the acceptance and confidence of the people to the extent that he was given that traditional title – Dan Hausa. He got married here in this house and his first and second children were born here.

“You can say that Mr. Vischer laid the foundations for modern education in the north in Kano. It was through him – because he was able to translate Hausa into English – that Hausa was first translated into Latin.”

Historian Malam Abdukadir Sule, told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that “this is a historic building, but it is my belief that Nigeria, and indeed Kano state, has not really explored the potential that lie therein. Monuments such as this can attract tourists from across the world if well packaged.”

He said that the inadequate attention given to the upgrading of infrastructure of important national heritage buildings is responsible for low returns from the tourism sector.

“Most of us believe that museums were established for the purpose of education and learning, or research and conservation. However, as society has changed, the economic role of museums has become more important.