The story of first Hausa man to travel to England in 1855

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Abegga and Dorugu

By Imam Ghazali Umar

The relationship between Hausa as a language and Europe as continent started in the late 18th century.

It was revealed that the first Hausa man who set his foot on the soil of Europe was a slave from Borno. He was a slave to a Tunisian trader named Abdurrahman, who visited Denmark for business purposes in 1773.

In the Denmark, he met with an explorer-cum-traveller in person of BG Niebuhr, who visited Arabian Peninsula with a group of friends earlier before Abdurrahman visited Denmark.

During his stay in Denmark, Niebuhr befriended Abdurrahman and urged his slave to teach him Hausa and Kanuri. He learnt the meaning of some words from him and jotted them down. These words were published in 1791 in a book titled The Life of Niebuhr in Denmark.

The above marked the beginning of Hausa words in Europe. However, the name of that slave was not recorded anywhere in history.

In 1792, another Moroccan businessman called Alhadj Abdussalam Shebeni, who seldom travelled to England for business, informed their noblemen about a land and tribe called ‘Housa’. He also informed them that the Hausa people are literate as they could read and write in Arabic or Ajami. That information prompted the government of England and some African states to scratch more about Hausa.

Among the early explorers and travellers who visited Hausaland were Dr Henrich Barth and JF Schon. In an attempt to ease his journey, and get easy access to Hausa communities and Timbuktou, he bought two young and capable slaves, simply called Abbega and Dorugu, to serve him wherever he went.

Abbega was Margi from the Borno area, while Dorugu was Hausa from Damagaram and was born around 1839.

When Dr Barth was returning home, he went with them to England. There they met JF Schon who had interest in working on Hausa language. Therefore, he took the duo from their original master and asked them to assist him in developing a book on Hausa language, which they did.

Mr Schon became famous in England for the books he authored in Hausa before the 20th century. Among the books are: Farawa Littafin Magana Hausa published in 1857, Littafin Musa Nagari, Littafi Musa Nabi’u all published in 1858 and Labari Nagari, published in 1877.

Dr Barth retired from service and concentrated on the works of his books about Africa and produced their volumes of the stories of all his wide travels. He titled the books Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa, which were published in 1857. He also published another book Collection of Vocabularies of Central African Languages, published in 1862. It was written with contributions from Abbega and Dorugu.

Sometimes in 1859, Abbega left England and worked briefly with Samuel Ajayi Crowther. Later, he left Ajayi Crowther and started working with Dr William Baikie as translator. Dr Baikie really enjoyed working with Abbega, because he spoke many languages including Hausa, Arabic, English, Margi, Fulani, Kanuri, etc. After Dr Baikie, he worked with numerous colonial masters. In 1896, his hard work was rewarded by colonial masters as he was appointed Sarkin Lokoja. He was dethroned in 1904 for some reasons. His grandson Muhammadu Maimana of Jega was appointed as Sarkin Askira in 1913. Askira became home to Maimana Jega because it is the very place where his grandfather Abbega was picked and sold as slave.

The other slave Dorugu stayed with JF Schon in England for a while and came back to Nigeria to work with colonial masters as teacher in Lokoja and later in Zungeru. When the first European school was established in Kano, he was transferred there as a teacher. He lived there until his death in January, 1912.

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