The Kwararafa

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that this is not a post so much as a rant. 

Who are the Kwararafa? This maddening question is one that I have been seeking answers to since Mrs. Opara mentioned the word in passing in my SS2 History class, the woman did not like the bedeviling she had to endure from me for the rest of the year that’s for sure. Information on the nature of the state (if indeed it was a state) or the alliance known as Kwararafa (alternatively, Kororofa, Kona and Kwana) is extremely scarce. No one knows, for example; what structure the state took, or its size or its organization, or what the rulers of the state were called. We can only even guess the tribe that most likely was the most dominant in the Empire – the Jukun. It’s almost enough to make a person pull their hair out one strand at a time. If it wasn’t for the records of others, Borno Empire and the Hausa states mostly, we wouldn’t even know for sure that something call Kwararafa ever existed. Okay, rant semi-over (I might forget myself and slip back into it again), here is what we do in fact know about the Kwararafa.

Kwararafa was most likely a multi-ethnic state or confederacy along the Benue river, that extended (probably) from today’s Middle-Belt to present South East and South-South Nigeria. It was located south of Borno Empire and the Hausa states, from where the Kwararafa successfully raided those powerful states from time to time. The Kwararafa rose to prominence sometime before the 15th century, they were in conflict with some of the most powerful states of the time through to the 17th century and they fell into decline sometime in the 18th century.

As I said earlier, Kwararafa was either a loosely allied confederacy or a caste led state bent on conquest led by the Jukun (some say a Priest-Kingship based in Wukari was the center of Kwararafa). It could also have been a name bestowed on a number of “pagan” enemies by the Muslim states they attacked often. Leo Africanus (my guy!) noted that sometime towards the end of the 15th century, Borno attacked Kwararafa territory, this was likely before or during the reign of Mai Idris Alooma so the Borno Army was going through one of its stronger phases. However, the Kwararafa were able to successfully resist that army, among other reasons, because of their strong horse cavalry. According to the Kano Chronicles and other Hausa sources, Kwararafa attacked and conquered several Hausa states; Kano, first around 1600, then again mid-century and yet again in 1671, Katsina was assaulted, Zaria was sacked and the Kwararafa turned their attention to Borno, getting close to the Empire’s capital Ngazagamu before suffering a crushing defeat from Borno under Mai Ali ibn Umar.

Regardless of the semi-constant state of warfare at the time, the Kwararafa were greatly respected by their neighbours. Borno set up an embassy in Kwararafa as did most of the Hausa states. Surprisingly, in spite of being near inundated by their Muslim neighbours, the Kwararafa remained steadfastly, unbendingly pagan even after they lost almost all their political and military strength and declined, almost into oblivion. By the end of the 18th century, the Kwararafa paid tribute to Borno. By the end of the 19th, they had been reduced to small towns and villages individually resisting the jihad of the Sokoto Caliphate.

A successor to the Kwararafa is (probably) the Wukari Federation with it priest leadership feared (and so left alone) by its neighbours more and less powerful. It was established around 1840 and is in existence (in one form or the other) till this very day.

So, I hear that there is a university called Kwararafa University in Wukari. This is good news. So guys, might I suggest that you please do some research and tell us all there is to know about the Kwararafa; who they are, what they stood for or against, how they lived, so that we can all know and hair everywhere will be safe from the frustration that leads to us pulling our own hair out. Just a suggestion.

If you know more about the Kwararafa, please feel free to share. We could all use the knowledge, and my hair thanks you in advance.

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