Sunday, April 12, 2009

1897: Nigeria gets its name

Flora Shaw invented the name Nigeria, in the period after her work for the Manchester Guardian, and before she became Colonial Editor for the Times. Shaw, whose life would make a fascinating biopic, was once Sir George Taubman Goldie's lover (the founder of the United Africa Company, later to become the Royal Niger Company), and later, in 1902, she became Lord Frederick Lugard's wife. Shaw suggested the name "Nigeria" in a letter to The Times of London, in January 8th 1897. Here is what she wrote:

“… Nearly two months have elapsed since the dispatch of additional British officers and war-like stores to the territories of the Royal Niger Company prepared the public mind for probable military operations in those districts.

Sir George Goldie, the governor of the company, left England on December 4, and reached Lokoja, the military capital of the Company, on New Year's Day. It is to be expected that his arrival will be shortly followed by a decision as to any active policy which it may be thought desirable to pursue, and in countries where the fighting season is short action follows swift upon decision. Therefore, if fighting is to take place, it is probably that news of it will be not long delayed.

A force of from 800 to 1.000 trained Hausas well provided with military equipment and well led by British officers constitutes an instrument for war which, though small in comparison with the vast crowds in arms commanded by local chiefs of the native Niger States, is still sufficiently important to arouse considerable interest in its proceedings.

Various rumours have been current as to the object against which the force is to be directed. The fact that its military base will be at Lokoja combines with, what is known from other sources to give assurance that the operations will be confined wholly to the internal affairs of the territories over which the charter of the Company extends. Border difficulties may be dismissed from consideration. While we wait for definite information it may, therefore, be worthwhile to consider briefly what is known about the general situation in the Royal Niger Company's

In the first place, as the title "Royal Niger Company's Territories" is not only inconvenient to use but to some extent also misleading, it may, be permissible to coin a shorter title for the operation of pagan and Mahomedan States which have been brought by the exertions of the Royal Niger Company within the confines of a British Protectorate and thus need for, the first time in their history to be described as an entity by some general name.

To speak of them as the Central Sudan, which is the title accorded by some geographers and travelers, has the disadvantage of ignoring political frontier-lines, while the word ‘Sudan’ is too apt to connect itself in the public mind with the French Hinterland of Algeria, or the vexed questions of the Nile basin.

The name "Nigeria" applying to no other portion of Africa may, without offence to any neighbours, be accepted as co-extensive with the territories over which the Royal Niger Company has extended British influence, and may serve to differentiate them equally from the British colonies of Lagos and the Niger Protectorate on the coast and from the French territories of the Upper Niger.

Nigeria, thus understood, covers, as is well known, a thickly peopled area of about half-a million square miles, extending inland from the sea to Lake Chad and the northern limits of the empire of Soot, bounded on the east by the German frontier and on the west by a line drawn; southwards from Say to the French frontier of Dlahomey.

The frontier lines have for 10 years been the subject of discussion with our European neighbours on either side. The northern limit was definitely settled by the Anglo-French treaty of 1891; the eastern boundary was determined by the Anglo-German treaty of 1893; and certain vexed questions on the western frontier were for practical purposes brought to a close last year, when the Royal Niger Company completed in the neighbourhood of Bajibo the erection of forts which it judged necessary for the legitimate maintenance of its authority.

Within these limits Nigeria contains many widely differing characteristics of climate, country, and inhabitants. Its history is ancient and is not wanting in dramatic elements of interest and romance. The country has been vaguely thought of as a country of swamps and forests, inhabited by pagan natives of low type who, as was lately demonstrated after the outbreak at Brass, had not finally risen above the cannibal stage. This is true of the immediate neighbourhood of the coast, where the Niger runs to the sea through mangrove swamps and a population demoralized by the use of bad European spirits display their barbarous vices to European observation.

Nothing could be more misleading than such an impression of the general character of the distinct hill question. As the country slopes inland it rises in successive waves. The first drops to a valley three or four hundred miles inland through which run in opposite directions the two great rivers of the district. The Benue, lowing west by south from the German frontier, and the Middle Niger, flowing east by south from the French Sudan, meet at Lokoja, and the double
flood, turning at that point at a right angle, forms the waterway of the Lower Niger
to the coast. This is the entrance passage of the Company's territories.

Everything desiring to enter Nigeria from the sea must pass this way, and it is therefore not surprising that this is the most generally known portion of the territory. The most important territories of Nigeria lie beyond the boundary of the two rivers. North of the valley, traced in an irregular semi-circle from east to north-west by the basins through which they run, the ground rises again in another and more considerable wave, reaching a height of 2,000 feet and maintaining a plateau level of from 1,700 feet to 2,000 feet which does not appear seriously to decline until the northern boundaries of Sokoto are reached.

On the further side of two great rivers the ground rises so rapidly as to overhang the flood in some places with hills of which the summits are forest-crowned, while in other parts beautiful views are offered of open and diversified landscape. At this time of the year portions of the riverbanks are covered with masses of flowering creepers, which hang to the water's edge. Scarlet, yellow, pink, and mauve tints prevail. Rare lilies and orchids also abound, and the European travellers who have seen it to rank with the picturesque beauties of the world
have held the scenery on some points of the river.

The country of the northern plateau appears to be generally open, and in its natural condition to consist in many parts, like a large portion of the bush country of Australia, of roughgrass lightly timbered. It is well watered, abounds in natural products, and offers evident facilities for cultivation. In the northern parts of the territory connecting the towns of Kuku, Kano, Wurnu, Sokoto, Landu, & co, where, by proximity to the principal seats of native authority, the maximum amount of order and security may perhaps be looked for, the country has been described by a recent traveller as resembling, wherever it is. Not subject to devastation by marauders, a continuous garden. The methods of agriculture are simple, but the fertility of the soil appears to supply the place of more scientific treatment.

Hedges of castor oil plant, which grows luxuriantly, divide, the cultivated, land. The principal crops raised are Guinea corn, Indian corn, wheat, and other cereals, cassava, rice, onions, cotton, indigo, peas, beans, sweet potatoes, ground nuts, and kitchen vegetables, and the Hausa native of the interior attributes the great superiority in strength which he possesses over the native of the coast to the superior food on which ho lives. The pagan coast native lives chiefly on cassava and bananas, to which gin may perhaps now unfortunately be added. The Hausa of the interior lives chiefly on Guinea corn, and uses neither tea, coffee, nor habitually any stimulant, except the kola nut, which he chews, and which, notwithstanding its disagreeable taste to Europeans, is immensely valued as a native luxury.

The Royal Niger Company, unable to prevent the consumption and importation of alcoholic liquor in the territories of the coast, took the precaution in the early days of their administration of absolutely prohibiting the introduction of European alcohol in any form into the territorys of the interior. Throughout the central region economic trees abound. Conspicuous amongst thorn are India-rubber, shea-butter, tamarinds, date and other palms, besides bread fruit, kuka, and many of which the nameless are less familiar to English ears. The banana and the papaw are among the native fruits, and wherever the pomegranate flourishes the climate is said to be suitable for white habitation. Tobacco grows wild through-the whole region.

Towards its eastern boundaries the plateau of Nigeria rises into mountainous. Regions, where amid rocky fastnesses and fertile valleys the aboriginal pagan inhabitants of the country defend their liberties as they can from the advancing slave-raider. The mountainous districts alternate with forestland still the home of the elephant, and with regions of extraordinary fertility where cultivated crops flourish. Wild fruits land flowers are plentiful, and extensive tracts are described as being covered with rich sweet herbage full of violets in various parts of Nigeria; iron is found and has been worked for centuries. Silver is known to exist in considerable quantities, and the waters of the Benue are reputed by the natives to wash down gold.

The whole plateau is diversified by occasional mountain ridges. Towards the west, where it fattens into a region of extensive cotton fields, it stretches across the valley of the Niger to the comparatively little known but interesting kingdom of which the name is variously given as Barbar, Boussa, and Borgu. Near Blajibo, on the boundary of this State, the flood of the Niger is broken by rapids which impede the course of navigation from the sea and have been the scene of the death of more than one distinguished traveller. Borgu has successfully withstood the advance of Mahomedan power, and is one of the few large States which is wholly independent of Sokoto.

It is usually counted among the pagan States, but the inhabitants repudiate the description of themselves as pagans and claim to be of the religion of "Issa, the Jew who died for men." A sort of spurious Christianity, largely mixed with pagan superstitions and rites, is held by some travellers to be the religion of the people of Borgu, who are also believed to have some racial affinity with the Berbers of Northern Africa. The populations of Nigeria are, like the country which they inhabit, widely diversified. Tribes distinguished by most interesting and remarkable peculiarities occur.

The body of the population may, however, fairly be classed in three main divisions. These are pagans, Hausas, and Foulahs. The Pagans are the indigenous inhabitants now driven by successive tides of foreign conquest to take refuge in the mountains or in the countries of the Lower Niger and the coast, where they have sought the protection of European Powers. They are still very numerous, and they represent the lowest civilization of the country.

The Hausas, who are generally regarded as forming the most interesting of the races which inhabit the country, are believed to number as many as 15 millions. At the beginning of this century they were conquered by the Mahomedan Foulahs, who for about two hundred years had been gradually establishing their domination in the Sudan. The Hausas at that time were pagans, but their civilization claims to be quite as old as that of the Foulahs themselves, and they also came originally into Nigeria from the north, travelling, according to their own traditions, across Africa from Asia. In Nigeria they either drove out or enslaved the original pagan inhabitants and founded several States known geographically as Hausaland.

Their principal town of Kano, which is now the commercial capital of Sokoto, has flourished as a centre of government, commerce, and art for nearly 1,000 years. It was founded at about the period when William the Conqueror was engaged in building the Tower of London. Its marketplace is said to be the largest in the world. Kano-made cloth is sought by the Arab populations throughout the north of Africa, and Kano workers in leather and iron have maintained the fame of their district for centuries.

The pure-bred Hausa is perfectly black, but is, of course, of a far higher type than the ordinary negro, and differs from him especially in the fact that he is naturally active, persistent, and industrious. He is essentially a man of peace as the Foulah is a man of war. The Hausa of today is Mahomedan, having in the matter of religion yielded to the superior enthusiasm of his conquerors. The Hausa language has, however, conquered the language of the Foulah, and is the Court language of Sokoto. The Foulah is a Mahomedan Arab, relatively light coloured, of the well-known type. The Foulah domination over various Hausa States in Nigeria was established in the first instance rather by military than by religious superiority, and gradually rulers of the Foulah race began to take the Place of the Hausa Kings.

But in the year 1802, a religious war was proclaimed against the Hausa populations, and resulted in the establishment of a certain Sheikh Othman as Sultan of Sokoto, then, as now, the dominant State. Within a few years all the petty Kings of the Hausa States were replaced by Foulah Emirs, and the Foulah race was definitely established in the position which it holds today as the dominating race of the entire district. On the death of Othman one of his sons inherited the sovereignty of Sokoto, and one the sovereignty of Gandu.

Gandu has, however, always recognized in some degree the supremacy of Sokoto, and Sokoto has remained the supreme native power of Nigeria. All other Hausa States within the borders of this district pay tribute to it, the so-called pagan State of Borga forming a notable exception. The principal fact in regard to the payment of this tribute with which the administration of the Royal Niger Company is likely to be concerned is that it is largely paid in slaves.

The Emir of Adamawa, whose territory lies towards the eastern boundary of the Company, is said to contribute no less a number than 10,000 annually. Nupe, Muri, Bautshi, Zaria, and other States contribute in their degree. Slaves are raided for not only among the pagan populations of the mountains, but by every Foulah King amongst his own Hausa subjects.

Slaves are the currency of the country for all large sums as well as for Imperial tribute, and whenever a petty ruler is pressed for money he raids on whom he dares. So numerous is the Hausa population, and so general is the practice of slave-raiding amongst the Mahomedan Foulahs, that it has been calculated that of the whole population of the world one in every 10 is a Hausa-speaking slave. To proclaim a general war against the practice of slave-raiding over an immense-district through- out which slaves constitute so important a source of wealth would inevitably rouse all the Foulah States to arms, and would be a task far beyond the strength of the government of the Royal Niger Company. The Company has endeavoured to pursue its work in the territories under its influence with the friendly co-operation of the constituted authorities. No Foulah administration has more constantly oppressed its subject populations in this respect than that of Nupe, whose territory stretches along the northern bank of the Middle Niger from the neighbourhood of Lokoja to the frontier of the western province of Borgu, and whose Emir claims to extend his rights southward over the pagan States upon the other bank.

Nupe was one of the latest of the Hausa States tofall under the Foulah yoke. It was conquered about 1818, and the Hausa populations within its borders, who were among tho most civilized of the country, have more than once since then risen against their oppressors. On the latest occasion of such a revolt, when the Hausa populations of the kingdom of Nupe rose in 1882 against the then reigning emir, the help of the Company was given to the Mahomedan domination. But help has always been given with conditions.

It has been the practice of the Company to endeavour to protect certain peaceful pagan populations. To the south of the two rivers who have appealed to them for assistance. In a personal interview between the Governor of the Company and the late Emir of Nupe, held at Bida so lately as January of 1892, it was clearly laid down that Nupe should not raid for slaves across either the Niger or the Benue in countries which are under British protection.

The Emir of Nupe was definitely warned that slave-raiding south of the river would constitute a casus beli with the Company. The warning has been disregarded, not only by the Emir Maloke, who died last year, but by his successor, the present Emir Abu Bokhari. A force of Nupe soldiers numbering about 1,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantry have been for some months concentrated to. the south of the river in the neighbourhood of Kabba waiting only for the season to permit of the beginning of slave-raiding operations.

The latest news which has been received from the territories is to the effect that this force has been further strengthened by the presence of the Emir himself with the remainder of the Nape army, bringing the whole to an approximate strength of 2,000 cavalry and 18,000 to 20,000 infantry. If the Company should judge it necessary in vindication of their authority to enter into armed conflict with this body of troops, the operation will be more considerable than any which has yet been attempted by them, and, whether success or failure attend their arms, the consequences cannot fail to be proportionately far-reaching.”



gungun 1:12 am  

Wow, thanks. Excellent crash course in some colonial history. This should be on wikipedia with permission.

Ms. Catwalq 3:28 am  

And thus commenced the wahala that is us today..

Anonymous,  10:43 am  

wow, racism is a difficult concept to understand. i could not help but shake my head and reread the description of the hausas. she readily accepts that they are 'perfectly black' while being 'superior to the negro' have been on the land for over a 1000 yrs (kano as their centre of trade and commerce) but must have come from asia at some point...(???)

oh, how times have changed thou... hausa people no longer have that fire

Anonymous,  12:58 pm  

Is there anything to indicate this was the first time the name Nigeria had been used and that this writing led to its adoption as Nigeria's name

Baba,  4:50 pm  

Mr. Jeremy,

Do you have the source link to this letter/article? Would like to read more on it.

Please post link in comments if possible. Thanks.


MsMak,  7:55 pm  

@ Anonymous 12:58

It is common knowledge that Flora Shaw coined the name Nigeria. I remember learning that Lugard's wife was the source of the name Nigeria in Primary school, and have read it in various historical texts since then. I admit that i didn't know she was Goldie's mistress as well.

I'm sure if you research this, the info can be easily found. I believe the British also considered naming it after Sir Goldie, just like Zimbabwe was originially named Rhodesia after Sir Cecil Rhodes.

Anonymous,  9:18 pm  

i know it's common knowledge, but many times common knowledge is another term for myth. so i was just checking

Anonymous,  2:41 pm  

Writing this like it's the gospel truth is quite dangerous in a sense. When are you going to accept that white people cannot tell the history of any black people, for so many reasons?

Ms Shaws's comparison of the hausa man to 'the ordinary negro leaves one speechless. Industrious indeed! Now we know that they messed up Nigeria by putting northerners at the helm of power quite deliberately and Nigeria has been cursed ever since. We all know 'the ordinary negro' would have given western civilisation a run for their money.

Today's Word verif. quite apt, I say. Hehehe.

Lost at The End 11:11 pm  

Talk about yanshing men in power. She fucked Goldie, fucked Lugard and then named Nigeria. She did not do badly for herself at all.

This confirms my suspicion. Now I see why Nigeria as a name, an idea, and as a nation beats logic. It was formulated in the heat of passion.

Nzeit 6:36 am  

Award for best comment goes to ....
Lost at The End.

LOL @ talk about yanshing men in power. *Dude, you had me rolling at that. I have a term for it but not sure about putting it on blast on here.

*Dude: could refer to human male or human female.

Anonymous,  1:57 pm  

Nigeria should be renamed. Even the Obamas renamed their new dog from charlie to bo. How stupid can it be to continue with the name Nigeria

Anonymous,  10:23 pm  

anon 2.41 u'r hilarious.

it is a well documented fact that the hausa kingdoms were far more advanced in comparison to the southern part of the country (u should be honoured that i even compare the two). precisely y there was never direct rule in the north.

'We all know 'the ordinary negro' would have given western civilisation a run for their money.'
Really?? so y didn't u then and y haven't u now? forget nigeria for one second and think of all the 'ordinary negroes' who are still messing up their countries...

u southerners are so damn predictable...but for the Hausaman, who burnt down and destroyed the great civilisations of the south while killing millions of innocent people... Ife would have been so much better than the shithole it is now...


Anonymous,  11:34 pm  


anon 1.57PM, i love the comparison between obama'a dog and Nigeria... but are those closely related situations to u? Is there a similarity i'm missing?

'hello everyone, i think the Nigerian Civil Service should be scraped, infact, I heard someone working at my local coffee shop lost his job last week. Job losses are nothing new'

Lost at The End 6:29 am  

@ Nzeit,

My broda/sista, You do well o.

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