Interview with Alhaji Gwadabe Yamulo, Sarkin Gini Kano in the Daily Trust

Another article that’s of interest to this blog and which I almost missed. This one was published by Musa Giginyu in the Daily Trust. It contains excerpts from interview with Sarkin Gini Kano Alhaji Gwadabe Yamulo.

By Ibrahim Musa Giginyu, 22 September 2013


Fifty-five-year-old Alhaji Gwadabe Yamulo is the Sarkin Ginin Kano (Chief Builder), in a recent interview with Sunday Trust, he stated that architectural designs were traditionally a major characteristic of royal edifices, adding, however, that development has allowed non-royal blood and wealthy families to own such type of buildings.

Backed by over 45 years of experience, Sarkin Gini said the art of traditional architectural design has witnessed various changes in the area of equipment, raw material used and the even the process. He said even local colours that were used for the paintings have now been substituted for chemical paints.


He observed that over the years, things have changed significantly, such that traditional buildings and their designs are fading out. "Demands of modernity is forcing us to adopt new innovations in what we do as traditional builders," Sarkin Gini stated.

He recalled that traditional architectural designers, formerly, used raw materials that were sourced locally, adding that the colours that were used in those periods were usually obtained from bark of some selected trees or their fruits and some types of rocks usually brought to Kano city from Rimin Gado area of the state.


"However, one has to be very creative and innovative to be a good builder. Unlike now when builders are different from designers, during our days we combined both and we were good at each. Let me not forget to tell you that as a traditional builder in those days, you will not have an idea of what design you will do to a particular building until when you are through with it. The design is just something that has to do with your sense of creativity."

According to Sarki Gini, though modernity was creating decline in patronage for them, they were not ready to abandon the profession. "The art of traditional architecture is usually part and parcel of the Hausa man. Therefore, no matter the penetration by the modern architectures, it will still have that traditional touch," he said.


What can I say, I love that Alhaji Gwadabe Yamulo emphasises the significance of creativity and innovation as part and parcel of the builder’s job. Although he is using the terms ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ here to emphasise the changes that have occurred in the last 50 years, the Sarkin Gini is beautifully illustrating here that there is very little point of thinking of artistic practices in northern Nigeria (and elsewhere) in rigid categories of ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’. Even less so if ‘African tradition’ is thought of as mostly unchanging and ‘modern’ as ‘influenced by “the West”’. As Alhaji Gwadabe Yamulo emphasises, innovation and creativity have been inherently part of the tradition of building in northern Nigeria, at least throughout his career.

And, this is interesting in terms of the relationship between religion and artistic practice in Kano and wider northern Nigeria, because as the article makes clear, the master builder is in high demand across the region.

When asked how the designs were developed, Sarkin Gini said: "You see a Hausa man has this strong inclination to his religion. Our religion decreed that whatever design we want to make it should not be in human form. That is why you will notice that most of our past and recent designs have no human reflection.

I wonder what to make of the ‘most’ in his last sentence. I know Musa Yola produced some murals that depicted people but does anybody know of other examples that have been documented?

Anyway, lovely article that is worth reading in full on the website of the Daily Trust or via AllAfrica.

*Link to AllAfrica repository.


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