The Myth of Bayajida


Myths go back to primordial times. As such, they may relate the experience of the creation of man, lineage, hills, rocks, river or any monumental phenomenon. They are a combination of the natural and the supernatural, the physical as well as the metaphysical; therefore, they cannot be subjected to logic, empiricism nor rationalism. In plain terms, myths have been described as a story or body or stories that explicate the origin of man and his historical evolution. One of such myths is that of Bayajida, an etiological myth, which explains certain truths about human existence – about the existence of the Hausa people of Northern Nigeria.


The Hausa myth of Bayajida accounts for the origin of the Hausa. As a wanderer, he came to a place currently called Borno. He was noted for his intelligence and bravery to the extent that the king gave him his daughter’s hand in marriage. However, crisis set Bayajida and the king at war when the king became jealous of his popularity and growing influence. Typical of many archetypal cases of jealousy, the king sought to kill him.


His wife, Magaram, revealed this secret to him and Bayajida, discarding the robe of his pre-eminence as a brave warrior, escaped. After wandering for long, he came to a place believed to be modern day Niger—hungry and thirsty. With parched lips and an arid throat, Bayajida beseeched an old woman to give him water; but his request could not be granted because the woman as well as all the villagers could not fetch from their well. A mysterious snake had made the well its abode, snarling and slithering at any figure that dared to come close.

Bayajida displayed a kind of bravery and wit that appeared to be exclusive rights of gods in order to defy the monster: he lowered a calabash into the well, and kept it there as bait. Curling a part of itself around the calabash, the snake and the calabash were pulled out by Bayajida with an ample stream of strength, muscles tightening and breath heaving. The snake, taunted, emerged from the dark hole and from the depths of the water with its head and as it did, the hero weaved his royal sword so that at once, the head of the serpent was cut off, flying into the cloudy air like a kite billowing in the breeze.


The queen of this village was amazed. This snake had been terrifying her and her people for years and this hero has just come to rid them of its tyranny. Who was this man? His reputation must truly precede him, she illumed. She would compensate this great hero with money, horses, houses, and treasure. On the contrary, Bayajida refused the material gifts. In their stead, he asked for the queen's hand in marriage. The queen was even more amazed at this. This man was brave, strong and smart. On top of that, he was daring—the audacity he had to ask for her hand in marriage. Thus, she gave in, like paper giving in to water and they became married. Before long, Bayajida and this queen gave birth to seven children and these children later became the seven Hausa states.


As a creation myth, this narrative is a source of intimation about the cosmological components of human existence. It gives historical solutions to human contradictions and create patterns of development that have existed from generations to generations. And this is is seen in the symbolism and archetypes depicted in the “king - wanderer” sub-narrative which is embodied by the “jealousy” sequence and in the “serpent - hero” mythoi which represents the ancient “evil - good dichotomy”.

Perhaps, too, due to the characteristics of such etiological myths, their connotative and aesthetic values have made man to constantly employ or emulate their fictional components such as characterisation, action and behaviour even in the modern day literary exposure.


The Bayajida myth also possesses didactic values, teaching ethics and morals such as bravery and courage through the employment of the real and the unreal as ornaments of learning and classroom templates. As members of the growing generation, the audience of this narrative will surely want to be as brave as Bayajida. Most importantly, the myth fosters our understanding of the universe, its cosmic components and the conduct of the world—our world.

Bayajida, a folk-hero and progenitor per-excellence, is today still celebrated through the re-enactment of his heroic deeds during the Gani/Mawlūd festival.


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