Gidan Makama Museum
Kano City, Nigeria


The Gidan Makama Museum also known as Kano Museum is located in Kano, Nigeria. The museum is at the heart of old Kano City, opposite the Kofar Kudu of Emir’s main palace. It is renowned for its traditional architecture, and its superb historical and ethnographic collections of the Kanawa civilization and general Hausaland. It is one of the 32 museums under the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  


The museum was built in 1442 by Emir Abdullahi Burja as a residential complex for Rumfa, his grandson. Prince Rumfa was later appointed the Makama Kano, heir apparent to the Emir, hence the name of the house was called Gidan Makama (House of Makama). When Rumfa moved to his new palace, the subsequent Makamas continued to use the complex as their official residence. After the British invasion of Kano in 1903, the building was used as an office for colonial officers. On April 23, 1959, The Gidan Makama was declared a monument, and later in 1968 was deemed a National Museum. 

The compound of The Gidan Makama is large and is divided into three enclosures, each with a separate monumental gatehouse (zaure) set along the road at the northern perimeter wall. The West area houses the museum which is run by the Department of Antiquities, the Central area is used by the Makama, and the East area houses two Educational institutions. 

Gidan Makama Museum is an open-air museum that collects and re-erects old buildings in re-created landscapes of the past. The structure originally contained mud walls typical of the period, but some modern renovation work has taken place. The museum has 11 galleries each containing materials, artifacts, and pictures representing the historical heritage of the Hausa people.  

  • Gallery One exhibits building materials related to Hausa traditional architecture. This gallery also showcases pictures of old buildings in Kano.
  • Gallery Two displays the city walls and the early maps of Kano.
  • Gallery Three displays the traditional history of Kano in pictures and the Kano invasion led by Bagauda.
  • Gallery Four focuses on the history of Kano in the 19th century.
  • Gallery Five tells the story of the civil war in Kano and the British invasion of Kano in 1903.
  • Gallery Six contains a history of the early Kano economy and Durba.
  • Gallery Seven contains the history of Kano’s economy during colonial rule.
  • Gallery Eight displays the Kanawa Islamic heritage.
  • Gallery Nine shows the products of Kano’s industries, such as textile and leatherwork.
  • Gallery Ten showcases Kano’s musical instrument.
  • Gallery Eleven exhibits a traditional Hausa female room and the role of the female plays in the Hausa society.


The Gidan Makama was built in the Habe Period (999-1805). The construction of the building reflects its ancient tradition and unspoiled architectural character. In the Habe period, the earliest development of a Makama house could be traced to the reign of Bagauda (999-1063). It was after The Bagaudawa had succeeded in bringing the area around the Dala Hill under political homogeneity that the word "palace" began to be used to refer to such structures. 


The building has buttressed walls, with some walls having exaggerated height for indoor privacy and also to express the power of the owner. Other features include the parapet and zankwaye (pinnacles) made in different shapes and sizes. Zankwaye (pinnacles) are very common in Hausa architecture and come in different shapes and sizes; imparting character and beauty to a traditional building. They were originally reinforced vertical projections around the parapet wall of the roof and aid the builders in climbing up onto the roof during construction or repair work. The zankwaye have come to be accepted as a characteristic of traditional Hausa facades; without which, as described by master masons, the building is a bull without horn, or rather a chief without his headgear. 

The openings in the building are small and few to keep out dust, heat, and glare. The walls are made of adobe mud, a thermal regulator that helps to control extremes of temperature between day and night, thus keeping interiors cool during the hot daytime and warm during cold nights. The museum is decorated with colorful motifs by skilled artisans. The motifs are molded on relief patterns, painted on or textural, with alterations of smooth and rough finishes. These motifs can be found on the vaults, piers, pinnacles, zaure, doors, windows, or on the building surface. The exterior of the building is a dark red color and that reflects the abundance of laterite deposits in the land. 


The Gidan Makama was constructed with the following materials:

  1. Earth (birji) and clay.
  2. Beam and stick (Azara). 
  3. Corn stalk and thatch.
  4. Motar (Tubali) 
  5. Water for mixing.
  6. Plaster (Chafe).
  7. Stone (Marmara).
  8. Reeds and Grasses. 
  9. Rope, corn mat (Asabari). 
  10. Whitewash/red ear. 

All of these materials were used because of their availability and suitability to the climatic conditions in the area. There was a mixture of local materials and modern materials in the construction process. The interior walls of the traditional building were painted using the laterite known as jan gargari, while modern materias such as emulsion paints were used for interior spaces. The traditional building material used for the exterior of the Museum is composed of laterite, ground locust bean, makuba, and hay mixed with dung. The modern construction materials used in the exterior of the museum include; cement, sand, and paint. Original Hausa motifs are designed onto modern materials of the exterior walls.



The walls are made with mud block/bricks (tubali) that are 100 x 250mm and 100 x 150mm. The mud or clay is mixed with chopped straw left to mature and then moistened before being molded into bricks (tubali) which are left to dry. A foundation of about half a meter (400 – 600mm) depth is dug to penetrate below loose topsoil. Lumps of laterite (marmara) quarried at Dala Hill are placed in the foundation trenches and the tubali are laid in course, which is covered with mud mortar for joining and bonding until the wall reaches the required height. The bottom is thicker at about 600mm wide, becoming more slender towards the top, which is about 200mm thick. This ensures strength, stability and helps to achieve good thermal capacity at all seasons. 


Common types of mud roofs usually span a space about 1.8m wide with azara supported at both ends by a mud wall. Wider roofs can span 2.7 – 5m and can be achieved by introducing corbels of mud at the top of the wall which projects about 45cm to form the face of the wall and is usually reinforced with azara. However, the room sizes can be increased up to 4.0m by placing azara diagonally across the room or horizontally on the opposite span of the room to serve as beam supports for very large rooms. The roof may be supported on a series of columns connected by azara beams in a grid-like configuration while interiors are filled with azara simply spanned and distributed. The azara beams are also used to make frame constructions, beams, brackets, and corbels as elements for carrying flat and domed roofs. The ashes of the timber are often used as an insulating layer spread on top of flat roofs, treated with infusions from pods or roots to waterproof the top of flat roofs.


Engravings can be found on the vault, piers, pinnacles, zaure (entrance), interior walls, doors, and windows. According to Sa’ad (1986), these motifs could be categorized into four classes:  


  1. Model a fresh mud plaster manually into an arabesque feature 
  2. Cut ornament into wet cement or mud plaster  
  3. Plaster the wall with “Makuba”  
  4. Paint on a plain white wall. 

Engravings are designed by specialized artists and are a symbol of wealth and prestige.

By Enwonwu Chiagozie Mitchelle, November 13, 2021

Edited by Jola Idowu


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Emir Palace Rd, Wudilawa, Kano City, Nigeria
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