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Farmers and the State in Colonial Kano

Land Tenure and the Legal Imagination

Steven Pierce

Publication Year: 2005

In Farmers and the State in Colonial Kano, Steven Pierce examines issues surrounding the colonial state and the distribution of state power in northern Nigeria. Here, Pierce deconstructs the colonial state and offers a unique reading of land tenure that challenges earlier views of the role of indirect rule. According to Pierce, land tenure was the means the colonial government used to rule the local population and extract taxes from them, but it was also a political logic with a fundamental flaw and a Western bias. In Pierce's view, colonial representations of land tenure claimed to reflect precolonial systems of rule, but instead, fundamentally misrepresented farmers' experience. He maintains that this misrepresentation created a paradox at the core of the colonial state which persists into the present and helps to explain contemporary problems in African states. In this sweeping and eloquent account of African history, readers will find an extended genealogy of land law and taxation as well as rich material on the power of indigenous knowledge and the persistence of colonial systems of rule.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

This book is full of ghosts. Writing this preface, I am haunted by the many memories that inform every sentence: sitting in the hot sun of Ungogo, the archives of Kano, Kaduna, and London. This is a book about the ways in which people conceptualize land and how that has consequences in the world. Trying to write a narrative about the subject is difficult; “my” words...


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pp. viii

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pp. 1-21

...ate said this to a colonial officer investigating land tenure during the 1940s. It could have been said at any time across the last century. Like most truisms it reveals a great deal, but not in obvious ways. I originally went to the Nigerian city of Kano to study land law, and I worked with farmers in the town of Ungogo. People in Ungogo negotiate their rights...

Part 1. Looking for Land Tenure

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pp. 23

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1. Land and Government in Kano

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pp. 25-48

Kano is one of the great cities of the world. For more than a thousand years it has sat in the rolling savanna of what is now northern Nigeria. The city itself is relatively compact but densely populated, with perhaps one million people. Kano’s population is quite diverse. Although the inhabitants of Kano’s old city are overwhelmingly Muslim and Hausa-speaking, areas outside the city walls are much more variegated, including...

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2. Gandu and the Semantic Imagination

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pp. 49-78

Three brothers in late middle age headed the house when I was visiting it, in 1996 and 1997—I shall call them Kabiru, Audu, and Idris. About seventeen adults lived there in all, the brothers, their wives, children, and the wives and children of married sons. The brothers’ grandfather was quite wealthy, but he divided his extensive land holdings among a large...

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3. Inventing Land Tenure

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pp. 79-110

During the jihad that created the Sokoto Caliphate, certain communities welcomed their new rulers and participated in the struggle, while others resisted and were conquered. The latter territories, which constituted the bulk of the empire, became the property of the community of believers. Its administration was the responsibility of the Sultan of Sokoto,who delegated it to territorial governors like the emir of Kano, who in turn...

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Part 2. Looking Like a State

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pp. 111-113

Part 1 outlined the historical preconditions for the colonial regime’s ultimately were translated as a codified system of land tenure. The problem of translation is an important point but a somewhat minimal one. To the extent that land was an idiom of governance it was culturally inappropriate, but so what? Part 2 addresses that question, exploring the...

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4. Succession and Secrecy

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pp. 115-141

The rules of inheritance under Maliki law are well known in Ungogo, at least in their general outline. Land and moveable possessions in an estate are divided into shares, and these are divided between different categories of heirs who are entitled to fixed percentages because of their relationship to the deceased. The formulae for determining the shares can become extremely complicated, and in large families with complicated...

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5. Litigation and the Public

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pp. 142-165

The ideological power some commentators accord to the family parallels the experiences of people in Ungogo, even if the changing contours of familial obligation are difficult to describe. Inheritance demonstrates this contention by underlining the micropolitics of family cooperation. Just as the word gandu indexed a set of considerations more complex than most colonial and academic critics were willing to countenance, cases of succes-...

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6. Representation through Taxation

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pp. 166-188

From the beginning of the colonial period to the beginning of the oil boom, the revenue from land tax formed a significant percentage of state revenue in northern Nigeria. It was only abolished in Kano in 1979, when the civilian People’s Redemption Party took power in the state government. Financial dependence intertwined with an early emphasis onland tenure as a key to government and a late-colonial emphasis on land...

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7. The Governing Fetish

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pp. 189-210

This book has focused on the relationship between people and agricultural labor, and on how the British colonial regime symbolized this relationship through the idiom of people’s relation to land. Discourses of great political-economic import, concerning the household, land tenure, inheritance, litigation, and taxation, provide windows onto a lexicon of cultural conditions, colonial tactics, and their social consequences. The...


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pp. 211-212


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pp. 213-241


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pp. 243-257


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pp. 259-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111548
E-ISBN-10: 0253111544
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253346612

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2005