The Legacies of Jean Boyd (1934-2022) and Nana Asma’u Fodio (1793-1864)

By Special Collections|9th May 2022|Collections & Research|1 comments

In this blog we celebrate the life and work of the late scholar Jean Boyd (1934-2022) and the poet Nana Asma’u Fodio (1793-1864).

Jean Boyd who was a Research Associate at the Centre of African Studies, SOAS, University of London, 1990, as well as having served as an Education Officer in the Colonial Service in Nigeria (1955-1960) and following Independence worked for the Nigerian Public Service (1960-1984). Jean Boyd spent 25 years in Sokoto, where she became a student of Waziri of Sokoto, Alhaji Dr Junaidu. She was Principal Research Fellow and Head of the Research Department (1980-1984) at the Sokoto State History Bureau, where she was editor of ‘Tarihi’, the bulletin of the Bureau. Boyd spent 15 years conducting fieldwork on manuscripts in Hausaland. 

Her contribution to scholarship is outstanding and, in particular, she brought to the attention of western audiences the work and educational impact of the famous Hausa poet, Nana Asma’u Fodio, the daughter of Usman (Shehu) dan Fodio (1754-1817), a Fulani and Muslim, who began a holy war to reform the practice of Islam in northern Nigeria, conquering the Hausa city-states. SOAS Special collections house copies of her manuscript poems within the Jean Boyd Papers PP MS 36, as the original literary manuscripts are in the custody of the Waziri of Sokoto, Alhaji Dr Junaidu.

Painting of Nana Asma’u bint Shehu Usman dan Fodiyo (نانا أسماء بنت عثمان فودي) (1793-1865), by Nigerian artist, Clement Mmaduakor Nwafor

Nana Asma’u (1793-1864) was an incredible force for charge in her society during the early 19th century in northern Nigeria’s Sokoto caliphate. She was a devout and learned Muslim with a love for poetry, with a specific outlook on the role of poetry as an educational tool for rural women’s education and personal development.

Nana Asma’u Fodio’s poems constitute an important literary legacy of this period. She wrote in Arabic for formal pieces, Hausa for didactic verse, and Fulfulde when addressing her contemporaries within the ruling circle. She was also an historian and a scholar whose legacy lives on today in contemporary northern Nigeria society, many people call their daughters after her name. Nana was one of the first feminists in her society, probably following the legacy of her late father, Usman da Fodio, the leader of the Sokoto caliphate (established in 1808) who wrote poems about the relationships between men and women.

Nana Asma’u’s poetic translations and her own poems were extensively studied by Jean Boyd during her 25 years in northern Nigeria, resulting in numerous publications (references below). The image below is a copy of one of Nana’s poetic translations, collected by Jean Boyd, and now part of PP MS 36.

Fa’inna ma’al Asur yasuran – Holographic copy of an original manuscript in the custody of the Waziri of Sokoto, Alhaji Dr Junaidu (i.e., Muhammadu Junaidu (1906 – 9 January 1997) at the time of deposit


Boyd, J & Mack, B. Collected Works of Nana Asma’u, Daughter of Usman da Fodiyo. Michigan State University Press, 1984.

Boyd J & Mack, B. Educating Muslim Women. Interface publications Ltd, 2013.

Boyd, J. The Caliph’s sister. Frank Cass, 1989

Boyd, J &Mack, B. One Woman’s Jihad.  Indiana University Press, 2000.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks! I met Jean Boyd in the mid-70s in Sokoto where I lived and worked as a teacher. I worked under Dick Boyd, her husband, a senior officer at the State Ministry of Education. I visited their place. I wonder whether Dick Boyd is alive. It has been many years. He was also a remarkable person! Thanks for this posting. I am writing a book about Sokoto and my experiences.

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