Iconic Women

Dadasare Abdullahi

By Aisha Kabiru Mohammed | Jun 18, 2022

Maimuna Dada-Sare Abdullahi (1918-1984) was a Northern Nigerian writer, a nurse, a teacher and an administrator. Her decade-long romantic relationship with Rupert East challenged the cultural and social assumptions of Colonial Northern Nigeria.

Early life

Maimuna Dada Sare was born in Gola, in 1918 in the Bajama district of Adamawa province of Northern Nigeria. When she was 10, she was reportedly kidnapped by a colonial district officer who for three years used her as a sex slave, she later had a child for the district officer. She went ahead to live with another white man, Jaumusare with whom she struck a friendship while in abduction, this time willingly. Dadasare’s (a fulfulde word for wife/mother of the house or Uwargida) relationship with Jamusare (master of the house or Maigida) was the subject of much speculations and rumours, (especially as the white man is an important figure then, and the history of colonial northern Nigeria remains incomplete without him) even at the time when colonial officers are discouraged by having such relationships.

Theirs however prevailed, though not as a couple as the common law of England prevents that. Their relationship was ultimately accepted by friends and family.

In 1933, the officer absconded and abandoned DadaSare with her child. Rupert East, who was then managing the upstart Northern Region Literature Agency (Gaskiya Corporation), invited Dada Sare to Zaria. At Zaria, Dada Sare settled as the maid in charge of East’s residence but the relationship between them soon became romantic. By the mid-1930s, Dada Sare was officially the hostess of East’s home, where she entertained writers, artists and other government officials. Reminiscing about Nigeria in the 1950s, a close associate and colleague of Rupert East, Mr H.P. Elliot had this to say:

“While posted to Adamawa, long before his work at the Literature Bureau, Zaria, he had met a young woman of Fulani descent, Dadasare, with whom a relationship developed. East was insistent that she should be accepted in their company of Europeans as any other partner/spouse. She was treated by him as a wife and was the hostess in their home.”

Their relationship was so deep, that she took his name when she started work in the civil service. Even though he retired in 1951, and married back home, they still maintained communication. He even left a substantial amount of money to her when he died.


Dadasare’s prowess was demonstrated in her being a reporter for the foremost Hausa newspaper, Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo. She also converted to Christianity briefly, before she ultimately reverted to Islam, an unenviable first.

In 1939, Gaskiya Corporation began publishing Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo and Jakadiya, soon after Dada Sare was given a women’s column where she contributed articles on women’s hygiene, thereby making her the first northern woman columnist on health issues and the first female columnist in Northern Nigeria.

At the outbreak of WWII, Dada Sare joined the CMS mission at Wusasa, as a volunteer health worker. She soon converted to Christianity and was baptized in the Wusasa mission. A few years later, however, a racist prayer which blamed the Fulani for enslaving Christians caused a rift between Dada Sare and the mission. Missionaries, then eager to cause disaffection between Muslims and animists, were using mostly tribalistic rhetoric.

In 1949, Dada Sare left for nursing training in England and her relationship with East, strained by distance, became platonic. A year into her training, East consummated his relationship with an artist with Gaskiya Corporation, Jacqueline de Neyer. She later became a nurse enrolled at the government hospital in Zaria and attained the level of matron.

Dada Sare returned to a self-governing Northern Nigeria in 1956 and was employed in the regional educational service as an Adult educator and a teacher in the defunct northern region. She worked in the regional service and later the North Central State service until the late 1970s when she retired.

On retirement, Dada Sare embarked on a career as liaison officer for many international researches going on in Northern Nigeria. Her career in development soon became the idyllic for the Northern Nigerian NGO worker.


 In 1984, Dadasare died as a result of drowning, She jumped into a well, was rescued, rushed to the hospital, and stabilised. But enough damage was already done and she died. A day before she jumped into the well, she had told her adopted daughter, Aishatu Dikko, to come and see her if she could.

“If you come and do not meet me, look under my pillow. I’m going to leave a message for you there,” she told her adopted daughter.

Aishatu wondered what she meant and sought an explanation, but she gave none.

“From tomorrow you will see me no more,” she was also quoted to have told her house help. He was the one who discovered her in the well early the next morning. Her funeral was in progress when her adopted daughter arrived three days after she jumped into the well.

Immediately after her death, rumors began to circulate that she had committed suicide. Before then she had written about her life in a book called "it can now be told" With the Introduction and after forward written by Aliyah Adamu Ahmad (PHD). A book chat on the book and panel where Professor Ibrahim Malumfashi and Aliyah Adamu Ahmad (PHD) discussed her achievement and life. Was conducted in October 2021 At the first ever  Hausa book and arts Festival held in Arewa house Kaduna.


Her talents and contributions to the society were appreciated when she became the recipient of a National honour (MON) in 1970, one of the first women recipients.

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