Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hausa Literature and the City

City as an entity and as a process and phenomenor has fascination forvarious disciplines as it provides a basis and framework for theunderstanding of human achievement. This has prompted Haider todescribe the city as "a school without walls, a library withoutbookshelves, and a classroom without desks, blackboards and chalk.There are no identifiable teachers, no uniformed class of students".He further sees the city as an anthropological manuscript with all itsmisspellings and torn pages, but also an abode of a society's saintsand sinners. Thus, the city is also an honest expression of society'sbeliefs and values. This indicates that a city in its self is enough ateacher and its citizens are its students, as Haider further said citycitizens never graduate. The city always has something to offer. It istherefore not surprising when a city becomes a meeting point betweenall kinds of writers and critics.For the writer, the city is his laboratory but also a text from whichhe receives inspiration for his writings: because the writer mustwrite out of what he sees around him and he must write truthfullyabout it, or he must come to terms with what is ugly in it, andpretend that it is not bad. This might be the reason why some citizensof the city must make their voices heard through the medium of writing.Literature is a clear reflection of societal happenings. He furtherargued that writers as custodians of literature do not exist in avacuum. Rather, they write out of their cumulative experiences derivedfrom the existing social framework and reality operating in thesociety in which they live. Thus, the writer's (the creative writer inparticular) output is to a large degree a product of his personal orsocietal experiences.The critic on the other hand is not there to create stories but tostudy them. Writers' expressions in terms of stories, poems or playsneed to be studied carefully in order to understand their meaning andascertain their relevance to the society. This has become necessary asthe society has its own measures of checking excesses. Writers likeother citizens can do good to the society and can as well do harm.Therefore, writers can sometimes get into trouble when critics refuseor fail to appreciate their work.
The City: By all standards Kano is a city. It is an old city datingback to over one thousand years, the largest inland port south of theSahara, and a major commercial and industrial centre. It is adual-city centre. These features have given it the capacity to pullpopulations from far and near to its two city structure (traditionaland modern) existing side by side. Kano-City, therefore becomes anactive centre of culture, learning, commerce and what have you.Kano offers a lot of activities and services to keep the writer andthe critic very busy. It is enough a laboratory and a library as wellas enough a market for the writer to develop and propagate his ideasand sell his books. It is enough a landscape with all its highlandsand valleys to allow the emergence, growth and cultivation of allkinds of ideas and criticisms.One is bound to find all kinds of tastes and inclinations fordifferent literary themes, styles, and languages in a heterogeneousand cosmopolitan place like Kano. It was therefore not surprising whenin the 1950's and 1960's as well as the late 1970's Kano producedstrong poetic voices that greatly influenced the politics of protestand the progressives. In the 1990's, Kano-City led the bandwagon ofneo-religious singers, whose traditional roles were earlier restrictedto places of worship but extended into other social segments of thesociety. Writers and other producers of art over the years entertainedthe citizens, but also interpreted and documented happenings in thesociety at a point in time.
The Literature: Kano did not produce a large number of novelists untilrecently, but it has produced a good number of prolific and importantpoets. Perhaps poetry is an easier and quicker medium of expressionthan the novel. However, from the mid '80s, Kano pioneered there-emergence of the new Hausa novelist. One may ask why Sakkwato,Katsina or Zaria have not pioneered it. It is only right to argue thatKano-City was more a fertile ground for this re-emergence than otherHausa cities for the reasons already provided.The new Hausa novelist emerged in Kano somehow out of circumstances,and this can be reflected in his themes, plots, characterization,style and language. First there was a sort of gap or vacuum created asestablished writers no longer got their books published. Secondly, thepublishing firms publishing indigenous creative works (notablyNNPC/Macmillan, Evans, Oxford University Press, Huda-Huda, Albah,Triumph etc) have been unable to sustain the publication of creativeworks for so many reasons.They emerged without publishers, without good distribution system andwithout financial backing. Even if the existing social order is notinterested in promoting literature, creative writers see to it thatcreativity survives.Young people who became very interested in creative writing began towrite one manuscript after the other, at the same time looking up toestablished authors and publisher for help. When the help was notforth coming they began author-publishing. This gave birth to the newHausa novel and writing. The availability of computers, printingpresses, as observed by Abdallah Uba Adamu, encouraged the phenomenaof the new Hausa writing in general and novel in particular.The new Hausa novelist turned out to be a young person whose interestin politics is minimal, perhaps due to prolonged military rule thatdominated his inner vision and experience. The Hausa novelist of todayseems to be more comfortable in raising social questions thanpolitical ones at the initial stage. This explains why the earlierbooks became very interested in love stories.From the mid 1980s the new Hausa novels started to be published until1990 when they became stable and markets were flooded with all kindsof books. One important book that influenced these writers was AdoAhmad Gidan Dabino's In Da So Da Kauna. This novel is so romantic andso radical that adolescents liked it so much. Among the things thatmade this novel appealing to adolescents is the romantic words used inthe novel, but also the radical option it gives to its adolescentreaders when they are faced with forced marriage proposals.When the final hour approached, she finished her preparation fortaking her life. She went straight to an old well renowned for itsdepth, but now out of use due to technological advancements. Drowningwould be quicker and she was not likely to be spotted before the act.
Besides, the water was bound to be cold and comforting, especially toan eternal visitor.She opened the cover, which had become rusty due to its age, withdifficulty and peered inside. Ah, the water level was high. Therefore,she needed not bother. Sink she must. No fear of floating on the surface."Well, darling I have been true to my words. You alone; none else.Well, I will be here waiting for your arrival. With luck, we will behappily married to each other there and live a life of ouraspiration", she said.She took a deep breath, and then flung her legs down into the emptyvoid of the well. Slash! Sumayya's journey through the dark void ofthe old well came to an end. She became violently sprawled onto a bedrock.... (Pages 42-43).The novels that emerged after this novel provided similar difficultoptions. They also had bias against the rich in the sense that in mostof these books are struggles between love and power. Between the poorand the rich and in which the poor (love) always triumphed over therich (power). Certainly, these options are contrary to what the Hausasociety would consider as being an informed and rational option.Romance forms the framework upon which most novels in Kano are based.This is manifest in their plot, style, language, characterisation,settings and cover designs. Love is always of primary importance andits triumph over any other thing is assured even if it makes the novel'irrational'. What are the determinants of this trend? Well there aresome basic reasons, which can be seen as the major determinants of theromantic trend.i) Age: Most of these young novelists are very young.
Their age rangedfrom 15 to 35 years when they started writing.ii) Marital Status: Majority were single when they started writing andtheir major preoccupation was love.iii) Level of education and exposure to variety literature: Althoughcreativity is a natural gift and does not necessarily depend on levelof education, the more educated a writer is, the more polished andmost likely the wider scope of thinking he will have. In our case,majority of the new Hausa novelists had up to secondary educationwhile some had no formal education at all. Few had post secondaryqualifications with some having higher degree qualifications. Most ofthe novelists also had not exposed themselves to a variety ofliteratures. These reasons may have some influence on how theyperceive things and how they judge and write.iv) Cinema and Television: Because most of the young novelists also goto cinema very often as well watch video movies, their thought isgreatly influenced by romance movies (Indian movies). In fact, most ofthese writers were more interested in making movies than writing. Theyonly settled for literature because they could not afford movieproduction. This is manifested in the trend of adopting books intohome videos nowadays.v) Readership and Market: Since majority of these books are romanticthere is little doubt that adolescents and/or young people would formthe bulk of the readership, hence the market. Novelists in thebusiness have to conform to some requirements in order to sell. It hasbecome a bottleneck to those authors who wish to radically changetheir themes. The only few novelists that are now able to break awayfrom this readership grip are those that are established and have madenames.Why The Media?: The phenomenon as a whole can be seen as an attempt toexpress alternate views by young people on some aspects of our sociallife (especially marriage). However, the novel as an entity has itsgood side and bad sides. Its good sides for example from the mid 80sto date is that the level of reading culture have tremendouslyincreased; so also the literacy level particularly among married womenin Kano.Although cosmopolitan areas with heterogeneous population compositiontend to be liberal, Kano as a city is not. Kano as a twin-city isalways witnessing the struggles between tradition and modernity in thesense that Islamic culture is deeply rooted in the social andpsychological superstructure of city life. On the other hand, thepower of modernity is seriously becoming an influential process tryingto modify that city superstructure. Thus, one cannot easily dismissthe dominance of culture and religion in the values shaping city life.The implications are that things that would otherwise be accepted orignored in a cosmopolitan setting become bare in Kano as traditioncompetes with modernity.As regard the appreciation of literary works, producers of works ofart always seem to have explanation for what they produce. The critichowever will always have questions to raise and perspectives topresent on a particular work of art. The critic can praise or condemna work of art. The critic can be objective or subjective. Depending onwhat the critic wants, he can review a work of art using the rightperspective or the wrong one. However, the relationship between say awriter and a critic is symbiotic as each depends on the other.The situation in Kano is more or less a funny one. The Academia (untilrecently) has not shown interest in the new writing. It was passiveand nonchalant to the emergence, growth and implications of the newliterary culture. But the city, being what it is, provided analternative to the academicians in form of Muslim clerics, the stateowned media houses and indeed some self-appointed moral crusaders toappreciate this new writing. The academics might see the wholephenomenon as a process of transformation but the urban-based criticstake it and measure it on the scale of social morality.This has given rise to many forms of criticism. The new Hausa novelistliterally comes under fire. Alarm was raised about the new writing.Arguments were forwarded that the new novel was an antithesis to theculture and religion of the city. The novel was dismissed as a child'splay and full of immorality as well as a threat to education. The useof the media was intensified from articles in the newspapers to publiclectures and sermons, radio drama and television programmes. They havenot seen any good about the new Hausa novel.Thus instead of appreciating and encouraging the new Hausa novelistthey condemned him and redefined him and his work as amoral,irresponsible, and an enemy of tradition. The public was made todespise, ridicule, and intimidate him. Reading these books becomes ahobby of only the young, particularly secondary school students. Thenew Hausa novelist comes face-to-face with the wrath of the city. Thestate owned media was effectively used in this offensive. For example,Radio Kano (which ironically read these books twice a week) was usedto condemn them through dramas and discussions. The state ownedtelevision station (CTV 67) did the same so also the state ownednewspaper -The Triumph.Creative writers in Kano became weary. The Association of NigerianAuthors, Kano state branch, officials made efforts to contact thesemedia houses so that they could be given a chance to defendthemselves. The electronic media unfortunately refused to allow them achance to air their views. The Triumph was used to publishanti-literature articles and when writers wrote rejoinders, they werenot published. Writers in Kano had to use the New Nigerian Weekly toexpress their views. This made them to raise some vital moral andsocial questions with regard to the use of state owned media tocastigate them.One cannot deny the fact that the new Hausa novel has its parculiarproblems that emanated from the circumstances surrounding theemergence of Hausa novel in colonial Nigeria. Some of these books aremere pulp literature and cannot be taken seriously, but there arethose that are to a large degree serious and promising. In this way,it is the responsibility of the state to look at the whole issueobjectively and then sift the good from the bad and the ugly, thusencourage the good. However, the city and the state unfairly condemnedall without reservation. This has serious implications for the city'sfuture.Al-Farabi argued that the city should show friendliness towards truthand truthful people and condemn falsehood and those that are inclinedto falsehood. Therefore, in our own case, both the accuser and theaccused should be given equal chance to defend their views.It is now interesting to note that the theme of the new Hausa novel isbecoming widened. Now you read love but crime, thriller, fantasypolitics, polygamy and much more. What do we have in the next millennium?The new hausa novel in the next millennium: Hausa novels are publishedin series (book 1, book 2, etc). The cover designs are of beautifulyoung girls. The stories are about love. The writers are secondaryleavers etc. The new Hausa novel has come a long way. In just a decadeand a half, it has increased in number and variety. More young andvibrant writers have emerged. The love stories, adventures, detectivestories, political satire, fantasies are all with us.The young writers are growing with their art. The readership is alsogrowing with time, the story lines, styles and plots are becomingoutdated, and the film industry is taking away the established writers.However, the computer is also more readily available and accessible,the knowledge of publishing and printing has increased, and thewriters have also grown up. The society is facing more problems andthe century is at its end.There are some good indications. Hausa novelists are now prepared topublish single novels, their cover designs are now improving, andinstead of having young, beautiful girls on the cover, we now haveabstract drawings. Writers are now becoming aware of their relevanceand responsibilities, are becoming more committed to improving theirsociety. With these, one can be very optimistic that the nextmillennium will bring some positive changes in the new Hausa novel.On the other hand however, the new Hausa novel is being threatened bythe growing film industry in Kano. This threat is in two ways: firstof all good writers are leaving writing for film production and booksas observed by A. U. Adamu are written not as novels, but as screenplays. Secondly the film production business is more profitable andappealing; this will attract more writers into the industry. By this,the flourishing book industry in Kano may suffer some setbacks.However, more profoundly, it is hoped that the new Hausa novelistswill re-direct and redefine their focus in the next millennium. Whenthe time comes, the state machinery will be fighting it not because ofthe kind of immoral and immature stories published, but because of thesubject of their stories. They will certainly challenge the status quoand social injustice prevalent in the city.
Conclusion: We have tried to examine the ideal city in relation toKano-City. We have examined how a new literary culture has emerged andhow the city and its citizens treated it. We have also argued that thecity and its citizens have not done justice to its literature and callfor redress. Finally, we examined the future of this new literaryculture in the next millennium. By way of conclusion, we wish tosuggest that the new Hausa novel is a product of the city and itsintegral part and that it should be supported by the city for thecity's survival and future.
Being a paper presented at the Kano International Millennium Seminarby Yusuf M. Adamu Department of Geography, Bayero University, Kano,May 10th-14th 1999.

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Kano, Kano, Nigeria
Dr. Yusuf M. Adamu is a Professor of Medical Geography at the Bayero University Kano. He is a bilingual novelist, a poet, and writes for children. He is interested in photography and run a photo blog ( All the blogs he run are largely for his hobbies and not his academic interests. Hope you enjoy the blogs.