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Hausa Literary Movement & the 21st Century
Yusuf Adamu
Geography Department, Bayero University, Kano.
Kano, Nigeria
© 2002

The story of Hausa literature is a long one and it can be said to have come a long way. In the modern sense and in this write-up, our concern about Hausa Literature is not all encompassing rather restrictive. Creative writing in Hausa language started as soon as the Hausa people accepted Islam in around fourteenth century or much earlier. Arabic scripts were used to write Hausa in what is called Ajami form of written Hausa. That form of writing was used for scholarly works, communication and creativity up till today by millions of people. Up to the 1960s and early 1970s Ajami was in used by a large number of people. Although today its use has declined due to the rampant use of roman script and some socio-historical circumstances, the use of Ajami is still common. All Nigerian currencies carry Ajami form so are a number of commercial products like the Swan Water. There is also a whole newspaper in Ajami published weekly by the Triumph newspapers company called Alfijir. Recently Dr. Abdallah Uba Adamu of the department of Education Bayero University, Kano is initiating and leading a campaign of Ajami revival. The essence of Ajami is that our literature was first written in it.

There is no doubt that Islam and Arabic civilisations have a propound influence on Hausa language, culture and literature. Thus the earliest genre of creative writing was poetry. There were many evidences on the use of poetry for scholarship, mobilisation, enlightenment, campaigns and revolutions. However the peak of poetry usage came with the Jihad of Usmanu Danfodio in the 19th century.

The Jihad leaders used the medium of poetry to educate, mobilise and enlightened their followers; the Jama'a. A quick peep in the Jihad literature provides hundreds of examples of poems composed by the Jihad leaders especially Usman Danfodio, his brother Abdullahi and his children Muhammadu Bello and Nana Asma'u. Poetry continued to dominate Hausa literary scenes until recently.

Other genres of creative writing particularly prose and play were virtually non existent before the coming of the British colonialist in the early 20th century. This may be attributed to religious position which do not encourage fictional stories because of the fear of making them to appear real and authentic.

The introduction of roman scripts saw the emergence of the new Hausa prose-fiction and plays. Abubakar Imam and his colleagues under the guidance of Dr. Rupert East gave birth to what we may consider modern Hausa literature. Thus from 1933 when the first set of Hausa novels were published, we have witnessed the emergence of second  and third generation of Hausa novelists and finally in the mid 1980s the fourth generation emerged. Hausa play and poetry has declined it is the novel that lives on as even the short story genre has declined.

What we call fourth generation of Hausa writers is what some call Soyayya writers or market literature while some others call them millennium generation still some call them the new Hausa writers or contemporary Hausa novelists/writers. Whatever name they are called, there is no doubt that they have generated a lot of controversies more than their predecessors have.

Some of the major criticism labelled against these writers are that
- They are immature and not well educated
- They are corrupting the minds of youth (their target readers) by introducing anti-cultural plots and styles in their writing
- They are low quality books (because they are self published)
- The books aremere love stories most of which are adaptations of Indian movies and many more.

Thus from around 1990 debates ensured on the pages of newspapers and magazine (the broadcast media inclusive) for and against these books and writers. One thing though is certain these books have survived. Whatever negative thing is said about these books and writers in the last few years. it will be imperative to see the positive side of this new literary movement and its implication to Hausa language and literature as we step into the21st century. This is for a number of reasons the most important of which this new literary movement has earned Hausa language the position of the fastest growing literary language in Africa in a time when Arabic and Kiswahili are becoming increasingly important contenders as Africa’s lingua franca.

The new literary movement which was and still is dominated by youth has contributed in no small measure in increasing literacy level among Hausa speakers particularly women. This singular achievement alone is enough to commend these young writers who despite unfriendly economic and technical environment were able to write and publish.

Secondly, the movement has brought forward Hausa literature for the very first time into the main stream of Nigerian literature. Until 1996, Hausa writers were not recognised as writers in the Nigerian literary circles. The formation on a branch of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in Kano between 1992-1995 and attendance of some ANA Kano  members to the 16th Annual Convention of ANA in Kaduna brought Hausa literature to the forefront. Thanks to Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, Dr. Adamu Tanko, Malam Bala Mohammed, Dr. Saleh Abdu and Yusuf Adamu who represented Hausa writers and mounted an exhibition during the convention. Now we have two Hausa writers (though equally English) as members of ANA national executive council.

Thirdly, the movement has contributed in no small measure in inculcating reading habit and culture among Hausa youths. One young people acquire this culture, it prove essential throughout life and a people that doesn’t read is doomed.

Next, the movement has produce for Hausa literature fine writers who will form the background of Hausa literature in the next millennium. This also implies that without this new literary movement Hausa literature would have been certified dead. Reasons: when the major Hausa publishers (notably NNPC Zaria, and Huda-Huda) declined Hausa literature was threatened, had this new movement not started, we will today have no new Hausa writers thus no literature. Look at what is happening to Hausa poetry and plays. Hausa poetry is today restricted to political campaigns periods and Hausa plays relegated to TV dramas and Home videos.

Another important attempt (though now abandoned) made by this movement was that of inventing new scripts for Hausa. Notably Dan Azimi Baba Cediyar `Yan-gurasa and one Sadiya Lawan have attempted inventing new Hausa scripts and were put to use by a few followers.  This is implying that since the British Imperialists have helped in killing the Ajami form of written Hausa by introducing Hausa in Roman scripts, young Hausa men and women are trying to show that they can abandoned the roman script for an original Hausa script. This attempt is worth studying by our scholars in the Universities especially the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages of the Bayero University Kano and Centre for Hausa Studies of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto.

What hope for the millennium?
Despite all these achievement, Hausa literature is far from being ready for the 21st century world. There are a number of reasons that militate against it some of which are  follows:
- Stereotyping of the whole movement by some section of the population, the media and academia.
- The state structure has yet to take the whole movement seriously in that The Kano State Library Board (the custodian of Kano state collections on Arts and Literature) does not have a collection of the new Hausa writing. So also most other libraries in Hausa speaking places.
-Lack of organisation and strong economic base in the publishing industry.
- The emergence of Home-videos (a more profitable business) is threatening the booming book industry.
- Lack of interest from the State, Hausa elites and academia on the progress of Hausa literature.
- There is a clear neglect by the State and the writers community in writing for children.

Notwithstanding these problems we can say there is hope as there has always been. Thanks to Allah that those chosen to be writers are always conscious of their responsibilities and are not relenting. For now the Kano ANA is now organising a monthly literary forum it called Dandalin Marubuta that brings together writers, critics and readers monthly to discuss and exchange ideas on how to go about improving Hausa literature. This is yielding fruits.

It is also publishing an anthology of Hausa short stories for the first time in the history of Hausa literature. It is also trying hard to find a sponsor for a prize to be administered by ANA national for Hausa novel.

The leading writers in the movement have also indicated their interest and willingness to improve the literary and production quality of their works as we entre the 21st century.

An educationist with Bayero University (Dr. Abdallah Uba Adamu) is putting together a book of readings on the new Hausa literary movement in book form. This will serve as a teaching and reference text for the students of Hausa literature, culture and sociology.

A Kano based publishing firm  (Adamu Joji Publishers) that publishes books for children in English will also start a new series next years in Hausa for school children. This is to address one of the major areas of weaknesses of Hausa literature of neglecting children.

By way of conclusion, I think it is becoming evident that the next century is a century of information. Coupled with what is happening to the Hausa-speaking peoples in the current time, there is every need on the part of all stake-holders to come together and re-focus Hausa literature by identifying with its producers and assisting them. Our literature is our history. If we let our literature die just like we let our great historical monuments (the city walls)in Kano, Katsina, Zaria, Sokoto and other Hausa City-states die, we will do more disservice to our children and to history. We will not be forgiven for siddon-look but may be forgiven for making mistakes. We as writers would continue to do our best for our society, if the society fail us, history shall still say good of us.


Brought to you by Kano Online 2002