Towards reviving comatose ‘Kano market literature’

By Ibrahim Ramalan

Hausa Literary Movement in Northern Nigeria, called ‘Kano Market Literature’ is a blossoming literary activity that caters for the Hausa literate readers across the North and some parts of Niger Republic.
It sprouted in the mid-1980s, with a new generation of literate young men and women across the region, who used their Hausa cultural creativity to churn out good number of titles that entertained, enlightened and educated the Hausa-speaking society.

Consequently, debates and discussions about this bourgeoning literary culture in newspapers began by journalists like Ibrahim Sheme in the New Nigeria Newspaper and academics such as Ibrahim Malumfashi, Yusuf M. Adatmu, Prof. Abdallah Uba Adamu, Muhammad Danjuma Katsina, among others.
This intervention had helped Hausa literature immensely in its early development. While on the other hand, it had destroyed it. According to Graham Furniss in a paper titled, ‘Hausa Popular Literature and Video Film:

The Rapid Rise of Cultural Production in Times of Economic Decline’, published in 2003, the pivot of the arguments is the issue of whether this newly found art is properly promoting Hausa customs in conformity with Islam or is a corrupting influence. Sooner than later, Hausa literature consistently began to nosedive in relevance and patronage.
However, other factors, as identified by its stakeholders, include limited reach outside the immediate Hausa speaking readership, thematic preoccupation of most of these works which mostly centre on romance, hence its ‘Soyayya’ (love) nomenclature, while others peg their arguments on the absence of incentives or recognitions for the writers and writings.

Apparently disturbed by this trend, Hausa writers across the continent of Africa convened a first ever International Writers Day which was held in Kano in March this year. According to Hausa literature advocate, Zaharaddeen Ibrahim Kallah, who is a bi-lingual novelist, the conference was a platform on which renowned and emerging Hausa writers, from all parts of the world, met to share ideas and skills that would boost their creativity and lay a concrete foundation for the development of Hausa culture and tradition.

Apart from deliberations on the need for more Hausa works on internet, Kallah said the communiqué issued at the end the maiden convergence of Hausa writers includes, among others, “The government should allocate a budget for activities that would promote writing and writers, use creative writers for public enlightenment on issues that affect community, adopt more Hausa books in school curriculum, and assist in organising workshops for writers.”
However, beyond this communiqué, a Hausa scholar, Carmen McCain, in an interview with Blueprint during the last Kannywood award in Abuja, posited that the best way to revamp this once blossoming art is increased publicity, which it had ceased to benefit from after a long hiatus of robust debates and discussions about it in newspapers and magazines.

“Although since the 1980s there have been debates, reviews and discussions about the Hausa literature in Newspapers, I just wonder why the English literature that just came in recently enjoys most of the international publicities than the Hausa literature,” McCain pointed out.
On the themes of most of the Hausa novels, which many people alleged that it dwells more on romance rather than societal didactics, McCain quickly warn that people need to be careful about stereotyping, by saying “while a lot of people keep saying that the publications always centre on romance, I think it is much more than that. When you look at the novels, there are issues like social commentary, thrillers and many other themes.”
McCain therefore advised Journalists and scholars to pay attention to these books and do more of reviews, translations, not just always keep stereotyping. “Incorporate these works into literary journals and anthologies rather than just shutting them down and making them feel as if they are not doing a worthy thing,” she said.

Speaking to Blueprint, a practicing journalist, Abdulaziz Abdulaziz admitted that apparently, a gulp exists between the Hausa literature and its potential audience of researchers and general readers outside the immediate Hausa speaking readership.
However, although Abdulazizz is a bi-lingual writer and poet, he saw literary translations as the only bridge that could fill the void in transmitting the cultural or political experiences of a writer into the wider realm of audience beyond his immediate community or target audience.

“Another opportunity that translation of Hausa literature could avail is the prospect for reward and literary honours. Major national and international literary prizes such as the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) prizes, NLNG Literature Prize, the Caine Prize for African Writing, Orange Prize, Booker Prize, etc. only accept entries in English or, at least, one of the major world languages,” he added.
Apparently, a semblance of hope recently appeared when the BBC Hausa service launched its maiden edition of short story writing competition for female Hausa writers across Africa.

Although the BBC’s prize is for women writers alone, it is believed that sooner than later it will begin to spur or sprout other spirited individuals or corporations to institute other prizes that will cover other areas of Hausa writings.
More so, briefing newsmen in Abuja recently, the Acting Editor of the BBC Hausa service, Jimeh Saleh said the competition was intended to promote the culture of writing among women and also give them a platform to express their creativity because historically, “women in Africa have been known to be great custodians of folklore and gifted moonlight story telling.”

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