Translating (and Transcribing) the Hausa film song Zazzabi [Fever]

Zazzabi

I’m going to do something today that I haven’t done for a long time on this blog, but which is something I originally started this blog to do, and that is to put up some work in progress–a song that I am working on right now in my dissertation–and ask for help from Hausa speakers in correctly translating and transcribing it.

Zazzabi (Fever) directed by Sha’aibu Idris Belaz and produced by Auwalu Madaki (story by Salisu Buldoza) for Sa’a Entertainment in 2005 is one of my favourite Hausa films. And the first song in the movie, sung by Sadi Sidi Sharifai, Ikram Garba Ado, and Sa’a A. Yusuf, has obsessed me since 2006. Yes, that long. (I’ve mentioned and posted it in previous blog posts in November 2009 and just the other day in October 2013). It must have been pretty popular with its audiences too, because the songwriter Sadiq Usman Sale gained his industry nickname from the film: Sadiq Zazzabi.

It’s a story full of twists and turns, so I can’t talk too much about the plot here, in case there is someone who ever wants to see the film (if you can find it anywhere). But, as it becomes clear by the 6th verse of the song, it is a film about love and HIV, but it is no NGO film (thank God). HIV is one of the things that complicates the love between the characters in the love triangle between the characters played by Sani Danja, Mansura Isah, (who ended up marrying in real life) and Ibrahim Maishunku. (Because the characters played by Sani Danja and Mansura Isah are not named in the film, I call them Sani and Mansura here. The character played by Ibrahim Maishunku is named Salim in the film.)

What I LOVE about this song is the ambiguity of the word zazzabi (fever). It can be used in the metaphoric sense as a fever of love, and that is the sense in which the audience would most likely initially interpret word. In Ado Ahmed Gidan Dabino’s bestselling novel In da So da Kauna, for example, the young lover Muhammad writes that he is fleeing Kano to Kaduna

Part 1 of Ado Ahmed Gidan Dabino's bestselling novel In da So da Kauna

Part 1 of Ado Ahmed Gidan Dabino’s bestselling novel In da So da Kauna

because he has been separated from his sweetheart Sumayya, “Ciwon sonta ne ya sa ba zan zauna ba/The sickness of loving her is the reason I won’t stay” (part 1, 85). Sumayya sings on a cassette to Muhammad, that  “In na tuna ka sai na farka daga barci na,/ Ciwon so ya sanya wannan ba komai ba/If I remember you I wake from my sleep/ The sickness of love makes it nothing” (part 1, 71). When she dreams that Muhammad has been killed in an accident she sings, “Ciwon so shi zan kashe ni/ The sickness of love will kill me“[or The sickness of love will make me kill myself] (part 1, 87).

However, the word “zazzabi” can also be used literally here, as a literal fever. Indeed it is when Sani complains about a fever that Mansura suggests he go for a medical check-up–a checkup during which he tests positive for HIV. The song thus layers a literal meaning of the “disease of love” on top of a metaphoric usage, creating a striking and disturbing image of the dangers love brings not only the heart but the body. In Verse 6, Sani comes out and says “Kanjamau cutar a jikina. Lafiya bata dawowa/ AIDS is the disease in my body. Health will not return.”

My attempts to transcribe the song (from the video below) and translate it– the transcription file on my computer dates back to 2009–however, has made me painfully aware of how much more Hausa I still need to learn. Of course, the poetic language of the song makes it a bit more difficult to transcribe than ordinary language. I’ve been sitting here with the R.C. Abraham dictionary, the Bargery dictionary, and the Hausa-Hausa dictionary published a few years ago by Bayero University, sometimes wondering if I have even divided the words correctly when I transcribed–or if the words I have written actually exist. So, I would love help from Hausa speakers and readers in checking 1) the transcription of the words of the song, 2) my translation. As I get corrections, I will try to make corrections on this post. At this point, I am not trying to be very literary in my translation–although I did translate “kauna” as “passion,” even though I know that “kauna” has a much milder connotation, because I felt it fit with the overall meaning of the song. For the most part, I just want it to be accurate. After I feel I have an accurate translation, I may try to make it sound more like poetry in English. But mainly, right now, I want a working translation that I can feel confident working with as I write about the song. At the moment, I probably don’t have the room to include an in depth analysis of the entire song in my dissertation–I’m using the refrain and chorus, which I understand fine. But I’m thinking I’d like to write a separate article on the entire song and the film at some point, and any suggestions people can give me here will help me work towards that goal.

UPDATE: 10 November 2013. Anas Musa just sent me some amazing corrections to my transcription via email, and suddenly it all begins to fall into place. I will make his corrections on the transcription here and keep working on the translation. I am so grateful. He heard words and expressions that I just couldn’t quite get like kwarjini and kamani and furucina and kudurina and burin ruhina and dimaucewa and gane batuna and jin lafazina and akwai uzurina and gurbi and kulli yaumin and hangena and the whole proverbial expression “Mai guri ya zo gurbinsa shinfidarka ka zo ka nade ta” and don in zam in ganta and kuwa ya cancanta and hawaye (instead of ta waye) and Gashi na yi biyu ko daya (rather than Ga shi na bude bako) and Wayyo kaina (rather than Wayyo Allah). As you can see he’s made a huge difference! I’m still working on the translation. It’s rough but a lot cleaner now that I can actually hear what words they are saying.

I will post the video and my transcription below that. The cinematography is rather grey and uninspiring, but the song is brilliant. Please note that the video is included in this blog post as part of fair use policies for review purposes:

Zazzabi

Fever

 by Sadiq Usman Sale (ie. Sadiq Zazzabi)

Refrain:

Sani:  Zazzabi ya sauka jikina, Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi, Ciwon so, ciwon kauna,

 A Fever has come to my body, Fever so hot. Fever of love, fever of passion,

Salim:  Zazzabi shi ne a jikina

A Fever is what is in my body

Female back up Chorus:  Zazzabi ya kama masoya, zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so. Ciwon kauna. Zazzabi ciwo mai kuna.

A fever has caught the lovers, A fever so hot,Fever of love, fever of passion, A fever that burns

Mansura:  Zazzabi ya sauka  jikina, Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi, Ciwon so, ciwon kauna, Zazzabi shi ne a jikina

Fever has come to my body, Fever so hot. Fever of love, fever of passion, A Fever is what is in my body

Verse 1

Sani: A gaskiya ciwon kaunarki, a tuntuni shi yake kamani.

Truly, lovesickness for you captured me long ago.

Female backup Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot

Sani: In na zo, wurin ji a gareki. Kwarjini shi yake kamani.

If I come to hear it from you. I am overcome with shyness.

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot

Sani: Ina tsoron furucinki, shi ya sa jinkiri a gareni

I fear what you will say, that’s what made me delay

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot

Sani: Kin ji, dai, dukkan kudurina, ya a bar burin ruhina

Hear my great passion for you, oh my deepest soul’s desire.

Chorus: Zazzabi ya kama masoya, zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so. Ciwon kauna. Zazzabi ciwo mai kuna.

A fever has captured the lovers, A fever so hot. Fever of love. Fever of passion. Fever of scorching heat.

Verse 2:

Sani: Ki amince da ni, don Allah, kar ki sa ni na dimaucewa.

Trust me, for God’s sake, don’t let me lose my mind.

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot.

Sani: So da kauna abin girmamawa, kin ga shine tushen kowa….

Love and passion is an inestimable thing, you know it is the root of us all… 

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot.

Sani: Na nutso kogin kaunarki ko dagowa bana yowa

I am drowning in a river of your love, I can’t come up out of it.

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot.

Sani: Nai jiran amsa a gareki don kuwa duk kin gane batuna.

I wait for your answer, so that you understand all that I’ve said.

Chorus: Zazzabi ya kama masoya, zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so. Ciwon kauna. Zazzabi ciwo mai kuna.

A fever has caught the lovers, a fever so hot. Sickness of love, sickness of passion, Fever a sickness that burns.

Verse 3:

Mansura: Na ji dukka batunka bayani, to, tsaya don jin lafazina. 

I’ve heard all, all of what you’ve said. To, stop now and listen to me. 

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot.

Mansura: Tun ada, tun tun na fahimta kai kana kauna a garena.

For long, I’ve understood that you love me

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot.

Mansura:  Gaskiya ni da kai soyayya, ba na yi don akwai uzurina.

In truth, I have my reasons not to agree to love between me and you.

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi.

Fever so hot.

Mansura: Babu gurbi cikin ruhina sam… Salim shi ne a gabana

There’s no place in my heart. Salim, hes the one in my future now.

Chorus: Zazzabi ya kama masoya, zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so. Ciwon kauna. Zazzabi ciwo mai kuna.

It’s a fever that captures lovers, Fever so hot. Sickness of passion. Sickness of love. Fever a sickness that burns.

 

Verse 4

Mansura: Alkawari, ni da shi mun dauka duk wuya bama canzawa.

It’s a promise he and I have made each other. No matter the difficulty we won’t change.

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi.

Fever so hot.

Mansura: Son Salim, shi ne a gabana, kulla yaumin na ke ta tunawa

My love for Salim is before me,  I’m always thinking [of him].

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot.

Mansura: So da kaunarsa ke ta bugawa zuciyata suke rayawa.

Love and passion are throbbing my heart to life again.

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot.

Mansura: Son Salim shi ne hangena har ke loda harkar ganina.

Love for Salim is what I see from a far, it fills my vision.

Instrumental Interlude

 Refrain

Salim: Zazzabi ya sauka jikina, Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so, ciwon kauna, zazzabi shi ne a jikana.

A fever has entered my body, A fever so hot. A sickness of love, a sickness of passion. A fever, that’s what’s in my body.

Mansura:  Zazzabi ya sauka jikina, Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so, ciwon kauna, zazzabi shi ne a jikana

A fever has entered my body, A fever so hot. A sickness of love, a sickness of passion. A fever, that’s what’s in my body.

Chorus:  Zazzabi ya kama masoya, zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so. Ciwon kauna. Zazzabi ciwo mai kuna.

A fever has captured the lovers, a fever so hot. A sickness of love, a sickness of passion. A fever of scorching heat.

Verse 5:

Salim: Mai guri ya zo gurbinsa shinfidarka kazo ka nade ta

The longing lover has met his fate. Here’s your mat, come roll it up.

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi.

Fever so hot.

Salim: Ga ni gefen abar kaunata, in tsaya don in zam in ganta.

See me here by the side with my heavy love, I’ve paused here to stay and see her.

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi.

Fever so hot.

Salim: Zo mu je lambunmu na kauna, mu shige, don kuwa ya cancanta

Come let’s go to our garden of love, let’s enter it, because it is befitting.

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi.

Fever so hot.

Salim: Kai ku sai ka tsaya, bisa nan gun ke da shi, ku yi bankwana

You just have to stop all the familiarity you have with him,  you must say goodbye

Chorus:  Zazzabi ya kama masoya, zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so. Ciwon kauna. Zazzabi ciwo mai kuna.

Fever has captured the lovers. Fever so hot. Fever of love, Fever of passion. Fever of scorching heat.

Verse 6

Sani: Yau ina kuka da hawaye sai takaice nake ta tunawa.

Today I am weeping hot tears, I keep thinking of my loss…

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot.

Sani: Ga shi na yi biyu ko daya babu rayuwata nake tausayawa

See, I have nothing, I pity my life.

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot.

Sani: Kanjamau cuta a jikina. Lafiya bata dawowa

AIDS is the disease in my body. Health will not return

Chorus: Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi

Fever so hot.

Sani:  Rayuwata tana watakila mutuwa ko yau a wurina

I face the end of my life, maybe even today.

Chorus: Zazzabi ya kama

Fever has captured

Sani: Wayyo kaina,

Chorus: masoya, zazzabi ciwo mai zafi.

Lovers. Fever so hot

Sani: Wayyo Allahna

Chorus:  Ciwon so. Ciwon kauna. Zazzabi ciwo mai kona.

Fever of love. Fever of passion. Fever that burns.

Refrain

Mansura: Zazzabi ya sauka jikina, Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so, ciwon kauna, zazzabi shi ne a jikana.

Fever has come to my body. Fever so hot. Fever of love, fever of passion, Fever is in my body.

Sani: Zazzabi ya sauka jikina, Zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so, ciwon kauna, zazzabi shi ne a jikana.

Fever has come to my body. Fever so hot. Fever of love, fever of passion, Fever is in my body.

Chorus: Zazzabi ya kama masoya, zazzabi ciwo mai zafi. Ciwon so. Ciwon kauna. Zazzabi ciwo mai kuna.

This fever has captured the lovers. Fever so hot. Fever of love. Fever of passion. Fever that burns.

The Sun, the Moon, and a cardboard box

The sun and the moon and me (c) CM

So today there was a partial eclipse. I hadn’t heard about it until I went to lunch with a friend, and in her car, she had armed herself with a box with a piece of white paper pasted on one side and a hole cut in the other, over which she had taped aluminum foil and pricked with a pin. This was her eclipse viewing device, she told me. I had heard about people making these things to view eclipses before. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to the trouble. But around 2pm, as I sat on my couch reading the Sunday Trust, I looked outside and noticed that the light was long and harsh and strange, so I called her and asked if she was watching the eclipse through her box. Was it happening now? She told me I still had time, as the peak of the eclipse was supposed to happen at 2:40pm, so I went and found an old regulator box and made the same device.

It was not that dramatic as I was expecting. I had thought I might see some sort of photographic image coming through the pin–hole onto the white paper. Yes, people, there is a reason I’m not in the sciences. Instead, it was just a new moon shaped sliver of light, which showed the shape of the moon as it passed in front of the sun. I was too afraid to look up at the sun itself. Next time I’ll have to prepare myself ahead of time with properly treated goggles.

I showed the neighbours, and wandered about looking at it from different angles.

I had some poetic thoughts about it all, but in between going back inside to keep working on my current chapter and staying up too late before deciding to post, the eclipse poetry will have to wait for the next eclipse. In the meantime, here are a few of the photos I took of the sliver of light in my box. Note: there is nothing fancy or dramatic about these photos. I did not risk pointing my camera lens or my eyes towards the light. It’s just a recording of my delightful, dorky afternoon wandering around with a box with a hole taped over with tin foil and paper.

Look for the sun, look for the moon, they are there in the light, in the shadow, in the cardboard box.

Eclipse viewing device (c) CM

the sun, the moon, the box, and me.

The sun, the moon, and an evil forest (c) CM

The sun disappears behind the moon and the trees. (c) CM

The sun, the moon, me and a cardboard box (c) CM

Light (c) CM

Light (c) CM

My Thoughts Exactly: Year Three in Review

I am working right now on a dissertation chapter on spectacle in Hausa films and currently on the “music video” portion of it. I actually had to come to my blog to find one of the songs I wanted to look at, as it seems to have mysteriously disappeared from my computer. Here it is. The cinematography is rather boring, but the song (seen alongside the film) is brilliant.

In the meantime, Weekly Trust did not post my column on my WT page this week for some reason, so at the request of Twitter followers, I am posting it here on my blog. It has actually been three years since I started my column in Weekly Trust, and, though I have sometimes turned in late, sleep deprived and occasionally incoherent articles that I am less than proud of, I have actually never missed a week since I started–even when deathly ill! So, if you check my Weekly Trust page and something is missing, get in touch with me and I will try to post it on this blog. This week was kind of an index to what I have written this year, which may be why WT didn’t post it. I will include links below, so that if you missed reading something this year, you can find it here.

My Thoughts Exactly: Year Three in Review

Last week marked the third anniversary of this column “My Thoughts Exactly,” which I began writing on 16 October 2010. Last year, in my second year review, I wrote that I planned “to take a slightly more scholarly turn in the upcoming year while I finish writing my PhD dissertation.” I’m not sure if this year was more scholarly, but it did become more literary, as I focused more on reading, libraries, and a lot of book reviews.

I reviewed Aliyu Kamal’s English-language translation, Sin is a Puppy…, of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s novel Alhaki Kwikwiyo Ne, published by Indian publisher Blaft. The skillful translation is a historical event as it marks the first English translation of a woman’s novel in Hausa. I also later reviewed Hajiya Balaraba’s novel Wa Zai

Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s novel Wa Zai Auri Jahila?

Auri Jahila? which has not been translated, but, if the letters I received are any indication, is one of her readers’ favourites. I also examined the politics surrounding the reception of northern Nigerian and Hausa literature in a piece that reviewed the 7th conference on Northern Nigerian Literature at Bayero University in December 2012 and a celebration held the next weekend for Hausa literary critic and translator Ibrahim Malumfashi. Later, I reviewed the October 2013 issue of the online translation journal Words Without Borders, which focused on translations of works by African women writing in African languages and included Professor Malumfashi’s translation of the first chapter of Rahma Abdul Majid’s novel Mace Mutum. I wrote one piece on my vacation reading over Christmas 2012, and another topical review looked at the performance of three Nigerian plays, a workshop performance Banana Talks, Femi Osofisan’s play Midnight Hotel, and Wale Ogunyemi’s play Queen Amina of Zazzau, during the 7th Jos Festival of Theatre by the Jos Repertory Theatre.

Other books I reviewed this year include Lola Shoneyin’s hilarious yet troubling The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives; Ngozi Achebe’s page-turning historical novel of life and slavery in 16th century Igbo-land Onaedo: the Blacksmith’s Daughter; Eghosa Imasuen’s brilliant alternate history of Nigeria in To Saint Patrick; Labo Yari’s thoughtful yet often ignored 1978 novel Climate of Corruption; Chika Unigwe’s NLNG-award winning novel about sex-trafficking in Belgium, On Black Sister’s Street; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest

Chibundu Onuzo giving a tribute to Chinua Achebe at #AfricaWrites 2013. (c) Carmen McCain

novel about race and class in America and Nigeria, Americanah; Chibundu Onozu’s romantic thriller The Spider King’s Daughter, and Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo’s brilliant, multi-layered novel We Need New Names. I also interviewed novelist Nkem Ivara about her romance novel Closer than a Brother.

The Caine Prize for African Writing this year was a treat to write about, as the 2013 shortlist featured four Nigerians. While the previous year my friends Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Elnathan John were unable to attend the Caine Prize workshop to which they had been invited in South Africa because of the yellow fever vaccination row between Nigeria and South Africa, this year both of them were shortlisted for the prize. I briefly reviewed all five shortlisted stories [that was a sleep-deprived piece, as I stayed up all night to read all the stories after they were announced and was partially writing during my cousin's graduation] and was luckily able

Elnathan John, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Chinelo Okparanta, Pede Hollist, and Tope Folarin at one of the Caine Prize Events, London, July 2013 (c) Carmen McCain

to attend the Africa Writes Festival in London, where the Caine Prize events were taking place. In two subsequent columns about the event, I critiqued emerging ideas about African literature, usually coming from writers based in the West, that attempt to exclude narratives of suffering. [A follow-up from my initial piece critiquing Bernadine Evaristo's manifesto on suffering children last year.] I also followed up on Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s critique of the way literary establishment often awards prizes, that ignore and even exclude African-language literature. [Bizarrely, the South African literary blog Books Live wrote a whole post on my article. I was surprised but gratified for the link!]

The sadder literary events of the year included the death of two of Africa’s literary icons, Chinua Achebe, [I was honoured to be the only non-Nigerian writer included in Weekly Trust‘s piece “How Achebe

English: Chinua Achebe speaking at Asbury Hall...

Chinua Achebe speaking at Asbury Hall, Buffalo, as part of the “Babel: Season 2″ series by Just Buffalo Literary Center, Hallwalls, & the International Institute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Inspired Us, by Young Writers”–my paragraph was pulled, with my permission, from my Facebook page] and the tragic murder of Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor in the September 2013 Westgate Mall terrorist attacks in Nairobi. Another tragedy for readers was the suicide of intellectual activist Aaron Schwartz, who had been persecuted by courts in the U.S. for trying to make scholarly materials free and available online.

I often receive emails from readers asking where they can find the books I’ve reviewed. While I often direct them to bookstores in Abuja and Lagos, and online stores like jumia.com, konga.com, and mamuwa.com, I also explored literary resources available online [which WT didn't post online and I haven't yet uploaded the hard copy to flickr--I'll try to do that soon] and addressed the need for better library resources, whereby people who don’t have the money to buy sometimes outrageously-priced books can read them by borrowing. The secretary of Jos Association of Nigerian Authors Onotu David Onimisi told me in an interview (see part 1 and part 2) about the ANA project to develop a community library in Jos. He directed me to the excellent American Corner library in Jos which is open to the public and is currently hosting the ANA library while they build another location. I also interviewed Kinsley Sintim who during his NYSC youth service started a community library in Tasha outside of Abuja and has been able to get a massive number of donated books for children in the community. (See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. I really should have edited it down to just two parts, but I was travelling….] For a comparative perspective, I interviewed an old college classmate Elizabeth Chase, who is a senior librarian at a library in Frisco, Texas. I shared some of the feedback I’ve received about my “literary pieces,” in an August readers column.

I also reviewed a few films: Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama’s Hausa-language film Kurkuku that revisited his trials at the hands of the Kano State Censorship Board in 2008-2010; the English-language documentary Daughters of the Niger Delta, made by nine women about the struggles of women living in the Niger Delta; and Dul Johnson’s Tarok-language documentary There is Nothing Wrong With My Uncle, which examines Tarok burial customs. I interviewed director Hafizu Bello, who won the Africa Magic award for the best Local Language film in Hausa for his film Fa’ida in March, and director Husayn Zagaru AbdulQadir (part 1, part 2 wasn’t put up by WT), who won a federal government YouWiN! Award to expand his Kaduna-based production company New Qamar Media. I wrote about visiting the set of the film Bakin Mulki in Jos and responded to Aisha Umar-Yusuf’s blanket scapegoating of the film industry for Nigeria’s social woes. [I am loathe to link to it--it's currently at only 303 hits--but if you want to see what I was responding to, her piece is here.]

A few of my topical pieces were “Christmas in the Age of Massacres” and a piece that reviewed “The Good Things of 2012” in what was an otherwise very sobering year. Last November, I questioned Christian Association of Nigeria president Ayo Oritsejafor’s acceptance of a private jet as a gift from his church, pointing to scriptures that challenge the accumulation of earthly wealth. My review of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s Wa Zai Auri Jahila? was a response to the child marriage controversy sparked off by Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima’s insistence that puberty should be the only determining factor in marriage age. “Weeping at Night, Waiting for Light” before Palm Sunday addressed the bomb in the Kano car park and attacks on schools and a church in Borno and Kano. Most recently I have written about the parallel terror attacks on Benisheik, Baghdad, Nairobi, and Peshawar, and the attack on the College of Agriculture in Gujba.

I delved into my personal history in a tribute to Chinua Achebe, writing about the influence he has had on my life. I also later wrote about my family’s 25 years in Nigeria. I bid goodbye to a few friends

The McCain family sometime in the 1990s

this year: Hausa film director Balarabe Sango, who passed away in December 2012, and an old schoolmate Dr. Rachel Horlings, one of only three underwater archeologists working off the coast of West Africa, who was killed in Elmina, Ghana in a freak electrical accident. In  “As the Rains Begin” I linked tragedies to the rhythmic seasonal motion of the earth, celebrating the birth of a baby born to a friend who lost her husband the year before.

I was fortunate to host several guest columns this year. Dr. K.A. Korb, currently Head of the Department of General and Applied Psychology at the University of Jos, contributed three pieces, one challenging the perception that teaching is a last resort career by interviewing several dedicated and passionate teachers. She also contributed a two-week column on post traumatic stress disorder and the effects that it is having on people in northern Nigeria. Egyptian writer and journalist Nadia Elawady allowed me to reproduce her piece linking the Boston bombing to the tragic events unfolding in Egypt [here is the WT link, and here is her original piece on her blog). Scholar Hannah Hoechner, who has done research with almajirai in Kano, responded to the proposed ban on almajiranci in Kano.

Thank you for reading this year. If you missed any of these pieces or want to read any of them again, you can find most of them under the “My Thoughts Exactly” tab on the Weekly Trust website. I am trying to push through to the end of my PhD dissertation this year, so I will likely continue to feature guest columns and more “academic” material as I try to close this chapter of my life. I love receiving emails from readers, so please keep sending your feedback. Thank you.

A Film to Remember: Dul Johnson’s Tarok documentary “There is Nothing Wrong with my Uncle”

Dul Johnson at his 60th birthday celebration with the Association of Nigerian Authors, Jos Chapter, September 2013. (c) Carmen McCain

Dul Johnson at his 60th birthday celebration with the Association of Nigerian Authors, Jos Chapter, September 2013. (c) Carmen McCain

The Plateau International Film Festival, which is scheduled to take place from 24-26 October 2013, will kick off at the National Film Institute, Jos, tomorrow at 9am. There will be film screenings, workshops, seminars, exhibitions etc, and Dul Johnson’s documentary There is Nothing Wrong with My Uncle will screen Thursday at around 11am.

I wrote a review of the documentary last week, which I have copied below:

vlcsnap-2013-10-14-20h44m31s120

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

A Film to Remember: Dul Johnson’s There’s Nothing Wrong with My Uncle

Category: My thoughts exactly
Published on Saturday, 19 October 2013 05:00
Written by Carmen McCain

Dul Johnson, Head of the English Department at Bingham University, author of the feature film Widows Might and two collections of short stories Shadows and Ashes (a review here) and Why Women Won’t Make it to Heaven (another review here), has recently released a documentary on Tarok burial customs via his production company Topshots Productions.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The 62-minute documentary, There is Nothing Wrong with my Uncle, co-produced with French filmmaker Sylvie Bringas, is the kind I like, one that lets characters speak for themselves without any overbearing voiceover. Dul Johnson’s poetic narration in Tarok, with English subtitles, does not explain, it questions. The documentary is about Tarok burial and reburial practices, but it is also a story about the filmmaker’s quest to find his identity between the Christian tradition he has adopted since childhood and the tradition of his Tarok ancestors.
We see Dul at a desk writing in the middle of a green field, driving to Langtang through the breathtaking hills of the Jos Plateau, drinking kunu as he asks questions of a bereaved family or the old man Domshal Nden, to whom the film is dedicated.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The film does much to defend and contextualize sometimes misunderstood practices. The Ibyari ceremony, in which the skull of a deceased elder is taken to the mountains to be buried, is performed out of respect. The skull is carefully washed, gently wrapped in white cloth, and placed softly into a clay bowl for burial inside a mound. A chicken and sheep are sacrificed, and the elders pray that the spirit will bless their family left behind.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The title of the film is a quote from the man who is sponsoring the Ibyari ceremony for his uncle. “There is nothing wrong with my uncle,” he says. “He has made me proud. May God bless the person who will take care of him.” By using these words as the title of the film, the filmmaker makes a similar statement of the Tarok community’s collective pride in their traditions. “There is Nothing Wrong With My Uncle,” becomes a larger assertion that, though it may be denigrated by adherents of other religions, there is nothing wrong with their culture. The spiritual leader of the Gbak, asserts that, although there are some tensions between the two communities, Christians and Tarok traditionalists co-exist peacefully. “Everybody is mine. The church standing there I contributed to building it. I, the Spiritual Leader, I made the gruel for the workers. I am invited to every wedding.” “God is like me,” he says, “he doesn’t reject anybody. […] What we are doing at Ibyari is calling God.”

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The film is formally quite beautiful. While a few of the hymns inserted whenever Christians pray at the funeral sometimes feels a bit abrupt and distracting—perhaps the intention—the soundtrack of the abwa, dinding, and ntali flute at other moments fit the mood perfectly. The sound, recorded by Alfa Vyapbong and mixed by Philippe Ciompi, is crisp and atmospheric. You can hear footsteps on dry grass, a fly buzzing, voices emerging out of the murmur of the crowd. The cinematography is often quite beautiful. The crisp close-up shots during the interview with the elder Domshal Nden draw out the quiet charisma of this old man. And the landscapes alone make the film worth watching: the road winding through misty purple and green hills, the long shots of neat villages on the plains, round houses with thatched roofs under an old Baobab.

vlcsnap-2013-10-14-20h46m34s76

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

Perhaps the only drawback to not having an authoritative voiceover is that the audience is forced to draw connections for themselves, which can sometimes be confusing. The speakers are rarely identified by name.  The entire film, including the voiceover, is in Tarok and occasionally Hausa—the English coming through only in the subtitles. However, the language and the poetic subtitles are among the things I like best about the film. Unlike the exoticizing documentaries of the sort made by National Geographic, this film establishes these traditions firmly in a modern present. By subtitling even off camera remarks, it allows a non-Tarok audience to hear the jokes and debates surrounding the ceremonies. The reburial of a man’s skull is not a silent mysterious ritual, but more like a family picnic, filled with laugher and a patter of commentary from many different voices.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The subtitles also allow us to hear the opinions of the people being filmed about the filmmaker. As the camera focuses on the mourning widow, a woman off camera remarks, “This woman is grieving, and the man is busy filming her. Lebong, be quiet so that the man will stop filming you.” Elsewhere, the elder Domshal Nden, when telling about burial customs women are normally not allowed to see, looks around and says with a laugh, “I hope there are no women nearby.” His immediate male audience laughs, but of course, the audience of the film (including me and the editor and co-producer Sylvie Bringas), watching and listening to him through the camera, is made up of women.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

Elsewhere during the reburial ceremony, an elder complains, “In the olden days, the Elders did their thing alone. It’s the breakdown in our belief system that causes trouble. You said children should be allowed, so that they learn. Isn’t this asking for trouble? Your heart must be mature. Because this is no child’s play. Now our people have broken the beehive, exposed our secrets.”  This is a dilemma that has long been faced by those who want to preserve traditions but in capturing them divest them of the secrecy that made them sacred, such as Camara Laye who in his autobiographical novel The Dark Child exposes secret manhood rituals.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

Dul Johnson here seems to defend himself to the elder about the presence of the camera, telling him, “I am Tarok. I stayed in this village before, and this is my Uncle here. I would not do anything that would hurt the Tarok. Everything you’ve said can be done in the presence of women. There is nothing you’ve said that is a secret in our culture.” And his argument seems to have prevailed since people, for the most part, good-humouredly participate in the film. Children laugh as they pass by climbing the mountain. “They want to take our picture!” As he’s wrapping the skull with cloth one of the men says, “Damn, this cameraman is not giving me space.” Everyone around laughs, “You brought them here,” says another, “shouldn’t you let them do their work?”

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The film is built around several conflicts, conflict between older and younger generations, conflicts between Christianity and Tarok traditional practices, conflicts over which aspects of culture should be open to which people. These conflicts war within the filmmaker himself. When he attends the Ibyari ceremony, he says, “I felt like a total stranger and a great sense of loss”. His discomfort is related to a larger conflict between the old and young generations. Throughout the film, the elders complain about the inattentiveness of the younger generation. Dul Johnson asks, “I wonder… what will happen to the Traditional man?” Part of the solution he seems to have found is to record it. He asks as many questions as he can on camera. The spiritual leader of the Gbak tells him that a son or nephew performs the Ibyari ceremony, “because he does not want to forget his father’s name.” It is not hidden from women, or small boys, even from Christians. Everybody is welcome to attend.  Dul states that his own Christian head will not go to the mountains, but he has found another way to honour his father and his ancestors, another way to remember their names: through a film, which like the Ibyari ceremony, is welcome to all, and a film, which like the ceremony, keeps the memory alive.

vlcsnap-2013-10-16-16h35m51s18

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

“The death of a person does not mean he’s gone,” says Domshal Nden, “Otherwise we wouldn’t dream about them. But we dream and see people, and we talk to them. You see the shadow that walks with someone? It is the person.”

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

A dream, a shadow, a prayer, a film. They help us remember.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The documentary has previously screened at Brown University and at the 13th RAI International Festival of Ethnographic film in Edinburgh, Scotland. It will be showing at the Plateau International Film Festival in Jos on October 24.

Words Without Borders features African Women writing in Indigenous Languages

screenshot from the Words Without Borders October edition

screenshot from the Words Without Borders October edition

The October 2013 issue of translation journal Words Without Borders focuses on African Women writing in indigenous languages. The magazine has an impressive pedigree. Check out this statement from their “about” page, for example:

Every month we publish eight to twelve new works by international writers. We have published works by Nobel Prize laureates J.M.G. Le Clézio and Herta Müller and noted writers Mahmoud DarwishEtgar KeretPer PettersonFadhil Al-AzzawiW.G. Sebald, and Can Xue, as well as many new and rising international writers. To date we have published well over 1,600 pieces from 119 countries and 92 languages.

I am encouraged that they are drawing attention to the literature being written in African languages that often falls below the radar. Please check out their latest issue.  

I wrote a mini-review of the issue in my column this week, which you can read on the Weekly Trust site, the All Africa site, or copied below, with links and photos, on my blog.

Words Without Borders Draws Attention to African Women Writing in Indigenous Languages

BY CARMEN MCCAIN, 12 OCTOBER 2013

The online translation journal Words Without Borders, which has published English-language translations of creative work in 92 languages from 119 different countries since it started in 2003, has devoted its October 2013 issue to African women writing in indigenous languages.

The special issue, which also includes never-before-seen translations of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s poetry, features fiction translated from Hausa, Luganda, Runyankole-Rukiga, Tigrinya, and a non-fiction essay which includes translations of Wolof songs. In an African literary landscape where English-language literature often dominates discussions, this is a refreshing and important contribution. Because the journal is online and free, it is accessible to anyone in the world to read, and several of the stories have a bilingual version, where you can read the original and the English translation side by side. (See the English translation of “Baking the National Cake” side by side with the Runyankole-Rukiga original and the English translation  “My New Home” side by side with the Luganda original).

Rahma Abdul Majid (courtesy of Ibrahim Sheme’s blog Bahaushe Mai Ban Haushi)

Closest to home is Ibrahim Malumfashi’s translation of the first chapter of Nigerian author Rahma Abdul Majid’s massive Hausa novel Mace Mutum. This timely English translation comes close on the heels of the “child marriage” debate in Nigeria. [I've previously reviewed Balaraba Ramat Yakubu's novel Wa Zai Auri Jahila, which also deals with the theme of young marriage.] In the opening of the novel, which is set in a rural village, an eight year old girl Godiya narrates, “My father, a farmer, has three wives. The only difference between our compound and others is that our household is not a kid factory; my father has only three children, while most of his compatriots boast a complete Barcelona team against Real Madrid, excluding the reserve.” Godiya tells her sister Lami’s story in this opening chapter, a girl who at fourteen is considered by gossips to be “old goods” until her father bestows her on a “haggard old” itinerant Qur’anic teacher. By the end of the chapter Godiya is nine and has seen girls die in childbirth and aunties divorced for being late with the cooking. What will she do

Professor Ibrahim Malumfashi, December 2012, Kaduna. (c) Carmen McCain

Professor Ibrahim Malumfashi, December 2012, Kaduna. (c) Carmen McCain

when she hears her parents talking about marrying her off as well? While I do not have the original Hausa novel on hand to compare it with the translation, Professor Malumfashi successfully carries the story over into English. I wonder whether the vocabulary used by the young characters is not sometimes too sophisticated for their age and level of education? Fourteen year old Lami, for example, in one of her soliloquies about the suffering of women, complains about the “Herculean task of taking care of another man’s household.” However, on the whole, the angry tone of the narrative reminds me of the novels of Egyptian novelist Nawal El Saadawi, whose Arabic novels available in English translation harshly chronicle the abuse, disrespect, and violence against women in Egyptian society. I’m so glad Professor Malumfashi has made Rahma Abdul Majid’s work available to English speakers.

Glaydah Namukasa (Photo Credit: Winston Barclay, Flickr, used by permission)

Ugandan author Glaydah Namukasa’s story “My New Home” translated from Luganda by Merit Ronald Kabugo is similarly narrated by an impoverished child, the young boy Musika. He begins his narrative: “I started drinking alcohol the day I fell into Maama’s womb. Maama died of alcohol. She started drinking young and died young. She drank too much alcohol until she could no longer drink; and then the alcohol in her body started drinking her up until she dried up dead.” Alcohol drives the conflict in the story. Musika hates his grandmother and adores his grandfather. His unreliable childish descriptions paint a portrait of a woman, Jjaja Mukyala, who is afraid her grandson will merely follow the footsteps of the other drunks in the family. Musika describes how Jjaja Mukyala resents him because she thinks he reflects badly on her dead son, who conceived him with a bar maid while drunk. She also hates Musika to accompany his grandfather Mukulu to bars. But Musika loves how tender Mukulu is when he is drunk. “Mukulu was drunk when he told me that he loved

Dr. Merit Ronald Kabugo (courtesy of Words Without Borders)

me, drunk when he told me that Maama loved me, that Maama’s friends Aunty Lito, Aunty Karo, and Aunty Naki, who took turns taking care of me after Maama died, all loved me. Every time he is drunk he tells me he is glad he has a grandson.” Musika ends up wondering “How can alcohol be so bad and so good? Every day Jjaja Mukyala shouts, ‘If there is anything that will kill you it will be alcohol.’ But Mukulu says that if there is anything that keeps him alive, it is alcohol. How can alcohol be so bad as to kill Maama, and yet so good as to keep Mukulu alive?” “My New Home” is beautifully written and beautifully translated. I’d love to read more translations of Namukasa’s work.

I found Eritrean author Haregu Keleta‘s story “The Girl who Carried a Gun,” translated from Tigrinya by Charles Cantalupo and Rahel Asgedom Zere, the most haunting of the fiction published here. As in Mace Mutum, the narrator’s family is trying to force her into a marriage with a man she does not love. She runs off to Ethiopia to join the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, hoping to meet up again with her childhood sweetheart. In the meantime, she becomes a strong and fearless fighter. “… a few months of military training made my soft

Charles Cantalupo (courtesy Penn State)

body hard. I had muscles. My skin grew darker. I could run up and down the mountains. I sprinted over the sand. The oppression of Eritrea and especially of its women changed me into a fighter–far from a girl who was afraid to go outside.” Yet while the freedom fighters talk “about the oppression of women,” the actions of the men she fights with are not always consistent with their ideology, and she faces betrayal and disappointment. Despite her sacrifice to “liberate” her country, her family sees her only in terms of her body, caring only about whether she is married or has had a child. Keleta, who herself is a former member of the independence struggle in Eritrea, ironically invokes the double bind women find themselves in.

Hilda Twongyeirwe (courtesy of UGPulse Literature)

The final story “Baking the National Cake” by Ugandan author Hilda Twongyeirwe, translated from Runyankole-Rukiga by Juliet Kushaba, is quite different from the others in its opulent political setting and third person narration. The story describes the inner struggle of David, the Minister for the Presidency in a fictional African nation who “covers the tracks” of the hedonistic president and vice president: “They leave for two-day conferences and stay away for weeks. It

Juliet Kushaba (courtesy Transcultural Writing)

is David that ensures that the accounts are balanced to include the nonofficial days.” Although he is tired of their shenanigans he finds himself caught ever more tightly in the political web of the despised Vice President. The story was written originally in Runyankole-Rukiga, but the politics of it feel familiar.

Marame Gueye (courtesy East Carolina University)

The last “African” piece is a nonfiction essay in English, “Breaking the Taboo of Sex in Songs: the Laabaan Ceremony” by Marame Gueye that analyzes the sexual language in Wolof songs sung by women during the Laaban ceremony that is a part of Wolof weddings.

The journal importantly showcases writing in African languages often neglected in wider discussions of African literature. Ironically, however, in seeking out these stories, it also demonstrates another problem. Although there are thousands of works in Hausa, as well as literary communities working in Amharic, Arabic, Swahili, Shona, Yoruba and other African languages, Words Without Borders seems to have had trouble finding translations it could publish for this issue, despite a call for submissions put out months in advance. While most of its issues feature eight to twelve pieces that speak to its theme, only four translated works from African languages and one nonfiction essay written mostly in English were published here. It seems to me that this highlights the striking need for literary translators from and into African languages.

I hope several things come out of this issue: 1) An awareness on the part of those who talk about African literature that African literature goes much deeper than literature written in English or French (or even Portuguese); 2) An awareness on the level of writers who write in English but who are fluent in African languages that translation is an important contribution to African letters and that there are well-respected venues for publishing translations; 3) An awareness on the part of writers writing in indigenous languages that while the primary audience may be the most important, as it should be, that there are wider global audiences that could benefit from reading such work; 4) An awareness on the part of institutions that financial and infrastructural support for publication and translation would be a great boon to African literature. Overall, we need to see more interaction between writers in African languages and European languages and more support on the continent for both African language literature and translations.

Kofi Awoonor, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and the struggle for the New Dawn

(courtesy of the Story Moja Hay Festival site http://storymojahayfestival.com/)

When I heard on Sunday morning, 22 September 2013 that the great Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor had been killed in the Westgate Mall attacks, I began to obsessively follow google news and twitter with updates about the attacks. As I later related in my column for the next Saturday, I guiltily remembered after sitting online all day that even more people had been killed in Benisheik, Borno, than had been killed in the more widely covered siege on the Nairobi mall. It was a gut-wrenching week all round, with terrorist attacks that killed over 70 mourners at two funerals in Baghdad, Iraq; around 160 travellers on the road in Benisheik, Nigeria; at least 72 people at the mall in Nairobi, Kenya; and around 85 worshippers at All Saints church in Peshawar, Pakistan.

As I obsessively followed the news in preparation for my column published the following Saturday, I came across a New York Daily News article (yes, I know it’s a tabloid) that had a screen capture of the HMS Press Office twitter account, ostensibly run by Al Shabab. This was one of the several accounts Twitter shut down during the siege on the Westgate Mall. I had followed the chilling live tweeting from one of the HMS accounts during the massacre. Unlike Boko Haram’s Youtube videos released in Hausa, the tweeting was all in English of a sort that makes believable the speculations that there were Americans and Britons involved. As I read down the list, I gasped at the tweet at the bottom of the image, right before the screen capture cut off. It read “A new era is on the horizon. A new dawn, illuminating towards #Khifaafa. It’s a paradigm shift #Westgate”

Al Shabab tweet--a new dawn--cropped

The use of the metaphor “a new dawn” shook me because I had just spent days reading through the tributes to Kofi Awoonor, his poetry, and the poem widely used as his self-written elegy, from his new collection Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems to be published in 2014.  

It is named “Across the New Dawn.”

It is easy to read the poem as prophetic now.

 We are the celebrants

whose fields were

overrun by rogues

and other bad men who

interrupted our dance

with obscene songs and bad gestures

There are warring notions here of what this “new dawn” is. Al Shabab presents it as a new era when its brand of extremism will take over the world–a paradigm shift. And if the four attacks across Africa and Asia are any indication, it does seem as though violent terrorists are pushing through a new order based on hate and sadism. It is, as it is meant to be, terrifying. This past week following the horrific attack that killed what the Vanguard claims killed up to 78 students in a hostel in at the Gujba College of Agriculture in Yobe State, I wanted to vomit when I heard of it. My mind couldn’t focus. As I wrote this week, I sat physically at my computer all day long unable to write anything.

What kind of person kills students in their beds? What kind of person joins a death cult? What kind of person slaughters the children of the poor?  In the dark? While they are sleeping?

Why?

I fear triteness.

What trite words of comfort can one offer when 78 students have been killed in their beds? When terrorists have murdered sleep in the northwest for over three years?

Yet, the convergence of these two warring notions of what the “new dawn” entails must mean something. I think (I hope, I pray) that Awoonor’s dawn will light the sky after the sun has set on Al Shabab and Boko Haram and Al Qaeda, and other terrorists who would attack innocent people to prove their ideology. Awoonor spent his life writing dirges, recognizing the evil that there is, yet he also he recognizes like Martin Luther King that the “arc of the universe bends towards justice.” There is a wisdom in his poetry built on generations of Ewe oral song that all the hatred of terror cannot twist. He writes of death, as a kind of balance,

No; where the worm eats

a grain grows.

the consultant deities

have measured the time

with long winded

arguments of eternity

And death, when he comes

to the door with his own

inimitable calling card

shall find a homestead

resurrected with laughter and dance

and the festival of the meat

of the young lamb and the red porridge

of the new corn.

It’s the archtypal life cycle of mourning and joy, death and birth, night and morning that runs throughout the Bible, which itself builds on and collects an oral tradition. As the King James version translates David’s song in Psalm 30:5

weeping may endure for a night,

but joy comes in the morning.

It makes me remember how I grappled with with writing about Easter in the dark days earlier this year. In my column the day before Palm Sunday, I wrote: 

But this week, it seems only appropriate to mourn, once again, so many senseless deaths, so much needless violence, to cry out as the Biblical character Job did, “Where then is my hope? […]I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer,” (17:15, 30:20) to cry out like Jesus did on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
There has been so much tragedy over the past year that I think most of us have become numb. We step over the bodies and keep going. But every once in a while something touches you, the death of someone you know, the news of children targeted and attacked. In these times, the evil of this world envelops you in its horror, and you just want to lie down and let the tears empty you.

It is in this time that I look for scriptures that remind me how humans survive. The beauty of the Bible for me is that it is a document that spans a history of thousands of years, and encompasses dozens of genres. The books within record the sufferings of humans throughout time. The fall into despair in the darkness of night and the release into joy in the light of the morning is an archetype found over and over again in the Bible. It’s ok to cry, it’s ok to groan, we have been doing it for millennia.
The biblical book of Job is written in the form much like a play that tells the story of a good man who loses his wealth, his ten children, even his own health. Finally, he is plagued by “comforters” who insist all of his suffering must be his own fault. As he questions God, he begins to see human life in the context of eternity.

“There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths. When daylight is gone, the murderer rises up and kills the poor and needy; in the night he steals forth like a thief. […] For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.”
Yet such evil men “are foam on the surface of the water; […]The womb forgets them, the worm feasts on them; evil men are no longer remembered but are broken like a tree. They prey on the barren and childless woman, and to the widow show no kindness. But God drags away the mighty by his power; though they become established, they have no assurance of life. He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways. For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all the others; they are cut off like heads of grain” (24:13-24)

Job comes to trust that, in time, God will “redeem” his suffering, even when he does not understand: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.” (19:25-27). While he cannot control what happens to him, he acknowledges that “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’” (28: 12-28)

The lessons Job learns are repeated throughout the Bible. King Solomon writes “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death” (Ecclesiastes 8:7-8) He laments “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless,” yet like Job he concludes “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (11:8, 13-14).

[...]

The prophet Jeremiah writes “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him” (Lamentations 3:19-24)  King David writes: “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Christians believe that the cycle of death and resurrection found throughout the Bible was embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In that moment nearly two thousand years ago, the entire universe was “surprised by joy” as C.S. Lewis puts it: overcoming death with life, conquering night with day. It is this hope then that I remember when the days are their darkest. The morning will come. We do not know when, but we wait, pray, hope.

This is not the false dawn of evil men, but a dawn of truth, mercy, justice. And above all love. For

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear… (I John 4:18)

And

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr, from “Loving Your Enemies,” in Strength to Love

To read the complete version of my three columns I refer to, see

“Weeping at Night, Waiting for Light” March 23 2013

“Where the worm eats, a grain grows: Kofi Awoonor, Benisheik, Baghdad, Nairobi, and Peshawar” 28 September 2013

“Murdered Sleep” 5 October 2013

Let me end with Kofi Awoonor’s poems, one from early in his career “The Journey Beyond” and the other one of his final poems “Across a New Dawn,”  both of which refer to the boatman Kutsiami of Ewe myth, who paddles the dead to the other side of the river. As I wrote after I heard of Awoonor’s death:

Terrorists thought they killed him. They didn’t know they were just bringing the boatman to ferry him home.

The Poetry Foundation Ghana makes his early poem “The Journey Beyond” available.

The Journey Beyond

The bowling cry through door posts
carrying boiling pots
ready for the feasters.

Kutsiami the benevolent boatman;
When I come to the river shore
please ferry me across
I do not have on my cloth-end
the price of your stewardship.

The Wall Street Journal published one of his final poems “Across a New Dawn” as a tribute after he was killed: 

ACROSS A NEW DAWN

Sometimes, we read the

lines in the green leaf

run our fingers over the

smooth of the precious wood

from our ancient trees;

Sometimes, even the sunset

puzzles, as we look

for the lines that propel the clouds,

the colour scheme

with the multiple designs

that the first artist put together

There is dancing in the streets again

the laughter of children rings

through the house

On the seaside, the ruins recent

from the latest storms

remind of ancestral wealth

pillaged purloined pawned

by an unthinking grandfather

who lived the life of a lord

and drove coming generations to

despair and ruin

*

But who says our time is up

that the box maker and the digger

are in conference

or that the preachers have aired their robes

and the choir and the drummers

are in rehearsal?

No; where the worm eats

a grain grows.

the consultant deities

have measured the time

with long winded

arguments of eternity

And death, when he comes

to the door with his own

inimitable calling card

shall find a homestead

resurrected with laughter and dance

and the festival of the meat

of the young lamb and the red porridge

of the new corn

*

We are the celebrants

whose fields were

overrun by rogues

and other bad men who

interrupted our dance

with obscene songs and bad gestures

Someone said an ailing fish

swam up our lagoon

seeking a place to lay its load

in consonance with the Original Plan

Master, if you can be the oarsman

for our boat

please do it, do it.

I asked you before

once upon a shore

at home, where the

seafront has narrowed

to the brief space of childhood

We welcome the travelers

come home on the new boat

fresh from the upright tree

From “Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems,” selected by Kofi Anyidoho, University of Nebraska Press and the African Poetry Book Fund, 2014

Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s novel Wa Zai Auri Jahila?, which questions child marriage, is the September book of the Month at Cassava Republic Press

Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, December 2012 (c) Carmen McCain

Last month, Abuja-based Cassava Republic Press contacted me and asked if I would contribute a “book of the month” for their monthly book series. I am currently working on a dissertation chapter on three of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s novels: Wa Zai Auri Jahila?, Wane Kare ne ba Bare ba?, and Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne (translated by Aliyu Kamal as Sin is a Puppy… ). So, I identified the “Book of the Month” as Wa Zai Auri Jahila? (Who will marry an illiterate woman?), Hajiya Balaraba’s novel about the irrepressible Abu who is forced into marriage at 13 but refuses to let her early trauma at the hands of her 52-year-old husband define her life. I sneaked in a brief summary of the other novels as well. You can read the post here on the Cassava Republic Press blog.

“Wa Zai Auri Jahila?” Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s novel on child marriage, reviewed by Carmen McCain

The novel was published in two parts. This is the second part, of 164 pages.

The novel was published in two parts. This is the second part, of 164 pages.

In July, I also wrote a longer review of Wa Zai Auri Jahila? in my column, which I will copy below. The scholars Abdalla Uba Adamu [see here and here], Novian Whitsitt [see here and here], and Graham Furniss [briefly, see here] have also written about the novel:

The question of child marriage and Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s novel Wa Zai Auri Jahila?

Category: My thoughts exactly
Published on Saturday, 27 July 2013 06:00
Written by Carmen McCain

Last week, after I asked “Where are the translations?”, I was delighted to hear from two professors working on Hausa-English translation projects: Professor Yusuf Adamu and Professor Ibrahim Malumfashi.

I continued to think about the issue of making Hausa literature available to a wider audience this week as I read Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s two part Hausa novel Wa Zai Auri Jahila?/ Who will marry an Ignorant Woman?, first published in 1990. The novel is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about child marriage in Nigeria, and it made me think that if I were to translate a novel, I would love to translate this one. For those who read Hausa, the novel is currently no longer in the market, but Hajiya Balaraba tells me she soon plans to release a new edition in one volume of around 400 pages.

part 1 of the novel, 182 pages.

part 1 of the novel, 182 pages.

The novel, set mostly between the village of Gamaji and the city of Kano, with brief detours to London, Kaduna, and Lagos, tells the story of the headstrong, bookish girl Zainab, nicknamed Abu by her family. In the first part of the novel, Abu’s dreams are threatened by the pride and thoughtlessness of men. When she is thirteen, Abu’s father, Malam Garba, swayed by other villagers who think Abu is too old to be outside the house, pulls her out of school. Amadu, her cousin who had promised from childhood to marry her, forgets his proclamations of love when he leaves the village and goes to Kano to start university. Starting an affair with an older and more educated woman, he refuses to marry Abu—telling her he cannot marry an uneducated woman. Malam Garba, humiliated by Amadu’s rejection of his daughter on the eve of their marriage, insists that Abu must marry anyway and gives her to the first suitor to come along, Sarkin Noma. Her marriage is more about his pride than her well-being. Ignoring her tears, he maintains she will be happy once she is in her husband’s house. It is not until after the marriage that Malam Garba regrets the ridiculous husband to whom he has given his thirteen year old daughter: a fifty-two year man, with a big stomach and red eyes, whose own eldest daughter is four years older than Abu. Sarkin Noma’s insistence on marriage to Abu comes initially out of his own need to reinstate control over his three quarrelsome wives and later out of his desire to subdue the stubborn Abu, who expresses her disgust for him every time he comes courting. His pursuit becomes a horrifying exercise in asserting his power. He tells her “No matter how much you refuse me, I will marry you.” For those who do not believe marital rape is possible or who believe the best place for a young girl is in her husband’s house, this disturbing novel should cause them to reexamine their assumptions.

As against the sort of arguments I’ve seen this week that girls will become wayward if they are not married young, Wa Zai Auri Jahila? provides a different and much needed voice—the perspective of a girl herself. Balaraba Ramat Yakubu has spoken in interviews about how she herself was married as a very young girl to a man much older than her, and her portrayal of Abu’s suffering and determination to succeed rings true. She resists the temptation to caricature Abu’s antagonists as simple evil villains, however. Abu’s father, despite his pride, comes to regret what he has done to his daughter. Even Sarkin Noma who violently forces himself on his young bride dwindles to a pathetic character, shocked by the secrets his wives have kept from him, and frittering away his life longing for a woman he cannot have. The novel does not demonize particular characters so much as show how a patriarchal culture traps and degrades even those men whom it supposedly benefits.

Though Abu is victimized by men as a child, she refuses to stay a victim. Haunted by Amadu’s harsh words about her lack of education, she determines to better herself. She is fortunate to have an aunt in Kano who supports her in her quest for education, and the village girl Amadu rejected for her “ignorance” proves her brilliance once she enrolls in remedial classes. As Abu grows in years, knowledge, and maturity, changing her name from Abu to Zainab, her old antagonist Sarkin Noma dwindles into a pitiful creature. It is as if her success emasculates him. Indeed “…almost everyone knew that Sarkin Noma was no longer a man.” Yet, Zainab’s education is a blessing to almost everyone else, including the other men in her life. Though she makes Amadu suffer when he comes back from schooling in England, he comes to realize how badly he had treated her. Similarly she is able to influence her father so that her sister is not married at a young age as she was but instead allowed to go to secondary school. The title is ultimately ironic, as over the course of the novel the power shifts to create a more equal relationship between men and women. The question becomes not “Who will marry an ignorant woman,” but who is worthy to marry an educated one?

For all the horror of part one, part two is full of sweetness. As I read the last one hundred pages I had a huge smile on my face. There are several love stories here, but the most tender ones are between old married couples. I was touched by the scene where Abu’s parents, Malam Garba and Bengyel, make up after a long quarrel, with Malam Garba humbly apologizing to his wife. The endearments between Zainab’s aunt Hajiya Kumatu and her husband Malam Sango, married for twenty-three years despite their childlessness, brought tears

Hajiya Balaraba’s 1990 novel Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne.

to my eyes. As with Hajiya Balaraba’s novel Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne, the happiest moments here occur in households where there is one man and one wife.
In addition to demonstrating the attractiveness of love between one man and one woman, this novel provides a contextual lens through which to view the issue of child marriage. First, as Hajiya Balaraba notes in the introduction to the second part of the novel, the book serves as a warning to parents who force their daughters into marriage, and particularly illustrates the horrors faced by a thirteen year old given to a 52 year old man. Abu would have been much better off had Amadu, who was only four or five years older than her, married her as originally planned. Yet, even that marriage, the author implies, would have had its problems. In his teenage years, Amadu was immature, made the wrong friends, and chased the wrong kinds of women. He was not at a stage where he could have provided a stable home for Abu. Similarly, marriage at 13 for Abu not only complicated her ability to continue her studies but also damaged her body. Although she had gone through puberty, she was not developed enough to give birth successfully, and her old husband’s rough treatment injured her badly.  While not explicitly condemning young marriage in the novel, the author demonstrates the contrast between Abu’s marriage as a child and the much healthier marriage between more educated financially-independent characters in their twenties.

There were occasional moments in the novel that I wish were different. There are several small factual errors which could easily be fixed in the next edition, such as implying that Oxford University, which Amadu attends, is in the city of London. I wish that instead of pursuing nursing, Zainab had gone all the way and become a doctor. I also wish that the unfaithful woman for whom Amadu left Abu was not portrayed as a Christian Yoruba. That said, the author, elsewhere, does portray positive relationships with the “Other.” Amadu meets several kind British characters in England and his friendship with the British woman Jennifer ends up helping him redeem his past mistake. Similarly, in Hajiya Balaraba’s 2006 novel Matar Uba Jaraba, part of the story is set in Ibadan where the Hausa boy Aminu grows up with kind Yoruba neighbours and marries his childhood sweetheart Shola. Ultimately, despite these flaws, Wa Zai Auri Jahila? is an important novel, which gives voice and agency to the “girl-child” who is so often used as a pawn in ideological battles but rarely gets the chance to speak for herself. I just wish that everyone could read Hausa and enjoy as much as I have this novel that takes you from the depths of horror to the joyful heights of love.