Tag Archives: Hausa literature

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.

Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s novel Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne/Sin is a Puppy Published in translation by Blaft

Exciting news! Indian publisher Blaft has published an English translation, by Aliyu Kamal, of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s 1990 novel Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne. Aliyu Kamal is a professor in the English Department at Bayero University and a prolific novelist in his own rightSee Blaft’s blog post on the release, where they give this blog a shout out. Hard copies can be ordered from their site, and ebooks for Kindle and epub ($4.99) are also available. To read the first chapter for free, click here. (Update 9 November 2012: Two Indian news sites have also published articles about the novel and the influence of Indian films on Hausa culture: Dhamini Ratnam writes “Filmi Affair in Nigeria” for the Pune Mirror (and briefly quotes me) and Deepanjana Pal writes “How Bollywood fought for the Nigerian Woman “for Daily News and Analysis. I’m not sure Sin is a Puppy… is the best novel to use as evidence of Indian films on Hausa culture, but I’m delighted at the attention the novel is receiving in India.) (UPDATE 8 March 2013: You can read my review of the novel published by Weekly Trust and find links to a lot of other reviews of the novel on my blog here.)

Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu was one of the earliest authors of what came to be known as the soyayya Hausa literary movement or Kano Market Literature. While these books were often disparaged by critics as romance novels and pulp, Hajiya Balaraba’s novels are often muck-raking exposes of abuses that occur in private domestic spaces and make a case for women’s education and independence. Other soyayya books tell love stories from the perspective of Hausa youth and tales of the home from the perspective of women.

Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne, one of Hajiya Balaraba’s most popular and critically acclaimed novels, tells the story of the family of businessman Alhaji Abdu and his longsuffering wife Rabi, the domestic fireworks that explode when he decides to marry the “old prostitute” Delu as a second wife, and the stories of his children as they make their way in the world with only the support of their mother.

When I first read the book in Hausa in 2006, I described it as follows:

Like many Hausa novels, the title is part of a proverb: “crime is like a dog”… (it follows it’s owner). When the wealthy trader Alhaji Abdu marries an “old prostitute,” as a second wife, his family goes through a crisis. After a fight between the uwargida and her children and the new wife, Alhaji Abdu kicks his first wife and her ten [nine because Alhaji Abdu kept one daughter from another marriage] children out of his house, denies them any kind of support, and refuses to even recognize any of them in chance meetings on the street or when his eldest daughter gets married. What was initially a disaster for the abandoned wife Rabi becomes a liberating self-sufficiency. Supporting her children through cooking and selling food, she is able to put her eldest son through university and see the marriage of her eldest daughter to a rich alhaji. The book follows the story of Rabi, as she makes a life apart from marriage, and her daughter Saudatu, as she enters into marriage.

I have read the translation by Aliyu Kamal and I intend to post a longer review in the next few weeks. The novel was adapted into a film Alhaki Kwikwiyo Ne directed by Abdulkareem Muhammed in 1998. Novian Whitsitt has discussed the novel in his PhD dissertation (2000), Kano Market Literature and the Construction of Hausa-Islamic Feminism: A Contrast in Feminist Perspectives of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu and Bilkisu Ahmed Funtuwa, and his article, “Islamic-Hausa Feminism and Kano Market Literature: Qur’anic Reinterpretation in the Novels of Balaraba Yakubu.” Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu has written about the screen adapatation in his book Transglobal Media Flows and African Popular Culture: Revolution and Reaction in Muslim Hausa Popular Culture and in a paper you can access online, “Private Sphere, Public Wahala: Gender and Delineation of Intimisphare in Muslim Hausa Video Films.”

As far as I know, this is the first time a full translation of a soyayya novel has been published internationally. An excerpt of Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne translated by William Burgess was published in Readings in African Popular Fiction, edited by Stephanie Newell, but Aliyu Kamal’s full translation, while it has a few issues, is much better–not quite so stiff. That is not to say there have been no other translations of Hausa literature. There are translations of the works of early authors like Abubakar Imam’s Ruwan Bagaja/The Water of Cure, Muhammadu Bello Wali’s Gandoki,  the first prime minister of Nigeria Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s Shaihu Umar, Munir Muhammad Katsin’as Zabi Naka/Make Your Choice and others. Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino’s bestselling novel In da So da Kauna (The two part novel sold over 100,000 copies) was translated as The Soul of My Heart,  but unfortunately, although the cover illustration (pictured here) was beautiful, the translation was exceedingly bad. It cut a charming novel that was over 200 pages down to about 80, turned witty banter into cliches, and translated out most of the dialogue Gidan-Dabino is so good at. The book needs to be re-translated, this time properly. I attempted to translate Gidan Dabino’s novel Kaico!, (an excerpt of the first chapter was published by Sentinel here), but stopped because of lack of time and because I felt like my translation was still too stiff and I needed to immerse in the language a little longer before attempting more translations. As the editorial of Nigerians Talk today pointed out, we need much more focus on translation in Nigeria.

[...] Hausa literature thrives. An old post on Jeremy Weate’s blog explores the disconnect between the idea of a thriving market selling up to “hundreds of thousands of copies” and a country that lives with a consensus that the Hausa don’t have a living literary establishment. Where are the top Hausa writers. How much of the content of their literature makes it into translation and out as a truly accessible text by other non-Hausa speakers? Where is the wall separating those work from the larger body of consumers all around Nigeria? What are the benefits and implications of this insularity that keeps a story locked only within a language medium, away from every other? And what is the value of such literature if it serves only a localized audience. What happened to universality? We won’t know any of this without active involvement of translators, and other conscious literary practitioners bringing us to the stories, and the stories to us. Like Achebe said, “my position…is that we must hear all the stories. That would be the first thing.”

I am very grateful to Blaft for initiating this translation and publication and hope that it will follow this novel with many more. The challenge will be finding translators. As I have said in a previous talk, I wish every Nigerian writer of English who spoke Hausa well would commit to translating at least one  Hausa novel, so as to bring this literature to a larger public. And while I am excited that, as Blaft notes

It’s also, we believe, the first time a translation of an African-language work has ever been published first in India. We like the idea of South-South literary exchange, and we wish this sort of thing would happen more often.

I hope that some of Nigeria’s publishers will take up the challenge to create their own translation imprints.

In the meantime, a big congratulations to Hajiya Balaraba. Here’s hoping that the rest of her novels will be translated soon! Stay tuned for a longer review of

Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu. (c) Sunmi Smart-Cole

the novel itself.

For more articles and information on Hausa soyayya literature, see these links:

Interview with novelist Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu.

Interview with the first female novelist to publish a novel in Hausa, Hafsat Ahmed Abdulwahid.

Interview with novelist Bilkisu Funtua.

Interview with novelist Sa’adatu Baba Ahmed.

Hausa Popular Literature database at School of Oriental and African Studies

“Hausa Literary Movement and the 21st Century” by Yusuf Adamu

“Between the Word and the Screen: a hisorical perspective on the Hausa literary movement and the home video invasion” by Yusuf Adamu

“Hausa popular literature and the video film: the rapid rise of cultural production in times of economic decline” by Graham Furniss

“Loud Bubbles from a Silent Brook: Trends and Tendencies in Contemporary Hausa Prose Writing” by Abdalla Uba Adamu

“Islamic Hausa Feminism Meets Northern Nigerian Romance: the Cautious Rebellion of Bilkisu Funtuwa” by Novian Whitsitt

“Parallel Worlds: Reflective Womanism in Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s Ina Son Sa Haka” by Abdalla Uba Adamu

Hausa Writers Database (in Hausa)

My blog post on a (mostly Hausa) writers conference in Niger

The ‘second coming’ of Kannywood

Still catching up on posts I am behind on. This feature piece  “The ‘second coming’ of Kannywood” was published over a month ago now in the Weekend Magazine of Weekly Trust on 21 May 2011, but gives a good summary of the challenges faced by the Kano film industry during the tenure of former ANPP Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, and the “director general” of the Kano State Censorship Board he appointed, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim. I also interviewed film practitioners about their hopes as PDP’s Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, who had been governor of Kano State from 1999-2003, returns to take up another four year term, aided in his political campaign by the Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria and Kannywood stars like Sani Danja and D’an Ibro. As usual, to read the hard copy of the article, click on the photos below, or scroll down to read the text I’ve copied here.

The ‘second coming’of Kannywood

Saturday, 21 May 2011 01:42 Carmen McCain

Wednesday evening, April 27, 2011, Zoo Road in Kano, the street lined with Kannywood studios, exploded into celebration. Young men pulled dramatic stunts with motorbikes and shouted their congratulations to Hausa filmmakers. “Welcome back home, brothers. Welcome back from Kaduna,” directors Falalu Dorayi and Ahmad Biffa recall them saying. “We embrace you ‘Yan fim.’ We are together with you. We are happy that he has returned.”The win of PDP

Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, incoming governor of Kano State, and also governor from 1999 to 2003 (Photo Credit: Nigerian Best Forum)

candidate Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso as governor of Kano, his second tenure after a four-year term from 1999-2003, had just been announced.  INEC figures listed PDP as winning 46% of the vote with 1,108,345 votes, closely followed by Alhaji Salihu Sagir of ANPP with 43.5% of the vote with 1,048,317 votes.  To anyone familiar with the Hausa film industry, which according to recent National Film and Video Censor’s Board figures makes up over 30% of  the Nigerian film industry, this association of a political win with film was no surprise. Some of the most visible Hausa filmmakers have become increasingly politically active following a crackdown by the Kano State Censor’s Board, during which many practitioners and marketers of Hausa films had been fined, imprisoned, and harassed. While many of those associated with the film industry supported CPC and Buhari for president, the feeling among many filmmakers in Kano was that for governor any of the candidates would be better than ANPP. The two term ANPP governor and presidential candidate Ibrahim Shekarau, who had initially been passionately supported by

CIMG2970

Former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, governor of Kano State fro 2003-2011, and ANPP presidential candidate in 2011. (I took this photo during his trip to Madison, Wisconsin in 2007)  (Photo credit: talatu-carmen)

at least some of Kano’s writers and artists, was now deeply disliked by most film practitioners, in part, for appointing Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim former deputy commandant of the shari’a enforcement group hisbah as director general of the Kano State Censor’s Board. Malam Rabo, as he was known, regularly went onto the radio to denounce film practitioners for ostensible moral defects and had overseen a board which often arrested filmmakers.

After surveying candidates in the gubernatorial race for how they would support film, the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN), as the association’s president Sani Muazu reported, publically campaigned for Kwankwaso. Movie star,

Comedian Klint de Drunk, with Kannywood stars Sani Danja and Baban Chinedu at an Abuja press conference for NAISOD, 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

producer, director, and musician Sani Danja, who founded Nigerian Artists in Support of Democracy (NAISOD), and comedians Rabilu Musa dan Ibro and Baban Chinedu were among those who lent their star power to the new  governor’s campaign. This public support for PDP among some of the most visible film practitioners had put Kano based filmmakers in danger the week before. Angry about the announcement of PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan as winner of the presidential election, area boys hunted for Sani Danja, threatened other recognizable actors and vandalized studios and shops owned by Kannywood stakeholders. (For this reason, while some filmmakers have come out publicly in support of candidates, there are others who are reluctant to speak openly about politics. The Dandalin Finafinan Hausa on Facebook has banned discussion of politics on its wall, requesting members to focus on discussions of film.) By the next week, however, as Falalu Dorayi relates, the same area boys who had been hunting Sani Danja were now celebrating him.

Producer and makeup artist Tahir S. Tahir with Director Falalu Dorayi celebrating Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

While Governor-elect Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was seen as the champion of the filmmakers during the 2011 election cycle, it was under Kwankwaso, who first served as governor of Kano from 1999-2003, that the first ban on Hausa films was announced and that the Kano State Censor’s Board was created. Abdulkareem Mohammad, the pioneering president of MOPPAN from 2000 to 2007, narrated how in December 2000, the Kano State Government pronounced a prohibition on the sale, production and exhibition of films in Kano state because of the introduction of sharia. MOPPAN  organized and “assembled industry operators in associations like the Kano State Filmmakers association, Kano state artist’s guilds, the musicians and the cinema theatre owners, cassette sellers association” to petition the government to either allow them to continue making films or provide them with new livelihoods. It was the filmmakers themselves under MOPPAN who suggested a local state censorship board, which would ensure that film practitioners were able to continue their careers, while also allowing oversight to ensure that their films did not violate shari’a law. The censorship board was ultimately meant as a protection for the filmmakers to allow them to continue their work.

Outgoing President of MOPPAN, Sani Muazu points out that MOPPAN’s support of Kwankwaso was because he had promised re-establish the original intent for the censorship board, with a Kannywood stakeholder in the position as head of the Kano State Censorship Board, rather than an outsider who did not know the industry. Most Hausa filmmakers speak of the censorship board as a compromise between the film industry, the community and the government. Director Salisu T. Balarabe believes then Governor Kwankwaso was trying to follow the demands of those who voted for him, “If the government wants to have a good relationship with people it has to do what the people want.” Kannywood/Nollywood star Ali Nuhu said, “I won’t forget how in those three or four months [during the ban], they sat with our leaders at the time of Tijjani Ibrahim, Abdulkareem Muhammad, Hajiya Balaraba and the others.  They reached a consensus, they understood the problems that they wanted us to fix and the plan they wanted us to follow.”

Nollywood/Kannywood star Ali Nuhu on set of Armala with Executive Producer Aisha Halilu. April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

Although the censors board had banned several films, such as Aminu Bala’s 2004 cinema verite style film Bakar Ashana, which explored the moral complexities of the world of prostitution, and enforced rules on censorship

Aminu Bala’s film Bakar Ashana that was banned by the Kano State Censor’s Board in 2004.

before marketing, filmmakers for the most part did not seem to have major problems with censorship until August 2007, when a sex scandal broke out in Kannywood. A privately made phone video of sexual activity between the actress known as Maryam “Hiyana” and a non-film industry lover Usman Bobo was leaked and became one of the most popular downloads in Kano. Alarmed by what some were calling the “first Hausa blue film,” although the clip was a private affair and had nothing to do with other Hausa filmmakers, critics called for serious measures to be taken. A new executive secretary Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim (his position soon

Maryam Hiyana, who was seen as a victim in the scandel, became an unlikely folk hero with stickers of her likeness on public transport all over Northern Nigeria. (c) Carmen McCain, 2008

inflated to the title of director general) was appointed by Governor Shekarau to head the Kano State Censor’s Board. He required each film practitioner to register individually with the board, an action he defended as being provided for in the original censorship law. Not long after Rabo was appointed, actor and musician Adam Zango was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison for releasing his music video album Bahaushiya without passing it through the Kano State Censor’s Board. He was the first in a series of Hausa filmmakers to spend time in prison. Former Kano state gubernatorial candidate and Kannywood director Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama was arrested in May 2008 on his return to Kano from Abuja’s Zuma Film Festival where his film Tsintsiya, an inter-ethnic/religious romance made to promote peace, had won best social issue film. He was accused of releasing the film in Kano without censorship board approval.  Although Iyan-Tama served three months in prison, all charges were recently dropped against the filmmaker and his record cleared. Popular comedians dan Ibro and Lawal Kaura also spent two months in prison after a hasty trial without a lawyer. Lawal Kaura claims that although they had insisted on their innocence, court workers advised them to plead guilty of having a production company not registered with the

FIM Magazine feature on Ibro’s time in prison, November 2008.

censorship board so that the judge “would have mercy” on them. These were only the most popular names. Others who made their livelihoods from the film industry, from editors to singers to marketers, spent the night in jail, paid large fines, and/or had their equipment seized by enforcers attached to the censorship board.

Although Governor Shekarau in a presidential debate organized by DSTV station NN24 had claimed that “the hisbah has nothing to do with censorship,” Director of Photography Felix Ebony of King Zuby International recounted how hisbah had come to a location he was working on and impounded four speakers and one camera, telling them they had not sought permission to shoot. Other filmmakers complained that there was confusion about under what jurisdiction arrests were being made. Although in a February 2009 interview with me, Rabo

Felix Ebony, director of photography with King Zuby International. (c) Carmen Mccain

also claimed that the censorship law was a “purely constitutional and literary law […] on the ground before the shari’a agitations,” the public perception seemed to be that the board was operating under shari’a law, perhaps because of Rabo’s frequent radio appearances where he spoke of the censorship board’s importance in protecting the religious and cultural mores of the society. Director Ahmad Bifa argued, “They were invoking shari’a, arresting under shari’a. If they caught us, we all knew, that they had never taken us to a shari’a court. They would take us to a mobile court [...] But since it was being advertised that we were being caught for an offense against religion, we should be taken to a religious Islamic court, and let us be judged there not at a mobile court.”

The ‘Mobile’ Magistrate Court at the Kano Airport where Censorship Board Cases were tried. This photo was taken in July 2009 during the trial of popular singer Aminu Ala. (c) Carmen McCain

The mobile court Biffa referred to seemed to be attached to the censorship board and was presided over by Justice Mukhtar Ahmed at the Kano airport. After the Iyan-Tama case came under review, the Kano State attourney general found the judge’s ruling to be ““improper”, “incomplete”, a “mistake” and requiring a retrial before a more “competent magistrate.” Justice Ahmed was transferred to Wudil in August 2009; however, censorship cases continued to be taken to him. In January 2011, popular traditional musician Sani dan Indo was arrested and taken to Mukhtar Ahmad’s court, where he was given the option of a six month prison sentence or paying a fine of twenty-thousand naira.  The decisions made by the board and the mobile court often seemed of ambiguous motivation. In 2009, Justice Mukhtar Ahmed banned “listening, sale, and circulation” of eleven Hausa songs, citing obscenity, but obscenity was rarely as easily identified as the cutting political critiques in them.

11 Songs banned by Justice Mukhtar Ahmed. (c) Alex Johnson

The effect of these actions was to relocate the centre of the Hausa film industry away from the flourishing Kano market, to Kaduna. Many filmmakers began to claim their rights as national Nigerian filmmakers, taking their films only to the National Film and Video Censor’s Board, bypassing the Kano State Censorship Board altogether. Such films were often marked “not for sale in Kano” and if found in Kano state were known as “cocaine,” a dangerous product that could, as Iyan-Tama discovered, mean imprisonment for a filmmaker, even if filmmaker had advertised, as Iyan-Tama had, that the film was not for sale in Kano State. Another side effect of these actions was the loss of jobs among Kano youth. Ahmad Bifa pointed out that “the Hausa film industry helped reorient youth from being drug-users and area boys to finding jobs in the film profession. Sometimes if we needed production assistants we would take them and give them money. I can count many that the Hausa film industry helped become relevant people to society. But Abubakar Rabo made us go to Kaduna to do our shooting. So the young people of Kano lost the benefit of film in Kano, […] That’s why there are a lot of kids on Zoo Road who went back to being thugs because of lack of job opportunity.”

Ahmad Bifa, on set of the Aisha Halilu movie Armala, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Although the impact of censorship on film was the most well known, the flourishing Hausa literary scene was also affected, with the director general initially requiring all writers to register individually with the censor’s board. With the intervention of the national president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, writers found some relief when Abubakar Rabo agreed to deal with the writer’s associations rather than with individual writers; however, there still seemed to be a requirement, at times ambiguous, that all Hausa novels sold in the state must be passed through the board. Rabo continued to make often seemingly arbitrary pronouncements about what he considered acceptable literature. In December 2009, for example, at a conference on indigenous literature in Damagaram, Niger, Rabo proclaimed that the board would not look at any more romantic novels for a year.

Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, DG of the Kano State Censor’s Board 2007-2011, proclaimed that he would not accept romantic novels for a year. International Conference on Authors and Researchers in Indigenous Languages, Damagaram, Niger, December 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

Those who protest the actions of the board do not have a problem with censorship so much as how censorship has been carried out. The original MOPPAN president Abdulkareem Mohammad argued that the intention of creating the censorship board had been one that would allow filmmakers to continue doing their work, “We really were doing things in good faith to ensure that things do work and eventually it is for the betterment of the majority.” He acknowledged wryly that there were flaws in the law that allowed for it to be abused, “I think that on insight, I would have done it differently.” Current president Sani Muazu continued in this vein saying that although the board had been meant to protect artists it had “become a weapon against artists.”  Director Salisu T. Balarabe says, “There was nothing wrong with making the censorship board but those put in charge of directing the board, sometimes put a personal interest into it.” Novelist and scriptwriter Nazir Adam Salih acknowledged “We have our faults. This is true. But the censor’s board was much harsher than it

Novelist and script writer Nazir Adam Salih passionately responds to Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, at the conference in Damagaram, Niger. December 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

needed to be. They put someone in power who didn’t know anything about the film industry, Malam Abubakar Rabo, who slandered and disrespected us.” It was this disrespect and the accompanying arrests that most seemed to upset film practitioners. Danjuma Salisu, who is involved in acting, lighting, and assisting production argued that Rabo’s actions were insulting to those whose careers in film “feed our children and parents and families.” Makeup artist Husseini Tupac argued passionately, “Film is a profession. It is a career.  In the same way a normal person will go to the office everyday, we will go the office, we do our work and get paid. When the honourable Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was governor nobody ever came out on the radio and said that actresses were prostitutes, that we were making blue films, that we were rogues. No one came and arrested us.” Producer and director Salisu Umar Santa shared a similar sentiment, saying that he and other

Director Salisu Umar Santa with Dawwayya Productions, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

professionals he worked with, like Rukkaya Dawayya and Sadiyya Gyale, had registered and done everything the board required for working in Kano State and yet Abubakar Rabo continued to say that filmmakers were not decent members of society. Producer and Director of Photography Umar Gotip said that he felt like a refugee having to leave Kano. “You are practicing your profession, to the extent that some people even have a degree in it, but they say you are just rogues and rascals. We had no human rights.” Director Falalu Dorayi, claiming that the Kano State Censorship board regularly demanded bribes, asked “How can the one who collects a bribe say he will reform culture.” Cameraman, editor, and director Ahmad Gulu put it this way: “You should fix the leaky roof before you try to repair the floor.”

Despite his ostensible position as enforcer of public morality, Rabo himself came under suspicion of wrongdoing on several occasions. In August 2009, he was taken before a shari’a court by the Kano State Filmmakers Association and accused of slander for statements he had made about the film community on the radio. In May 2010, he was also sued in by Kaduna Filmmakers Association for accusations he had made on radio and television in Kaduna.  In a strange twist, he accused twelve filmmakers, several of whom were involved the lawsuit, of sending him death threats by text message. Police from Kano came to Kaduna, arresting the one person on the list they could locate—Aliyu Gora II, the editor

Editor of Fim Magazine, Aliyu Gora II, and Filmmaker Iyan-Tama, both former inmates of Goron Dutse Prison, after a hearing in Iyan-Tama’s lawsuit against the Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, 22 July 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

of Fim Magazine, who was held for a week without trial at Goron Dutse Prison in Kano.  In an even more bizarre twist, in September 2010, Trust and other papers reported that Rabo, after being observed late at night by police in suspicious circumstances with a young girl in his car, fled from police. In the car chase he was also reportedly involved in a hit and run incident with a motorcyclist. After he was eventually arrested and released by the police, Governor Shekarau promised to open an inquiry into the

Filmmakers on location in Northern Nigeria on Sunday, 29 August 2009, read the breaking news Sunday Trust article: “Rabo arrested for alleged sex related offence” (c) Carmen McCain

case [as requested by MOPPAN], but Rabo continued as director general of the censor’s board and filmmakers heard nothing more of the inquiry.

The treatment of filmmakers had the perhaps unintentional effect of politicizing the artists and those close to them. Sani Danja told me he had never been interested in politics until he saw the need to challenge what was going on in Kano State. A musician told me his mother never voted in elections but that she had gone out to stand in line for Kwankwaso as a protest at how her children were being treated. Filmmakers used fulsome praises to describe their delight at Kwankwaso’s

Kannywood star Sani Danja prepares for his the first press conference of his organization: Nigerian Artists in Support of Democracy (c) Carmen McCain

return. Director Falalu Dorayi said “It is as if your mother or father went on a journey and has returned with a gift for you.” Producer and director of photography Umar Gotip said Kwankwaso’s coming was “like that of an angel, bringing blessing for all those who love film.” Even those who are not fans of PDP told me they wished Kwankwaso well, were optimistic about change, and expected him to fulfill his promises in several areas: First, most of them expected that he would relieve Rabo of his post and replace him an actual filmmaker, who as Falalu Dorayi put it “knows what film is.” Secondly, several of them anticipated actual investments into the film industry “like Fashola has done for Lagos filmmakers,” as director and producer Salisu Umar Santa put it, possibly in the form of a film village. And most Kano-based filmmakers I spoke to mentioned their hopes that others who had gone into exile would come back home to Kano. Producer Zainab Ahmed Gusau, who is currently based in Abuja wrote that, “My thought is to go back to Kano, knowing there will be justice for all.We thank God for bringing Kwankwaso back to lead us.”

Hausa film producer Zainab Ahmad Gusai at the Savannah International Movie Awards, Abuja, 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

Other filmmakers saw it as a time for reflection on how they can improve the field. Director Salisu T. Balarabe mused “If you keep obsessing over what happened, the time will come and pass and you won’t have accomplished

Hausa film Director Salisu T. Balarabe on Zoo Road in the days following Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

anything. We should put aside what happened before and look for a way to move forward.”  Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama, the politician and filmmaker who was imprisoned for three months, focused on the positive, calling on filmmakers to continue making films that would have meaning and would build up the community.

Many also looked beyond the own interests of film to the entire community.

Ahmad Gulu, Kannywood cameraman, editor, and director, on Zoo Road in the days following Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Ahmad Gulu, cameraman, editor, and director said “The change has not come to film practitioners alone. It has come to the whole state of Kano. Back then people would accept politicians who would put something in their pockets but now things have been exposed.” Star actor, director, and producer Ali Nuhu similarly pointed out that progress was not receiving money from politicians, saying that one of the most important changes Kwankwaso could bring would be a focus on electricity, drinking water, and children’s education. Writer Nazir Adam Salih said that if Kwankwaso could simply fulfill the promises politicians and leaders had been making for the past thirty years to provide electricity and water, he will have done his job. And finally two directors of photography Umar Gotip and Felix Ebony pointed to the need for peace and unity in the state. “He should try to bring people together,” said Umar Gotip. “This kind of fighting that has arisen between Muslims and Christians is not right. We should live together as one.”

Producer Bello A. Baffancy shows off his Kwankwaso support, Zoo Road, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

‘Yan Fim on Zoo Road following Kwankwaso’s win, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

My translated excerpt of Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino’s novel Kaico! published in Sentinel Nigeria

The beat-up cover of my working copy of Kaico! (complete with little kid pencil scribbles)

I’m behind on this blog, and there is much more to post, including my trip to Lagos and Yenegoa, for a “Reading Nollywood” conference and the AMAA awards. (For an excellent post on AMAA, see my friend Bic Leu’s blog, which uses a lot of the photos I took while there.) But, in the meantime, here is a link to an excerpt of my translation-in-progress of Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino’s novel Kaico! that was published in the March 2011, Issue 5 of Sentinel Nigeria Online.

The excerpt comes from the first chapter of the novel, which I have completed three (rough) chapters of so far. In addition to needing to finish translating the entire novel, the translation of the three chapters I have completed still need a lot of polishing and editing. But I do appreciate Sentinel Editor, Richard Ali being so committed to start featuring translations of African-language works that he urged me to send this in as is.

Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino is the bestselling author of In Da So Da Kauna, a Hausa language novel that sold over 100,000 copies. Winner of the 2009 Engineer Mohammad Bashir Karaye Prize in Hausa Literature for his play Malam Zalimu, he is also a founding member of the Hausa film industry, and has produced or directed sixteen films in Hausa, including his most recent Sandar Kiwo, which has been shown internationally.

Here is an excerpt from the excerpt:

On Monday, the 23rd day of Ramadan, after we broke fast, my good friend Kabiru visited our house. I saw him as he came into the room, and I quickly got up and grabbed his hand.
“Kai, look who we have here in town today. Kabiru, ashe, are you around? Long time no see!” I said, holding on to his hand.
As we sat down, Kabiru said, “I traveled for a week, that’s why you haven’t seen me. You know that if I hadn’t traveled, it would have been hard to go for seven days without seeing you.”
“I was thinking maybe the fasting was keeping you from going anywhere,” I answered. “You know how the fasting wears you out when the sun is beating down.”
“Well, the sun may be hot, but there’s no sun at night. I was told that you came to my house looking for me while I was gone. Have you forgotten?”
“Oh, I know. I just asked to see what you would say.” We both smiled.
Kabiru looked at me. “Oho, so you want to catch me out, do you?”
“Ai, well, that’s why you should marry relatives. They know you. You know them. If you take the bait, it’s not my fault,” I laughed.
“Ok, well, jokes aside. I have something important I want to talk to you about.”
“I’m listening. What’s up?” I tilted my head to one side to listen.

***

Unfortunately, the English translation published by Sentinel extends beyond the Hausa that was also given, and I have currently misplaced my copy of the book, but as soon as I find it, I will put up the Hausa portion of this excerpt for a side-by-side comparison. To read more, see the Sentinel site.

Hausa novelist Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino and (translator) Carmen McCain in his office, August 2005.

In response to Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s “In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse” an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani (c) Sunmi Smart-Cole via African-Writing Online

When I first began to read Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s op-ed piece “In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse,” published in on 12 December 2010 in the New York Times, I thought I would enjoy the piece. [If you have trouble finding the full text of the article without signing into the New York Times site, you can find it copied over onto the USA/Africa Dialogues blog and now also on the NEXT website.] She argues that it may be a blessing that Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o did not win a Nobel Prize this year, reasoning that such a prize would encourage young African writers to aim to be the “next Ngugi.” New African writers should pursue their own style, Nwaubani contends, rather than slavishly imitating the elders of African literature.  Although it does not necessarily follow that honouring a writer for a lifetime of work must necessarily create slavish imitations, I am sympathetic to arguments about pursuing new styles and themes, especially coming from a new Nigerian author who in I Do Not Come to You by Chance has given us one of the freshest and funniest novels I’ve read in years. Nwaubani has been the Nigerian author you are most likely to hear me recommending as a good read this year.

However, my first eyebrow began to rise when I read her statement. “Ngugi, Achebe and Soyinka are certainly masters, but of an earnest and sober style.” This is a fair generalization. A Grain of Wheat, Arrow of God, and The Interpreters do make for studies in high seriousness. But has Nwaubani read the complete works of each of these authors? Sure, Ngugi’s English language work does tend to be quite sober and earnest, as do Achebe’s early novels. But Ngugi’s satirical fable Devil on the Cross(translated from Gikuyu) is one of the most simultaneously hilarious and ideological works of African literature I’ve read–and much of its richness, I think, comes from it’s original composition in Gikuyu. Soyinka’s fiction is, granted, famously obtuse, but performances of the Brother Jero plays are some of the funniest and most thought-provoking things my family has seen on stage. Achebe has similar humorous moments in Anthills of the Savannah.

Even if I were inclined to agree with her in general about the serious nature of the “old masters,” I nearly fell out of my chair when I read this statement:

“Many fans have extolled his brave decision to write in his mother tongue, Kikuyu, instead of English. If he truly desires a Nobel, I can’t help but wish him one. But I shudder to imagine how many African writers would be inspired by the prize to copy him. Instead of acclaimed Nigerian writers, we would have acclaimed Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa writers. We suffer enough from tribal differences already. This is not the kind of variety we need.”

I don’t greatly care if Ngugi wa Thiong’o wins the Nobel or not. I think it would be good prestige for African literature around the globe, and I think he certainly deserves it. Ngugi’s Devil on the Cross almost always makes my “favourite books” list, and I would be delighted if he received the Nobel in the future. But were I trying to make a point about the blessings of Ngugi not receiving the prize this year, as Nwaubani does, my argument would be that the value of Ngugi’s work and of other African literature does not depend on the judgment of some prize committee in Scandanavia, which has made quite conservative selections in the past, but rather on the importance it holds first in the eyes of its “home” audience in Africa.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 15 October 2006 (c) CM

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 15 October 2006 (c) CM

I was, to put it bluntly, horrified by the assumptions with which Nwaubani draws her over-easy conclusions in this short piece. Whether or not Ngugi ever wins the prize, I wish there would be many more African writers who would copy, not him, or his style, but his commitment to writing in the language he grew up speaking. Why is great literature in Igbo, Yoruba, or Hausa (or Tiv, Itsikeri, or Nupe) a shudder-worthy accomplishment? Nwaubani seems to be implying that the mere fact that people speak and laugh and love and dare even to write in different languages is furthering “tribal differences”  She says “This is not the variety we need.” On the contrary, I would argue this is exactly the variety we need.

Of course, we also need translation. Translation, as I have heard Professor Ngugi say on multiple occasions, is the only equal relationship between languages. Why should we not translate works of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo into English or even into each other, in the same way that Norwegian or Japanese (smaller languages than many African languages) works are translated into other languages? Why is “the Nigerian reader,” by default, defined as an English speaker. This sort of thinking merely furthers the distinction between the elite and the masses in Nigeria. To my mind, it is not African language literature that furthers divisions between Nigerian peoples, but rather this sort of thinking that sees African languages the enemy rather than a source of creativity and celebration–promoting monolingualism in English rather than the multilingualism that has long been a strength of the continent.

Why is there a dearth of reading culture of African literature in Nigeria? Much of it probably is that there is not enough of the funny, light-reading novels like Nwaubani’s available. But much of it may also have to do  with how “reading culture” in the Nigerian context is almost always defined as reading culture in English. Does Nwaubani know that there is a flourishing market of Hausa language literature in Northern Nigeria that crosses borders into Niger, Cameroon, Ghana, and even further flung places like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia where there are Hausa speakers? Does she know that one of the richest sources of women’s writing and women’s voices in Nigeria is being written in Hausa, where hundreds of well-known and beloved female authors write about love, marriage and their everyday experiences, or that Hausa novelists have long dealt with the national experience of being Nigerian? The bestselling Hausa novel, thus far, In da So da Kauna self-published in two parts in 1991 and 1992 by Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino sold over 100,000 copies (200,000 if you count both parts), which although hardly a New York Times bestseller is a good selling book even for Western publishers like Penguin or Random House. Is that literature (and what I hear is also a rather flourishing Yoruba literary scene) doomed to be trampled and denounced by Nigerian intellectuals and English-language writers because it is not written in the “language of unity,” which because of the history of colonialism happens to be English? Is it doomed to be trampled and denounced because, since no one has translated it, it has not been read by those large corporate publishers in America and the UK, who have made the careers of so many recent Nigerian authors writing in English?

I intend no disrespect for African literature in English here. It has its beauties and its advantages, such as a more immediate global and, yes, national audience. But we NEED literature in African languages because embedded within their etymology is history and a rich cultural heritage that we will lose if they die. These languages should be given the chance to develop same way that English language literature has developed, through literature. And this English language literature would never have developed had not rebels like Chaucer or Shakespeare insisted in writing in the vernacular rather than the more elite Latin that was the universal language of the educated elite in Europe at that time. We need such literature in the same way that we need literature in Danish, Mandarin, or Tamil. We need such literature because it is often in that literature you can capture exactly the kind of light-hearted banter, the vast reading audience, and the stories of ordinary working class Nigerians that Nwaubani is seeking. Perhaps, more people across the country would read if more Nigerian language literature were translated. Rather than calling for the death of African language literature, I would rather call for the investment in scholarship in and publication of this literature and the commitment of writers willing to translate it. Maybe then, Nwaubani will recognize her fellow “literary groundbreakers,” not in the old sober masters of the English language, but in those of her contemporaries who capture millions of readers in the language they speak every day.

UPDATE 19 December 2010. Since my response to Nwaubani’s article shortly after I read it last Sunday, a number of brilliant responses from African writers and intellectuals have popped up around the internet. Here are some of them:

“In Africa, The Laureate’s Curse” by Chielozona Eze on Africa Literature News and Reviews, December 12

“Not so, Adaobi” by Chuma Nwokolo on AfricanWriting.com, on December 12

“The Laureates Curse? I think not” on Kinna Reads, December 14

“The Nobel and Ngugi’s Cause–a short response to Tricia Adaobi’s article, In Africa the Laureate’s Curse” by Nana Fredua-Agyeman on ImageNations, December 14

“Why Nwaubani was Wrong” on Nigerians Talk, on December 15

“Nwaubani, Ngugi, and the Nobel” on Molara Wood’s Wordsbody, December 18

And for a piece arguing the opposite of what Nwaubani wrote, see Zoe Norridge’s piece in the Guardian, “Why Ngugi wa Thiong’o should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.”

[UPDATE 13 February 2011. I am currently uploading photos and links to some my column in the Weekly Trust. I used this essay, slightly edited, as one of my columns on 18 December 2011: “Regarding Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s ‘In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse.’” To read the piece in the original version, click on the photo below which will take you to a photo large enough to read.

Interview with me in last week’s Aminiya

Here is an interview Bashir Yahuza Malumfashi of the Hausa language weekly Aminiya did with me in December while at the Indigenous Language Literature conference in Damagaram, Niger, December 2009. It was published in last week’s Aminiya, 5-11 February, on pages 20-21. Despite the awful pictures of me, I was quite pleased with how the interview turned out (and pleased with how he edited and corrected my Hausa!). To read the interview, you will probably have to download the photos and open them at 100%. (If the photos are showing up too big to read, try clicking on my home page link. It should allow you to access beyond the margins. UPDATE: 13 February 2010: Actually probably the best way to read the article(as pointed out by Desertgills) is to click on the photos–that should take you to my flickr page. After that click on the All sizes icon at the top of the photo and pick “original size”–that should make it big enough to read… UPDATE 7 April 2010, I actually just found an online version of the interview, so no need to go to all the trouble clicking on photos.)

There were several funny things I thought I should note. First of all, the headline on the front page of Aminiya is “Ta Karya Hannun Mijinta kan Kud’in Cefane”/”She broke her husband’s arm over cooking money.” Aminiya typically features sensational tabloid-style headlines to human interest stories like this. I laughed when I saw it though, because of all the photos on the front of the paper, mine is the only one of a woman. So, naturally, the reader might think that there is this crazy baturiya who broke her husband’s arm….

from Aminiya 5-11 February 2010, pages 20-21

The second cringe moment comes on the second page (page 21) when I am talking about 19th century writers who were writing about “love” in addition to other social issues. I was making a point about the dangers of judging novels as “merely” romance novels because they include elements of romance, and also pointing out that Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and other literary icons of the early 19th century were writing in a reading culture that was filled with the popular “Gothic romances,”  often called “trash” in their day. Jane Austen mocked these novels in her satirical Northanger Abbey, while Charlotte and Emily Bronte took the tropes of the Gothic Romance to the next level in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. My point was that these writers were reacting to and building on this popular literature and a reading culture that is necessary for the emergence of any literature. I remember in the interview, talking about “Jane Austen” and the “Charlotte Bronte.” Unfortunately, that somehow got transcribed as “Jeane Austin” and “Sheldon.” Please note, that while Sidney Sheldon is a popular writer, he was not writing in the 1800s, and he was not whom I was referring to…

Here is a summary of the interview in English.

Malam Bashir asks me how I started to become interested in Hausa.

I tell him that I grew up in Jos, where my father is a professor at the University of Jos, and I started learning Hausa there. But when I started my MA degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I was required to learn an African language and decided to continue with Hausa. I went to Sokoto, where my teacher Dr. Malami Buba brought me Hausa novels and films.  I had been planning to base my research on English language Nigerian literature, but when I started watching Hausa films and reading Hausa novels, I realized that there were a lot of people outside of Hausa speaking areas who had no idea it existed, even to the point where people often complain about the lack of reading culture in Nigeria. But I saw it was not the case in the North where people were reading Hausa.

He asked me what I could say about Hausa writers and filmmakers.

I said that they really impressed me. I said I had always been interested in writer’s movements and the history of literature [such as the Romantic poets etc]. When I came to Hausaland, I realized that the sort of literary/art movement I had always been interested in was happening here in Hausa. I said that I was impressed by how writers and filmmakers and singers often worked together. I mentioned Ibrahim Sheme’s novel ‘Yar Tsana as particularly impressive and said I also loved the novels of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, Nazir Adam Salih, etc.

He asked me about which films most impressed me. This was the most embarrassing part of the interview because there were films I wanted to talk about but I couldn’t remember their names. I mentioned Sani Mu’azu’s film Hafsat and the film Zazzab’i.

He asked me about the importance of the Hausa language in the world.

I said it was one of the most important languages in Africa, that some statistics show it has more speakers than Swahili, which means it is the largest language spoken in Africa after perhaps Arabic. I also thought that the proliferation of Hausa films and novels was helping the development of Hausa. I gave the example of those who were not of Hausa ethnicity but who enjoyed the films. I mentioned also that when visiting the office of VOA-Hausa earlier that year, one of the reporters showed me some Ghanaian Hausa films made in Accra.  I further mentioned the writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o who is always talking about the importance of writing in African languages. Also if we look at the history of literature in English, if writers like Shakespeare [Chaucer] etc had not chosen to write in their own languages, although English was not yet the language of power at the time, English would be a much poorer language and we would not have these great literary works with us.

He asked me if I was thinking about writing a book in Hausa.

I said that there were certainly writers who wrote in languages of their adopted countries, like the Polish-British writer Joseph Conrad and the Russian-American writer [Vladimir Nabokov]. However, I said that my Hausa was not strong enough to write a book yet, but maybe if I lived in Northern Nigeria for the next fifty years, my Hausa would be good enough to write creatively in it. Right now I write in English.

I’ll skip the next question and move on to the first question on page 21, where he asked me what I think about what happened between filmmakers, writers, and the Kano State Censorship Board.

I said that I had much to say about this but I would focus my comments on my own area of expertise. Since I know about literature and the history of literature in English, I would talk about the parallels between what I saw here and what happened then. I said that Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters [which somehow got transcribed as "Jean Austin and Sheldon"] were writing in England during the 1800s, and they were writing about love. They were writing during a time when there were lots of books floating around [Gothic romances etc] that people said were not great literature, that these novels were spoiling the upbringing of young girls etc (the same things that are being said now about Hausa literature). But I said that though the novels of Austin and the Brontes talked about love, they also talked about other social issues of the time, poverty, and class and injustice.  I said that we could draw a parallel between this English literature and contemporary Hausa literature. Although there are films and novels that focus on love, there are also a lot of other social issues that are caught up in these stories. During the conference in Niger, Malam Rabo (the head of the Kano State Censorship board) proclaimed that he would not read any more love stories for a year [he said that writers should focus on more "important" social problems like declaiming drug use, etc]. But I would ask him, if he says he will ban love stories, what will that do to Hausa literature and films? There is danger if there is someone sitting in the government saying that writers and filmmakers must write or make films about certain prescribed issues and not about others. There should be some amount of distance between creative artists and the government, because the writers and filmmakers are the voice of the ordinary people. They have the power to present problems that ordinary people suffer, so they shouldn’t be prevented from bringing these things out. Also, if Malam Rabo says that for a year he will refuse to read love stories at the censorship board, this is a way of suppressing the voice of women, because many of the stories classified as “littattafan soyayya”/love stories are those novels written by women. Also, these books might deal with romantic love but they are also about problems of the household and the relationships between husbands and wives. If you say that writers must write about the problems of drugs etc., it seems that you are saying that the problems on the street are more important than the problems of the household or the family. I believe it is very dangerous to say you are going to ban an entire theme in literature and only allow the themes you are interested in. Each writer should be allowed to write on those things that he or she wants to write about. If you want to send a message to the readers, then you can write your own book. If the readers like it, then they can read your book and leave behind the love stories, but one mustn’t prevent writers from writing about their lives. There are a lot of complaints about writers writing on adult themes that spoil the upbringing of children, but there are other avenues to address this beside issuing bans. For example, there could be a law passed [like that of the National Film and Video Censors Board] that books with adult themes cannot be sold to children–there can be a differentiation between books written for children and those written for adults.

Bashir Yahuza Malumfashi asks me about what I think about Malam Rabo’s statement at the writer’s conference about how the foreigners and Europeans who said they were interested in Hausa language and culture were not really interested  in it–that they were just tricking and deceiving people for ulterior motives.

I say that I can only talk about myself–that there is no way that I can know about the motivations of every other European or foreigner who comes here. But I said that I truly do love Hausa language, literature, and culture. I came here to this country to do research and I would love to stay and live here and continue to raise the interest of those outside in Hausa language and culture. I am certainly not lying about this. I truly love Hausa and Hausa people.

He finally asks me about my marital status and whether I could marry a Hausa man and live here.

I said that marriage is according to God’s will, and that I will follow whatever God has prepared for me.

Presenting in Abuja today on the importance of contemporary Hausa literature

For those in Abuja, I will be presenting today on the importance of contemporary Hausa literature to national and world literature.  You are welcome to come heckle me. Greenlines Restaurant, 11 Aba close off Ogbomosho Street, Area 8, Garki. 5pm. Friday.

(Update 7 February 2010, Sunday: Another related event tonight, 6pm, GAP, Play bar and lounge, close to Pennial Apartments, Maitama, Abuja. I will be talking informally about Hausa literature and film.)

AN ELLITERATE INITIATIVE POWERED BY THE NATIONAL FILM AND VIDEO CENSORS BOARD, G.A.P

UPDATE 8 February 2010, since my presentations I have received questions about the details of the publication, etc, and I compiled this list of links. There are far more, but this is a good introduction:
Interview with Hausa novelist Sa’adatu Baba:http://ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews=43816

Interview with bestselling author Bilkisu Funtua:
http://ibrahim-sheme.blogspot.com/2007/04/bilkisu-funtuwa-interview.html

Interview with groundbreaking author Balaraba Ramat Yakubu:
http://www.nigeriafilms.com/content.asp?contentid=2774&ContentTypeID=2

Interview with the first female novelist who wrote in Hausa Hafsat Abdulwahid: http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/ArtsandCulture/5501274-147/story.csp

Another interview with Hafsat Abdulwahid:
http://www.africanwriter.com/articles/310/1/Interview-with-Hafsatu-Ahmed-Abdulwahid/Page1.html

Info on the current censorship crisis in Kano:
http://ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews=43857

Hausa Popular Literature Database at SOAS, London:http://hausa.soas.ac.uk/

“Hausa literary movement and the 21st century” by Yusuf Adamu: http://www.kanoonline.com/publications/pr_articles_hausa_literary_movement.html

“Between the word and the screen: A historical perspective on the Hausa Literary movement and the Home video invastion” academic article by Yusuf Adamu

“Hausa popular literature and the video film” academic article by Graham Furniss: http://www.ifeas.uni-mainz.de/workingpapers/FurnissHausa.pdf

“Loud Bubbles from a Silent Brook: Trends and Tendencies in Contemporary Hausa Prose Writing” academic article by Abdalla Uba Adamu
http://inscribe.iupress.org/doi/abs/10.2979/RAL.2006.37.3.133

“Islamic-Hausa Feminism Meets Northern Nigerian Romance: The Cautious Rebellion of Bilkisu Funtuwa” academic article by Novian Whitsitt
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4106/is_200304/ai_n9219184/

“Parallel Worlds: Reflective Womanism in Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s Ina son sa haka” academic article by Prof Abdalla Uba Adamu
http://www.africaresource.com/jenda/issue4/adamu.html

Hausa writer’s database (in hausa):
http://marubutanhausa.blogspot.com/

My blog post on a Hausa writer’s conference in Niger:http://carmenmccain.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/a-hausa-literary-expedition-to-damagaram-zinder-niger/

etc, etc, etc….

A Hausa Literary Expedition to Damagaram, Zinder, Niger

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Hausa writers Maryam Ali, Zainab Auta, Hafsat M.A. Abdulwahid, and Rabi’a Talle in Damagaram, Niger, 10 December 2009 (c) Carmen McCain

Last week I attended a conference on “The Importance of Indigenous Languages to Economic, Social, and Cultural Development (a rough translation of the conference name in French “Interet et Importance des Langues Nationales dans le Processus du Developpement Economique Social Culturel et Politique” and Hausa “Mahimmancin Harsunan Gida ta Hanyar Rubutu Don Ci Gaban Tattalin Arziki Al’Adu da Kyautata Rayuwa da Siyasa”), held in Damagaram, Niger, from 8-10 December 2009. From the papers presented, (all of which were in Hausa on matters related to Hausa language, literature, and culture) and the participants, involved, it mostly turned out to be a conference on the importance of Hausa, with the significant exception of the participation of Alhassane Hamed-Ittyoube, a Nigerien writer, translator, and illustrator of Tuareg heritage, with some beautiful looking books in the Tamajaq language using the Tifinar script he passed around for us to look at. Although his primary languages are Tamajaq and French, he speaks some Hausa and interacted well with the mostly Hausa literary crowd that arrived from Nigeria and other parts of Niger. Unfortunately, for some reason I can’t quite understand, he was stopped from reading an excerpt from one of his rewritings of Tamajaq oral literature at one of the open-mic events. He was reading a translation in French, which another Nigerien writer was translating into Hausa. He was about two minutes into his reading, and we were all enjoying the piece, when there was some discussion I couldn’t hear, and he was not able to finish. I was sorry about that because his involvement in the conference seemed very important in providing a voice for minority-language literatures in a conference that was ostensibly about indigenous language[S] rather than just Hausa. I will try to write a separate post on his work and the interaction we had during the conference.

With that aside, it was very enjoyable to be on an expedition with so many Hausa writers (including novelists, poets, journalists, and academics), and to be able to be a part of the two evenings of open-mic events, in which authors read poems/short stories/excerpts of novels and received much critical feedback from fellow writers. The atmosphere was relaxed, friendly, and full of jokes, especially when novelist/screenwriter/poet Nazir Adam Salih sang a love-song, with a full sing-along chorus, to an unknown lady and was mercilessly teased with spur-of-the-moment response songs for the rest of the trip.

Hausa novelists Nazir Adam Salih and Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino at a reading in Damagaram, Zinder, Niger, 8 December 2009 (c) Carmen McCain

There is much to say about the week, and I will likely split this post up into several smaller ones on specific themes. So watch out for further posts throughout the week.

The events of the week included arrival on Monday evening; an opening ceremony on Tuesday and an open-mic Tuesday night; paper presentations on Wednesday morning and afternoon and another open-mic Wednesday evening, a closing ceremony Thursday afternoon with visits to the museum and the Emir’s palace (or the Sultanate of Damagaram). About six of us women also took a trip to the market on Thursday evening.

Tamajaq writer Alhassane Hamed Ittyoube and Hausa writers at the museum in Damagaram, Zinder, Niger 10 December 2009 (c) Carmen McCain

Friday morning, about seven of those of us who were heading back to Kano trekked, dragging rolling suitcases, laptop cases, and market bags of tapioca, to the Damagaram public transport depot. There was much haggling over pricing and space. We nearly left in a small bus, but when the driver attempted to cram more passengers in, though we had settled on a price for a certain number of seats, we disembarked and left the park to arrange for a vehicle elsewhere. I will tell the story of our rather dramatic border crossing in another post.

The most personally disconcerting part of the trip (other than the dramatic border crossing that I will write about later!) was being in Niger with no money!! I went to Niger in public transport with several writers from Kano. At the border, we decided to wait to change money until we got to Damagaram, assuming there would be a better rate there, but once there we were met at the public transport depot by one of our Nigerien hosts and never actually got to a place to change our naira to CFAs. So, many of us went for about three days without having any money. Fortunately, our hosts were generous enough to feed and house us, so it wasn’t a major hardship, but it was a little disorienting to not even have the money to buy a sachet of pure water or a bundle of tissue. On the last evening, some of us women took a trip to the market and were able to find a trader to change a little naira. I immediately went in search of pure water having not had anything to drink since early in the morning! That said, it is amazing that we were taken care of so well that we were not too pinched without our cash!

Overall, it was an excellent experience. There were a few grumblings about accommodations and organization, but that seems typical of most conferences. I did feel badly that Hajiya Hafsat M.A. Abdulwahid, an important writer, the first female novelist in Hausa and winner of the 1979 NNPC writing competition for her novel So Aljannar Duniya, was not given better accommodations. She graciously shared a room with me, but a person of her status should have been given something a little better.

More details later.

Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu’s fantastic Hausa “abdalla font”

Forgive me if I rave over something that is very old news to most Hausa computer-users, but today I just used the abdalla font, created by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, for the first time. I am ashamed to admit that I had not taken the time to figure out any of the Hausa fonts before–I had just lazily put an apostrophe for the hooked characters while Times New Roman font, and I was often reproved for that by Hausa speakers when they read my writing.  However, recently I had some documents I had written in Hausa proofread. The friend who helped me did a fantastic job of correcting my Hausa using the Rabiat font and sent me the Rabiat font so that the fonts would print correctly.  Unfortunately I had problems when the font would not show up after being turned from a Word file to a pdf,  so I tried the abdalla font instead (which Prof told me would be better for pdf). It’s a beautiful font. It blends perfectly with a Times New Roman font (whereas Rabiat looks like bold wherever a transition is made from Times New Roman) and the keys are easy to remember.

So, since I didn’t find this when I googled it (I’m sure this has done many times before–but I’m redoing it for the google searches), here is a little public service announcement for those hapless researchers like myself first trying to figure out the abdalla font fingerings.  (I’m sure this is unnecessary for most people in Kano using the font.)

Hooked capital D = [      (key to the right of "p")

Hooked lower case d = ]     (key to the right of “[“)

Hooked capital K = {      (shift on the “[" key used for hooked D)

Hooked lower case k = }     (shift on the "]” key used for hooked d)

Hooked capital B = |    (shift on the “\” key to the right of the “]” key)

Hooked lower case b = ~     (shift on the “`” key to the left of the 1 key)

If you don’t have the abdalla font, you can download it at the Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo site here.

Allah ya ba da sa’a

DG of Kano Censor’s Board taken before shari’a court

In a fascinating turn of events, Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, the Director-General of the Kano State Censorship Board, has been arrested by the police and taken before the shari’a court by the Kano State Filmmaker’s association.

Here is the article “Police Arrest DG Kano Censors Board” by Nasir Gwangwazo published yesterday, 4 August, in Leadership. Ibrahim Sheme has also republished the article on his blog.

Director-General of the Kano State Censorship Board, Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem, was yesterday arrested by the police over a complaint filed against him by the Kano State Filmmakers Association.

A reliable source told LEADERSHIP last night that Rabo had been dragged to a Sharia Court in Sabon Gari, Kano, by members of the association over an allegation credited to him, in which he was said to have described movie makers as a bunch of homosexuals and lesbians during an interview he granted Radio Kano recently.In the interview, a copy of which was made available to LEADERSHIP, Rabo stated that he had proof that many of the filmmakers were gay, saying his intervention in the industry had helped sanitise the situation.

The statement incensed the filmmakers, and they wrote him a letter demanding a retraction and an apology within 48 hours.But at a follow-up press conference recently in Kano, the director-general repeated his claim, warning that he would publish more damning reports about the alleged immorality in the industry if pressed further.The association went ahead with its threat, suing him before the Sharia court, which was said to have advised the association to report the matter to the police first. >p>According to a member of the association and the immediate former chairman of the state chapter of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Malam Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, Rabo was picked up yesterday by two plain-clothes policemen at about 4pm and taken to the Metro police station located on Bank Road in the city, following a complaint by the filmmakers.At the police station, three leaders of the moviemaking association – Nura Hussain, Ahmad Alkanawy and Isma’ila Afakalla – endorsed the association’s formal complaint, which Rabo reportedly denied. According to Gidan Dabino, the case is due for hearing at the Sharia Court, Fagge, today. When our correspondent contacted Rabo on phone last night, however, he denied knowledge of the issue, saying he was in a meeting and promptly switched off.

Following the arrest, there has been much discussion, on the Finafinan Hausa yahoo group. Ibrahim Sheme has posted one of his responses on the internet group on his blog, saying that Rabo’s intention has never had the interests of the filmmaking in Kano at heart.

According to people who have written me about this (this is unverified rumour), Rabo was given bail, but apparently left his car and driver and went away on an acaba.  He is being charged in a shari’a court for “kazafi (invented lies to assinate character).” If convicted, the punishment is 80 lashes with a whip.

Readers will remember that this latest event was precipitated by accusations Rabo made on the radio, saying that filmmakers were homosexuals and lesbians. The filmmaker’s association responded with a letter asking him to withdraw and apologize for the remarks in the next 48 hours or face legal action in a shari’a court.  Rabo responded several days later with a press release, threatening to release more evidence saying, among other things:

This address is a by product of the pressing need of the media to balance their stories and the board to have a fair right to reply on the ‘empty threat’ of those practitioners who’s future is endangered or eroded due to our sustainable sanitization exercises. These miscreants are enemies to the present peaceful atmosphere and the cotemporary achievements of the Board because they are the beneficiaries of the old age. The age of un coordinated and un-professionalized Kannywood industry.

Hitherto, this nasty development will not in any way deter the Board on its commitment to safeguard the Kano State ideals in addition to societal values because our statutory legal undertakings are not only the promulgation of state legislation but also constitutional above all holy and sacred.

[...]

Moreso, additional doziers at our disposal will not in any way help the film stakeholders when released to public especially in this period where some further negative developments are continuously unveiling and circulating.

[...]

Furthermore, let me use this opportunities to re-iterate one of the fundamentals of this administration which is the rule of law where equality before law is necessary. Therefore, the Board is happy that constituted measures like threat to sue organisation or person(s) is welcome by our style of leadership. Even though the Board will not hesitate to table publically at the right time and at the right place all at its possession out of social responsibilities and trust but with no meaning to join issues or make filmmakers vulnerable. Let me at this juncture warn that: “Kada Dan Akuya yaje Barbara ya dawo da ciki”. [MY TRANSLATION—CM: A male goat should not go to a female goat and return pregnant…]

For the post on this blog that includes a transcript of Rabo’s statements on the radio, the  letter and press release from MOPPAN and the subsequent entire press release from Rabo, see this link.