Tag Archives: Nigerian literature

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:https://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

IMG_1029

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.

Helon Habila speaks on censorship in Kano

Helon Habila liest, P02

Helon Habila liest, P02 (Photo credit: lutzland)

(a post in which I meditate on my research obsessions and recommend a recent opinion piece on “Art and Censorship in Kano” by multiple award-winning Nigerian novelist Helon Habila)

In Helon Habila’s first novel Waiting for an Angel, which was the subject of my MA thesis, he blurs the boundaries between his characters’ fictions and the reality of the world they live in. Originally self-published as a collection of short stories Prison Stories, the novel is fractured into stories told from multiple perspectives about “ordinary” people living out their lives in the “prison state” of Nigeria under the Abacha regime. The artist, Habila implies, provides a challenge to oppressive structures by gathering up the voices of poor ordinary people, so often lost in official propaganda, and putting them into print. The novel is not merely a litany of hopelessness, although the hardship of poverty is illustrated, but also captures the loud irreverent conversations in a Lagos “Mama Put” joint on Morgan street, which has been re-named “Poverty Street” by its inhabitants and the vivid dreams of ordinary people for a better life.

One striking scene shows the main character Lomba, a journalist and aspiring novelist, watch a fictional scene he had written for his paper come to life. Lomba’s characters reflect what his editor James tells him to capture: the “general disillusionment, the lethargy” of being trapped into a story where “One general goes, another one comes, but the people remain stuck in the same vicious groove. Nothing ever changes for them except the particular details of their wretchedness. They’ve lost all faith in the government’s unending transition programmes. Write on that”  (113). The story that Lomba writes is filled with “ubiquitous gun and whip-toting soldiers,”  “potbellied, glaucomatous kids” playing in gutters alongside the carcasses of “mongrel dogs worried by vultures” (118). This story does, indeed, seem to reflect the despair of life in a prison until the end of the story where he writes of “the kerosene-starved house-wives of Morgan Street. I make them rampage the streets, tearing down wooden signboards and billboards and hauling them away to their kitchens to use as firewood” (118). This moment suggests both the extremity of the environment, which has forced the people of Morgan street against the wall, as well as the agency of the women who take their futures into their own hands. And although James removes the celebratory conclusion before publication, telling Lomba he is “laying it on a bit too thick,” on his way home, Lomba sees an angry mob of women who “set to hacking and sawing” at a large billboard advertising condoms. It is Lomba’s knowledge of the script that allows him to tell the man next to him that “‘They are not crazy. They are just gathering firewood’ I explained to him. It was my writing acting itself out. And James thought I had had laid it on too thick. I wish he were here to see reality mocking his words.”

Although Lomba’s first reaction is one of hopelessness that “we are only characters in a story and our horizon is so narrow and so dark[,]” this episode is a revolutionary moment in the text (119). While Lomba, as well as the women outside the window of the Molue, may be characters in a story, this moment marks a remarkable departure from the prophecies of prison and death foretold by a marabout in another “story” in the novel. The porous borders between Lomba’s fiction and his reality that allow his writing to act itself out indicate the possibilities of the imagination—the possibility that while caught in a the literary metaphor of a prison, the “prisoners” might turn around and revolt. Lomba, and subsequently the mob of women, take the text into their own hands and appropriate the property of the state to sustain their own needs

In recently thinking about my research interests on Nigerian films and  “meta-fictions,” I realize that what obsessed me about Waiting for an Angel is also what obsesses me about Nigerian and particularly Hausa films, both in the reflection of the stories of “ordinary people” so often seen in these films and in a projective imagination that often (although certainly not always) challenges injustices by acting as what Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o mentions as a crucial aspect of art, that of a mirror, which “reflects whatever is before it—beauty spots, warts, and all” (1998, 21). People are rarely passive in these films. Beloved comedians like ‘dan Ibro often skewer the rich and powerful in their satirical stories.

I’ve heard people complain that there is too much “shouting” in Nigerian films, yet to me this “shouting” becomes a powerful metaphor for what Nigerian films have done for the “voiceless.” Gayatri Spivak has asked if the “subaltern can speak”? While I want to be over-cautious about over-romanticizing Nigerian films, which often do reproduce Nigerian society’s worst stereotypes of women and offer alarmingly unhealthy “solutions” to problems, I think one of the reasons I love the films so much is because they do seem to allow the “subaltern” to speak, both literally (in that so many of the film participants come from poor backgrounds) and metaphorically.

Attempts to suppress these films, therefore, seem like the attempts of the prison superintendent in Waiting for an Angel to suppress and co-opt the voice of the writer Lomba. The writer is imprisoned, seemingly muzzled, but attempts to suppress his voice ultimately prove to be impossible. Lomba smuggles stories about his “life in prison” through metaphoric language in his “love poems” commissioned by the prison superintendent for the woman he is woo-ing.

Hausa films are often dismissed for being “just love stories.” But stories of love can be powerful. There is often more going on than the reader of surfaces will find.

I was thrilled, therefore, this morning to find that Helon Habila has recently brought together my two research obsessions in a recent article in one of my favourite new publications, NEXT: “Art and Censorship in Kano.”  In the article, he both challenges simplistic critiques of Nigerian films and meditates on the “politics” of censorship. As Habila points out, while Nigerian films are not always polished “cinema” pieces, they have “made movie making a grass roots experience.”

[UPDATE: 19 October 2013. While I was doing a little blog maintenance, I was afraid I had lost access to this article because NEXT went out of business a few years ago and took all their content with them. Fortunately, Sola at Naija Rules had copied the article over on her site. I’ve previously been irked when Nigerianfilms.com and other such sites have copied my blog content without permission, but I am beginning to be grateful for these sites that make articles available long after the original sites have gone down. I am re-copying Helon Habila’s article here for archival purposes.]

Art and censorship in Kano

By Helon Habila

It is so easy to underestimate the achievement of the Nigerian film industry, and this is because we always measure such achievements using false parameters—we compare Nollywood to Bollywood and Hollywood.

Whenever we do that, Nollywood will always come short of our unreasonable expectations. How long has it been in existence? Ten, maybe 20 years? What of Hollywood, over a hundred years? And Bollywood, when was Sholay made, 1960?

The extent of what our film makers have achieved in the short time they have been here was pointed out to me by a Nigerian/South African director friend.

When I asked him to compare the two film industries, he said, South Africa has all the right tools and techniques, they make movies on celluloid and with multiple cameras and have the right post-production requirements, but Nigeria doesn’t have all that, yet South Africans can’t get people to watch their movies whereas the Nigerian movies are practically jumping off the shelves.

It is true South Africa makes great movies, like Tsotsi, every once in a long while, but Nigeria has made movie making a grass roots experience. That is the paradox: whereas movie making in Nollywood is nondemocratic and cliquey, yet the consciousness towards it, and the patronage, is widespread.

This mass patronage and consciousness is indispensable if any nation is going to have a viable film industry. And we are achieving all this without government participation, or should I say, in spite of government participation.

And government participation is what brings me to Kano. The industry here is called Kannywood (what else?) Most people outside the Hausa speaking world aren’t really aware of it, but it has been going on for a while. Just as Nollywood’s progenitors are the early Nigerian soap operas like “Behind the Clouds”, “After the Storm”, etc, Kannywood also grew on the back of popular Hausa TV ‘dramas’ like “Samanja”, “Karkuzu”, and of course “Kasimu Yero’s Gagarau”.

Other unmistakable influences are Bollywood movies. The Indian influence on Hausa films can at best be described as odd, at worst weird—here I am not only talking about the excessively romantic nature of Hausa movies, the love theme could easily have come from Hausa literature, but I am talking about the song and dance numbers. It seems each film has about three songs and dances.

I remember the first time I saw a Hausa film, nobody had warned me that there was going to be singing and dancing, and so when it came I was taken totally unawares, and yes, I was disconcerted to watch these Nigerians singing and dancing on the streets of Kano.

That was the first impression. The second impression was: Well, the songs are really not that bad, if you are a song and dance kind of person. All in all one wished the songs would end quickly so the movie would resume.

But this piece is not really about aesthetics, it is about art and politics.

These actors would have gone on singing and dancing in peace, and mostly unnoticed by most Nigerians outside the Hausa speaking world if not for what has come to be dubbed the “Hausa Film Porn Scandal”. It seems in August 2007, a popular Hausa film actress, Maryam Hiyana, was filmed making love to her boyfriend, by the said boyfriend. In their defence they said it wasn’t for commercial purposes, so that technically means it is not porn, but somehow the eight-minute clip was leaked to the public and this began a series of what can only be described as a siege on the film industry by the Kano State government. And to quote a source, “So far, according to Ahmed Alkanawy, director of the Centre for Hausa Cultural Studies, over 1000 youth involved in the film industry and related entertainment industries ‘have been arrested in the name of shari’ah and sanitization.’ … However, although shari’ah law is invoked, most ‘censorship’-related cases are being tried in a state magistrate court, a mobile court on Airport Road presided over by magistrate Mukhtar Ahmed.

Defendants are often arrested and convicted within an hour, without the benefit of legal representation. Some are given prison sentences while others are given the option of paying a fine.”

A popular actor, Rabilu Musa (Dan Ibro), was arrested for “indecent dancing”!

What I find most chilling is a book-burning ceremony staged in a girls’ school. Book burning, in a school! The government may as well close down the school, for by burning books in front of students, the whole aim of educating them is defeated.

Even individual writers were required to register before writing!

The most recent case is the arrest of a former gubernatorial candidate Hamisu Lamido Iyan Tama—a film maker whose film, “Tsintsiya”, is an adaptation of the Hollywood classic, “Westside Story”. He was first arrested in May 2008 for three months and fined 2,500 naira, then in January 2009 he was sentenced to 15 months with a fine of N300,000. It seems in the movie, he acted the role of a governor and carried out an investigation into the causes of sectarian violence.

Here, at last, the government is showing its hand. Whenever an art form begins to go beyond entertainment and to appeal to people’s political consciousness, the people in power become scared. That seems to be the case with Kano.

The question to ask is, are the censors working in the interest of the people, or are they using religion for political ends as we have seen so often in the shari’ah states? Any society that seeks to silence the artist is attacking the people, for often it is only the artist that can articulate the secret hopes and yearnings of the people.

NEXT

 

5th Jos Festival of Theatre 2009

(just recieved the following announcement via the Jos-ANA listserve. Wish I were in Jos…. Anyone in Kano want to take a trip?) 

JOS REPERTORY THEATRE

                                             presents

                       5TH JOS FESTIVAL OF THEATRE 2009

10 DAYS OF EXCITING OPPORTUNITIES TO WATCH LIVE ON STAGE

ATHOL FUGARDS WOZA ALBERT directed by Tunde Awosanmi, 20 / 21st March,

BOSE AYENI-TSEVENDE’S MORNING YET AGAIN, a musical based on the book U ARE A
POET, written and choreographed by Bose Ayeni-Tsevende, 22nd March

SPENCER OKOROAFOR’S VISA TO NOWHERE directed by Eucharia Egah, 23rd March

PHILLIP BEGHO’S SMALLIE directed by Wapi Barau, 24th March

JEAN PAUL SARTRE’S NO
EXIT directed by Patrick-Jude Oteh and supported by the
French Cultural Centre, Abuja , 25th March

ADINOYI OJO ONUKABA’S A RESTING PLACE directed by Emmanuel Degri, 26th / 27th
March

WOLE SOYINKA’S THE TRIALS OF BROTHER JERO, directed by Austin Efe Okonkwo,
28th / 29th March

……………..all plays are suitable for all ages………………….

ALL PLAYS END AT 7..15 P.M.

DATES: FRIDAY 20TH – SUNDAY 29TH MARCH, 2009

VENUE: ALLIANCE FRANCAISE, OPPOSITE STANDARD BUILDING , JOS

TIME: 5.00 P.M. DAILY

GATE: N500, STUDENTS   N 200.

PLEASE CALL 0803 700 0496, 0805 953 5215, 0803 701 8172 further enquiries

Or e.mail: josreperthea@yahoo.com for tickets.

TICKETS WILL ALSO BE AVAILABLE AT THE GATE!

Jos Festival of Theatre is made possible by the FORD FOUNDATION and the French
Cultural
Centre, Abuja

PLEASE BRING A FRIEND TO THE THEATRE

The Heroism of Ordinary People: An Interview with Helon Habila

Nigerian writer Helon Habila at the Göteborg B...

Nigerian writer Helon Habila at the Göteborg Book Fair 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is an interview I did with Nigerian novelist Helon Habila about a year ago, November 2007. I did my MA thesis on his novel Waiting for an Angel, and was thrilled to get to interview him for Leadership newspaper.

Award winning novelist Helon Habila grew up in Gombe State. After earning his BA in English at the University of Jos in 1995, he taught at the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi. Moving to Lagos in 1999, he became the arts editor at the Vanguard and wrote a novel, published as Waiting for An Angel in 2002, which won the Caine Prize for African Fiction in 2001 and the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2003. Habila has published stories, articles, and poems in journals world-wide and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of East Anglia. After a stint as the first Chinua Achebe fellow at Bard College in New York, Habila took a position at George Mason University where he teaches creative writing. He is in Nigeria from November 17 to November 24 to promote his second novel Measuring Time. In this interview on behalf of LEADERSHIP, he speaks with Carmen McCain, a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, about his writing.

CARMEN MCCAIN: I was wondering what your creative process is like. Where do your stories come from?

HABILA: I really cannot say exactly, but I am really inspired by books. Sometimes I write in reaction to books I have read. Then there is also my experience: Measuring Time has a lot of that—my experiences as a child growing up. There was a time when I realised that I wanted to write about my hometown. From that moment whatever I did I viewed it through the eyes of fiction, thinking of how to represent the people I met, the things I did, the places I saw. I was thinking of them as already a part of my book that I was going to write. I was going to write Measuring Time even before I started writing Waiting for an Angel.

In both of your novels the act of writing itself seems to take on a political significance. What, to you, is the political responsibility of the writer?

Well, quite a lot, especially as an African writer. I think there is that tradition which started from the first generation of African writers. They were writing against the whole colonial system, which was very repressive, very racist, very dictatorial. They actually used to have congresses where they would discuss the best way to write fiction in a way that would address the political issues of the day. Even before that, in traditional African society, from the folk tales, there’s always a kind of moral lesson, a kind of didacticism that is seen as an aesthetic part of that story. So politics more or less becomes an aesthetic in African fiction. There are no boundaries between what is purely political and what is art. Art becomes politics and politics becomes art. So I think people like me who find themselves in that tradition, and have that temperament, that awareness of what is going on, who feel that things shouldn’t be the way they are, have a duty to speak out. It is tradition and it’s also a matter of temperament, because there are definitely writers in Africa who don’t write about politics. They write art for art’s sake, or whatever you want to call it.

Could you say more about the influences of Hausa literature on

Helon Habila liest, P13

Helon Habila liest, P13 (Photo credit: lutzland)

your writing?

Definitely. I grew up reading the translation of One Thousand and One Nights in Hausa and the works of Abubakar Imam, Magana Jari Ce, Ruwan Bagaja, etc. So there is that magical or folkloric representation of reality, which is very different from pure realism. I was definitely influenced by that. And before that I was also influenced by folktales told to me by women in the compound. So, these Hausa books I discovered later were almost a continuation of that story tradition with the magical elements, spirit figures and things like that.

Both of your novels deal with history. InMeasuring Time, the character Mamo wants to write a biographical history. Is this one of your own goals?

Definitely, I think so. Because so much that we have is fast fading away and being taken over by the modern, I see writing itself as cultural conservation. That is exactly what Mamo’s project is, conserving the history of people…, because they were misrepresented by the [missionary] Reverend Drinkwater. If you represent what has been misrepresented, you are putting the records right. And that is what history is supposed be. Taking moments of glory, and also ordinary moments—moments of humanity, of value to the community, and putting it down in books. It doesn’t have to be about generals, it doesn’t have to be about chiefs, it could be about ordinary people, their heroism. That is the whole point of the book, that lives should be celebrated, regardless of what office or what lack of office that person has.

Newton Aduaka, the winner of the Golden Yennenga Stallion at the FESPACO film festival, is making a film based on Waiting for an Angel. How involved have you been with this?

I’m not really involved. I’m just the author of the novel. I see film as being totally different from literature. They are both narrative art forms, but they have different ways of representing their story, their subject. I trust him as an artist. I think my novel is strong enough to stand on its own, even if the movie is a bit different in some of its portrayals.

Have you ever thought of writing a screenplay or becoming involved in film?

I really want to do that some day. Some people approached me to write a movie script. I started writing it and then it became a novel! I’m really enjoying the experience. I don’t know how far it’s going to go, but I’m definitely going to go into movies one of these days. To write, or even direct, if I have the chance. The movie industry is just incredible, and I think this is the moment to get involved.
All right, thank you so much.

Thank you, you’re welcome.