Thursday, 31 January 2008


A yau Alhamis (ko in ce jiya, tunda karfe 1 ta haura) na shiga kasuwar Wuse, Abuja, inda na samu sayen littafin Mace Mutum na Rahma A. Majid. N820 na saye shi. Littafin ya dan yi kwana biyu da fitowa ban gan shi ba, ga shi kuwa wai ni ma d'an gida ne (tunda "kanen" marubuciyar ne!). Hasali ma dai na aika wa da wasu littafin, ciki har da Amina Abdulmalik (mai 'Ruwan Raina'), wadda ta na Katsina yanzu, na sa Danjuma Katsina ya kai mata kwafe har gida, kuma ta karanta har ta gama cikin kankanin lokaci!

Na aje littafin a kan teburi na a ofis. Duk wanda ya shigo sai ya dauka, ya yi mamakin girman sa, har wasu na cewa, "Wannan tarihin waye?" Ba su ga hoton Yar'Adua ko Babangida a bangon ba! Sai na ke ce musu, "Ai novel ne."

"Novel? Da ma ana yin novel da Hausa haka?"

Mutane sun saba da ganin littafi mai shafi 40 zuwa 70 na Hausa. Shi Mace Mutum, shafi 520 ne. Wane yaro!?

Kai, lallai Rahma ta ciri tuta! Mace mai kamar maza, kwari ne babu! Matar soja kin fi karfin yaro!

Allah ya sa sauran marubuta za su dauki hannu, su yi koyi da ita. Ni da ma na shafe shekaru ina yekuwar cewa ya kamata marubutan mu su rika yin rubutu mai inganci, kuma su rika yin littafi mai kauri-kauri. Su yi kokarin ficewa daga kangin 'Adabin Kasuwar Kano.' To, Rahma dai ta fara. Allah ya k'ara mata basira, da kwarin gwiwa.

Gobe (ko kuwa dai a yau!) zan fara karanta shi insha Allahu.

Kuma na kudiri aniyar saya wa marubuciya Sa'adatu Baba Ahmad Fagge kwafe daya in kai mata a gidan su a nan Abuja (domin fa ta na gari yau mako biyu, kuma na ziyarce ta sau biyu, gobe ma zan koma). Zan ba ta mamaki da kyautar littafin, domin ita ma har yanzu labarin sa kawai ta ke ji. Za mu yi tseren gama shi kenan.

Sallaman ku!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Barmani Choge's Night of glory

Kai kun ji zan gaya maku yaran mata ai haihuwa malkar faru ce,
Ayye ran da ta kare sai warisa,
Kuma sai walkami dada sai sa hoda,
To kuma rigar mama salama alaikum.

Ayye ni idan na hwara sai nai dozin,
Ke Ladi, in na hwara sai nai dozin,
In yi Sa’a kuma in yi Sa’adu,
In yi Habi kuma in yi Habibu,
Sai nai Amiru sai in yi Hamza,
In yi Jamila, in yi Jamilu,
Na yi Basira na yi Basiru,
Saura Salamatu saura Saleh.

– Barmani Choge, in “Gwanne Ikon Allah,” urging young women to embrace reproduction

It was another night of rumbunctious gaiety. The diva who makes women to shake their bottoms was in town again, at the same venue and time. And the chain of events was almost the same, an uncanny replay of the 2006 outing - the rub-a-dubs of the water-filled calabash drums, Barmani Choge’s lilting voice, the academics intervening occasionally with background infos, the Q & A from the excited audience. Even the audience looked the same - women, men (young and young-at-heart), children; husbands and wives; the enthralled Britons who are trying to understand it all.

Outside the traditionally styled offices of the British Council, there was no parking space. Motor cars and cycles had filled up the place, watched by uniformed security guards. Passers-by would pause to ask what was going on here, Kano being a city of great spectacles. In that, it has no match in Hausa land. Ko da me ka zo, an fi ka. Hearing the amada music swinging in the air above the enclosed amphitheatre, the passers-by would wish to go inside and quench the thirst of their curiosity. Some would sneak into the place even though it was strictly by invitation.

The event’s poster called the night World Premier of Amada Rap as if it was the first time amada music was coming on stream!

As the show progressed, the amphitheatre continued to fill up to capacity; so many stood against the walls, their eyes focused on the old and young women on the stage beating the upturned calabash drums (kwarya) on their laps, creating a tune that was so unique, so original, so African. The leader of the musical group, Hajiya Barmani Choge, was easily Hausa land’s leading female traditional musician.

Born in 1945, she is old, of course. She had started singing about forty years ago, but her voice was surprisingly the same, keenly unaffected by age. The themes she dealt with were also timeless. They traversed topics from serious social issues like women’s education and importance of small-scale trading by women, all of which would empower women, to bawdy topics like co-wives as idle snobs, voluptuous women’s backsides, etc. These themes have been on her talented tongue since the late 60s, long before the Women’s Lib movement caught on in these parts of the world. Their core message is: women should get up and shine in this male-dominated world.

The audience in Kano last Saturday night, January 19, 2008 had heard all those songs before. As Barmani churned them out, their memory was only refreshed. But the difference was that this was live, Barmani in flesh. For those that had never seen her, it was a moment to relish forever. As she sang for her benefactors such as the ubiquitous Bala Waiman, Sa’in Katsina, Mairo Tafida, etc., their memories went back to the old days when traditional Hausa music was given more recognition, not today when it has been overtaken by Hausa movie lyrics and other attempts at modernisation.

The event was organised jointly by the British Council, Kano, and the Center for Hausa Cultural Studies, Kano. A generous endowment of the arts sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank, under the Empowering Hausa Traditional Artistes Initiative, a programme initiated by the CHCS and supported financially and otherwise by the Council and the bank, made the show possible. Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, a culture activist who teaches at the Bayero University, Kano, and also chairs the CHCS, is the cultural affairs facilitator of the programme, selecting the artistes and bringing them to the stage at the Council.

I asked him what this event was all about.

The purpose, he answered was “to showcase Hausa traditional performance arts, to bring it to the attention of the world, to keep it alive, to show that it is alive and kicking and it’s real, and that it can never be substituted by any other form of music. But it can work with other forms of music.”

The programme was meant “to show that we are as modern as modern can be, we normally invite vocalists - not only musicians - who will be able to work with the traditional musicians. That is why you won’t see most our instrumentalists here but the vocalists, particularly rap and hip-hop are brought over to play with the traditional musicians.”

On why he brought Barmani to the stage again, having first presented her on Wednesday, March 8, 2006 on the International Women’s Day, he said, “She is a female, she is old and she is targeting herself at female private sphere, and that is what we are loking for. We are looking for women entertainer-artistes, particularly the older women who will appeal to older women themselves. Because older women don’t have any form of entertainment except by Barmani Choge. Other women - younger women - have other younger artistes to cater for them.”

A publicity flyer for the event explained Barmani’s art in the following words: “Barmani Choge popularized the mature Hausa women genre of music called Amada (although she had precedent in the late Hajiya Uwaliya Mai Amada (1934-83) which started as religious performance by women in their inner apartments, before later becoming secularized in public performances. Barmani Choge’s performances appeal typically to mature women in high society due to her daring – and often experimental – exploration of issues that other conventional women musicians avoid. Literally the last of her generation, she popularized the Amada genre of Hausa music which is centered around five upturned calabashes floating on water and played with the hands by rather elderly women.

“The thematic focus of her performances is on the sociology of the family as it affects the woman in a typical Muslim Hausa household. She uses her lyrical power to draw attention to issues dealing with inter-personal relationships among women and between women and men.

“A lot of her repertoire deals with female social and economic empowerment in a traditional setting. For instance, her song, ‘Sakarai Ba Ta Da Wayo’ (Silly, She’s Not Smart) is a direct attack on women who prefer to live on other women’s economic efforts rather than seek out their own means of living. This song is complemented by ‘A Kama Sana’a Mata’ (Women, Engage in Profitable Occupations) which urges women to be economically empowered by getting engaged in a whole series of economic activities outlined in the performance.

“Her other set-pieces include a song that celebrates birth, ‘Gwanne Ikon Allah’ (The Blessings of Multiple Births), in which she proudly celebrated having a dozen children; as well as occasional forays into a more adult-themed performance such as in ‘Wakar Duwaiwai’ (The Song of the Derriere) in which she celebrates a woman’s attraction to her matrimonial duties. However, her most successful song is about resistance to polygamous marriages as sung in ‘Dare Allah Magani’ (Allah, the Curer of Night Darkness). Although not original to her (other Amada musicians such as Uwaliya had earlier recorded the song), Barmani’s rendition carried with it a fresh perspective that appealed to more modern Hausa women who took umbrage at the idea of polygamous relationships.”

As usual with these outings, the organisers ensured that while Barmani was the main artiste, other performers were included. Tonight, a new artiste, a young woman musician by name Amal Yunusa, as well as popular Hausa rap musical groups, X-Man (a solo artiste with the ragga-hit, Corruption), Minor Mistake (made up of four young high school students with a good rap track record), accompanied Barmani. While Barmani and her Calabash Ensemble were the star artistes, the solo vocalist Amal was the second while the two American-style rap groups provided a tantalising mix.
The audience was treated to Barmani’s most famous numbers: ‘Sakarai Ba Ta Da Wayau,’ ‘Dare Allah Magani,’ ‘Duwaiwai Dole A Zauna Da Kai,’ ‘La Ilallah Choge,’ ‘Ahayayye Sama Ruwa Kasa Ruwa,’ ‘Gwanne Ikon Allah,’ ‘Ari!’, ‘Dare Alherin Allah’, ‘Lale Maraba Da Ke Zinariya,’ etc. Amal did a remix of some of these songs, bringing them on recorded piano tunes as well as on live amada beats. She was joined in her acts by Aisha Jamilu, a grand-daughter of Barmani’s. They took the previous day to rehearse the show.

In this outing, there was an obvious attempt to create inheritors for Barmani. Aisha Jamilu, a secondary school student, had been included in the band and was made to sing Barmani’s songs to the accompaniment of the calabash music. But by far the nearest perfection to getting an inheritor was presented in Amal, a pretty young woman who took to music purely out of interest. She holds a diploma in Nursing and is now pursuing a HND course at the School of Management, Kano.

Hitherto, the 25-year old Amal sang enlightenment rap numbers in studios, using pianos instead of local instruments. She had recorded some six songs in a studio, but they have not been released yet. This was her first public appearance as a musician. She was brought into duet with Barmani three weeks earlier by Abdalla, who has conducted such experiments with other artistes, much to the delight of those that see them. Prof. Abdalla has always wondered - and worked on - how it would sound like to mix traditional tunes with modern, Western-created sounds. He achieves his purpose at the British Council shows.

Some members of the audience wondered how a thoroughbred Hausa young lady was allowed by her parents to take part in this kind of show, music being regarded as a trivial vocation by most tradition-minded Northern Nigerian Muslims. Amal told me in an interview that she had been liking music since her childhood when she listened to lots of Indian music. She had no family background in music, though. As proof that her family was not averse to her perceived indulgence, she brought her mother to the show.

“I have no any challenges from my family. My mum is even here,” she said, adding quickly, however, that her mother, a lawyer, sees the whole thing as a passing hobby, nit a serious vocation. “She wants me to learn and learn; she doesn’t want me to be occupied with it.. She is a barrister, she wants me to be someone like her,” Amal said.

She is into music not for commercial reasons. It’s a hobby, then?

Smiling, she replied: “I don’t know. Whatever happens I would welcome it. I may continue, and I may drop it. I don’t know what will happen because, you know, I will soon get married. I don’t know how my husband will react to it, so it depends on what he feels. If he wants, I will continue, if he doesn’t want it, I’ll stop it.”
This attitude to music seems to be shared by the old guard, too. A member of the audience asked Barmani if she would like her grand-children to become musicians. No, was the answer. She would rather want them to go to school and become “educated.” The mother of twelve children out of a single marriage - something she is always proud of - emphasised the importance of education, especially to women. In her life time she had seen instances where education helped emancipate the women folk from the shackles of ignorance and male-induced subservience.

The great old woman of Hausa music was given her first award during this event. It was a dainty certificate of merit from the Center of Hausa Cultural Studies for Barmani’s “immense contribution to the development of Hausa performing arts for women.” It was presented to her by the former consul of Niger Republic in Kano, Hajiya Fatima, assisted by the British Council’s Rabi Isma. The certificate was in two versions - in Hausa and in English. No doubt, it was a well-deserved honour to the woman who made women to not only “shake it” but also to think about their status in the society.

The event recorded a resounding success. Reacting to my query whether this was part of a global programme, Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu told me it was. “Yes, it is part of the programme of the British Council called Cultural Diplomacy. The whole idea behind it is to show that Britain is a friend of Nigeria and it supports cultural activities of Nigerians. British Council is the only agency that is supporting these kinds of activities now.”

Would this kind of thing have taken place in any other place but the British Council, considering the ban on musical performances in the state due to the state government’s restrictions based on the Sharia law?

“Yes. Sharia didn’t prevent people from having music. It would take place in Alliance Francais (in Kano) because something like this will take place there in a week or so from now.”

He hoped that the Kano State History and Culture Bureau would be able to take up the challenge of showcasing and sustainng traditional Hausa musicians, because that is their purview.

According to him, the next show is scheduled to take place “before April, by God’s grace.”

If it is not Barmani, be sure to see that it is another traditional musician who will take th audience down memory lane and induce a high sense of nostalgia. Already, the ever-active professor is working on it. In a telephone chat last night, he told me that a Fulani ensemble may be the next trick in his hat. After all, it is not only the Hausas that helped define what is known as Hausa culture.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The Murray Last Interview

Photograph by Abdalla Uba Adamu shows Prof. Last at the conference on preservation of Arabic manuscripts, in Kaduna last year

The following interview was published in LEADERSHIP newspaper, Abuja, on Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How Hausa People Choose When To Die


Professor Murray Last is the kind of person you would call a poplar among the shrubs. A scholar par excellence, he traverses the world of academics like a Colossus. I had been seeing his name in books and journals ever since I started learning ABCD. So meeting him a few months ago was one of the most pleasant moments of my life.

Murray Last is a Emeritus Professor of History based in England. He obtained his PhD from the University of Ibadan, becoming the first person to do so. He is best known as the foremost scholar of the Sokoto Caliphate. He first went to Sokoto in 1962 principally to study the ancient Arabic and Ajami manuscripts that filled the libraries of that headquarters of the defunct Caliphate founded by Sheikh Usmanu Danfodio. He had his tutulege under the great vizier of Sokoto, Waziri Junaidu, a man of immense learning himself. Under the Waziri, the young Last – in his 20s – became the first white man to gain full access to the long scholarly heritage of that intriguing era.

Now in his old age, Prof. Last is in retirement. Nevetheless, he was able to attend an international conference on the preservation of the arabised Hausa script, the Ajami, as well as Arabic manuscripts. I was fortunate to be present at the event, which took place last year at Arewa House, Kaduna, where I booked an appointment with Prof. Last. Accompanied by Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu of the Bayero University, Kano – another burning light in the sphere of academics in our times, I interviewed Prof. Last in his hotel room on the circumstance of his early foray into studies of the Caliphate, some of the findings of his work and his views on various aspects of contemporary scholarship. His finding that people can decide on when to die (when they are sick, of course) is as controversial today as it was when he first revealed it three years ago.

SHEME: I think it is only reasonable to start by asking what drew your attention in the first place to the study of the Sokoto Caliphate.

PROF. LAST: I came to Nigeria in 1961. I got a grant from Liverpool Foundation for two years to work for my PhD. I had been at Yale where I read Chinese and African history for my M.A. Although I wanted to do Chinese history, in those days you could only go to learn Chinese in Hong Kong. I was very excited with African history since Independence was coming in 1960. I was in Yale from 1959 to 1961, so I was there for the excitement of Independence and everything. I had long been interested in Islamic things. I had traveled to Jordan, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

When I came to Ibadan to do my PhD, I decided to choose an Islamic subject. There was H.S.C. Smith, who was a professor then, with people like Jacob Ajayi and others, with Kenneth Dike as the vice chancellor. It was then of course known as University College, Ibadan. Abdullahi Smith, as the late H.S.C. Smith later became, suggested that I study the viziers, the Waziris, in Sokoto since there were documentations of the letters from the Waziri to various Emirs, and also letters from the Emirs to the Waziris, so it seemed a very good subject to do. I started in 1961 to do "A Study of Sokoto in the 19th Century, with Special Reference to the Waziris," which was the title of the thesis.

To start the study, did you have to move to Sokoto?

I first came to Kano in December 1961 and then spent the Christmas in Maiduguri so, I didn’t actually go to Sokoto until Muhammad Ahmad Al-Hajj came up with me to Sokoto, after I had done my first year in Ibadan. I spent the summer in Kaduna, reading in the Archives, staying with Adamu Ciroma and Dahiru Modibbo Girei. Sometimes I played scabbles with Gomwalk and people like Garba Ja Abdulkadir and the Sarkin Jalingo – the Sarkin Muri as he became. So I got my real taste initially in Kaduna and then moved on to Sokoto to settle in the Waziri’s house.

Was it Alhaji Junaidu?

Yes, it was. He was very kind to me; he let me stay in one of his rest houses, next to his own house. Each morning, I would go to his house and sit in the library on the floor and start reading manuscripts, with my dictionary beside me. So me and my dictionary read the books! My Arabic, I had started learning it in Ibadan in 1961 to ’62, so it was getting better by the time.

Were you the first European or white man to undertake a study at that level in those days?

Yes, but at the Antiquities Department in Jos, Dr A.D.H. Bibar had done some cataloguing and preserving some of the manuscripts in the Waziri’s house, particularly the correspondence, and he wrote a few articles. And there was a British non-resident Senior District Officer, H.A. Johnston, who was interested in the history of Sokoto and wrote a book called "The Fulani Empire of Sokoto", but he basically used the district notebooks. So I was the first student actually to write a doctoral thesis on Sokoto using the Arabic materials and being taught by the Waziri and other people in Sokoto. But I was the first person to get a Nigerian PhD from Ibadan. It was so very exciting!

It must have been a great privilege.

It was fantastic! And of course Ibadan was the best place because it was the only university, so all the brightest Nigerians were there and they were much brighter than I was and of course much more sensible politically wise. It was an exciting place to be. Dr. Afigbo was the other person who finished at about the same time with me but I finished my thesis first.

I learnt that you migrated to Medical Anthropology. So what happens to History?

After I finished my PhD, I came up to Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, to help start the Northern History Research Scheme, from 1965-67. For three years I worked, collecting Arabic and Fulfulde manuscripts and photocopying everything. But then the war started, the (Nigerian) Civil War, and I had friends on both sides. Secondly, when I was in Sokoto, the A.D.O. was an old friend – Dahiru Modibbo Girei, who later became head of BCNN (Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria). And as A.D.O. he had to decide who was mad in the prison and who was not mad, and we used to talk about it. So from that point, from 1967 or so, I knew really we must try to do work on traditional notions of madness. Thirdly, ABU Teaching Hospital, the medical school, was just starting and Ishaya Audu was the vice-chancellor; he was the medical doctor who was Yakubu Gowon’s personal doctor. So it seemed a good thing for me to study traditional Hausa medicine so that the new medical students and doctors might know something about what their patients felt themselves.

What eventually drew you to the study of the Maguzawa?

When I retrained for doing the anthropology of medicine, of healing, I was linked to ABU. I first went to Dankanjiba, a market town on the edges of Kano and Katsina, in Malumfasi district. I surveyed the entire village. I asked everyone the medical history of their houses. And it became very clear that I could only talk to the male head of house; I couldn’t go inside the house. I then did a study of a Fulani camp where I couldn’t again see the women and the children. Basically, I was only allowed to speak to the men. So I realised that if I had wanted to speak to women and children and see how they got ill and what was wrong, I had to go to a place where I could live inside the house without a problem.

Is it because of the Islamic culture?

Yes. I discovered that 90 per cent of all illnesses was suffered by women and children.

And you could not reach out to them directly.

In a normal Muslim village, you couldn’t be with them all the time. The Maguzawa farm house where I went to stay in was not where the Catholics were, nor was it were the Protestants were, but was where, basically, there wasn’t any proselytisation. So in that sense, it was logical to go to the Maguzawa. And honestly, I thought Maguzawa made some more traditional meaning. So I did (a study of) medicine because it was clearly something that needed to be done because the doctors and the new students (at ABU) didn’t know anything about their patients.

I was told that in one of the lectures you gave some years back, you said that Hausa people chose where to die and when to die. Can you please explain?

It caused a lot of trouble when I said that! But I tried never to publish or give lectures abroad unless I have mentioned it in Nigeria first or at the same time. So I have a rule that if I am going to make any "rash" statement, I must make it here and defend myself from the attack! So I gave this talk in the British Council at their invitation in Kano...

When was that?

Two years ago. Basically, it came out of a work, because I did a survey of a single cemetary in Kano – Dandolo, by Goron Dutse. And the grave digger kept a record for a year of all the burials he did every day. Possibly, the statistics was not perfect but it did suggest that more people died on Friday than on any other day of the week. This came about because one of my old friends at B.U.K., John Levers, who died in Kano and was buried as a Muslim in Dandolo, I used to sometimes go to his grave. And so as happens with a talkative, I talked to the grave digger and by chance asked him, "How many graves do you dig every day?" And his answer was, "Ten graves every day but fifteen on Fridays!" And my jowl dropped. I knew that this was very unusual. And I know that Allah gives a blessing if you die on Friday.
What the statistics actually show is that it’s women and children who die on Fridays more than men do and the argument is: why should that be? But I think it’s the case if you look at it worldwide, that there comes a time when you are close to death that you can decide when to die. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence, both in Nigeria and worldwide, that someone will wait until their children have come and then as soon as they come, they switch off, if you like. So it’s quite interesting. But then the biological problem is, how is it possible to do that? Because if your mind switches off, you go into a coma and the body works automatically. So, biologically and physiologically it’s a real problem which I have no answer to nor do any of my biomedical friends have. But anecdotically one of the striking things is that very often the person dying sends the people around him away, and as soon as they’re gone out of the room or shortly after, he dies. And that happens so commonly both here and elsewhere.

And up till now, nobody has been able to find out why one dies when one wants?

Obviously, there are a lot of cultures where people train themselves on when to die. But in the end, it is very common that you can’t just turn your brain off. What sometimes happens is that in a day or two he will die of the toxins building up in the gut. I know someone whose mother did that, so I am speaking the truth. I know.

Professor, how have you been able to maintain your relationship with Nigerians all these years?

It is mainly because people are so kind and nice to me. But it is extremely pleasant to come back. I always try to visit every year. I always try to come back to Kano and see people there and I come to see friends rather than to do work.

How would you compare the quality of scholarship in your days and now?

I think, to be honest, there are so many universities and so many professors and students and such like that inevitably the selection process is less strict. In the old days, with one, two universities, it was very difficult for students to get into universities and they were driven to do very good work. So I think it is partly the natural consequence of expansion. Many people actually know things that the rest of us didn’t know then. So, in some ways, recent scholarship is more interesting. But I have to admit that the amount of work done on the Sokoto Caliphate is actually little, it is not very great. There is good work, very good work, but by and large there is a tendency not to ask difficult questions.

Why not? Are people afraid to ask questions?

My notion crudely is that I expect to be laughed at but it is what I call the use of old history of Kano, Sokoto, Zaria, Katsina. It is good for schools, good for undergraduate courses; it promotes the establishment of what I sometimes call the golden realm, that in a sense the Shehu’s age or Muhammadu Bello’s age was the golden age, as it were. You might not agree but there was a decline over the century but people are willing to say, people like Shehu Galadanchi, that there was a decline and that was why Allah brought the Nasara (the Europeans) almost as a punishment for the failings of the Sarakai or the Sarauta class. And my argument is that you can’t imagine that the Christians (the colonialists) are stronger than the Muslims. Some say that colonialism came about as ikon Allah (predestined) ; it was a calamity, a disaster.

Some people are at the moment clamouring for the removal of Arabic inscription in the naira and it is generating a lot of debate. Interestingly, nobody knows how the inscription got onto the naira. Would you shed light on this?

It was on the pound, the colonial Nigerian pound. I was going to comment on that. As you probably know, it was the (Christian) missions that took up Ajami (the arabised Hausa scripts) more than anyone else. It was the missions who translated the Bible into Ajami. It was the colonial authorities that gradually moved into boko, into Roman scripts. To be honest, I think the British used Ajami from quite an early time. One of the officers, in 1904-1905, used to write letters to his soldiers, who were Kanawa (Kano indigenes) in Ajami. So it was assumed that it was normal to use Ajami in some of your own Nigerian relations. And the Army too; because remember the commands given at the battle of Sokoto to the British soldiers were given in Hausa; the white Nasara officers gave their commands in Hausa. So you’ve got to see this extraordinary use of Hausa. You couldn’t get promotion as a colonial officer without passing your exams in Hausa from a very early time. And remember Richard Palmer, who became Resident in Katsina, used to kneel down to his malam with his gafaka (leather bag) and take Arabic lessons in Katsina town.

So the British actually promoted the concept of the use of Ajami.

They took it over.

Were there any attempts to find out from other groups whether they had their own script that you are aware of, maybe the Yoruba or any other tribes?

Obviously the Yorubas could have used the Ajami, but as I said in the conference, if you are doing a tonal language in Ajami how do you tell the tone? First, there wasn’t a standard Yoruba, and as you probably know it was the missions that created a standard Ibo, which a lot of Igbos disliked. But why bother? Both the Igbo and the Yoruba were more interested in getting education using Roman scripts. And in the 19th century they were using English in Lagos. The Yoruba elite too were becoming Christians although there was a majority Muslim population amongst the Yoruba. And to be honest, if you were going to break into the new world of learning of geography, science and medicine, all the books were in European writing.

Did you encounter any hostilities in the beginning of your research work into the Sokoto Caliphate, being a white man living in Sokoto?

Never in Sokoto. Or if I did, I might have been insensitive to it. The point is that I was an almajiri sort of person, a student, very thin and badly dressed. And living in the Waziri’s house, I was fed by the Waziri’s servants – not the best food, I might say! So I just lived on tuwo miyar kuka and tuwo miyar kuka. Fura if I was lucky. I was the only white person of that stature. I was in my twenties, and Sarkin Kudu, the late (Sultan) Maccido once referred to me when someone asked seeing me there, saying, "Dan gida ne" (He’s one of us). Of which I was terribly proud. I wasn’t a threat to anyone. The only place I was called a Nasara was in Kano Kurmi market when looking at the Arabic books – you know that section by the mosque. Well, it was not offensive to be called Nasara, because once you cross out of Nigeria and go to Niger, Europeans are all called Nasara, Turawa or Bature.

What advice would you give young and upcoming scholars?

The greatest mistake that I made and therefore would warn others not to is not to systematically talk to every old person I could find. That is to say by concentrating on Arabic manuscripts, which don’t die like people do. For instance, I met an old woman who sent to me the Hausa songs of the Fulani who lost their cattle during the epidemics of the 1890s because I didn’t have a tape recorder with me. When I went back three weeks later, she had died.

I will want the young scholars to talk to their grandparents as often as possible about what they knew and treat them like a real living source. Not that the old people will always tell them the truth, that is not the point, but at least you must find out what they knew and then get it back.

The other thing I will advise students to do is to get out of their cars and walk around the countryside. For instance, the other time I was walking just outside the wall of Kano, and I discovered an old shrine where they used to swear by goats and I spoke to few people around and they all knew about it. Is there anyone in B.U.K. who is still interested in doing that kind of thing?

The scholars in Nigeria complain of lack of funding.

To be honest, this is a serious issue. During my days as a student, I was living on 500 pounds per year, and my car consumed half of it because I drove around a lot. To me, I found the countryside more interesting, but the average Nigerian finds it boring. I would like Nigerian students to explore European, Indian and American cultures and they would be surprised at what they will find.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Shu'aibu Makarfi - Grandfather of Hausa Drama

Today's issue of LEADERSHIP newspaper contains the following piece put together by yours sincely. Enjoy.

Shu’aibu Makarfi’s Last Interview

The leading playwright in Hausa land died last Sunday at the age of 90. In his last interview, published in 1997, he gives account of his life and explains the genesis of his writing

By Ibrahim Sheme

A few weeks ago the name of Alhaji Shu’abu Makarfi dropped suddenly into my mind. I had not seen him for decades and thought that it might be a good idea to go to his house on Calabar Road, Kaduna, and see if he could give me an interview. But then I told myself that the man might have died long ago. The last time I checked, Alhaji Shu’aibu had been battling with a debilitating illness that made him bedridden. However, I reckoned that a man of his status would not have passed away unannounced, without the story being broadcast. Well, maybe I had missed the story. As it turned out, I never made up my mind to find out if he was alive or not.

Last Sunday I was startled by a news bulletin on the FRCN radio, Kaduna, about the death of Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi. He had died at Jinya Specialist Hospital, Kaduna, that morning at the age of 90 after a protracted illness. On Monday, the New Nigerian reported that among the early callers at the deceased’s residence to condole his family were Kduna State governor, Architect Namadi Sambo, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, former governors of Kaduna State - Brig-General Abba Kyari, Group Captain Usman Jibrin, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and Alhaji Abba Musa Rimi - as well as members of the state Executive Council and House of Assembly.

I knew Alhaji Shu’aibu first as a writer and second as a journalist. In this we shared common interests. His two plays, Jatau Na Kyallau and Zamanin Nan Namu, were some of the most popular texts published in Hausa land. I heard that Makarfi did not set out as a writer but became a "writer of radio drama."

I first met him when he was a board member of Nationhouse Press Ltd., Kaduna, publishers of the defunct The Reporter newspaper where I was working as Assistant Editor way back in 1991. That was the first time I saw, in flesh, one of the pioneers of Hausa literature.

Makarfi was a pioneer in another field – journalism. In 1943, only four years after the hugely popular newspaper Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo was started, he became one of its staff. But an example of his being multi-talented was his foray into radio broadcasting. He worked in various capacities as a broadcaster with the then Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). He retired from public service in August 1974.

The deceased was a director of the New Nigerian Newspapers Ltd (1974 -1980), chairman of the Kaduna State Broadcasting Corporation (1985), and board member, Northern Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, now FRCN Kaduna.

Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi is survived by two wives,a daughter and many grandchildren. He left behind an unimpeachable record of public service, good character and hig values.

Even though he had held many positions in journalism, his biggest demonstrable legacy, in my view, was his books. Though many of those that associated with him would rather stick to his values, as far as I know it is his books that will remain his biggest intellectual relics. The question is: how did he write them? What motivated him?

We are lucky that eleven years ago Alhaji Shu’aibu granted an interview on his literary works to Dr Ahmed K. Babajo, formerly of the English Department, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (and now a lecturer at Kaduna State University, Kaduna). Malam Babajo walked to me some time in February 1997 at the New Nigerian and asked if I would like to publish an interview he had had a few days earlier with Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi. I was editor of the paper’s literary pages. Excitedly, I obliged, and the interview – a masterpiece – was published some days later. It could be the first and only such interview granted by Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi. Here it is reproduced for the records.

...The Godfather of Modern Hausa Drama

By A.K. Babajo

Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi, 79, had an active writing broadcasting career. His plays have been broadcast over the radio, many of which have been published as play texts and are studied in secondary schools and higher institutions, etc. Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi started his educational career in Zaria at primary school. He attended the famous Zaria Middle School and later on went to the Katsina and later Bauchi Teachers College.

As a trained teacher he taught a while at Zaria Middle School before joining the army in 1941 to 1943 as an English instructor. After the short military service he joined Northern Literature Agency (NORLA), which became Literature Bureau. After NORLA he worked with Post & Telecommunications (P&T) for five years. In 1948, he joined NBC and worked in various capacities as a producer/broadcaste r.

He has written extensively but fame knocked his door through his play texts, namely: Jatau Na Kyallu and Zamanin Nan Namu, published by Gaskiya Corporation in 1970. He now resides at home in Kaduna, an activist whose unbending opinions on creative arts, development, culture and leadership would be the bone of our discussion.

I contacted him on the appointed hour on Saturday, 22nd February, 1997 in his Calabar Road abode in Kaduna. He received me with warmth, but noted that I did not reach him on the appointed hour – 11:00a.m.

The interview was rendered bilingually but using sense transliteration I transcribed it into English.

BABAJO: When did you start writing and what were your motivations?

MAKARFI: I am a trained teacher but I was denied that career as I only taught for a few years before joining the Army.

It was after the war experience and in particular when I worked with NORLA, between 1943 to 1948, that I came into contact with the vocation of writing, printing and publishing. Then I was under the tutelage of late Dr. Abubakar Imam – that versatile, prolific and resourceful writer – and Alhaji Nuhu Bamalli. But it was my experience as a broadcaster and a programme coordinator that spearheaded my launch into script writing. So, to answer your question, I started writing as a broadcaster some times back in 1943.

What were your motives?

Well, come to think of it, was there any motive? I was only doing my job as a broadcaster! The main thrust was to captivate and moralise my audience – then city dwellers, and from where I made observations before writing my scripts. I was never into writing for fame such as a name or even for material acquisition. Besides, how would I have fended for myself and my family as a writer? Actually, writing as you see in Zamanin Nan Namu came about when I was approached by staff of Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo who persuaded me to surrender my radio scripts for publication as books.

So you were first and foremost a broadcaster than a writer?

Yes, sort of. My venturing into publishing or writing books came accidentally. My main concern was to write scripts to be read on radio for the listeners. My speciality was radio plays. I wrote so many, many of them. The tapes/reels could not be found, and the scripts have long disappeared.

What inspired you into writing? At what particular instance of your life did you discover your innate desire to write?

First and foremost, I was touched by the degree of degeneration of the Hausa culture. All my plays are centred in the city because they are by-product of the city. Look at my office – NBC. Its nearest neighbour is Rex Cinema and I made it a habit to wait after close of office to watch who came to the cinema and things like that. I was keen in watching how the Hausa people in the city dress, how they relate with one another, with the opposite sex, their attitude to constituted authority, etc, and in all these I saw the withering away of Hausa culture. And I cherish Hausa culture to a fault.

I can recollect this tradition in the past. For example, after each harvest season, our father would direct us to distribute bales of grains to the houses of the family malam, the barber, the blacksmiths, etc., before ours was then taken in to be kept in the rumbu (store).

Now selfishness, much more than the cohesive communal relationship, has overtaken such values. Therefore, I am – as I were – disgusted with these changes affecting my world, the Hausa culture. I was not a trained writer. I never read Arabic or European writers; my writings were a direct critique of that sordid social phenomenon. The changes, very negative, prompted me into writing, and then as a young man I could sit on a typewriter and fizzle through hours to produce a script.

Again, this ability came out grossly when I joined the broadcasting world.

Why did you choose to write plays in preference to other forms of literature?

Again, two factors are at play here. The first is the medium and second the content. You should remember, I never sat down to write a book or play. I was only writing scripts of radio plays for an audience out there waiting for them. Two, the subject matter must be immediate, relevant and somehow reflective or bear some semblance to the every day life of those listening to the programmes. So, my love for words was to be heard immediately by a large group of people at the same time.

At that time – those good old days – listening to the radio was in itself a vocation. People would gather around a box to listen; at that time the small transistors radios were not common. I was not cut like Sa’adu Zungur of Bauchi or Namangi of Zaria, my context was to reach out this audience immediately.

I chose plays because I loved to dramatise, reveal and expose ills. And by using characters I was able to convey and project these ills through role-playing. Besides, plays are more exciting in their imitations and make-beliefs. Thus, I chose plays because I was a radio man concerned with an anxious audience. Every week was a challenge as I had to improvise and scout for materials, characters and stories.

Why did you choose to write in your mother tongue (Hausa) than in Ajami or English?

Again, it was my career that determined the discourse and my choice of language. I am entirely a very conservative man. I detest the imposition of English language over Hausa language and have never had any reason to write in English. Look, even when I travelled to London in the late 1940s, I never allowed the beauty of their technological advancement to affect my attitude. I went there with two Kaftans and wore them throughout my stay. Indeed, for the weather, I bought some overcoats and boots, but I was always dressed in my local Hausa outfits.

So, I wrote in Hausa because it is my root, my language and I am not conversant with it than any other language. In another dimension, the radio programme was targeted at a Hausa audience in Kaduna and other Hausa settlements – most especially Hausa city settlers who have made radio another abokin hira (associate). I did not write in Ajami or Arabic because my focus was not religious. Besides, mine was more dealing with social matters as they occured currently. So, it was more a matter of current affairs.

How many books/plays have you written?

Scripts? Yes. I wrote so many. But in terms of publication, they are the ones you know: Jatau Na Kyallu and Zamanin Nan Namu; I should (really) have called the book Zamanin Can Na su instead of Na mu. The focus should not be ours because I was only an observer. Besides, there is a generation gap. Don’t worry . . .

How were these radio play scripts published? Were there no differences between the radio scripts with those of the books?

Gaskiya Corporation has a literature bureau. They were the ones who approached me to release many of the then popular radio plays for publication as books and I gave them. Differences? Well, very little. All we did was to shuffle this portion into that place. Invariably, they are one and the same.

Even though you never wrote these plays with the intention of staging them, did you ever witness any of them performed on stage?

No. But I have heard that some schools have attempted that.

What inspired you to write Jatau Na Kyallu and what was the central message?

See, I am basically an observer. While in Jos, I witnessed a spectacular marriage. I won’t mention names but my neighbour married a renown prostitute whom everybody knew. She was popular in Kano and just as famous in Jos. This wealthy neighbour of ours still went to marry her. Yes, I have no quarrel with that but Allah instructed or enjoined Muslims to select their children when selecting wives. Thus, you must appraise and examine the kind of woman you marry – her roots, upbringing and behaviour because she will be the one to train your children. Thus, I do not see any relevance for a man of his calibre to marry a social misfit like that. But my concern and commentary did not end there. I was appalled by the extravagant manner in which the wedding ceremony was consummated. So, to caution the youth, I dramatised that story, highlightening the ills of marrying people like the prostitute.

Is it true, then, as one researcher noted in a critique of your plays, that your plays dwell on social problems without proffering any solutions?

In a way that is correct. It is true. You see, writing scripts for the radio on a weekly basis is tasking and taxing. You must be fast, shrewd and innovative. Your audience will not appreciate repetition. They are always anxiously waiting for a new play. Often times, I had to submit a title or name for the play before I sat down to devise the play. For instance, there was one play I called Kasa (the python) Sarkin Barci. It was a biting story that became episodic. I thus wrote on things happening, e.g. corruption. A cheat in the office. At home. Wherever. Always satiric and biting because my purpose was to jolt people, enlighten them and shock them to change for the better. So, the criticism is correct. I never considered it my duty to provide solutions. You see, even when writing those radio play scripts I saw myself as a teacher – the profession I so revered but never had sufficient time on it. So, I would rather conscientise, raise awareness, teach and moralise than to solve the whole problem.

In what ways are ’Yar Masu Gida and Malam Mai Dala’ilu similar?

Both are contemporary. Both prefer to live in the city. ’Yar Masu Gida borders on how girls live in the urban areas in contrast to house helps whereas Malam Mai Dala’ilu exposes satirically the hoax of charlatans called Malams. Either way, they treat social matters as they affect the personality of Hausa people in this new world.

Is it a coincidence that all the plays were published in 1970?

No. All the scripts of the radio plays were handed over to Gaskiya Corporation Publishers. They are the only publishers I have ever dealt with.

Did you ever write with a particular audience in mind?

No. How do you mean? I write for my Hausa audience indeed. And yes, I am particularly worried for my Hausa brothers and sisters living in the city. And why not, I dread the plight of women whose material quest has pushed them into trouble.

Did you, like Abubakar Imam, adapt, borrow or copy from any European or Arabic stories/plays?

No. Unlike Abubakar Imam, I mainly relied on happenings around me. Often times, I reflected on folklore and some aspects of oral traditions to buttress some points. For instance, there is diverse use of proverbs, riddles, jokes, etc., in my radio plays and play texts.

Abubakar Imam was like yautai – a smart bird, full of ingenuity and resourcefulness. Give Imam your story, he would blend it, add materials, and before you know it, it has changed into something else. Besides, I am not an intellectual nor have I had any degree or extensive exposure on play writing to model after them.

Do you still write?



The publishing industry frustrates writers. Since my relationship with Gaskiya my royalties come in trinkles . . . very meagre, I can’t sustain my family with such amounts. At times the feeling comes and whenever I make as if to write I will remember the technicalities and just stop.

What do you foresee as the future of creative writers in modern Hausa community?

To date writing cannot be a means of one’s sustenance. It cannot pay up bills for water and light, talk less of food, clothing, etc. The future is bleak. It is dark. Not very encouraging for upcoming creative writers.

In this regard, how do you see the trend in Kano where urban garage publishers have taken over publishing business and publish themselves?

Times are hard. I support their experiment but disagree with their focus. They talk about foreign etiquettes – kissing, hugging, etc. Very unlike the Hausa way of life. Really, these young publishers have their functions but their presence is a reaction to the hard publishers. Yes, they may be rebellious because they have to survive. Again, I see their manifestation as protest against neo-colonialism where they have to rely on European publishers.

Is there any relationship between oral traditions and drama – the type you wrote?

Yes. The drama is a by-product of Hausa language and culture. It is written in Hausa. It talks about Hausa and how the Hausa society conducts itself. I have said before, I used karin magana (proverbs), habaici (sarcasm) and many other features of Hausa oral arts as spoken by the people.

I relied on common expressions of the day and somehow endeavoured to incorporate them into the plays. Besides, my main appeal is the "oral dispensation" because my audience is always by the radio box awaiting for more experiences. The two relate. I collect from the larger society. Fashion it into speeches to be read by various "actors" in the studio and is relayed to the public via the transmitter.

Sir, who are your contemporaries and associates?

I am surrounded by many age-mates even though many have died. And I don’t really grasp what you mean by contemporaries. Do you mean my friends? Those I interact with?


Well, I am close to Alhaji Yahaya Gusau and Malam Ahmed Talib. We belong to the same generation and understand one another.

What about late Abubakar Imam?

We once worked at NORLA, and then I know other writers like Aminu Kano, Sa’adu Zungur and the like.

In what ways have your plays played any role in Hausa literature, language and culture?

You said it yourself. It has raised people’s consciousness. It served much more than a mirror by cautioning people about their behaviour. Indeed, without necessarily beating my drum, I must confess that my plays are household names, very popular and still command respect. I even tried to persuade Gaskiya, my publishers, to reprint because of the high demand but they claim that they don’t have money to do so. I am the first and only person to write and publish Hausa plays in northern Nigeria, and the nation at large.

So to date, my plays are in the school syllabus. They are studied in universities. May the soul of Ibrahim Yaro Yahaya rest in peace. One day he and Professor Dandatti Abdulkadir, while chatting with me, requested that I give talks so that they can record, transcribe into English and other international language so as to capture the essence of my existence in print for posterity purposes. I am happy that you come to me to inquire about my work because of what impression you had. Truly, only you people in the university can help resuscitate this sordid position of creative writing in Northern Nigeria. I am against self-promotion or even propaganda. It is cheapening to go into that. Really, I am happy that you were prompted to come to me on merit. I have never known you and vise versa. So, written works, like the oral, influence people because they deal with words, which affect ideas and beliefs.

Sir,what is your pastime?

I still write but not for the public. I talk to people. I am doing just that with you. I am still the person I like I consider myself a teacher. My simple dictum or philosophical belief is: "It is not what I want to do, but what I can do."

I farm, I interact with others. See this letter, I was recently appointed as a member of Board of Trustees, Kaduna State Emergency Relief Fund.