Graham Furniss’ Hausa Fiction Directory: A Review

Bibliography of Hausa Popular Fiction 1987 – 2002, by Graham Furniss, Malami Buba and William Burgess; published by Rudiger Koppe Verlag, Koln, 2004; 179 pp.

Just a few years ago, the buzz in Hausa literati was the exciting debate over the usefulness or otherwise of the novellas that inundated the bookstalls in most of northern Nigeria, as regards moral reawakening. A group of critics, on top of whom was Malam Ibrahim Malumfashi of the Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto, argued that the Hausa novellas, which Malumfashi contemptuously dubbed the Kano Market Literature – after the infamous Onitsha Market Literature of the 1950s-1970s – had no value whatsoever to the call to morals. They said the books were substandard, a heap of needless romance fiction, and written by low educated youths. In one controversial submission, Malumfashi called for the burning down of all of those books in order to rid the society of their “filth.”

On the other hand, another group, consisting of people like Dr. Abdalla Uba Adamu and Malam Yusuf M. Adamu of the Bayero University, as well as Ibrahim Sheme, countered with the argument that the novellas, which came in the range of forty to eighty pages, served the purpose of upholding or promoting literacy, providing entertainment in a dour economic environment, spawning youth associations and was an economic activity for the authors, booksellers and, later, filmmakers. Besides, contrary to the claim of the antagonists, it wasn’t only romance the books dealt with.

While the debate lasted on the pages of newspapers and in seminar halls, Hausa academics simply looked the other way and avoided the study of the novellas like plague – much to the disappointment of most cultural activists who had wished that, as an epoch in the language’s historical progression, the book production ‘industry’ should have been documented for future generations. It could have been the dearth or lack of funds assailing the universities and tertiary colleges, sheer naïveté or just plain stupidity that disallowed such study by the academics. Only lecturers whose calling wasn’t Hausa language or literature – such as Adamu, Abdalla – and journalists such as yours sincerely, who indulge in the promotion of that literary epoch as a useful milestone in Hausa popular culture.

Outside Nigeria, interest in these books began to manifest most prominently at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Prof. Graham Furniss led a group to closely monitor the activities taking place in contemporary Hausa fiction. With their environment conducive for study, including research grants and other incentives, they began to document the genre, buying the books from Nigeria, categorising and stocking them. The result was the book, Bibliography of Hausa Popular Literature 1987 – 2002.

Perhaps needless to say, the book is as relevant to documenting a stage within Hausa writing as the novellas were to capturing the images of life of the Hausa people within a certain span of their evolution. For, the books have captured modes of life, even if skewed heavily towards the romantic side, in the society. Furniss et al.’s book is the pioneer and, to-date, the most authoritative documentation of that writing industry.

The book is essentially what it claims to be – a bibliography. It contains a listing of most – if not all – the books published from 1987 to 2002. There are 731 titles in all. Not only titles are listed, but also the authors’ names, the publisher and year of publication (where available). The list is then regurgitated to make other lists for easy comprehension. One list is the translation of each of the book’s titles into English; e.g. “A Co-wife is not a Problem,” from the book Kishiya Ba Laifi Ba Ce. An alphabetical list of the titles, with their authors, is also provided. This is followed by a list of the authors, also in alphabetical order, accompanied with the titles of their books. This could tell you who the most prolific authors were at the time.

There are two very impressive sections in the book. First is the one where the full-colour photographs of the covers of all the listed books are printed (p. 143 – p. 179). Each tells a story from that literary era–from the illustrations to the typeface and even the colours used to present the book. The second is the introductory chapter, where Furniss give background information on the events and issues that led to the emergence of the contemporary stage of Hausa prose fiction writing. One notable reason was the collapse of the Nigerian economy in the 1980s, which led to the break-up of the known publishing firms like the Zaria-based, government-owned Northern Nigerian Publishing Company, giving way to the frantic self-publishing initiatives of young school leavers. The chapter notes – as the lists proved – that women were very much active in the contemporary writing activities. This in itself is a point missed by the antagonists, that it exemplifies a step ahead in the orientation of the Hausa woman who was hitherto shackled by cultural mores and denied avenues for self-expression.

The book touches on the contribution of writers clubs to the availability of the books, the themes of the books, readers, production of the books, and transition to the ongoing video film production, which is so widespread. The chapter is a summary of the background, the characteristics and the impact of the so-called Kano Market Literature.

The cover is simple, with green text over a white background. The first lapse one would notice is that unlike studies of similar weight, this one does not have a blurb. This is carrying simplicity of design too far, as a blurb would tell a potential reader or buyer what the book is all about. And inside the text, the translations of the book titles are not entirely apt. Many were haphazardly done and even misleading. Examples: Ganin Kwam! as “Bloody-minded!” (instead of “Over-inquisitiveness!”); Idan Ungulu Ta Biya Bukata as “If the Vulture is Happy” (instead of “If a Vulture Satisfies One’s Need”); Budurwar Zuciya as “Young Love” (instead of “Young at Heart”), etc.

Nonetheless, the book is important to the study of Hausa literature and language and is a contribution to the small corpus of studies on Hausa popular culture. Researchers, students and the general reader interested in this area of study would do well to obtain copies in order to keep as reference material.

There is also need to conduct further inquiries into this era with the view to identifying other ethos omitted by this introductory, though watershed, book. What were the other literary activities taking place in Hausa land during the period under study? Who were the authors themselves? What followed the year 2002, the end of the period covered by the book? Have the contemporary writing practices continued or were they replaced? What is the impact of those chapbooks and, by implication, criticism on them, on the society?

There is certainly more ground to be covered. Furniss et al. have opened up the gate for further study. It is up to others (and Furniss et al.) to carry on from where this book stopped.

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