Academic journal article Africa

Documenting Kano `Market' Literature

Academic journal article Africa

Documenting Kano `Market' Literature

Article excerpt

From the earliest period of the production of printed Roman script books in the north of Nigeria, a primary concern was the economics of book production. The conundrum was how to break out of the `chicken and egg situation' whereby it was not possible to `create' a reading public unless there were sufficient, affordable, and readable books that a potential reader would want to read; on the other hand, without an existing commercial market for books, how could any publisher continue to publish? (East 1943). The main government-funded agency, the Northern Region Literature Agency (NORLA), that undertook the publication of the overwhelming majority of Hausa language books in the 1950s (Skinner 1970), was forced to close when its losses became unsustainable.

In the early 1980s it looked as if a breakthrough was about to occur. A new generation of young people were benefitting from the introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1976, even if that introduction was less than 100 per cent effective. At the same time, the economic boom in Nigeria had meant that a large number of publishers had geared up to cash in on the schoolbook market, forming partnerships between existing or new local publishers and international conglomerates (Macmillans with the Northern Nigerian Publishing Company (NNPC); Hodder & Stoughton with HudaHuda Press; OUP with Ibadan University Press; Longman Nigeria). I remember being told in about 1980 that NNPC had a list of some 75 titles that they were preparing to publish over the ensuing years. The collapse of the Nigerian economy in the 1980s put paid to all that. Some publishers continued to publish on a much reduced scale; some like NNPC, the holders of the backlist which represents the bulk of Hausa publishing, pretty near stopped publishing at all, and have produced little or nothing new ever since. The economic measures which sent the Naira plummeting, cut back on Ministry of Education book purchasing budgets, severely reduced the buying power of public sector salaries, and brought state education to its knees, effectively kicked any prospect of a take-off in formal publishing well into touch. Babangida's nominal refusal to accept IMF terms for a financial deal, and his subsequent introduction of 'SAP' measures to meet their demands, put paid to a lot more than publishing. However, the young people who had been ten or twelve years of age when UPE had been introduced, were, by the end of the 1980s, in their early twenties. With a familiarity with reading, some money in their pockets, and with typewriters and then word-processors on their desks, some of them decided to do it themselves. It is bitterly ironic that when formal publishing collapsed, there was an explosion of writing in Hausa, surely not something the World Bank would have expected as a consequence of its carefully modelled econometric outcomes. Against all the odds, and the IMF, Hausa cultural creativity took a new turn.

In this short paper I will focus upon one of the facilitative mechanisms in this cultural movement -- the writers' club. Clubs and societies have played a significant role in the development of Hausa literature -- poetry writing in the early 1970s in Kano, for example, was an activity fostered by two poetry circles, the Hikima Club (Furniss 1994) and Hausa Fasaha. The former was a functioning association where members met each week to read and discuss their poems; the leader, Mudi Spikin, exercised control over who was given access to the regular weekly radio slot that the Club had obtained on Kano radio, and he also led the debate over appropriate topics for public poetry and appropriate positions to take on a variety of moral and social issues. Fissiparous tendencies arose as a result of contention over the degree of control he exercised and through quarrels about relative status within the Club. The rival association at that time, Hausa Fasaha, under the leadership of Akilu Aliyu, hardly ever met, had a membership spread across northern Nigeria, and was essentially a mechanism for establishing relative status among poets who rarely if ever met under the auspices of the association. …

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