Just like any living organism, most especially human beings, literature of any given community is full of life, vibrating with the freshness of its diachronic expeditions and the relative smoothness of the synchronization of what entails in the present circumstances, as well as periscope the future. But then literature just like the human being that put it to bed, has a time to be born, a time to live and a time die. No matter the degree of its beauty , ugliness or the circumstances of its birth not to talk about the expositional grandstanding it partakes in the course of life, literature just like the human being that created it, has a life span and contain the experiences one feels, sees or partakes in the course of life, most especially taking into cognizance that the materials one come into contact with in the debilitating struggle to eat to live and live to eat or those that one used in the concoction of history are periodically and profoundly found spread in the subjectivisation of a given literature that is been nursed to fruition.
Ngugi puts it more succinctly, according to him; man and literature is one and the same thing. Since man himself is a product of his history, time and place so also is his literature. As such, when we classify every man according to the dictates of his history and class, we also apply the same barometer to his literature; as every class within a given community has its own history; its literature is also bound to be inclusive of its class structure and belief system.
Consequently, a study of any literature signifies the study of the history, environment, politics, socio-cultural indices that make up the people in the course of life. This is also found in the study of any given literature. Only to add that it is not any man of letters that undertakes this Herculean task, it is the task handled by the literary historian. Saddled with this all encompassing job and trained in the excavation of archival materials, some extinct for many centuries, others very hard to find, others still not well documented, while others still shrouded in mystery, the literary historian regurgitate and historiography on what his/her hands can lay on to restructure the literary past, so as to be able to tell us with measure of precision what happened to our literature, how it lived, why it died and the caricature of its meandering along the path of greatness or otherwise. The literary historian is not a prophet of doom or a soothsayer, but an analyst of time past, a tracker of literary happenings as well as a gauge of the good, the bad and the ugly. The literary historian on his own does not produce a literature; he is only after the motivations that helped in the production and/or destruction of a given literature.
Why this long drivel? I think we need it, so that we can possibly put all our thoughts, ideas, feelings and world view on this important phenomenon that has been given very little attention as far as the Hausa literature is concerned. It is not my intention to highlight on the nitty-gritty of the essence of literary history, but to examine some past happenings as it relates to the future development of Hausa prose fiction and the current thinking by Professor Abdallah Uba Adamu on Hausa Prose fiction despite the factual desiccation alluded to in his thesis. I intend to look back a little at the debates that ensued some few years ago on the merits and demerits of the Kano Market Literature, also known as Soyayya books, chapbooks or Contemporary Hausa Novels. I am are going to examine three main areas as it relates to the Great Soyayya Debate vis, after the storm has died down (?), what were the points raised or missed, how do they correlate with the present status of Hausa literature and the future of Hausa prose fiction in particular? Is the KML dead? If not, when? Or more appropriately phrased, is the KML the in thing for ever, if it is not dead or won’t die? Finally, some points will be made to show how the debate opened new vistas in the development of Hausa prose fiction and how writers of Hausa fiction, critics, academics, publishers and even the government can learn a bit on how a little literary phenomenon can snowball into a big wonder kid of intellectual brainstorming all over the world.
Let me begin with definition of terms as they relate to the arguments we are about to begin. This is necessary as it has become more compounding when ever we are discussing the KML, for people to ascribe to so many other literary materials as of the same coloration or straight jacket all that come their way in the form of prose fiction as Market or Popular literature, just because they happened to have one or two characteristics of such kind of literature. Others on the other hand feel the use of the term market, chapbooks, Soyayya genre or what have you, are contemptuous and derogatory to this kind of writings.
Lets begin with the most apt and enduring criticism of the acronym KML. Abdallah Uba Adamu has been alluding to the same thing, when discussing the origin of Kano Market Literature said 1999 a I quote, it (Kano Market Literature) is ‘a contemptuous comparison between the booming vernacular prose fiction industry based around Kano State (with centre of commerce as its apothegm) and defunct Onitsha Market Literature which flourished around Onitsha market in Anambra state in the 1960s’ (sic). And just recently in the said article under review said ‘modern Hausa prose fiction writers for the most part, were vilified as hopeless romantics by critics of the Contemporary Hausa Novel which they contemptuously labeled the Kano Market Literature, to alludes to its alleged commercial, rather than creative impetus.’ This has been the consistent argument on the choice of market identification for these pamphlets. That is why I am forced to ask what is wrong with the Professor? Why is he is frenzy about the issue?
I am sure that was what prompted other researchers to try to make a demarcation albeit inconclusively between the KML, the Soyayya books and the more general one, Hausa Popular Literature, which according to such critics ‘the parallel drawn (by Ibrahim Malumfashi’s use of the term, ‘Kano Market Literature’ has been disputed, and so Hausa Popular Literature’ has become a more favored term’. I am not sure if there has been such an understanding or agreement as to the name tag to be used for this kind of writings since the debate began in 1991(in Hausa) and later in English. According to the most literature I am able to lay hands on, the only place the tag Popular Literature for these works was first adopted was in 2002, Abdullah Uba Adamu, Ibrahim Sheme, Yusuf M. Adamu prefer to call it ‘Hausa Literary Movement’ or ‘Contemporary Hausa Novel’, Others since 1996 refers to them as ‘Love novels,’ or some times ‘Kano Market Literature’ or ‘Hausa Popular Literature’ etc. One is not trying to join issues with researchers on this issue, but a clear prognosis is very much necessary for us to be able to understand why the term ‘Kano Market Literature’ was used in the very beginning. We have to disabuse the minds of researchers on this phenomenon, so as to put the records straight for posterity.
The use of any name tag by any critic of literature on any aspect of literary movement has to be understood in the context of intellectual argument. If as Abdallah Uba Adamu has been reiterating that the use of the term KML is contemptuous, done in malice, hate, as well as denigration of the writings and the writers, that is why others prefer to call them anything other than that, then one can with certainty say that proper academic work has not been done, and that is my worry abut this later-day literary historians. What they are not aware is that that there is a striking resemblance between a market literature and a popular one. Literary historians will tell you that any literature that is market oriented, pre-supposes its popularity among the general public. The peculiarity of the environment for its availability and marketability also signify populism as well as the politics, socio-economic determinants of supply and demand. In this respect trying to sift out what is popular from what is marketable is horrendous, because they are so intertwine that it becomes difficult to separate, as such it has to do with choice.
Our worry in literary history as far as this issue is concerned has to do with not following the traditional nomenclature in analysis. If a certain literary movement occurred somewhere and a similar one occurred elsewhere, we view them in their territoriality, at the same time with their conceptuality and other determining factors to see to their sameness or other wise. There is no critic that will pegged down a given literary phenomenon based on subjective disequilibrium as a result of rage, animosity or contempt, that is the first point missed all along during the Great Soyayya Debate and of course by Professor Abdallah Uba Adamu!
We now ask the following questions? Was it really in contempt that we ascribe market to the literary movement that was the vogue since 1984? Are the critics of the name-tag really serious about their arguments or are they just on ego trip so as to take their own pound of flesh from the ‘antagonist of the literary movement’? Could a sustain campaign to change a bastard to a legitimate child ever change the status quo?
In trying to answer some of these questions, we need to go back to the basics. What prompted the correlation between the Kano Market Literature and the Onitsha Market Literature, mere contempt or an academic exercise?
The gestation period of a given literary phenomenon is always full circle, sometimes it begins with the good side, later it turns soar and pick up again to its full throttle. Others on the hand will have a long span, only to be intermittently disrupted at one period or the other with a particular kind of writing very much against the tide known and accepted, but all the same very much attractive and enticing. These periods are what we call the exceptions of the rule; all the same it is part of the literary tradition of that society.
This is found not only among less developed states but even among the most developed states, for example, ‘the 17th and early 18th century English literature was full of ‘popular’ or ‘market’ oriented literary pieces, which came about as a result of the perfection of the printing technology and the abundance of readers of such genre spread within the English landscape then,’ as such the Elizabethan conglomerate was born, bred and died with its class formation at that interruptive stage.
The same thing can be said of the Onitsha market and its literature, according researches in this magnificent field of study, there was a time in the early decades of the 20th century when people with minimum education (standard 6) secured employment as teachers, clerks in shops at Onitsha and office clerks in government departments. Over the years, people discovered that the standard 6 certificate was no longer enough to enable people secure jobs. A large number of those young people who could not go to school at all as well as those with the minimum educational qualifications found their ways to Onitsha either to trade or to work as apprentices to qualified carpenters, masons, tailors, builders and other technicians. This same class of people created their own reading matter, and it is this same kind of works that were christened the Onitsha Market Literature. As such, when the OML came on board, what researchers and other interested people did was to place the literary movement on its proper pedestal. No contempt was intended, that is why many libraries across the world documents and itemizes them according to the dictates of their birth and the circumstances that helped in their up bringing. Significantly then, the term OML as attested by the University of Indiana library cataloguing section is ‘used to designate the popular pamphlets that were sold at the large market in Onitsha, Nigeria, in the same middle decades of the 20th century. It was purportedly written by and intended for the "common" or "uneducated" people.’ that pervaded the Onitsha market and its environment then.
In this instance, what kind of semblance can one find between Onitsha Market Literature and the Kano Market Literature now? Among the extant references on this phenomenon, there is not one that disputed the characterization of the KML in terms of the motivating factors that paved its assemblage as well as its life span and the history it always leave behind. Funny enough it is still our inimitable Abdallah Uba Adamu the antagonist that refused the term KML and always feel on his edge when ever it is mentioned that is telling us since 1996 how identical KML is with OML, a sampler!
‘Romance forms the framework upon which most novels in the KML is based. This is manifest in their plot, style, language, characterization, settings and cover designs. This is in 1996.
‘They focused their attention on the most emotional concern of urban Hausa youth; marriage, the economic boom of the country had gone into nosedive by the time these stalwarts arrived. Thus they were not guaranteed schools to proceed after high school; and no automatic scholarships await them’ from the same Abdallah Uba Adamu in 1999!
Let’s look at it more closely! What differentiates the OML and the KML from the above citations or more succinctly what are the major characteristics of a market literature?
· They are books with very simple grammar and sentential constructions.
· They have very little number of pages.
· They are very much cheap and sold in the open market.
· They exist at a certain period in time and they die or lose appeal later.
· Their crafters as well as the readers are predominantly from the low educated group.
On the other hand researchers have amply demonstrated the nearness of the two traditions. In Northern Nigeria we see a lot of studies in that regard which testify to that meandering of the two, without recourse to contempt or malice, but as an academic and/intellectual exercise. ‘As a literary phenomenon,’ Novian Whitsitt an American that wrote extensively on that issue says, ‘Kano Market Literature possesses aesthetic, thematic, and social similarities with the Onitsha chapbooks that were sold in the eastern Nigerian market from the forties to the sixties.’ The difference between the two groups is one of language. Onitsha Literature, written predominantly in English, catered to the tastes of the more or less literate, Westernized Nigerians. Written in Hausa, Kano Market Literature contributes to the growing body of indigenous African written literature, and it has the potential to reach a large constituency of Hausa speakers, many of whom have a poor command of English. In terms of contents, most of Onitsha Literature pertained directly to the wave of change in the social climate of the time. The emerging Chapbooks coincided with the social migration from the rural areas to the urban quarters in this eastern region of Nigeria. For the most part Onitsha authors wholeheartedly accepted and embraced the new values, making the literature an ally of change. Western norms integrated well with Igbo cultural attitudes of democracy, work ethic, and achievement.
Consequently as is evident in most of my postulations since 2002, Kano Market Literature possesses the same popular allure that the Onitsha Chapbooks did, and the plethora of book stalls attests to their success. In choosing a literary style, ‘Soyayya’ writers have followed their Onitsha predecessors not blindly, because most of them do not know about its existence or ever come across the books that thrived in Onitsha, but they ‘found the mode of "romance" effective in communicating social concerns.’ Romance has without measure found the allure of many popular or market literature writers, most a times subconsciously. This become necessary because regardless of time and place, the tensions between tradition and modernity in epochs of social transformation have continuously revealed themselves in the social and cultural dynamics of courtship and marriage; hence, the social value of romance literature lays in its placing such a subject center stage. The contemporary Hausa romance novel shares with Onitsha literary concerns of offering advice to a public experiencing social and cultural ruptures in an era when traditional values must negotiate the onslaught of modern life, as such when this kind of inter-marriage is found in between pages of a Chapbook, it is not the language or the environment that matters, but communicating, how ever dull.
In trying to find out more of the similarities or other wise between the two literary traditions we have to begin with the two cities involved. Let’s begin with Onitsha, ‘it is a large Nigerian city situated on the eastern side of the River Niger. It is an important commercial, educational, religious and cultural centre in Igbo land…. Onitsha has the reputation of having the largest market in West Africa.’
What about the city of Kano, this is what Yusuf Adamu (Abdallah Uba Adamu’s disciple) said, the nerve centre of the north, a commercial centre that existed more than one thousand years ago. It attracts people not only from all parts of Nigeria, but most of the West Africa and had trading relations with the Arabs for a very long time.
What about the resemblance in terms of output? The first book in the Onitsha Market Literature series was published in 1947. This was quickly followed by other titles some of which were so slim that they numbered less than 20 pages each. In a relatively short time, these Chapbooks and novelettes became popular in Eastern Nigeria, especially among secondary school boys and girls and among thousands of traders in Onitsha market. From the Eastern Region the popularity spread to the Cameroon, Ghana and other West African countries. The 5-year period, 1958 to 1962 may be described as the heyday when the total number of books published each year was near the 50 titles mark. The language used in the books was suitable for most of the people in the society because not many of them were educated to primary and secondary school levels. By the time the Biafran war ended in January 1970, the publication and selling of the Onitsha Market Pamphlets and Chapbooks was dying a natural death.
What about the Kano Market Literature? When Talatu Wada Ahmed wrote and distributed her first book Rabin Raina in 1984, no body has the semblance of imagination that this will transform to a movement that later cut across linguistics divide as well boundaries within Nigeria, West Africa, Europe and America. It captured the imagination of the young and old, men and women, literate, semi-literate and such others. When Ado Gidan Dabino and his ilk dominated the scene in the 1990’s nobody thought that the phenomenon will ever subsides or relax or even die, because it has indelibly found a root in the minds of the people and it was paying well, of course very few fore saw its demise in the distant future!
Why would one want a literary movement dead! It has nothing to do with sadism, antagonism or hate. Let’s try to find out why did the OML die? Okoro, a prolific researcher in that regard offered a suggestion, ‘despite the popularity which the Onitsha Market Literature enjoyed for nearly a generation, by the year 1975, that literary phenomenon had ceased to exist. To many people, especially those who enjoyed comfortable living as a result of this special book trade, the demise came rather too quickly and too unexpectedly. Why was this so? He gives an obvious answer; the Biafran war of July 1967 to January 1970 had abruptly halted the progress of the pamphlet business.
The same scenario can be gleaned from the Kano Market Literature movement, in as much as the hey days of the literature produced thousands of copies and hundreds of new writers and attracted the attention of leaders of thought, governments, academics, religionists as well the larger society, the KML business was interrupted with the advent of the Kano Video Literature during the late 1990’s. Unlike Yusuf Adamu (another antagonist of the KML tag), while trying to defend the notion that the video phenomenon did not halt or hamper the development of the book industry of the KML, we would want to argue otherwise, because we have ‘only about 16 percent’ of the bourgeoning video market producers as authors cannot suffice for an excuse, the fact remains that the video industry has totally overtaken that of the book industry, in terms of marketability, profitability and acceptability. Thus, just as the civil war interrupted the OML and helped in its death, such also is happening to the KML, the film or video industry is slowly but efficiently killing it. The OML lived for nearly 30 years, the KML is now about 23 years old, what will become of it in the next decade we don’t know, but I think I can fathom. I am doing that gauging what transpired after the civil war to the fate of OML. There were people who loved the Onitsha Market Literature so much that they were determined to reactivate their business. Before long, they discovered that they were facing many odds. Their printing presses and other production equipment had either been stolen or destroyed beyond repair. Buying new machines would obviously cost them more money. Moreover, the resumption of the production of new pamphlets was capital-intensive. The cover price for each new title produced would be increased considerably. Some of the well-known pamphlet authors had disappeared from Onitsha, and some even lost their lives. With that daunting task they abandoned the whole trade and looked elsewhere to eek their living. What is the situation right now as regards the KML? I leave that for other researchers to dig up.
I think by now we are more situated to understand the ‘market’ and the ‘popular’ in our literature. As a way of recapitulating, since we are of the view that ‘market and popular literature includes those writings intended for the masses and those that find favor with large audiences’ we might as well try to distinguish it ‘from artistic literature’. Evidences abound for us to clearly demarcate between the ‘fake’ and the ‘original’. ‘Popular or market literature,’ unlike ‘high literature,’ generally does not seek a high degree of formal beauty or subtlety and is not intended to endure. The growth of popular or market literature has paralleled the spread of literacy through education and has been facilitated by technological developments in printing. With the Industrial Revolution asserts the Encyclopedia Britannica, works of literature, which were previously produced for consumption by small, well-educated elites, became accessible to large sections and even majorities of the members of a population. But the boundary between artistic and popular literature is murky, with much traffic between the two categories according to current public preference and later critical evaluation. Abubakar Imam and his ilk during the early 30’s in Northern Nigeria were popular literary figures, but today they are adjudged as belonging to the ‘classical’ period. The same scenario is found with Shakespeare, while he was alive he could be thought of as a writer of popular literature, but he is now regarded as a creator of artistic literature. Indeed, as asserted by researchers all over the world the main, though not invariable, method of defining a work as belonging to ‘popular literature’ is whether it is ephemeral, that is, losing its appeal and significance with the passage of time, and most importantly what came after its demise, well, not its demise, after all it still thrives. Abdallah Uba Adamu and his ilk believe that ‘although the home video has affected the growth of the Hausa Literary Movement, the future is not bleak, it is bright, very bright and the movement lives on. This hope amidst hopelessness and despair is what is pervading among the ‘protagonists’ of the KML, they always confront you with the notion, things are really changing, especially with the coming on board of books that may be regarded as not all that ‘popular’ or ‘market’ in outlook, vis, Ina Son Sa Haka in 2001 by Balaraba Ramat, Ruwan Raina by Amina Abdulmalik in 2002, as well as Ci Talatarka by Sakina A. Aminu, ‘Yartsana by Ibrahim Sheme in 2003, and Babinlata’s Mubarak in 2004 and of course Mace Mutum by Rahma A Majid in 2008. ‘Most protagonists’ of the KML are happy and jubilating that the ‘soothsayers’ of the literary movement are doomed, because the literary movement is not dead, is not dying and will not die.
This is another point raised, suffice to add, still another point misrepresented in the Great Soyayya debate y Abdallah Uba Adamu and his ilk. Why do we say so? It is a fact as confirmed by literary historians and other researchers that with the passage of every ‘popular’ or ‘market’ literature oriented escapade, what follows is sometimes regarded as ‘high’, ‘artistic’ or ‘original' literature etc, because it usually come with a completely new thrusts, far reaching creative talents, and manipulative literary craftsmanship, away from the norm and usually the writers are from within the groups that made the last literary epoch stand the taste of time. Sometimes it looked like a transition from the old block to a new one. This was what took place in England, Germany, and Eastern Nigeria and so on. This is true of the OML, ‘one Nigerian novelist who may be said to have spearheaded the transition was C.O.D. Ekwensi. He wrote for the Onitsha Market Literature as well as ‘serious’ novels for the more sophisticated readers. Both the pamphlet writers and the intellectual West African writers used their writing as media to provide insights into the contemporary West African life. The pamphlet writers concerned themselves with surface appearances, while the intellectual writers tried to dig deep into underlying causes and explanations.
As such in between 1950 and 1970, a period of 20 years, some classic novels written by Nigerian authors were also published. If we look closely, we find that the same period coincided with the time when the Onitsha Market Literature was in vogue from 1947 to 1975. These include The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola (1952); People of the City, by Cyprian Ekwensi (1954); Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (1958), and One Man One Wife by Timothy Aluko (1959). These works represent a transitional period from the novelettes and chapbooks of the Onitsha Market Literature, to a more serious fiction written by intellectual authors.
In this wise, even if we have more than a hundred of writers not just five that seem to deviate from the norm, it does not mean the KML is alive and kicking or will not die a natural death. What is happening right now is what we have saying for the past 10 to 15 years, the KML is a vogue, it is not everything about our literature, it is transient and bound to give way for something special, consciously or unconsciously.
The ‘new’ works by the Balarabas, the Aminas, the Sakinas, the Shemes and Babinlatas of this world despite creating a new boundary, a new beginning and new insights are not all together out of the ring arena, they are wrestling within the context of having the upper hand, either because the writers are more sophisticated in education and world view than the larger group that participated in the duel before them or on the hand it could be that the ‘new’ writers are aware of the role a creator of literature is supposed to play in the society, they are scratching the inner of the problem not just the surface as ewe have been telling them to do. Our hope is that just like what happened in England after the 18th century, in Nigeria after the civil war, with the outburst of creative potentials that withstand the rigor of criticism, officialdom crackdown and market forces, our current trend in the production of Hausa prose fiction will in no distant future follow the footsteps of greatness, so that as soon as the final curtain is raised, which hopefully is going to be sooner than expected, a new beginning will commence, and literary historians will be left alone to dig into the archives so that they can properly place what transpired in between 1984 to date in its proper context for posterity.
Finally, as a way of recapitulation, let me say a few things about how I feel about how we look and treat literature and literary criticism in this part of the country, and why I join the pray in debating the phenomenon.
The most apt, cogent and plausible argument one can give as to the reason for engaging in a debate of this kind, for me is because it stimulates the brain and open up new windows for research, study, analysis and some times re-focusing of existing ideas, views and/or opinions that may herald societal development. The Soyayya debate though took vitriolic and harsher tones towards the tail end; it all the same served the purpose one wanted it to serve. It has opened up the area for much wider scrutiny, not only within the country but all over the world. I feel enthrall to see the nearly 1,800 books/pamphlets/chapbooks churned out in the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and the sudden interest shown by students and teachers in seeing ‘live’ the ‘antagonist’ of the Kano Market Literature at SOAS, Oxford, Cambridge and University College London, where one was privileged to present some of his thoughts to the wider world.
Academic works, such as books and journal papers and articles, undergraduate and postgraduate projects/dissertations and theses, as well as the numerous newspaper and magazine articles in both Hausa and English are a testimony of the vibrancy and articulatory achievements that endure after the debate, for that only, one feels satisfied and fulfilled to the extreme. This is not an indication that all went well in between the debate and after. I for one have been trying to get out of the shadows of hate, rage, castigative insinuations from co- debaters and even those who are mere passengers in the literary topsy-turvy. It has been tasking and hazardous sometimes, as it has surpassed the realm of intellectual brain storming to creating a divide, cliquesim, amber of hate and destructive personal relationships. That did not dampen the morale, and like I had cause to say somewhere, I found myself in the tick of it as an intellectual hobby; I was not and still am not at war with anybody, it was not for personal gain as many would want to take it. I am sure that was and is not the point of contention in an atmosphere of educative endeavor, which is just by the way.
I am concluding this discussion on this note as I now found it bewildering that what I took to be an intellectual hobby was taken by others to be a war zone, my thinking, just as I said somewhere, the debate for me was a fora where many people participated and contributed without any hope of gaining political ascendancy, that is why when the debate was halted I wrote, disagreeing with that decision, I am of the opinion that debates on topical issues that affect the people and environment should be given prominence by any right thinking person. And by the way the NNN was not the creator of the forum; it only served as its catalyst as did Weekly Trust, Nasiha newspapers, and Rana and Gwagwarmaya magazines. Probably that was why the The Arewa Literary Series, (TALS) introduced by the NNN could not see the light of the day, because the soyayya debate was not a creation of any body, it was a creation of a given momentum found worthy of commentary, probably because of the meandering of so many eruptive, emotive and to some extent myopic reasons and/or motivations and contestations.
I am sure the dust has not settled yet, in fact the debate went on in other fora like the Internet for many years, where most people are not aware of it, and to me that is where the emotive personification of the ideals of the debate were laid bare, as well as the innumerable tendencies for misleading the public were crafted and adopted. One is not calling for another debate, but why not, if it is going to be decent, intellectual and factual and with an intellectual referee to whistle loud and clear for offside, foul or fans gallery that will shout hoarse when a classical goal is scored!