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This essay delves into the study of literature in northern Nigeria. The study discusses the scope of literature, the region of Northern Nigeria and aspects of its popular culture, and finally goes ahead to examine the socio-political issues captured in Abubakar Gimbar’s Inner Rumblings. It concludes that the literature of Northern Nigeria still needs to be explored to the fullest by the activities of Northern Nigerian writers so as to bring it to the fore of Nigeria and the world at large.

Keywords: Northern Nigeria, popular culture, literature.

1.0       Introduction

According to the online Encyclopædia Britannica (2015: 5), Literature is a form of human expression. But not everything expressed in words—even when organized and written down—is counted as literature. Those writings that are primarily informative—technical, scholarly, journalistic—would be excluded from the rank of literature by most, though not all, critics. Certain forms of writing, however, are universally regarded as belonging to literature as an art. Individual attempts within these forms are said to succeed if they possess something called artistic merit and to fail if they do not. The nature of artistic merit is less easy to define than to recognize. The writer need not even pursue it to attain it. On the contrary, a scientific exposition might be of great literary value and a pedestrian poem of none at all.

The essay was once written deliberately as a piece of literature; its subject matter was of comparatively minor importance. Today most essays are written as expository, informative journalism, although there are still essayists in the great tradition who think of themselves as artists. Now, as in the past, some of the greatest essayists are critics of literature, drama, and the arts. Some personal documents (autobiographies, diaries, memoirs, and letters) rank among the world’s greatest literature. Some examples of this biographical literature were written with posterity in mind, others with no thought of their being read by anyone but the writer. Some are in a highly polished literary style; others, couched in a privately evolved language, win their standing as literature because of their cogency, insight, depth, and scope. One can conceive of Literature as a body of written works. The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution.

Definitions of the word literature tend to be circular. The 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2007:136) considers literature to be “writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.” The 19th-century critic, Walter Pater referred to “the matter of imaginative or artistic literature” as a “transcript, not of mere fact, but of fact in its infinitely varied forms.” But such definitions assume that the reader already knows what literature is. And indeed its central meaning, at least, is clear enough. Deriving from the Latin littera, a letter of the alphabet, literature is first and foremost humankind’s entire body of writing; after that it is the body of writing belonging to a given language or people; then it is an individual piece of writing. Thus, every group possesses a literature peculiar to them and which defines the individual writings that make up that group.

But already it is necessary to qualify these statements. To use the word “writing” when describing literature is itself misleading, for one may speak of “oral literature” or “the literature of preliterate peoples.” The art of literature is not reducible to the words on the page; they are there solely because of the craft of writing. As an art, literature might be described as the organization of words to give pleasure. Yet through words literature elevates and transforms experience beyond mere pleasure. Literature may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language, national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter. Literature also functions more broadly in society as a means of both criticizing and affirming cultural values. This means that the literature of a people spells out the identity of such people. Literature in Northern Nigeria is hinged on the cultural heritage of the Hausa-Fulani people which in a sense is an offshoot of the Arab tradition.

This essay is about the literature of Northern Nigeria, popular culture and the language use. It is noteworthy that Northern Nigerian literature combines various art forms of drama, music, poetry, orature, etc. and such literature aims to communicate values to the audience as well as to entertain.

2.0 An Overview of Literature

The online Encyclopædia Britannica (2015:7) catalogues the development and the criteria of what constitutes literature from pre-literate to modern times noting that the content of literature is as limitless as the desire of human beings to communicate with one another. The thousands of years, perhaps hundreds of thousands, since the human species first developed speech have built up the almost infinite systems of relationships called languages. A language is not just a collection of words in an unabridged dictionary but the individual and social possession of living human beings, an inexhaustible system of equivalents, of sounds to objects and to one another. Its most primitive elements are those words that express direct experiences of objective reality, and its most sophisticated concepts on a high level of abstraction. Words are not only equivalent to things; they have varying degrees of equivalence to one another. A symbol, according to the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2007:506), is something that stands for something else or a sign used to represent something, “as the lion is the symbol of courage, the cross the symbol of Christianity, the crescent and the star as a symbol of Islam.” In this sense all words can be called symbols, but the examples given—the lion, the cross and the crescent and star—are really metaphors: that is, symbols that represent a complex of other symbols, and which are generally negotiable in a given society (just as money is a symbol for goods or labour). Eventually a language comes to be, among other things, a huge sea of implicit metaphors, an endless web of interrelated symbols. As literature, especially poetry, grows more and more sophisticated, it begins to manipulate this field of suspended metaphors as a material in itself, often as an end in itself. Thus, there emerge forms of poetry (and prose, too) with endless ramifications of reference, as in Japanese waka and haiku, some ancient Irish and Norse verse, and much of the poetry written in Western Europe since the time of Baudelaire that is called modernist. It might be supposed that, at its most extreme, this development would be objective, constructive—aligning it with the critical theories stemming from Aristotle’s Poetics. On the contrary, it is romantic, subjective art, primarily because the writer handles such material instinctively and subjectively, approaches it as the “collective unconscious,” to use the term of the psychologist Carl Jung, rather than with deliberate rationality (online Encyclopædia Britannica, 2015:7).

By the time literature appears in the development of a culture, the society has already come to share a whole system of stereotypes and archetypes: major symbols standing for the fundamental realities of the human condition, including the kind of symbolic realities that are enshrined in religion and myth. Literature may use such symbols directly, but all great works of literary art are, as it were, original and unique myths. The world’s great classics evoke and organize the archetypes of universal human experience. This does not mean, however, that all literature is an endless repetition of a few myths and motives, endlessly retelling the first stories of civilized man, repeating the Greek Epic of Odyssey or Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. The subject matter of literature is as wide as human experience itself. Myths, legends, and folktales lie at the beginning of literature, and their plots, situations, and allegorical (metaphorical narrative) judgments of life represent a constant source of literary inspiration that never fails. This is so because mankind is constant—people share a common physiology. Even social structures, after the development of cities, remain much alike. Whole civilizations have a life pattern that repeats itself through history.

As time goes on, literature tends to concern itself more and more with the interior meanings of its narrative, with problems of human personality and human relationships. Many novels are fictional, psychological biographies which tell of the slowly achieved integration of the hero’s personality or of his disintegration, of the conflict between self-realization and the flow of events and the demands of other people. This can be presented explicitly, where the characters talk about what is going on in their heads, either ambiguously and with reserve, as in the novels of Henry James, or overtly, as in those of Dostoyevsky. Alternatively, it can be presented by a careful arrangement of objective facts, where psychological development is described purely in terms of behaviour and where the reader’s subjective response is elicited by the minute descriptions of physical reality, as in the novels of Stendhal and the greatest Chinese novels like the Dream of the Red Chamber, which convinces the readers that through the novel it is seeing reality itself, rather than an artfully contrived semblance of reality.                         Literature, however, is not solely concerned with the concrete, with objective reality, with individual psychology, or with subjective emotion. Some deal with abstract ideas or philosophical conceptions. Much purely abstract writing is considered literature only in the widest sense of the term, and the philosophical works that are ranked as great literature are usually presented with more or less of a sensuous garment. Thus, Plato’s Dialogues ranks as great literature because the philosophical material is presented in dramatic form, as the dialectical outcome of the interchange of ideas between clearly drawn, vital personalities, and because the descriptive passages are of great lyrical beauty. Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (1867–95) approaches great literature in certain passages in which he expresses the social passion he shares with the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament. Euclid’s Elements (1883-85) and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (1947) give literary, aesthetic satisfaction to some people because of their purity of style and beauty of architectonic construction. In short, most philosophical works that rank as great literature do so because they are intensely human. The reader responds to Blaise Pascal’s Pensées (1660), to Michel de Montaigne’s Essays (1580), and to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (1634) as he would to living men. Sometimes the pretence of purely abstract intellectual rigour is in fact a literary device. The writings of the 20th-century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, for example, owe much of their impact to this approach, while the poetry of Paul Valéry (1871-1945) borrows the language of philosophy and science for its rhetorical and evocative power.

In preliterate societies oral literature was widely shared; it saturated the society and was as much a part of living as food, clothing, shelter, or religion. Many tribal societies remained primarily oral cultures until the 19th century. In early societies the minstrel might be a courtier of the king or chieftain, and the poet who composed liturgies might be a priest. But the oral performance itself was accessible to the whole community. As society evolved its various social layers or classes, an “elite” literature began to be distinguishable from the “folk” literature of the people. With the invention of writing this separation was accelerated until finally literature was being experienced individually by the elite (reading a book), while folklore and folk song were experienced orally and more or less collectively by the non-literate common people. Elite literature continuously refreshes itself with materials drawn from the popular. Almost all poetic revivals, for instance, include in their programmes a new appreciation of folk song, together with a demand for greater objectivity. On the other hand folk literature borrows themes and, very rarely, patterns from elite literature. Many of the English and Scottish ballads that date from the end of the Middle Ages and have been preserved by oral tradition share plots and even turns of phrase with written literature. A very large percentage of these ballads contain elements that are common to folk ballads from all over Western Europe; central themes of folklore, indeed, are found all over the world. Whether these common elements are the result of diffusion is a matter for dispute. They do, however, represent great psychological constants, archetypes of experience common to the human species, and so these constants are used again and again by elite literature as it discovers them in folklore.

There is a marked difference between true popular literature, that of folklore and folk song, and the popular literature of modern times. According to the online Encyclopædia Britannica (2015:9), Popular literature today is produced either to be read by a literate audience or to be enacted on television or in the cinema; it is produced by writers who are members, however lowly, of an elite corps of professional literates. Thus, popular literature no longer springs from the people; it is handed to them. Their role is passive. At best they are permitted a limited selectivity as consumers. Certain theorists once believed that folk songs and even long, narrative ballads were produced collectively, as has been said in mockery “by the tribe sitting around the fire and grunting in unison.” This idea is very much out of date. The Encyclopædia Britannica notes that folk songs and folk tales began somewhere in one human mind. They were developed and shaped into the forms in which they are now found by hundreds of other minds as they were passed down through the centuries. Only in this sense were they “collectively” produced. During the 20th century, folklore and folk speech had a great influence on elite literature—on writers as different as Franz Kafka and Carl Sandburg, Selma Lagerlöf and Kawabata Yasunari, Martin Buber and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Folk song has always been popular with bohemian intellectuals, especially political radicals (who certainly are the elite). Since World War II the influence of folk song upon popular song has not just been great; it has been determinative. Almost all “hit” songs since the mid-20th century have been imitation of folk songs; and some authentic folk singers attract immense audiences.

Popular fiction and drama, westerns and detective stories, films and television serials, all deal with the same great archetypal themes as folktales and ballads, though this is seldom due to direct influence; these are simply the limits within which the human mind works. The number of people who have elevated the formulas of popular fiction to a higher literary level is surprisingly small. Examples are H.G. Wells’s early science fiction, the western stories of Gordon Young and Ernest Haycox, the detective stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Georges Simenon, and Raymond Chandler.

The latter half of the 20th century witnessed an even greater change in popular literature. Writing is a static medium: that is to say, a book is read by one person at a time; it permits recollection and anticipation; the reader can go back to check a point or move ahead to find out how the story ends. In radio, television, and the cinema the medium is fluent; the audience is a collectivity and is at the mercy of time. It cannot pause to reflect or to understand more fully without missing another part of the action, nor can it go back or forward. Marshall McLuhan in his book Understanding Media (1964) became famous for erecting a whole structure of aesthetic, sociological, and philosophical theory upon this fact. But it remains to be seen whether the new, fluent materials of communication are going to make so very many changes in civilization, let alone in the human mind—mankind has, after all, been influenced for thousands of years by the popular, fluent arts of music and drama. Even the most transitory television serial was written down before it was performed, and the script can be consulted in the files. Before the invention of writing, all literature was fluent because it was contained in people’s memory. In a sense it was more fluent than music, because it was harder to remember. Man in mass society becomes increasingly a creature of the moment, but the reasons for this are undoubtedly more fundamental than his forms of entertainment.

Literature, like all other human activities, necessarily reflects current social and economic conditions. Class stratification was reflected in literature as soon as it had appeared in life. Among the American Indians, for instance, the chants of the shaman, or medicine man, differ from the secret, personal songs of the individual, and these likewise differ from the group songs of ritual or entertainment sung in the community. In the Heroic Age, the epic tales of kings and chiefs that were sung or told in their barbaric courts differed from the folktales that were told in peasant cottages. The more cohesive a society, the more the elements—and even attitudes—evolved in the different class strata are interchangeable at all levels. In the tight clan organization that existed in late medieval times at the Scottish border, for example, heroic ballads telling of the deeds of lords and ladies were preserved in the songs of the common people. But where class divisions are unbridgeable, elite literature is liable to be totally separated from popular culture. An extreme example is the Classical literature of the Roman Empire. Its forms and its sources were largely Greek—it even adopted its laws of verse patterning from Greek models, even though these were antagonistic to the natural patterns of the Latin language—and most of the sophisticated works of the major Latin authors were completely closed to the overwhelming majority of people of the Roman Empire.       At first, changes in literary values are appreciated only at the upper levels of the literary elite itself, but often, within a generation, works once thought esoteric are being taught as part of a school syllabus. Most cultivated people once thought James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) incomprehensible or, where it was not, obscene. Today, his methods and subject matter are commonplace in the commercial fiction of the mass culture. A few writers remain confined to the elite. Mallarmé is a good example—but he would have been just as ethereal had he written in the simplest French of direct communication. His subtleties are ultimately grounded in his personality.

According to Ali (2014:2), literature in Northern Nigeria draws heavily from the socio-political situations of the region and the country at large. Abubarka Gimbar and the writings of Helon Habila exemplify this. It also features prominent aspects of folklores like the works of Usman Bukar that have been written in English and Hausa languages. Such works as The Hyena and the Squirrel, Tsurondi, Dan Agwai Da Kura, Dankutungayya, Dankucaka, etc. are among the many of such literatures.

Hausa drama generally has a popular appeal and owes much to the dramatic style of traditional storytelling; it has focused on social problems, particularly those involving the Hausa family, with its tradition of polygamy. This practice has been criticized in many plays—for example, Tabarmar Kunya (1969; “Matter of Shame”) by Adamu dan Gogo and Dauda Kano. Some plays satirize the dependence of uneducated people on Muslim scholars and some—for example, Umaru Balarme Ahmed’s Buleke (1970)—depicts characters who lead a hectic modern life but are nevertheless still rooted in tradition. Hausa Plays are performed often in schools and are featured frequently on radio and television.

2.1 Literature and other Art Forms

Literature has an obvious kinship with the other arts. When presented, a play is drama; when read, a play is literature. Most important films have been based upon written literature, usually novels, although all the great epics and most of the great plays have been filmed at some time and thus have stimulated the younger medium’s growth. Conversely, the techniques required in writing for film have influenced many writers in structuring their novels and have affected their style. Most popular fiction is written with “movie rights” in mind, and these are certainly a consideration with most modern publishers. According to Yusuf (2014:1), Literature provides the libretto for operas, the theme for tone poems—even so anomalous a form as Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra was interpreted in music by Richard Strauss—and of course it provides the lyrics of songs. Many ballets and modern dances are based on stories or poems. Sometimes, music and dance are accompanied by a text read by a speaker or chanted by a chorus. The mid-19th century was the heyday of literary, historical, and anecdotal painting, though, aside from the Surrealists, this sort of thing died out in the 20th century. Cross-fertilization of literature and the arts now takes place more subtly, mostly in the use of parallel techniques—the rational dissociation of the Cubists or the spontaneous action painting of the Abstract Expressionists, for example, which flourished at the same time as the free-flowing uncorrected narratives of some novelists in the 1950s and ’60s.

Critics have invented a variety of systems for treating literature as a collection of genres. Often these genres are artificial, invented after the fact with the aim of making literature less sprawling, more tidy. Theories of literature must be based upon direct experience of the living texts and so be flexible enough to contain their individuality and variety. Perhaps the best approach is historical, or genetic. What actually happened, and in what way did literature evolve up to the present day?

According to the online Encyclopaedia Britanica (2015:11), there is a surprising variety of oral literature among surviving preliterate peoples, and, as the written word emerges in history, the indications are that the important literary genres all existed at the beginning of civilized societies: heroic epic; songs in praise of priests and kings; stories of mystery and the supernatural; love lyrics; personal songs (the result of intense meditation); love stories; tales of adventure and heroism (of common peoples, as distinct from the heroic epics of the upper classes); satire (which was dreaded by barbaric chieftains); satirical combats (in which two poets or two personifications abused one another and praised themselves); ballads and folktales of tragedy and murder; folk stories, such as the tale of the clever boy who performs impossible tasks, outwits all his adversaries, and usually wins the hand of the king’s daughter; animal fables like those attributed to Aesop (the special delight of Black Africa and Indian America); riddles, proverbs, and philosophical observations; hymns, incantations, and mysterious songs of priests; and finally actual mythology—stories of the origin of the world and the human race, of the great dead, and of the gods and demigods.

Like lyrical poetry, drama has been an exceptionally stable literary form. Given a little leeway, most plays written by the beginning of the 20th century could be adjusted to the rules of Aristotle’s Poetics. Before World War I, however, all traditional art forms, led by painting, began to disintegrate, and new forms evolved to take their place. In drama, according to Yusuf (2014:3), the most radical innovator was August Strindberg (1849–1912), and from that day to this, drama (forced to compete with the cinema) has become ever more experimental, constantly striving for new methods, materials, and, especially, ways to establish a close relationship with the audience. All this activity has profoundly modified drama as literature.

2.2 An Overview of Northern Nigeria

Jihar Arewa Ta Tarayyar Jumhuriyar Najeriya; Motto: Aiki da Ibada: "Work and Worship"

According to Auyo and Mohammed (2009:4), the above defines the stance of Northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria was an autonomous division within Nigeria, distinctly different from the southern part of the country; it had independent customs, foreign relations and security structures. Ibrahim (2010:11) notes that in 1962, the region acquired the territory of the British Northern Cameroons, which voted to become a Province within Northern Nigeria. The pre-history of Northern Nigeria can be traced to the era of the Nok culture. The Nok culture, an ancient culture dominated most of what is now Northern Nigeria in pre-historic times, its legacy in the form of terracotta statues and megaliths have been discovered in Sokoto, Kano, Birinin Kudu, Nok and Zaria. The Kwatarkwashi culture, a variant of the Nok culture centred mostly around Zamfara in Sokoto Province is thought by some to be the same or an offshoot of the Nok.

Ibrahim (2010:11) chronicles that the Fourteen Kingdoms unify the diverse lore and heritage of Northern Nigeria into a cohesive ethno-historical system. Seven of these Kingdoms developed from the Kabara legacy of the Hausa people. In the 9th century as vibrant trading centres competing with Kanem-Bornu and Mali slowly developed in the Central Sudan, a set Kingdoms merged dominating the great savannah plains of Hausa land, their primary exports were leather, gold, cloth, salt, kola nuts, animal hides, and henna. The online Encyclopaedia Britannica (20115:17) gives the names of the Seven Hausa states as: Daura ? – 1806, Kano 998 – 1807, Katsina C. 1400 – 1805, Zazzau (Zaria) C. 1200 – 1808, Gobir ? – 1808, Rano, and Biram C. 1100 – 1805. The growth and conquest of the Hausa Bakwai resulted in the founding of additional states with rulers tracing their lineage to a concubine of the Hausa founding father, Bayajidda. Thus they are called the 'Banza Bakwai’ meaning Bastard Seven. The Banza Bakwai adopted many of the customs and institutions of the Hausa Bakwai but were considered unsanctioned or copy-cat kingdoms by non-Hausa people. These states include: Zamfara, Kebbi, Yauri (also called Yawuri), Gwari (also called Gwari land), Kwararafa (a Jukun state), Nupe (of the Nupe people), Ilorin (a Yoruba state), Hausa States.

According to the Kano Chronicle (2014:9), between 500 CE and 700 CE, Hausa people who are thought to have slowly moved from Nubia and mixing in with the local Northern and Middle Belt population, established a number of strong states in what is now Northern Nigeria and Eastern Niger. With the decline of the Nok and Sokoto, which had previously controlled Central and Northern Nigeria between 800 BCE and 200 CE, the Hausa were able to emerge as the new power in the region. They are closely linked with the Kanuri people of Kanem-Bornu (Lake Chad), the Birom, Gwari, Nupe and Jukun. The Hausa aristocracy, under influence from the Mali Empire adopted Islam in the 11th century CE. Auyo (2009:7) notes that by the 12th century CE the Hausas were becoming one of Africa's major powers. The architecture of the Hausa is perhaps one of the least known but most beautiful of the medieval age. Many of their early mosques and palaces are bright and colourful and often include intricate engraving or elaborate symbols designed into the facade. By 1500 CE, the Hausa utilized a modified Arabic script known as Ajami to record their own language; the Hausa compiled several written histories, the most popular being the Kano Chronicle.

Usuman dan Fodio led a jihad against the Hausa States and finally united them into the Sokoto Caliphate. The Sokoto Caliphate was under the overall authority of the Commander of the Faithful. Under Dan Fodio, the Empire was bicephalous and divided into two territories each controlled by an appointed vizier. Each of the territories was further divided into autonomous Emirates under mainly hereditary local Emirs. The Bornu Empire was initially absorbed into the Sokoto Caliphate of Usman dan Fodio, but broke away after a few years later.

The Kano Chronicle (2014:9) notes that nitially the British involvement in Northern Nigeria was predominantly trade-related, and revolved around the expansion of the Royal Niger Company, whose interior territories spread north from about where the Niger River and Benue River joined at Lokoja. The Royal Niger Company's territory did not represent a direct threat to much of the Sokoto Caliphate or the numerous states of Northern Nigeria. This changed, when Fredrick Lugard and Taubman Goldie laid down an ambitious plan to pacify the Niger interior and unite it with the rest of the British Empire.

Auyo (2009:7) states that the protectorate of Northern Nigeria was proclaimed at Ida by Fredrick Lugard on January 1, 1897. The basis of the colony was the 1885 Treaty of Berlin which broadly granted Northern Nigeria to Britain, on the basis of their protectorates in Southern Nigeria. Hostilities with the powerful Sokoto Caliphate soon followed. The Emirates of Kabba, Kontogora and Ilorin were the first to be conquered by the British. In February 1903, the great fort of Kano, seat of the Kano Emirate was captured, Sokoto and much of the rest of its Caliphate soon catapulted. On March 13, 1903, the Grand Shura of Caliphate finally conceded to Lugard’s demands and proclaimed Queen Victoria, Queen and sovereign of the Caliphate and all its lands.

The Governor, Frederick Lugard, with limited resources, ruled with the consent of local rulers through a policy of indirect rule which he developed into a sophisticated political theory. Lugard left the protectorate after some years, serving in Hong Kong, but was eventually returned to work in Nigeria where he decided on the merger of the Northern Nigeria Protectorate with Southern Nigeria in 1914. Agitation for independence from the radically different Southern Protectorate however led to a formidable split in the 1940s. The Richards constitution proclaimed in 1945 gave overwhelming autonomy to the North including eventually in the areas of foreign relations and customs policy.

According to the Kano Chronicle (2014:11), Northern Nigeria was granted independence on the 15th of March 1957 with Sir Ahmadu Bello as its first premier. The Northern Peoples Congress under Sir Ahmadu Bello dominated parliament while the Northern Elements Progressive Union became the main opposition party. Northern Nigeria was divided into 13 provinces namely: Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Ilorin, Kano, Katsina, Plateau, Zaria, Niger, Adamawa, Kabba, Sokoto, Sardauna Kano, the largest of the provinces in terms of population and economy is in the North-Central part of the country. The Kano Native Authority, an offshoot of the Fula Kano Emirate inherited the ancient trade industries that fuelled the trans-Saharan trade with North Africa. The Province of Zaria is home to the City of Kaduna, an autonomous capital city that serves as the nation’s capital and home to its national institutions.

Groundnut and cotton industries in the province of Kano provide the main source of revenue for Northern Nigeria. Tin mining in the Province of Plateau, Steel mining in the Province of Benue and other metal industries in the Province of Sokoto; build up the diverse mining industry of the Country. Cement industries in Sokoto and Bauchi and leather processing industries in Kano constitute the main manufacturing sector.

Auyo (2009:11) observes that Northern Nigeria is an ethnically and religiously diverse state. The Hausa, Fula and Birom peoples dominate much of the North Western and Central parts of the Country. While the Hausa and Fula are chiefly Muslims, they have a very rich Christian history, the Ancient Hausa Kings of Gobir 'Masu Sakandami' - the Cross Bearers were Christians long before the coming of European evangelists and a large Christian Hausa and Fula minority thrives in many of the North Western Provinces. A substantial part of the Hausa population also adheres to ancient religion of Hausa Animism. The culture of Northern Nigeria is mostly dominated by the culture of the Fourteen Kingdoms that dominated the region in prehistoric times, but these cultures are also deeply influenced by the culture of the over one hundred ethnic groups that still live in the region.

2.3 Northern Nigeria and Popular Culture

Auyo (2009:11) states that Northern Nigeria inherited much of the literary legacy of the old Sudanic states. The Hausa Sultanates from the 9th to the 18th century produced numerous literary works. Thousands of such works mostly in Ajami, Hausa and Arabic still remain uncatalogued throughout Northern Nigeria. Since the colonisation by the British Empire, English and the Latin script has superseded the Ajami script. Ali (2014:5) notes that Abubakr Imam Kagara is regarded as one of the fathers of modern Northern Nigerian literature, his works such as Ruwan Bagaja and Magana Jari Ce published in the 1930s served as a bridge between the old sudanic literary tradition and western ways. Others like Yabo Lari and Muhammed Sule- author of the Undesirable Elements made equally important contributions in the 1960s. In the 1980s popular authors like Abubakar Gimba and Zainab Alkali served to keep the North’s literary tradition alive and distinct from the Nigerian south. The 1990s saw the emergence of authors from Abubakar Othman, Ismail Bala and Ahmed Maiwada in poetry to Maria Ajima and Victor Dugga in drama. Contemporary Northern Nigerian literature is mostly produced in Kano, Kaduna, Jos and Minna. Writers like B. M. Dzukogi, Ismail Bala, Yusuf Adamu, Musa Okpanachi, Razinat Mohammed and E. E. Sule are still active.

According to Yusuf (2014:6), Northern Nigeria's movie industry known as Kannywood was one of the first commercial film industries in sub Saharan Africa. The industry was created by veteran journalists and actors from Radio Kaduna and RTV Kaduna in the 1950s. As at 2012, there are over 2000 Cinema companies operating in Northern Nigeria. Today actors like Ali Nuhu, Adam A. Zango, Sani Danja, Ibrahim Maishukku are popular within the region. Since the 1990s the slow rise of Islamic fundamentalism through the proselyte campaigns of the Izala Society, Northern Nigerian cinema has witnessed considerable setbacks and has now been dwarfed by its Southern Nigerian counterpart more commonly known as Nollywood.

Adah and Chiama (2014:3) observe that while the old Sudanic tradition mostly concentrated on poetry and sung poetry, from the 1950s influx of British influence served to fertilise Northern Nigerian Music. Music and dance are an integral part of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage. The diverse cultures, each with its techniques and instruments, have different kinds of music, ranging from folk to popular music, some of which are known worldwide. Adah and Chiama also note that the period of the late 1960s through the ’70s and ’80s was an extremely fertile era for music in Nigeria, as indeed it was around the world. While Afro-juju music was making waves in the Southwest with musicians the likes of Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and Fela Anikulapo Kuti as its proponents and in the Southeast, Oliver de Coque, Osita Osadebe and Bright Chimezie were institutionalising Highlife music, Northern Nigeria was bubbling with the functional and entertaining songs of the local Folk music genre. Some notable names in Northern Nigerian music include the likes of Dan Maraya Jos, Mamman Shata, Barmani Choge, Aliyu Dan Kwairo and a host of others who are regarded as the founders of the distinct Northern Nigerian stylistic musical genre. Others like Fatima Uji continue to be popular. The profiles of some of these are discussed below according to Adah and Chiama  (2014):

Mamman Shata Katsina (1923-1999) was a Katsina-born Nigerian, well known as an accomplished griot among the Hausa people of West and Northeast Africa. His vocals, which were often accompanied by talking drums known as kalangu, provided a formidable source of entertainment for the people of Northern Nigeria for more than half a century. Shata built his long career in entertainment against his father’s wish for him to become an established farmer. Shata was involved in petty trading in Kola nuts and sweets (alewa) before he dumped that to embrace music full time. Many who had the privilege of encountering Shata in his day usually had the best of entertainment and relaxation times with him. This great folklorist was one of the bestselling Polygram artistes from Northern Nigeria in the ’80s. Shata also delved a bit into politics, especially at the grassroots, serving his people in the ’70s as a councillor in Kankia Local Government Area of Katsina State. In the Third Republic, he served as the chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Funtua Local Government.                                                Dan Maraya Jos (born Adamu Wayya in 1946 in Bukuru near Jos in Plateau State of Nigeria) is a Hausa griot (folklore custodian/singer) best known for playing the Kuntigi, a stringed lute-like instrument used in Nigerian Hausa music. He is a living legend in the Hausa music world until just recently. His songs are mainly about life and living. How did he come about the name Dan Maraya Jos, which literally means “the little orphan of Jos”? Well, his father, who was from Sokoto, died shortly after his birth and his mother also died while he was still an infant. So he became an orphan at a very tender age, hence the name “Dan Maraya Jos”, by which everybody knows him. His choosing a career in folk music was not an accident. His father was a court musician for the Emir of Bukuru, who took Dan Maraya into his care following the death of his parents. Dan Maraya showed interest in the art of music at a very early age and came under the influence of local professional musicians. “I had to start music at the age of seven” was his response to a question asked him by journalists some years ago. During a trip to Maiduguri as a preteen, he was impressed by musicians there and he made a Kuntigi, an instrument he has used as accompaniment ever since. In his active days, he composed over 500 songs.

The mainstay of Dan Maraya’s repertoire is praise singing, addressing his own heroes who are usually not the rich and famous. His first and perhaps still his topmost hit song is “Wak’ar Karen Mota” (Song of the Driver’s Mate), a song in praise of young men who are bus conductors and do the dirty work of changing the tyres, pushing the buses when they break down, etc. He was taken to the battlefield during the Nigerian Civil War, to boost the morale of the men of the Federal Army with songs in which he vividly incorporated scenarios from the war.

Barmani Choge was a renowned Hausa female singer whose birth name was Sa’adatu Aliyu. She spent 52 years of her life composing and singing the Amada genre of Hausa folk music, accompanied by a water-filled calabash instrument beaten lightly like a drum. Her all-female group usually entertained women. Her themes dealt with issues like women’s empowerment and education. She also scolded jealous and lazy women, among other family issues she addressed in her songs. The name “Barmani Choge” was only a nickname, the first courtesy of her being the only surviving child of her parents and the other because of the way she would mimic a cripple’s walk in the early days of her career. When once asked, she explained, “Choge, as I use it, is a particular dance step attached to Amada music. It was in vogue a long time ago. The name was later appended to my real name by my fans.” Born in 1945 in what is now Katsina State, Choge died at 80 in Funtua town in 2013.

Bongos Ikwue was one of the most popular singers in the Nigerian music scene back in the day, whose personalised style of music made him a unique artiste. The music maestro, who is from Otukpo Local Government Area of Benue State, North-Central Nigeria, could be viewed as an intimate, earthy singer-songwriter, who delivered home truths with soulful, unpretentious vocals. Bongos was one of the very few Africans whose album hit platinum under PolyGram records in Europe. His career peaked in the 1970s through ’80s, a period when most of his hit tracks were released. Bongos’ light, however, could not shine on through the 1990s, but his numerous fans, who he won for himself through the rich messages of his folk-soul songs, still miss his stage performances. He is most remembered as the voice in the signature tune of famous television series “Cock Crow at Dawn”, as well as for numerous hits including Mariama, Teardrops, Still Searching, What’s Gonna Be and his vernacular tracks Eche w’ Une (Life is a Swing) and Ihotu (Love), among others.

Alhaji Abubakar Ladan, A famous poet well known for his songs and music on African unity, was born in 1935 at Kwarbai in Zaria City, Kaduna State in Northern Nigeria. After graduating from Alhudahuda Middle School (now Alhudahuda College) in the 1950s, Ladan started working as a veterinary officer in Malunfashi (now in Katsina State). He was inspired into music by reading the songs of other Hausa singers like Sa’adu Zungur, Muazu Hadija and a singer from Sudan called Abubakar Al-Kabirun. Abubakar Ladan has travelled widely across the African continent, visiting countries like Sudan, Morocco, Ethiopia, Somalia, Congo, Niger and Eritrea, among others. The honour of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR) was conferred on him by Shehu Shagari’s government.

Alhaji Musa Dankwairo is another famous classical Hausa folklore singer in modern times. Dankwairo’s career in music was inherited; his father, Usman Dankwanda, served as a singer for the Emir of Maradun. Dankwairo grew up to know his father as a singer and at the age of seven, he began to accompany his father as he went around singing. After his father’s death, Dankwairo continued to go with and assist his brother, Aliyu Kurna, who directly inherited the father’s possessions. He got the name “Dankwairo” from a man by that name who happened to be a boy with lovely vocals in his father’s ensemble. The then young Dankwairo began to imitate him and gradually picked up in the art and rose to fame, and people began to call him Dankwairo. He served as a personal singer for the Sardauna of Sokoto. The first song he sang for the Sardauna was Mai Dubun Nasara.

Sanni Aliyu Dandawo, born about 67 years ago in Argungu in Kebbi State, is one northern musician who has touched the lives of many through his music. Dandawo’s father, the late Alhaji Aliyu Dandawo, was also a popular musician. Dandawo began his musical career in 1964. His praise music concentrates on traditional rulers, whom he eulogises in his songs. In traditional Hausa culture, he belongs to the class of singers known as Mawakinfada (singers for traditional rulers). As time went on, he also sang for politicians and the wealthy in society. He sang many songs for the late premier of the Northern Region and Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. Despite the advent of modern musical instruments, Dandawo still clings to his old traditional instruments, because according to him, they are what he inherited from his forefathers. His songs include Manir Jafaru, Sarkin Sudan Kontagora, Shehu Kangiwa, Ahmadu Aruwa, among others.

Alhaji Haruna Uji is a popular Hausa musician, who endeared himself to the hearts of the rich and the poor alike, as well as the young and the old through his music. Uji was born in Unguwar Gandun Quarters in Hadejia, present day Jigawa State in 1946. His father was an Islamic cleric. At the age of six, Uji was enrolled into a Qur’anic school and graduated five years later. A highly intelligent student, while in school, he would take charge and teach the class whenever the teacher was absent. Before his debut in music, he was a hunter, a farmer and also a driver. He gave up driving entirely when he became prominent as a musician. Uji was inspired into music after meeting a musician named Dan Mato in Kano, who played the Gurmi (a traditional instrument) that Uji also played. He went into music for the love of it and not for money, as he often rejected financial offers.

Hajiya Fatima Lolo was one of the traditional singers from Northern Nigeria. She was a Nupe folklorist from Niger State. Hajia Lolo was reputed to have brought Nupe music to national and international recognition. Lolo was a delight to watch, a sonorous vocalist to listen to. She, no doubt, brought beauty and glamour into Nupe music with her spectacular performances at various national and international festivals. Some of the events at which she performed include the Kaduna Durbar and Festac ’77 cultural and arts exhibition. This great and admirable folksong icon is late and will continue to be greatly missed by the world, especially music lovers in Northern Nigeria and her admirers in particular.        Since the 1990s influence of pop culture has led to rise of Northern Nigerian R&B singers. Northern Nigerian Singers like Adam Zango, Ice Prince Zamani and Idris Abdulkareem etc. are popular throughout Africa.

2.4 Poetry and Social Commentary

            In his introduction, Shija (2008) observes that contemporary Nigerian poetry produced in the last three decades of the 20th century is often viewed as mere social and political propaganda. These new generation poets, unlike those in the earlier generation of Wole Soyinka and Christopher Okigbo, are often said to be too anxious to communicate their message of social advocacy and thus employ ordinary language. Hence, they are brushed aside as not worthy of serious academic study. Viewed through the prism of poetry, colonialist philosophy, shija argues, with references to the poetry of Tanure Ojaide and Niyi Osundare, that these allegations are merely political and therefore misplaced. Contemporary Nigerian poets according to him question the assumptions of superiority ascribed to Western standards of poetry as they positively deploy their indigenous African techniques of musicality, ritual imagery and local Idiom to fight social ills on their countries. (152)

            Poetry has been one of the literary tools used for enforcing social change. The compressed and pregnant language of poetry necessarily makes it a strong tool for influencing the society through its paintings of facts and figures in symbolic and picturesque languages.

The Post colonialism is a late 20th century concept used variously to depict a historical or political movement, a literary genre or indeed a cultural theory that spans the gamut of life of colonized people. As a historical or political movement, it is a fact that European nations colonized and shared out African territories at the Berlin conference of 1884-85 in tandem with their economic and strategic interests. These colonies were later granted independence in the second half of the 20th century (Shija: 152).

            However, as a general rule, the semantic basis of the use “post” does not limit the concept only to activities after independence but indeed it covers the state of being of the colonized people from onset of colonialism. Bill Ascroftet al (1989) in Shija (2008) explain further that, “We use the term “post-colonial” however, to cover all the culture affected by the imperial process from the movement of colonization to the present day. This is because there is a continuity of Pre-occupations throughout the historical Process initiated by European imperial aggression” (2).

As a literary genre, critics say all the literatures of the colonized people all over the world written right from the point of contact with the so-called superior cultures are post-colonial literature since they exhibit the same tendencies of resistance, ambivalence or sometimes subservience. As Shija puts it, it is estimated that about three quarters of all the people living in the world today have had their lives shaped by the experience of colonialism (153). Hans Bartens (2001) in Shija (2008) unjustifiably calls post-colonial criticism, racial in spite of the fact that the colonial experience sometimes takes place within the same race (80).Modern African poetry, like those of other post-colonial societies, is a product of conflict- the conflict of the mind arising from the denigration of colonialism and slavery, social inequalities, political conflict and neo-colonialism. According to Shija, so far there are three broad categories of modern poets that can be identified in Nigeria or even Africa today. The first generation of African poets includes writers who wrote their poetry before independence. They were mainly politicians. Examples are Sir Dennis Osadebey and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; D.I.E Dhlomo, Benedict Wallet Vilakazi of South Africa; kwame Nanquah, Micheal Dei Anang and Glady Casley Hayford of Ghana. These poets were not really concerned about techniques but were concerned with themes of race, nationalist struggles, Christianity and heroism (155). Shija further says that the second generation comprises among others, outstanding writers like Wole Soyionka, Gabriel Okara, J.P Clark, Christopher Okigbo, Denniis Brutus, Okot P. Bitek, Kwesi Brew, Kofi Awoonor and Lenrie Peters of Anglophone Africa. From the French speaking countries were poets like Leopald Sedar Senghor, Tchicaya U’ Tansi, Birago Diop and David Diop. The Lusophone countries had poets like Agostinho Neto, Autonio Jacinto, Vasco Cabral and Noemiade Gousa while the Arabic speaking countries boasted of the likes of Salah Abdul Sabr, Ahmed Hijazi and Mohammed Al-Faituri. This generation of peots, as observed by Ojaide and Sallah in “The African Poetry” is critical of colonialism and its members express their unease at the cultural crossroads as well as deploy political satire to criticize corruption in government, (156).The third generation, according to Shija (2008), has embraced and developed in various directions, more elements of written poetic traditions than their literary predecessors brought to global attention. They borrow techniques from both older poets and their local traditional art and setting. Since most of the poets have a populist approach towards poetry, the medium of dissemination of poetry has been democratized to involve all media of mass communications like the television, radio and newspaper.

Citation - Reference

All Project Materials Inc. (2020). LITERATURE IN NORTHERN NIGERIA: LANGUAGE AND POPULAR CULTURE . Available at: [Accessed: ].


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A Review on literature in northern nigeria: language and popular culture , literature, that, northern, research journals and thesis,, english education project topics.
This essay delves into the study of literature in northern Nigeria. The study discusses the scope of literature, the region of Northern Nigeria and aspects of its popular culture, and finally goes ahead to examine the socio-political issues captured in Abubakar Gimbar’s Inner Rumblings. It concludes that the literature of Northern Nigeria still needs to be explored to the fullest by the activities of Northern Nigerian writers so as to bring it to the fore of Nigeria and the world at large... Click here for more


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