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|Books And Literary Enterprise In Pre-independence Nigeria by Orikinla(m): 12:46am On Oct 19, 2006|
The following article was written by my literary editor Adeleke O. Adeyemi.
Please, relax and enjoy it.
In The Beginning Was The Word:
Books and Literary Enterprise in Pre-Independence Nigeria
Without history, we are at the mercy of our whims;
none of the hopes for the future is unrelated to history – Selwyn Hughes
Adeleke “Mainasara” Adeyemi
Every nationality making up modern-day Nigeria had its own literary tradition before it encountered Arabic or European influence. The educated elite that ensued from latter-day contacts with these foreign influences have been erroneously credited with the beginnings of a written tradition of literature, and colonialist critics mistakenly assuming these to be the genesis of literature in Nigeria. In this piece, however, we shall attempt a compact correct account of this variegated literary development in the home country of the greatest number of black people in the world ever since.
Othman dan Fodio's Jihad was the focal cultural event in the North in the 19th century, blowing as a wind of change against the old order of Habe kingdoms holding stifling sway over Hausaland and its environs. Being a political and religious and intellectual movement, the Jihad spawned immense literary enterprise. It, expectedly, took off with an attempt to indigenise the Arabic script. This fusion of Arabic and Hausa became known as Ajami. It was widely used for literary and other purposes.
German missionary, J.F. Schon became the pioneer most prolific European author of books in, and on Hausa language and literature. He wrote more than ten books on collections of Hausa oral traditions, translation of Christian books, compilation of dictionaries and readers, and preparation of a biography on his informant, Dorugu, in a book of narrative called Magana Hausa [“Hausa Discourse”]. Published in 1885, it can be regarded as the first literary work in prose form in Boko script. Other European Hausaists followed the footprints of Schon in the late nineteenth century among them C. H. Robinson, J.A. Robinson, and Dr. William Baikie.
But the literary tradition that resulted from the indigenisation of the Arabic script remained essentially Islamic, with models drawn from classical Arabic models. Just as literacy in the North followed the spread of Islam, it came in the South with Christian missionaries. Thanks to pioneering Christian missionary initiative, Igbo and Efik (both in the South) as well as Nupe (in North Central) also had orthographics by the early decades of the 20th century. In 1934, Rupert East and Malam Tafida edited a short story monograph in Hausa titled Jiki Magaji.
Among the resultant published works in English (and German) were: L. Charlton, A Hausa Reading Book (1908), F. Edgar, Tatsuniyoyi Na Hausa [“Tales From Hausaland”] (1911), Fletcher, Hausa Sayings & Folklore (1912), R. S. Rattray, Hausa Folklore (1913), A. J. N. Tremearne, Hausa Superstitions and Customs (1913), E. Diederichs, Der Geist des Quorra (1923), and A. Mischlich, Nuen Marchen Aus Afrika (1931). From the point of view of literary history, Edgar's 3-volume Tatsuniyoyi Na Hausa was the most important.
As a lingua franca spoken virtually all over West Africa, to the Sudan, in varying degrees, Hausa has over the centuries benefited tremendously from two world systems: the Ajami writing which developed from Arabic letters used mostly by people educated in Arabic-oriented schools and Boko writing, an adoption of Roman letters used mainly by people educated in Western-oriented schools.
Ajami flourished prior to the 17th century when the first set of prominent Islamic scholars wrote books in both Arabic and Ajami. Among them were Abdullahi Suka of Kano who wrote Riwayar Annabi Musa in Ajami, Wali Danmarna of Katsina whose works consisted of poems in Arabic and Wali Danmasani Abdulajalil, also of Katsina who wrote several definitive books on jurisprudence and syntax in Arabic, a commentary on the popular Arabic poem Ishriniya of Alfazazi which is an eulogy of the Prophet of Islam, and composed a Hausa poem in Ajami titled Wakar Yakin Badar.
Other individual scholars who wrote Ajami poems late in the 18th century included Malam Muhammadu Na Birnin Gwari, who composed at least five poems among them "Wakar Billahi Amm" and "Wakar Kankandiro"; and Malam Shi'itu Dan Abdurra'ufu of Zaria who also composed five poems in Ajami. The Shehu (‘Wise One’), Othman dan (son of) Fodio alone composed about 480 poems in Arabic, Fulfulde (the Fulani tongue) and Hausa, alongside other books he wrote in Arabic.
Out of this number, he composed 25 Hausa poems in either Arabic or Fulfulde which he later translated in similar poetic form into Hausa. The Jihad poems in Hausa (Ajami) are more than 100 by the Shehu and his disciples and followers, prominent among whom were his daughter, Nana Asma'u (17 poems), his brother, Shehu Abdullahi Fodio (8 poems), and his son Isan Kware (7 poems); Sa'idu dan Bello (3 poems), Dikko dan Bagine (2 poems), Maryamu 'yar Shehu (3 poems), Dikko dan Bagine (2 poems), Khalil dan Abdullahi (2 poems), Waziri Buhkari (2 poems) and many other scholars who composed Hausa poems in addition to their other works in Arabic and Fulfulde.
Christian Missionary Societies, realising that the majority of Hausa people are literate in Ajami published a large number of proselytising literature in Hausa written in both Ajami and Boko scripts, vividly displayed in Christian bookshops in many places. Ajami newssheets were inserted inside copies of Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, a Hausa newspaper set up in the early 40s.
The springing up of elementary and provincial schools everywhere in Northern Nigeria between 1909 and 1928 further heightened the desire to develop and produce reading material in Hausa. This led to the setting up of the Translation Bureau in 1930 by the then Government of Northern Region. The objectives of the Bureau were four-fold, namely, to translate books and material from Arabic and English into Hausa, to write books in Hausa, to produce textbooks for schools, and lastly, to encourage indigenous authors.
As a result, several books were translated especially from Arabic sources into Hausa and subsequently published. To widen the scope of the activities of the Translation Bureau, it was re-named Literature Bureau in 1933 so that works created by authors themselves, not mere translations and collations, could be accommodated by the Bureau. As the writing of fiction was a new phenomenon, notices were sent to schoolteachers and other elites educated in the elementary and provincial schools, inviting them to enter into a competition of fiction-writing in Hausa.
Several entries were received out of which five were selected and published as Ruwan Bagaja by M. Abubakar Imam (his magnum opus was to come as the seminal Magana Jari Ce, in 3 volumes), Shehu Umar by M. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Gandoki by Bello Kagara, ldon Matambayi by M. Mohammadu Gwarzo, and Jiki Magayi by M. Tafida and Dr. East. The role of Dr. Abubakar Imam as the first prolific Hausa novelist was further enhanced with the assumption of the editorship of the first Hausa newspaper, Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, in 1939.
The first written Hausa drama book Six Hausa Plays, edited by R. M. East and published in 1930 by the Translation Bureau, drew its sources from Hausa folklore; five of the plays were folktales converted into drama, and the sixth play was a dramatised version of the Hausa aboriginal Bayajidda legend.
Poetry collections followed. These discussed contemporary issues in Hausaland such as the First World War (Wakan 'Yan Baka), Western education (Ilmin Zamani), journey to England (Wakar Zuwa Ingila), problems of political ideology (Arewa Jumhuriya Ko Mulukiya). Several others condemn certain social maladies such as bribery and corruption (rashawa da cinhanci), prostitution (karuwanci), injustice (zalunci), extravagance (almubazu zaranci), stinginess, (rowa), hypocrisy (munafunci), indolence (laIaci) and ignorance (jahilci). In 1948, the Cambridge University Press brought out Hausa Poems, edited by C. H. Robinson.
The anti-colonial struggle gained momentum in the mid-40s with the formation of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in 1944, and later the Northern Peoples' Congress (NPC), and Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). In the North especially, these developments received vigorous expression in poetry. Notable among the poets of the era who took up the theme of the struggle were Mu'azu Hadejia, Aminu Kano, Sa'adu Zungur, Akolu Aliyu, and Aliyu Na-Mangi, a blind poet whose Wakar lnfiraji, a narrative in 12 books, remains a classic to this day. Before this new breed, theologians dominated the poetic vocation in the North. A few educated elite in the South made attempts at fiction writing. Among texts still existing are Isaac Thomas’s Segilola and Mohammed Duse's A Daughter of the Pharaohs. The seething cultural nationalism of the time found expression in Nnamdi Azikiwe's Renascent Africa (1937).
The spread of Western education opened the way to poets with secular responsiveness. Of these, Sa'ad Zungur was the most accomplished in tone and cosmopolitan outlook having being brought up in the heated ideological climate of the post-World War II liberationist politics of the era. Grounded in the extremism of the then Nigerian Youth Movement, Zungur devoted his poetic calling to awakening the consciousness of the talakawa (the oppressed masses) of Northern Nigeria. In his numerous pamphlets and poems, he advocated the overthrow of the feudalist and backward-looking oligarchy represented by the NPC. Somewhat akin in outspokenness to a kindred literary spirit Wole Soyinka, Zungur, before he died in 1958, had become an ideological and literary institution.
Arising almost at the same time as the emergence of Sa'adu Zungur was what literary historians now refer to as "Onitsha Market Literature." It all began in 1948 when pharmacist-turned annalist-writer Cyprian Ekwensi published his When Love Whispers, a flippant romantic tale laced with heavy sermonizing. It was an intellectual revolution involving a whole range of writers, readers, journalists, traders, booksellers, printers, and teenage students. As the symbol of the triumph of the first generation of merchant bourgeoisie, Onitsha became, in the words of writer and literary commentator Chinua Achebe: “a self-confident place where a man could not be deterred, even by insufficient education, from aspiring.” Demobilised soldiers from the wars in Asia brought with them new ideas, unfulfilled dreams, and printing skills to enrich Onitsha's venturesome spirit.
The greatest achievement, however, in the area of literature in indigenous languages was by Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa who published six novels in Yoruba between 1939 and 1961. The most famous of these is Ogboju Ode Ninu Ígbó lrunmole, translated into English by Soyinka as Forest of a Thousand Demons (I968) [“I…thereafter wisely gave up my ambitious project to translate all his works, so taxing did I find the density of his Yoruba usage!”]. A product of missionary education and evangelism, Fagunwa used his literary works to demonstrate the ways of the Christian God to his readers. Fagunwa, accomplished storyteller and moral counsellor, has remained a fertile source of intellectual and aesthetic inspiration for the Yoruba-speaking areas of West Africa.
The indigenisation of the English language, begun at Onitsha, found a vent in Amos Tutuola. With his Palmwine Drinkard (1952) Tutuola, inaugurated a unique and an almost inimitable style of fiction writing in English. Although this aspect has earned him undeserved critical silence in Nigeria, Tutuola’s image-making flair is readily discernible through his inimitable inventive resourcefulness.
Like D.O. Fagunwa and Wole Soyinka, Tutuola drew heavily on the Yoruba folkloric wherewithal of spirits, gods, myths, cosmogony and magic to create what has been referred to as “marvellous realism”. Tutuola's other works published before 1960 are My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1952), Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle (1955) and The Brave African Huntress (1958). T. M. Aluko's One Man, One Wife and Achebe's virginal Things Fall Apart (1958) make up other highlights of the creative writing fair before the epochal year: 1960.
Quite a few works in Yoruba must have been written before the 19th century arising from contacts with the Islamic world, dating to the mid-seventeenth century. There is evidence to suggest that Arabic script was used in Northern Yorubaland to write the Yoruba language.
Serious efforts at writing in English and Yoruba began in the second half of the 19th century. Two related developments gave rise to this: the influx of the liberated slaves (some of whom were literate) into Yorubaland from 1838 onwards, and the establishment of Christian missions primary and secondary schools whose products acquired the art of reading and writing in both Yoruba and English.
The 1880s marked the beginning of cultural nationalism in Yorubaland. Yoruba educated elite became conscious of their indigenous culture. The Lagos Observer of 27 October 1888 expressed their fear thus: “Our Folklore, Legends, Histories, Parables, Aphorisms, Allegories, etc are within the ready grasp of oblivion.”
Perhaps the earliest attempt to reduce Yoruba into writing was done in Sierra Leone by J. Raban whose A Vocabulary of the Eyo or Aku was published in three volumes in London between 1830 and 1832. Samuel Crowther's books were, however, more formidable. Ajayi Crowther was educated and he rose to become the first African Anglican Bishop. In 1843, he published A Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language (C.M.S., London), which contained a study of Yoruba language, and "Early Traditions of the Yoruba” in only seven pages. He followed this up in 1849 with Yoruba Primer containing texts in Yoruba and in 1852 with A Grammar of the Yoruba Language (London: C.M.S.)
It was not until the 1880s that other major works appeared in the market. This was a period of real academic interest probably pioneered by John Olawunmi George (circa 1847-1915), a Lagos-based merchant of Abeokuta (or, Egba) origin. George and a few of his contemporaries joined or formed societies whose aims were partly to do "research" in Yoruba history and culture. These societies thrived until the beginning of this century.
As one of them (the Lagos Native Research Society founded in 1903) put it, their aim was "to collect and preserve information on the History, Laws, Customs, Manners, Etiquette, Religion, Mythology, Science, Art, Philosophy etc" of the Yoruba. Prominent among these "research" societies were the Lagos Mutual Improvement Society founded in 1879, the Breadfruit Church Young Men's Christian Association founded in 1874, the Abeokuta Patriotic Association, 1883, The Teachers, 1887 and the Eko Elite, 1891. These groups met to exchange ideas and notes. Books developed as outcomes of these meetings.
Other notable books included Otunba Payne's Table of Principal Events in Yoruba History containing dated events and a short history of Lagos from its foundation to 1893; and Yoruba Reading Books (Iwe Kika Li Ede Yoruba): 1909-1915. Iwe Kika has been included because the project started in the 1890s. Two outstanding Yoruba "scholars", Mojola Agbebi and Oke, were commissioned by the Lagos Board of Education in 1899 to write standard texts on Yoruba for use in schools. Though these men declined, lwe Kika was later written with substantial materials derived from 19th century writings. James Johnson wrote the most outstanding work on religion in 1899 (Yoruba Heathenism). It was not until 1924 that A. K. Ajisafe wrote a comprehensive work on custom titled Land and Customs of the Yoruba People.
An author writing under a nom de plum, Aje Orun, wrote a pamphlet (1879) titled Ogun lka [“Evil Potent”]. It contains a long list (103) of ‘medicine’ to “deal with the enemy.” References are made to more than one thousand botanical objects. Two other works were advertised in Ogun lka: Ogun Ife [“Love Medicine”] and Ogun Oro [“A Potent for Supernatural Wealth”]. Dolapo Asewo Omo Asewo [“The Harlot’s Daughter”] is an obscene romantic fiction written in the 1890s.
The two other pamphlets, Yoruba Buru [“Beware the Yoruba”] and Alo Meje [“Seven Tales”], by Anthony Olisa, were both published in 1893. Yoruba Buru recounted how Ibadan had terrorized the Ijesa. This pamphlet was deliberately written to incite the ‘non-Yoruba’ (Egba, Ijesa, Ekiti, Ijebu etc) against the ‘Yoruba’ (Oyo, Ibadan etc.; according to Johnson, these are the "Yoruba Proper". Alo Meje was a "novel", actually a collection of seven short stories in 22 pages.
A great number of the earliest writers wrote in the newspapers. The major newspapers included: The Anglo-African, Eagle and Lagos Critic, Iwe lrohin, Lagos Observer, The Mirror, Lagos Standard and Lagos Times and Gold Coast Colony Advertiser.
From the 1850s when foreigners established the first newspapers to the 1870s, the primary objective of the papers was to improve the level of literacy of the people. A number of literate Yoruba became correspondents, specialising in the writing of short stories and short essays on diverse issues.
From the 1880s onward, Nigerians established their own newspapers with the stated goals of mounting “a campaign for cultural identity and to protect the independence of African states”. Their campaign of literary consciousness was intended to stimulate interest in, and understanding of, Nigerian history, dress, names, language, religion, art forms, drama and dance. The Record and Lagos Standard were the most vigorous in their campaigns in this regard.
The Reverend Samuel Johnson was the greatest of the earliest writers. According to a critic, “By any reckoning [Samuel Johnson’s work] must be accounted the principal glory of Yoruba historiography.” Though published in 1921, it was completed in 1897. Johnson's book is significant for its information on Yoruba customs, language, laws, geography and religion. It is an indispensable work on the history of the Yoruba, especially in the 19th century.
Dennis Osadebay was the first to publish a full volume of poetry as Africa Sings in 1951. Olumbe Bassir's An Anthology of West African Verse came much later in 1957. The "Ibadan School" announced its coming of age in verse. Output was facilitated by the journals Black Orpheus and The Horn. The latter was founded and run by students of the English Department and its first editor was J. P. Clark. The main contributors to The Horn were Wole Soyinka, Abiola Irele, Mao Akpoyoware, Pius Oleghe, Aig Higo, Christopher Okigbo, and Bridget Akwada. Entries also came from Nelson Olawaiye and Glory Nwanodi. Dapo Adelugba and Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie were also part of The Horn editorial outfit in the early sixties. A notable female voice of the time was Mabel Imoukhuede (now M. Segun).
Although he was not nurtured at the University College, the lbadan harvest of poets included Gabriel Okara. His first outing was in the Black Orpheus maiden issue of 1957. In 1960, selections from The Horn were published as Nigerian Students Verse. Babalola's translations of Ijala (Yoruba hunters’ verse) appeared in some numbers of the African Affairs Journal before 1954, as well as in the first issue of Black Orpheus. Although Gbadamosi and Ulli Beier followed up Babalola's pioneering effort with their Yoruba Poetry (1959), interest in oral literature remained minimal until the early seventies. Among the publishing institutions that nurtured and preserved Nigeria's creative literature the greatest, perhaps, is Nigeria Magazine. Established in 1927, the magazine for decades served as an arena for most "literary brides" to dare public appearance.
The rise of literature in Igbo language can be traced to the early days of formal studies in Igbo Language. This dates to the mid 19th century, pioneered by British and other missionaries assigned to Igbo environments in Nigeria. The expedition was commissioned in London in 1840 and undertaken by two missionaries, the German Rev. J. F. Schon and ex-Yoruba slave-turned missionary, Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther.
Although Schon published A Grammar of the Ibo Language in 1840, comprising his glossary and a few prayers, much of the early work on the Igbo language was through the efforts of Rev. Ajayi Crowther. The Igbo language at the time was unwritten. It was largely due to the efforts of Crowther and his fellow missionaries that it was made into a written language. In 1848, a Baptist missionary, Clark, collaborating with an Afro-American, Merrick, published a second collection of Igbo vocabulary consisting of numerals and about 250 words, 10 of them in 27 versions.
S.W. Koelle's Polyglotta was published in 1854. These had 300 Igbo words rendered in five different dialects. When Dr. William Baikie published his personal account of the Niger Expedition in the same year, he attached a linguistic appendix consisting of an Igbo anthology known as Isoama-Ibo Primer. This can be referred to as the foundation of Igbo literature. In 1933 Peter Nwana from Ndizuogu published Omenuko [“The Worst of Times Is the Best of Times”], the first novel in Igbo language. It became the dominant piece of literature in Igbo for over three decades.
Between 1947 and 1966 the Onitsha tradition produced over 200 titles spanning fiction, ethics, love, biography, and politics. Love was the popular theme. A. Ogali's Veronica My Daughter based on this subject sold more than 60,000 copies within a few years of publication. Of the over 70 authors who featured in the tradition the most prolific were Orlando Iguh, O. A. Ogali, O. Olisa, and F. N. Stephen, and the only abiding influence, curiously, is its fountainhead, Ekwensi. Some of his widely known later works include The Passport of Malam Iliya. Earlier were The Leopard's Claw (1950) and People of the City (1954).
Omenuko was the first and only work written by Pita Nwana, the first Igbo novelist, to come to public attention. Generations of school children (as well as learners at Adult Education Centres) read it for its wit, volatile humour and its insistent moral overtones. Sayings from Omenuko became something like the John Ploughman's Talks of latter times. An earlier rudimentary eclectic work, known as Isoama-lbo Primer, consist of a translation of the first chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, the Igbo alphabet, words, phrases, sentence patterns, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. It formed the basic foundation of Igbo written literature intended for the school system. The extracts it contained became the first literary creations in Igbo written literature to enjoy widespread acceptance.
With it, schools began and it served the purpose of introducing reading and writing to generations of Igbo school children. It was revised in 1927 and enlarged to nineteen essays on secular topics, a long narrative riddle about the sun, 9 short essays on Christian religious topics, and eighteen folktales. It has survived today under the title Azundu [“Fresh Fish”] and was the major reader to most Igbo children who went to school in the 30s, 40s and 50s. With it, the missionaries began to teach the earliest Ibo who embraced education to read and create literature in Igbo. Azundu remained a pattern for early Igbo writers and was only rivalled by the Bible as the chief influence and source for pioneer Igbo authors. It remained their major work of literature for nearly a century.
Then came Things Fall Apart, written by one Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, published by Heinemann in 1958, on the eve of Nigeria’s Independence. Things emerged a watershed in Nigerian, nay African, literature. Even today, it remains as a work posed to grapple with the kenosoidal total emptying out of a people’s way of life (Ibo representatively) – an overthrow already accomplished in the North of the country – for replacement with a rather venturesome other that came with a crystal clear mandate: to birth a new socio-political order in situ.
Chinua Achebe has been cited in the London Sunday Times as one of the 1,000 “Makers of the Twentieth Century” – for defining “a modern African literature that was truly African”, thereby making “a major contribution to world literature.”
-Adeleke “Mainasara” Adeyemi, poet, journalist and literary analyst, lives in Lagos.
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