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Published On: Thu, Apr 19th, 2018

Where is Kanuri Literature?

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By Abubakar A. Bukar

Last Friday I was at my usual hideout in Mass Communication departmental library of ABU Zaria purposely awaiting the arrival of the department’s PG Secretary to submit my dissertation for external examination. Having been taught to work while waiting, I began to pull out book after book, reading only the blurb in some, a preface or sentence in others. Two struck and sustained my interest at the moment: David Jowitt’s Nigerian English, and another on Nigerian literary history from 1700 to date (to date turned out to be 1980s) with entries from notable and familiar names like Soyinka, Okara and Yaro Yahaya. Reading through Jowitt’s preface to his Nigerian English where he made the argument and clarifications about the existence of that variety, I felt the echo of Farooq Kperogi where in his earlier Notes from Atlanta, he rehashed the same argument and mentioned that book as his foundational inspiration in the untiring exploration on the varieties and variation of English – what simply goes as Englishes. I must have a copy of this, I said to myself, with Xeroxing in mind and fair usage as the caveat of copyright infringement.
Perusing through that anthology of literary history, I discovered essays on the origin and development of Igbo literature, Yoruba literature, Hausa literature and Fulani literature, with additional entries on Biafran war and ‘Fulani Jihad’ literature. Searching upon searching I kept asking: where is Kanuri literature? Or is this another majoritarian field day to which even legal judgements surrender to nowadays? Have they no literature? Were they contacted but refused to make submission? Why do I care about a native language that I can hardly speak with appreciable fluency? Yes, unlike Edward Said, a scholar I utterly admire, who can speak his native Arabic with almost equal command as English of which he was a professor, I’m a pity, a pariah and mocking being amid kith and kin for understanding what is being said in one’s tongue but replying in another’s tongue. Gobbled, they say is the word.
Afterward I began my journey homeward. On reaching Kano, I called one of my closest friends, Barrister Bulama Bukarti, to pick me from where I was dropped. Bukarti, with Barrister Maidugu Abubakar, both legal practitioners in the ancient city, are childhood friends with whom I grow exchanging and discussing books, their authors; issues and events with their antecedents, agreeing and disagreeing, often with comical jibes. En route to our destination, Bukarti noticed my exhaustion and pensive mood. Enquiring what was wrong, I countered with: ‘where is Kanuri literature?’- recounting my encounter with that exclusivist collection which punctured my pride. ‘I think El-kanemi’s exchange with the Fodios is a good example’, he replied. ‘Well, that was mentioned in the Jihad entry of the book as a model in rhetorics. And rhetorics, y’know, is more of philosophy’. ‘That exchange’, he added, ‘is reproduced in the appendix of Bala Usman and Nur Alkali’s edited book on pre-colonial Borno’. ‘Okay’, I sighed, explaining that I’d just got the book from Kola bookshop in Zaria; haven’t got ground to reading it.
But where is Kanuri literature? Unbeknown to him, I was, despite exhaustion, prodding a discourse on: who was the Mudi Spikin or Zungur or Imam of the Kanuri people? Any Osundare, Achebe, Soyinka or Shakespeare of Kanuri extraction? The assertion by Mora and Yakubu that Imam and Zungur hailed from Borno does not just suffice in such exploration. Jolted, questions kept jostling, hoping to stumble upon a scholar of Kanuri language dwelling on the subject-matter. On reaching our first destination which turned out to be Dr. Nasir Adamu Aliyu’s house, conversation around Buhari’s Nigeria with its oddful twists overtook my musing, my self-examination and curious reflection over this indigenous literature.
While attending a town-hall meeting at Mambayya House the following day with this popular lawyer to discuss the proposed amendment bills, I slipped out of the venue to check the stuff in Chapter One, a new bookshop opposite Dala orthopedics perchance I could get something helpful to quench my thirst on the issue. Alas, to no avail. But, habitually, one cannot come out empty-handed after a call to such a place. So such titles as Nadine Gordimer’s Jump, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and its sequel, among others, beckoned, and I succumbed gladly.
Today at Yobe state library (Gashua branch), I found some consolation. It started with skimming Norbert Cyffer’s The Story of Kanuri Language Studies in the Annals of Borno, vol. II, which surprisingly mentioned no any literary text thereby leaving my heart leaping and stomach growling. Then some rays of hope came with some sparse quotations of poems about the heroic deeds of Mai Dunoma and queen Maira Aisa in Nur Alkali’s History of Kanuri Language (Annals vol. IV). Seidensticker and Adamu’s (1986) A Bibliographical Guide to Borno Studies gave a greater relief with the revelation of Bulakarima’s ‘kakanye kemurso’ (My Old Grandmother), Bukar Ya Kura’s ‘Ngudowa Kerye Bornobe’ (The Birds of Borno State), Benisheik Ali Mustapha’s ‘Sanya Baramabe’ (The Hunter’s Craft), Alkali Baba’s ‘Sunoma’ (The Shoemaker), to mention but few among long stories. Then the authorless ‘Cime Jirea: Mai Manabe’ (Cime Jirea: the King of Talk – which sounds like Magana Jari ce), ‘Hawarwa Kanuribe’ (Kanuri Stories), ‘Suroma Kunjobe’ (The Harvest’s Midwife – a poem), Konduga Alkali’s ‘Kaiyawa Lorusabe’ (Marriage Song), Lawan Mohammed Kurna’s ‘Biskewa-a Kaiyawa-a Kanuribero’ (Kanuri Games and Songs), ‘Mai Idriss Alauma’ a play by Lydersay Dexter translated into Kanuri by Nur Alkali and Tijjani El-miskin) et c. I equally discovered a number of children’s literature and elementary textbooks such as the authorless Bintua-a Dala-a and Muhammed Ngaran Daphi’s Kitawu Kanuribe kntilomi Faida tadaa Maaranti Fremare Borno Nankaro, Kanuri Diwal Isawube…, Futu watiya Ruwobe Knandimi, among several others by the author. But this is just not good enough. The big question remains: which Kanuri poet can be juxtaposed with say Christopher Okigbo, which playwright with Soyinka, which novelist with Achebe, and which female Kanuri writer with Nana Asma’u, Nwapa, Emecheta or Chimamanda?
Tomorrow I will, God willing, send an emissary to Maiduguri to ask Professor Bulakarima: where stands Kanuri literature? And hope one day I will bump on the folklorist Dr Bukar Usman to learn about our underrepresented men of letters.
Lest I be misunderstood, this is a journey primarily in search of identity in a world enmeshed in cultural cross-fertilization, clashes and extinction. It is never intended to be a narcissistic outpouring of ethnic jingoists. Wearied by such with its attendant rivalry/animosity, I often find myself, for example, churning out rejoinder to friends like Barrister Sanusi Umar Sadiq and Engr. Abba Tor to steer away from pitting particularly Hausas against Kanuri and vice versa, and take the lesson of mutual coexistence, harmony, overlapping and crossings over (existing through trades, scholarship and intermarriages) not only from Bala Usman who was specific about the two in his book with Nur Alkali, but also from such international examples of Edward Said, Tariq Ramadan, Talal Asad, Judith Butler, among others, at least for the sake of some us, their friends, who have Hausa and Fulani step-mothers, mothers-in-law, teachers and blood brothers. A cosmopolitan blend we take pride in for being peaceful, fruitful and joyful.

Bukar wrote in from Gashua and can be reached at

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