A Hausa example of something that happens across West Africa, but is not often recorded. A singer accosts a prominent person in public, in this case a merchant, and begins praising him. But the praises are ambiguous, and unless the singer is rewarded, they slip into savage satire. The poem becomes a dialogue between the singer and the merchant’s pocket, each line tipping the balance one way or the other.
There is no god but Allah,
this is the praise of Allah. (1)
When the new moon appears in the west,
one looks at it. (2)
Everyone has someone whom he likes
and someone whom he does not love. (3)
I will tell of the great playboy,
the husband of Uwani, the son of Iso,
The father of Gadara and Gurga,
the great fornicator of the family of Dajale, (4)
The great womaniser,
son of the Shehu, (5)
descendant of Korau, (6)
Husband of Sabowa,
father of Dan Kano and others, (7)
Judge who administers with justice
the laws of fornication, (8)
the father of my house, (9)
This is the song of the great lover,
the agent of Anti-Christ,
The English drum, the sound of which rises up, (10)
the husband of Dija, (11)
elder brother of Manu,
Beating a drum is like selling milk,
whoever gives you,
you give in return. (12)
from A History of Hausa Islamic Verse,
(London, School of Oriental and African Studies, 1975), 9-10.
- A suitably pious beginning, but ironic in the light of what follows.
- A double-edged compliment. The merchant is prominent, but for what?
- The merchant has a wife, but also mistresses. As which of them he loves…
- Dajale is the merchant’s nickname, meaning Anti-Christ.
- Shehu means Sultan.
- Korau is a town near Kano, in northern Nigeria, close to Kano.
- Referring to his illegitimate children in compounds other than his own.
- The merchant is also a magistrate, sentencing people for immorality.
- A conventional compliment, but this man is father of many houses.
- Dajale’s notoriety resounds like the big drum used by the English army on parade. But it’s the singer who is spreading it.
- Dija is the third “wife” that has been mentioned.
- That is, you get what you pay for. Apparently, the merchant paid up and the poem concluded with some empty compliments not worth recording.