A Hausa song from northern Nigeria, unusually for a war song performed by women. The song was recorded by the Hausa scholar C.G.B. Gidley in 1964. Among his informants was Mallam Isa Ahmed Kurawa, who remembered it being sung during his childhood by an old lady in Kano, to the accompaniment of the shantu, a cylindrical gourd laid across their thighs by women drummers.

It describes the so-called victory of Aliyu (Ali), the Emir of Kano, over Amadu, Sultan of Damagaram, at the battle of Tiittarawa outside Kano in 1898 (‘so-called’, because Ali was actually defeated in this war). The causes of the war are not precisely known, but the two states had long struggled for control of the Saharan slave trade.

Great Visitor, Son of Abdu, (1)
Water it is that drowns whoever goes against it, (2)
It overwhelms even the mighty ferryman;
Mighty conqueror, Sire of Danrimi, ruthless and cruel. (3)

Who does not know Abdu’s son?
Lord of the Battleline, when it’s raining he is on the march. (4)
In search of a fight, is Ali!
Ali Lion of the World, Grandson of Conqueror Dabo! (5)
Even at night he is on the march
In search of a fight, is Ali!
Ali Lion of the World, Grandson of Conqueror Dabo!
With soothsayers he goes on the march
In search of a fight, does Ali!
Ali Lion of the World, Grandson of Conqueror Dabo!
With bowmen he goes on the march
In search of a fight, does Ali!
Ali Lion of the World, Grandson of Conqueror Dabo!

Let us be up and going, Great Conqueror:
If they say, ‘It is dark’,
bring a lamp (says he), that is its remedy;
If they say, ‘Rain’,
put on a mat (says he), that is its remedy;
If they say, ‘Thorns’,
put on sandals, says the Great Conqueror.
Lion of the World, Grandson of Conqueror Dabo!

Ali the guest of Bari, the guest of Salai, (6)
The guest of the men of Rogogo and Kanda,
The guest of Dasha and Komo.
The people of Bare suffered destruction by fire
And those of Rogogo fled to escape trouble.

Who but you would set up a war camp at Dando
to last through the rains?
Ali, Damagaram’s guest, the goat died because
it would not devour a hyena. (7)
The tick died because it could not suck blood from a fish;
because it is in the water the tick cannot see it.
So Amadu died, still feeling vexed over Ali, Lord of the World, (8)
Great visitor, son of Abdu, Great Conqueror.

In the war against Damagaram, Amadu son of Tanimu (9)
Fled without looking back.
He was taking the bad news home with him.
The first wife said, ‘Where is your horse, my Lord?’
So the wives asked!
The second asked, ‘And where is your cloak?’
The third said, ‘Where is your staff, my Lord?’
And the fourth said, ‘Where is your lance, my Lord?’

Cease asking so many questions! (10)
They are all with Ali, Lord of the World.
Said Amadu, ‘There is a Tuareg in Kano:
If there had been seven like him,
I would not have come back to Damagaram’.
Well, it was not a Tuareg: (11)
It was our leader, the Emir himself,
Refusing to flee, putting others to flight!

Captain of our spearhead, Giant among men, (12)
Mighty conqueror, leader of our horse and foot:
Who does not know Abdu’s son,
The slippery slope, the downfall of the unwieldy?

The Hausa original:

Babban Bako na Abdu,
Ruwa ka ci mai gaddama,
Shi ya kan ci gwanin maintonsa ma,
Wandara makaye uban Danrimi, dagazau maketaci.

Waye bai san na Abdu ba,
Sarkin daga ana ruwa yana tafe
Don neman fada Ali;
Ali Zakin Duniya, Ali jikan Dabo Cigari.
Cikin dare yana tafe
Don neman fada Ali;
Ali Zakin Duniya, Ali jikan Dabo Cigari.
Da mallamai ya ke tafiya
Don neman fada Ali;
Ali Zakin Duniya, Ali jikan Dabo Cigari.
Da maharba ya ke tafiya
Don neman fada Ali.
Ali Zakin Duniya, Ali jikan Dabo Cigari.

Tashi mu je damamusau,
Idan sun ce duhu
A sa fitila maganinsa ne.
Idan sun ce ruwa
Sai a sa kabido maganinsa ne.
In dsun ce kaya
A sa takalmi damamusau
Ali Zakin Duniya, Ali jikan Dabo Cigari.

Ali Bakon Bare, Bakon Salai,
Bakou mutan Rogogo da Kanda,
Bakou Dasha da Komo.
Mutan Bare sun sha wuta
Har na Rogogo sun gudun wuya.

Idan ba kai ba wa ya ke kafa Dando ta shekare?
Ali, Bakon Damagaram, akwiya ta mace da haushin kura,
Kaska ta mace da hausin kifi,
Dou yana ruwa ba za ta gan shi ba,
Amadu ya mace da hausin Maiduniya Ali,
Babban Bako na Abdu jau garwashi ka fi kumurya damamusau.

Ranar yakin Damagaram, Amadu dan Tanimu,
Ya yi gudu babu waiwaye,
Labari ya ke yi, ya je gida,
Wannan ta fadi ina dokin naka Sarki?
Mata tambaya su ke,
Wannan ta fadi Alkyabbarka na ina?
Wannan ta fadi ina sanda naka Sarki?
Wannan ta fadi ina mashin naka Sarki?

Ku bar cika tambaya,
suna gun maiduniya Ali:
Amadu ya fadi akwai Buzu cikin Kano,
Da an san bakwai ya shi
Da ban zo Damagaram ba.
To, ba Buzu ba ne,
Uban tanyar ne da kasa Sarki,
Ki gudu za gudu.

Uban yan jibga mijin maza
Wandara Makaye, uban yan sulke da yan dara,
Wa bai san na Abdu ba,
Santsi kada mai nawa.

C.G.B Gidley,
from “Mantafas: A Study in Oral Tradition”,
African Language Studies VI (1985) 32-51.


Footnotes

  1. Abdu: The reference is to Abdullahi, Emir of Kano 1855-1882.
  2. Refers to Yakin Ruwa, the ‘War of the Water’, in which Amadu’s father, Taminu, was defeated by Abdullahi after all his cavalry was drowned in the floodplain south of Kano.
  3. Sire of Danrimi: A high official of the Emir’s, in charge of his army.
  4. Lines 5-18 the argument is that Ali is always ready for battle and will not allow any excuses to stand in his way.
  5. The famous Ibrahim Dabo dan Mahmudu, Emir of Kano 1819-46.
  6. Bari, Salai: Towns in the area raided by both armies for slaves, and eventually destroyed by Ali.
  7. In these lines, the goat and the tick represent Amadu and the hyena and the fish Ali.
  8. At Roumji in 1899, soon after the battle.
  9. Most famous of Damagaram’s sultans.
  10. The following lines are still well known in Kano, even by people who do not remember the rest of the poem.
  11. Tuareg: The Tuareg are noted fighters of legendary courage and ferocity.
  12. Ali was noted for his military innovations, including a company equipped to fire steel harpoons from their muskets, and horsemen clad in chainmail, helmets and plumes.