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New Fiction Creates Stir in Northern Nigeria


In the northern Nigeria, more women writers are producing fiction novels in the local Hausa language than ever before. The books generally focus on matters of the heart - love, romance, and marriage - and are hugely popular. Authors say the books provide advice to millions of women. But religious and political leaders say the books challenge Hausa traditional culture and their strict Muslim values. Concerns have peaked recently, as local filmmakers have begun making the best-selling paperbacks into Hausa-language films available on markets across the region. Sarah Simpson reports for VOA News from Kano.

On a recent Friday in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria, worshipers gather at mosques across the city for the week's most important prayers.

But when prayers are done, women flock to street-side markets to look through the latest fiction novels written in the local Hausa language and available for as little as 25 cents each.

Their brightly colored covers and titles like "City Girl" or "Brother or Husband?" are a massive hit across northern Nigeria where Hausa is the first language of millions of people.

Away from the street, student Maryam Muhammed Haladu says she is an avid reader of the books widely known as "Kano Market Literature." She says the books give readers important information on normally private subjects, like love, sex and marriage.

"You know, there are certain things that your mother will never tell you, especially if you are getting married," she said. "But if you read this book, you will get a lot of things and you will benefit from it."

More women are writing novels in Hausa than ever before, according to writers' associations. They attribute the growth to increased access to computers and cheap printing presses.

How to manage in a polygamous marriage is a favorite topic in the books and one that writer Balarat Rama Yakubu returns to repeatedly. Yakubu, now a grandmother, says she draws on her own personal experience in her books.

"I am a victim of most of the problems because I was given away when I was 13 years old," she explained. "My first husband was older than my father."

Polygamous marriages are common in northern Nigeria as men are permitted by their Muslim faith to marry up to four wives.

Hausa culture is conservative. Kano has adopted Islamic Shariah law. Fewer women here are literate than in the Christian south of Nigeria. But even those with some schooling can manage to read in their native Hausa language.

In such a society, writer Binta Rabiu hopes her Hausa language novels can help tackle social problems that are otherwise rarely discussed.

"Women are not only writing for pleasure, no, we are writing because we are seeing what is happening in the society and we want a lot of corrections. We want amendment made. That is why we write," she said.

One of Rabiu's most popular books, "Sultana," discusses drug abuse, a growing problem among Hausa youth, she says.

Local filmmakers have picked up on the books' success and have begun turning some of the most popular stories into Hausa language films, prompting outcry from religious leaders, politicians and academics, like Abdulkadir Dangambo, professor of Hausa history and culture at Kano's main university.

"The new development that took over from Kano Market Literature, is the Hausa films," he noted. "Kano literature books - many of them have been made into films - and as a result you find there are so many conflicting cultural values displayed in those films. Because the books were based on foreign cultures."

Recently in Kano, religious leaders and politicians carried out a public burning ceremony, setting fire to a pyre of the books.

But writers like Rabiu, say they are just giving readers sisterly advice in a society increasingly open to outside influences.

"The aim is not to westernize people, it is to give them an idea on how to lead a good life," she said. "It is not westernization. It is an assumption, it is not true."

Hausa language novels first appeared hundreds of years ago, when Arab traders crossed the Sahara bringing Islam and Arabic script to the region. Today's novels use a script developed by missionaries who came to the region during Nigeria's colonization by Britain.

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