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The feminist writings of Northern Nigeria

The Feminist Writings of Northern Nigeria

Writing, especially in English, was usually dominated by men in Northern Nigeria. Female writers like Safiya Ismaila Yero, and Zaynab Alkali who wrote about women’s experiences in English novels started in 1984. Her novels reflect female northern Nigerian characters that tell the story of living in Northern Nigeria as a woman. Her latest novel The Initiates is set in the imaginary village of Debro but with other actions happening in towns similar to those in Alkali’s preceding novel The Descendants (2005), such as Gamma, and Garpella. The novel focuses on Batanncha’s family, a respected and prosperous member of the Debro community, where Christianity and Islam reside; and “traditional culture and communion with nature have a stronghold” (Initiates 1-2). The status of the Batanncha family is large because its fortunes considerably affect the rising or declining prosperity of the entire community. The Batanncha family has distinguished itself because it has produced children who have become marvels of the community. One of the distinguished Batanncha’s children is Colonel Samba. His position in the government has been a source of pride not only to his immediate and extended family members but the entire Debro community who benefit from his generosity. Other children of the Batanncha family are Salvia and his twin-sister Avi Dayyan who also give the family additional pride; as Salvia and Avi Dayyan serve their community in their respective ways. Salvia leaves his post as an accountant in the Federal Ministry of Finance in Garpella and returns to Debro. While in Debro he initiates the “Youth Vanguard” which improves the life of the community through the building of culverts, filling of potholes on the road, digging of water holes and supplying furniture and books to schools in as Avi Di, is a representative of new womanhood who engages herself with her job as a geologist in one of the leading oil companies, and helps her community by “picking babies from the gutter and bringing them up all by herself” (Initiates 31). Avi Di is Zaynab Alkali’s telling of a brighter future for northern Nigeria if women were allowed to follow their paths. The character of Avi Dayyan is Zaynab Alkali’s first attempt to cross over into the topic of political fiction and feminism. It answers the question of women in literature and writing.  Avi Dayyan is portrayed as a woman who asserts herself and shuns tradition by not marrying at an early age and instead concentrates on her profession as a Geologist – a profession that is considered to be a male-exclusive preserve. Avi Dayyan’s concentration on her work in an oil company as a Geologist takes her to the top of her career. But despite Avi Dayyan’s success, Mama Tata who represents tradition considers Avi Dayyan a failure in Batanncha’s family.

Asides from the women writing in English. Many indigenous Hausa speaking women novelists write a genre of Hausa Novels called soyyaya novels or soyyaya literature. Most of these stories going by the name of the genre which is the Hausa word for love are romance novels. They tell stories of love and lust and for a conservative society such as the north. Stories of such things are not usually accepted and tolerated. The subject matter of love and longing from women should typically be kept secret and not written in the pages of novels sold at markets. Apart from the love and romance these Hausa novels are sometimes cautionary tales for women. One of which is Balarabat Ramat Yakubu’s Zata Iya. One of the first writers of Soyayya Literature she has also worked in Kannywood – Hausa-language film industry in Northern Nigeria as a writer/director/producer), Balarabat Ramat Yakubu has published Nine Novels and in 2012 became the first female Hausa-language author to be translated into English, when the Indian publisher Blaft published Yakubu’s 1990 novel – Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne  (Sin is a Puppy that Follows You Home), translated from Hausa by Aliyu Kamal. 

These novels, these stories whether in English or Hausa have a powerful influence on its readers the men and women of northern Nigeria and beyond. They show the possibilities of a region with equal rights for all. 

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