This is our second guest blog celebrating West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song, the current exhibition at the British Library. This time we are delighted to have a piece written by Professor John Philips whose project digitised the early years of the Hausa language newspaper Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo
Hausa is the largest indigenous language spoken in West Africa. It is used by tens of millions of people as a first language from Ghana to Sudan, especially in Nigeria and Niger, and by tens of millions more from Cote d’Ivoire to the central Sahara to central Africa. As the language of the mainly Muslim Hausa people, it has not only spread with them as a first language but it has also spread in markets as an important language of trade and become a lingua franca throughout a wide area of west central Africa. As a major language in Islamic Africa, it has been written for centuries in a modified form of the Arabic script, with some special characters for Hausa sounds not found in Arabic itself. Hausa was chosen by the early colonial government of Northern Nigeria as the official language of administration because it was generally understood among the people of the area, especially the non-Hausa minority groups from whom the Nigerian colonial administration disproportionately recruited its army. This was done not so much to promote the Hausa language in particular or African culture in general as it was to prevent Africans from learning English, through which medium it was feared they would be exposed to nationalist and anti-colonial sentiments.
EAP485/1/1/30: Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo, Issue 31, 1 Apr 1941
EAP 485 was a project to preserve the very first issues of Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo, the first entirely Hausa newspaper, begun in Nigeria by the colonial government in the months leading up to World War II. The newspaper became an important source of information about the war and its progress throughout Northern Nigeria. As a reliable, informative and excitingly-written periodical the newspaper kept people in Northern Nigeria, Muslim or not, up-to-date about events in the outside world, especially related to the war. Thus it proved a popular venture that helped change the course of African, especially Nigerian, history forever. It also changed the predominant orthography and literary style of Hausa itself. Gaskiya’s contributing first editor, Alhaji Abubakar Imam, became not only one of the earliest authors of books in Latin script Hausa, but he also became one of the most influential authors in Hausa literature.
EAP485/1/1/404: Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo, Issue 874, 7 Nov 1958
The popularity of Gaskiya not only led to increasing popularity of Latin alphabet literacy in Hausa areas, but it also increased the attention that speakers of Hausa, both first and second language speakers, paid to the outside world. By so increasing the attention Africans in the interior of the continent paid to events beyond their localities, it became an important factor in the emergence and spread of modern nationalism in Africa, especially among Muslims, although also among Christians. It is indispensable source material for historians of Africa interested in the nationalist movement in particular, and modernisation in general. It is also the earliest known example of what later became the much imitated style of modern literature called “Gaskiyanci” (Gaskiya dialect), named after the newspaper and created by its editor, Alhaji Abubakar Imam.
EAP485/1/1/410: Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo, Issue 880, 19 Dec 1958
Professor John Philips