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Journal of Nigerian Languages and Culture

Vol. 12, No 1,  March 2010. Pp. 115 - 126

Social Advocacy and Child Rights: Commentary on Bukar Usman's Hausa Tales

(Marainiya & Muguwar Kishiya)


Khalid Imam



This paper brings to the fore fresh perspectives and new interpretations on the critical relevance and crucial contributions of Tatsuniyoyi (literally "folk tales") as well as the influential place Hausa tales occupy in Hausa land. It highlights the way tales served and may still serve as reliable tool for social advocacy on how to, or not to advance as well as address the nagging, multifaceted questions of the rights of a child in the contemporary Hausa society. And similarly, it shows how essential folktale is to the entire African societies. In addition, it argues that tatsuniyoyi played, and still play significant role, not only on the way and manner a Hausa child is graphically represented, but essentially helps in shaping the young mind of such an infant child on how s/he should or ought to think as s/he examines his/her immediate environment. Briefly, the paper touches on the issue of categorisation of Hausa folktales. This essay also discusses that Hausa tales (especially those collated and collected by Bukar Usman) promote and protect the right of the child especially a girl child even during the deleterious, primitive and dark days of Hausa society. Lastly, the article stresses the significance of reinterpretation of Hausa tales as well as proposes a quick return to the available archival folkloric resources in order to seek for better ways to advance the right of an African child.


According to Neil Skinner (1980:01) tatsuniyoyi (singular, tatsuniya, literally folktales) are long oral narratives. It is one of the oldest categories of Hausa verbal art tradition. Ahmed (1997: 13) defines Hausa tale as a traditional form of communication and entertainment, which is either orally presented or performed mostly by elderly women at night, to thrill the attentive children. Narration of Hausa tales is not exclusively, the business of aged females alone, as demonstrated by the likes of late Abdullahi Sani Makarantar Lungu (who popularised the presentation of tales on the radio in Kano) and Abdu Mairiga (an acclaimed professional public tale performer), among other male adults.

    Bukar Usman, OON, DLitt, is a Retired Permanent Secretary in the Federal Civil Service Born in Biu area of Borno State. He is a redoubtable re-teller of Hausa tales per excellence whose interest in African Oral Literature spurred him to collate, collect and publish 14 series of Taskar Tatsuniyoyi in Hausa as well as authored four books of tales in English translation, among many others.

    It is equally manifestly common among young boys to have skilful narrators who share their folkloric stories to their peers. Duve Nakolisa (2006) observes that "Tales are the earliest literature of life's primary claims to meaning." That didacticism is essentially the main thrust of Hausa folk tales is beyond doubt and drawing such infraction is a truism, which, if critically viewed will reveal tales as mystical tools. Fundamentally, societal norms and values are passed from one generation to the other. Therefore, tale is, apparently, one of the genres of traditional fictional prose narratives deployed to pass moral instructions. Smith quoted in Ahmed (1997), asserts that "Tatsuniya instructs the child on good behaviour as well as serves as a medium of socialisation of successive generations of Hausa children." Many scholars are of the view that a tale transcends the question of "initiation"; on the contrary, it extends to the borders of socio-economic, psychological and even philosophical discourses, as this paper will explore in the subsequent sections.

The Categorisation of Tatsuniyoyi:

In his categorisation of Hausa tales, Neil Skinner (1980) classifies tatsuniyoyi by characters, themes, cases of law and on the basis of features of the text such as the category of "Dilemma Tales", which often ends with rhetoric, for example: "In this situation what would you do?" He equally groups tatsuniyoyi into "Talk Tale" as in case of The Tale of Youth Killing Six Lions with One Spear and other similar folktales with super human feats as their major themes. And an "Enfant Terrible" category that consists of tale such as that of A Clinging Child who Would not Leave his Mother, and so on. Although Skinner's categorisation may seem quite all-inclusive, but it is not completely exclusive taking into account the views of many scholars like Duve Nakolisa (2006) who categorises tales to include tale telling "the history of some ethnic groups". Or, put differently, historical folktales bring to light ethnic portrayal of social interactions, which, in the opinion of Nakolisa (2006) justifiably categorises Bukar Usman's tale collection Girls in Search of Husbands (2006), as a thrilling corpus which partially traces the ethnic history of its compiler's birth place - Biu area (in Borno State) and its surrounding villages. Although most tales may have, to a large extent, themes with universal concerns, yet, in some respect they could be said to be telling the history of some parts of African societies as that of Kasar Hausa; as, for instance the "Story of Bayajidda", which, in the views of some critics like Sulaiman Ladan (2000) could pass as tatsuniya. As a strong advocate of this thesis, Duve Nakolisa (2006) was quick to equally note that the history such folktales tell is not that of a "Grand Tale" that lay claims to the authentic origin of one particular commune of peoples, or their "canon of myths", or that of "the revered exploit of any great ancestor[s] (or legends) usually associated with dynasties and illustrious genealogies," which critics contesting the story of Bayajidda as a mere folktale could allusively posit.

Social Advocacy & Child Right in Hausa Tales

That tale was undeniably used as a potent tool for social advocacy, is to say the least, very obvious. And what is very fundamental to note is the fact that in spite of the domineering influence of modern technology tatsuniya is still enjoying critical attention as one of the solid building blocks of indigenous African cultures, and literature too. To buttress this assertion, what would readily come to mind is the way and manner many tales such as that of Daskin Daridi, which have been turned into films, the likes of tales of Bora da Mowa, (which have been written in a play form) and many others were either translated into English or published in book forms. Some tales are presently being featured in specialised children columns in the print media. The predominance of tale in most parts of Hausa land, is still very crucial especially considering the influential role it continuously plays in occupying prime hours in radio and television programmes like Tazo Mu Jita (a popular program on .Radio Kano) and Tales by Moonlight (televised by NTA) or Filin Maraba da Yara (shown on CTV Kano, now Abubakar Rimi Television, ARTV).

    The dissemination of Hausa tales in a modernized way as popularised by the print media in Northern Nigeria mostly through their various kiddies -programmes cannot be denied too (see, New Nigerian Weekly's "Kiddies Column," among others). This ultimately goes to prove the inevitable fact that tatsuniya, till today, is considered as one of the basic nutritional ingredients an African child direly requires during his/ her formative years as s/he metamorphosed into an adult. As Duve Nakolisa (2006) puts it "The gods poke their unseen fingers at the ribs of children through tales of the night" for such children to, as it should, be able to not only recognize the symbolic shapes of good and evil but to develop themselves sociologically, psychologically and even philosophically. From the foregoing, it is not hyperbolic to say that tales, to some extent, are the food and water an African child needs to live, not survive with incurable malnutrition, for without the balanced diet of tales, s/he may be starved to death or struggle with kwashiorkor of un Africaness not only during his childhood, but adult life.

    Olu Obafemi (2006: 155) believes that social advocacy, is, indeed, a potent tool African women writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo, Zulu Sofola, Zainab Alkali, Flara Nwapa, and Buchi Amecheta among other prominent female writers deployed to press the fact that feminism, as advanced by the West, is grossly in adequate to effectively address the women question globally without considering the suitability of womanism, which to an African woman, is the right antidote that would cure her ailment. As African female writers call the world to consider the African alternative, the tale of Bukar Usman too is inviting the attention of those canvassing or advocating for the adaptation of western child rights act to consider the pristine lessons in our indigenous tales, which, for ages, serve as the best model of African "child behaviour policy" and "child right act." To advance this course, this paper examines the model examples of African "child behaviour policy" and "child right act" in Bukar Usman's two collections of tales: Marainiya (2005) and Muguwar Kishiya(2009). Without mincing words, this paper forcefully proposes a quick return to our available archival folkloric resources as we persistently seek better ways to advance the right of an African child.

Conceptualising Child Right Issues in Bukar Usman's Tales:

One of the main tasks of this paper is to affirm the potency of tale as a vehicle for social advocacy. And social advocacy, is very critical in any discourse relating to girl child right, for without it, contextualisation of Bukar Usman's selected Hausa tales in question and others too with similar thematic concern would be adversely put in jeopardy. True, tales always serve as a powerful tool as well as a reliable voice against the oppression and violation of rights of a child (especially Hausa girl) as enshrined in the canonical and societal codes; and religiously moral ethos right before the West set foot in Hausa land. It would not be out of place to contextualise and conceptualise this discourse by alluding to some of the lessons in Camara Laye's The African Child which boldly provide that a child in African society is properly educated: (a) to understand himself/herself, (b) identify his/her filial responsibility to parents or relative, (c) recognize the dynamism of the society and the daunting challenges of life too. For instance, the protagonist Laye was sternly won by his mother: "My son, this one (black snake) must not be killed ... is your father's guiding spirit." Similarly, Camara Laye (1954:16-21) nostalgically recounted his interesting encounter with his lovely father, thus: "I began questioning him in a roundabout manner- as all children do, and on every subject under the sun." From the foregoing submissions, it is evident that Africans accorded premium to the universality of knowledge, the uncompromising security and undeniable rights of children, which quenching their thirsty throats in the river of education could ensure.

    As highlighted above, the tradition of tatsuniya, has, to a large extent, afforded Hausa children to ask about what they are in the dark; sometimes their posers' even stray into the boundary of mysterious affairs of adult life, which, .in most cases, could be more appropriate to be discussed with matured adult only. And as Laye's father emphatically reveals, "I have told you all these things, little one, because you are my son, the eldest of my sons, and because I have nothing to hide from you." The aforementioned pontificating statement, "I have nothing to hide from you," is, without doubt, an evident confirmation which attests to the fact that African elders (with few exceptions) have nothing to hide for their younger ones. And this goes to stress that African elderly ones (which are the custodian of wisdom) were and still are very conscious of educating their children whether in a formal or informal settings. The popular tale of The Tale of Daughter of Bora and Daughter of Mowa always comes to mind as vivid examples where elders share their wisdom with the younger ones. Examples of old people confiding in their progenies or allowing the kids to ask them questions are very common in The Tale of Dan' auta and 'Yar Gwaggo, and many others.

On Right to Life

It is common knowledge that African literature is replete with gory details of how fundamental rights of African children, especially the female ones are trampled upon with reckless abandon by some primitive traditional laws and barbaric norms; The shameless barbarity of shedding the blood of twin in some cultures in southern part of Nigeria or denying legitimate heirs to inherit the wealth of their deceased parents; and the condemnable practice of forced marriages prevalent in many villages and towns in the North are few ­examples of such atrocious laws and practices still in existence in many parts of Africa. In Things Fall Apart, the redoubtable Chinua Achebe, the preeminent man of letters strongly condemns the crude murder of a well mannered, child-slave called Ikemefuna by one of the barbarous African traditional practice through the remorse and subsequent ordeals that befell the rebellious Okonkwo. The protagonist Okonkwo who was entrusted with the care of the boy, before his innocent blood was shed, was sternly warned not to have a hand in the murder of "that boy who called you father" (Ikemefuna), but the stubborn Okonkwo paid no heed; because "he was afraid of being thought weak"( Achebe, 1958:40-43).   

    Unlike those examples cited in Things Fall Apart, in the tale of Marainiya collection, the compelling story of An Emir with his Wives, which is equally a tragic one like Achebe's provided the reverse. In Bukar Usman's folktales, what prevails is the antithetical of Ikemefuna's case and goes on to portray, in the most conspicuous manner, how an African child's fundamental rights are treated with greater respect. For instance, in the tale of "An Emir with his Wives," the reader encounter a shocking story of a well hatched conspiracy and nakedly bitter rivalry fuelled by intolerance and jealousy in one hand; but in another hands, the tragic-comic story in question, in a another exciting twist, is a story that teaches the preciousness of life. One could say this tale, among many others, is an example that shows how the Hausas in particular and some indigenous African societies in general demonstrated how sacrosanct they value children's fundamental right to live a peaceful life.

    In the aforesaid tale, the emir's pregnant Amarya (his youngest wife) was schemed by her jealously treacherous and childless co-wives who connived to delude their emir-hubby when they realized she was about to put to bed. With the permission of the king (who never suspected any foul play), they took his pregnant wife to the heart of a dangerous forest, where she coincidently gave birth to the only child the emir had been tirelessly praying for and yearning to have, for a long time. But unknown to the innocent emir, his childless wives harbour ill-will towards his expectant mother-to-be, Amarya. Eventually, their well orchestrated ploy and mischief making paid off as they dumped the baby at the mercy of God, hurriedly returned home to cunningly lie to their husband that his wife gave birth to a monstrous wood, not a human baby. And sadly out of annoyance and without hearing from the unconscious mother who was in severe pain then, the disappointed king ordered for her immediate sentence with hard labour. Even though, at that critical moment, his thrown away and haplessly dying baby girl was in dire need of rescue from wild animals, no one seems to give a hoot. But, the heroine- the jilted baby never died. She grew up alone in the jungle; and miraculously, as fate would have it, she subsequently reunited with her dejected father-king, in a most mysterious twist of events. Before the tale ends, the king father remorselessly asked the forgiveness of his lost, but newly found daughter and his incarcerated wife, her mother! (Usman, 2004: 11-15). When the emir discovered the truth at last, he regretted his foolish action as well as deservedly executed his devilish and inhuman wives to serve as deterrent to others that children are fully entitled to live freely without molestation, subjugation of their fundamental rights not to talk of exposing them to the vulnerability of death, as cruelly evident from the demonic conduct of the emir's elderly, but barren wives.

On Right to Free Speech:

In the compelling story of "Dan'auta da 'Yar Gwaggo" the reader would encounter how the parents of the two kids, who were about to die, clearly appreciated and fully recognised the wit in allowing their progenies to live a free life devoid of a brazen breach of their sacred rights. The parents unmistakably instructed 'Yar Gwoggo, their eldest child to take very good care of her younger brother, Dan'auta. But in doing so, she was tasked to always respect his sacrosanct right. She held on to that gospel truth by ensuring that she yielded to Dan'auta's whimsical choices. And the boy, Dan' auta who exercises his undeniable freedom to the fullest, and enjoys having a say in all his affairs without any external middling even though he, in some cases, had proved to be too immature or intemperate in understanding the enormity or portentous danger some of his preferences or infractions portend. Yet the loyal daughter 'Yar Gwaggo paid heed to her parents' parting words. And interestingly, Dan'auta, was as free as the air to choose what was good for him, which to some extent, turned out to be at the collective detriment of his personal security and that of his tolerant sister as his pierced encounter with the ferocious dodanni (orges) has shown. But fortunately, his uncommon bravery and success at the end demonstrated that delegation of powers or authorities to children, as in the case of Dan'auta's sister; or, put more succinctly, respecting the child's fundamental human rights, as in the case of Dan'auta's, helps children to discover their hidden talent as well as develop mentally or psychologically.

    And the right of children to enjoy freedom of speech or put differently, their right to protest against injustice is sacrosanct in Hausa tales. This is evident in Bukar Usman's retold tale of "Jika da Kaka"(The Tale of a Girl and her Grandmother) which appears in his ninth book entitled, Tsohuwa da 'Yan Mata Uku (Usman, 2005:49-52). The tale in question removes the muzzle some artificially restricting laws put on the mouth of children unlike in the fable of Abdullahi M. Lawan's "Why A Lizard Nods its Head" featured in an anthology of students' short stories entitled, The Bird's Evidence ( 2005:10). In Lawan's tale, a disobedient lizard loses its ability to speak permanently due to a curse cast on him by his angry mother, but the reverse was the case in Usman's tale of "Jika da Kaka", where the granddaughter (the actress) vehemently protested to her grandmother's selfish act of eating up her sweet dinya (an edible fruit.), which she entrusted in her care, without the legitimate owner's consent. And to protect the child's possession, at the end of the tale, the granddaughter's dogged, but respectful protest yielded fruit as she was adequately compensated. The triumph of the granddaughter in the aforesaid tale could be akin to that of similar protest of tree brave girls in B.M.Dzukogi's Teacher Dangana is a Cheat. In Teacher Dangana is a Cheat, the trio of Toyin, Habiba and Maijidda fearlessly reported the heinous crime of their corrupt teacher Dangana, who usually favours the dull pupils who help her to illegally sell her things in the class (Dzukogi, 2008: 18). What this goes to assert is that if children are not completely muzzled, they may serve as positive agent for change. Children, as the saying goes, never tell lies especially if they are properly brought up. And to quickly add to that respecting the right of children to have a say in their affairs is not, in any way, akin to opening the gate of disobedience to their parents, as some may suggest. Instead it would spur them to be more bold and confident chaps.

On Right Against Violence

Talking about protecting and promoting the fundamental right of a girl-child against all kinds of abuse through the vehicle of tatsuniya would remind any careful reader or listener of Hausa folktales the didactic nay romantic stories like "The Tale of Giza and Budurwar Danko." In the aforesaid tale, the antagonist Gizo, a notoriously very cunning character, was properly dwelt with not only for his remorseless stealing, but more importantly for his unlawful trespassing and unauthorized attempt to seduce a beautiful girl called Budurwar Danko. Giza met Budurwar Danko at the emir's farm where he always went to steal. And the overzealously adventurous Gizo who attempted to rape the lass started assaulting her by touching her breast, a crime seen by the societal law as unpardonable. The lesson here is, right before the massive, and sometimes, propagandist campaign by the West and their seemingly all conquering media on girl-child right acts, the Hausa society, and by extension African societies, treat nubile girls (especially unmarried) as a forbidden fruits for anyone not having connubial relationship with them to illegitimate touch, not to talk of raping. So tales like this one serve not only as an effective voice against any form of violation of girl- child (and even male children too), but as a vehicle for social advocacy.

    The tale of "Mai Kudi ya Zama Maye", "A Richman Turned Wizard" teaches a Hausa girl-child to be very vigilant and wise at all times.(see, Yahaya:1972). There are myriad of examples in Bukar Usman's tales that buttress the significance of providing societal bulwark which are very effective in protecting the right of girls against violence. Another form of violence against a girl child the indigenous Hausa society frowns at is incest. It is true that even before the indigenous Hausas' contact with Islam, from the folkloric tradition available as exemplified in many folkloric stories like A Beautiful Girl and her Elder Brother, without mincing words, the Hausa and other African societies seriously treat the question of incest as one of the worst forms of sexual violence. Again, the tale of A Beautiful Girl and her Elder Brother, if critically viewed, goes to forcefully condemn forced marriage, which, to some certain extent, was a common practice among the Hausas, as unacceptable (Usman, 2005: 30- 36). The beautiful 'Yar Kwambo's refusal to marry her brother is an outright indictment of all kinds of auren dole (forced marriage).

On Right to Freely Choose a Husband

A close study of most of the tales in "Marainiya" (Book one out of Bukar Usman's fourteen series of Taskar Tatsuniyoyi) would reveal that like the beautiful 'Yar Kwambo discussed above, the actresses of, say: the tales of "Budurwa Marar Tabo", "Yarinya Kyakkyawa da Yayanta", "Yan Mata Masu Kamun Kifi" and the eponymous "Marainiya" (a female orphan) are all profound examples of tales advocating the futility of forced marriage. The unifying thematic thread that neatly goes through all the aforementioned tales, preaches one gospel truth in bold, and unmistakable tone that: "unmarried girls should be allowed to marry the men of their choice," contrary to what Badua, the mother of Anowa, a girl who bowed to marry Kofi in Ama Ata Adioo's tragic play entitled after the protagonist Anowa. In spite all the distinct settings and plots of the aforesaid tales, they eloquently advocate for girls to have an unrestrictedly right to choose their husbands. To avoid the tragedy that befell Anowa who does not live happily ever after her marriage, as her mother rightly predicted, in the tale cited above all the prospective would-be- wives enjoyed both the support and blessings of their parents. This essentially goes to show that, in matters of marriage, what both parents and their progenies need is to open the door for discussion, compromises and understanding. The Old Woman character in Anowa play rightly says, "The best way to sharpen a knife is not to whet one side of it."(Aidoo, 1970:20) Again, the lesson derived from the story of The Stick of Fortune (Usman, 2006:7) also preaches that even male children too should be free to enjoy the bliss of selecting their wives. Here is what the accommodating and wise parents told their son:

    'Take this', the man said, "handing his son the stick, this is my stick. It is all your mother and I can offer you. We give it to you as a token of goodwill. Take this stick to wherever you may go. It will help you to get married and to build your own family.

    If Anowa's parents are like the aforesaid parents, their daughter could not even contemplate disrespecting them, as she doggedly defied their wise counsel in the play, not talk to of eluding with Kofi, her heart throb. The tales in Bukar Usman's series highlighted above offer some of the most rewarding and pragmatic ways to handle the ogre of misunderstanding in marital life. They will also serve as life jackets that would save many out of the deep sea Anowa and her mother painfully drowned in.

On Right to Own Property/ Wealth:

''The Story of Girls Engaged in Fishing" is a captivating folklore which brings to the fore the topicality of the necessity and inevitability of female folk to always be allowed to legitimately own property/ wealth. What the tatsuniya in question seems to advocate, as exemplified by the zeal, resilience and assiduity of the antagonist girls competing to marry their powerful and wealthy king, is the cliche that says, "What a man can do, a woman can also do, even better." That girls should be discouraged from idle life is the question this tale tackles head long. "The Story of Girls Engaged in Fishing" encourages self reliance among the female folk, as evidently shown by the king, who promised to marry only a girl who cooks him a sumptuous soup with the fish she caught from the river herself (Usman, 2005:53-62).


In conclusion, this paper brings to light the relevance of deploying folktales today in the determined strive to emancipate the child, especially a girl- child from those primitive practices of indigenous African societies. Unlike the Arabs of Jahiliyya period that disdainfully and cruelly treated even the mere birth of a girl-child as a taboo to its hostile family, this essay remonstratively shows the contrast. Moreover, the paper has shown, with apt examples; how revisiting the repository of tales could help with better solutions on how to bring to an end most of today's heinous crimes committed against children. And to unpretentious liberate the girl-child (and all children too) from all forms of oppression, it is fundamental to start reinterpreting traditional tales. The paper also briefly touches on the issue of categorisation of Hausa folktales on one hand; and stresses how reinterpretation of Hausa tales could aid the campaign of child right in African societies on the other. And finally, the essay shows that Hausa tales could serve as a vehicle for social advocacy as well as proposes a quick return to the available archival folkloric resources as the West persistently seek better ways to advance the right of an African child.


Ahmed, S. B. (2002) Narrator and Interpreter: Stability and Variation in Hausa Tales, Ibadan, Nigeria: Spectrum Books Limited.

Ahmed, U. B. (1972) Bora da Mowa, Zaria, Nigeria: NNPC

Aidoo, A. A. (1970) Anowa, (Drumbeat Drama), London, U. K: Longman Group Limited.

Chinua, A. (1958) Things Fall Apart, Lagos, Nigeria: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.

Dzukoji, B. M. (2008) Teacher Dangana is a Cheat, Ibadan, Nigeria: Kraft Books.

Lawan, A. M. (2005) Why a Lizard Nods its Head. In Khalid, I. (ed.), The Bird's Evidence, Kano, Nigeria: SkyLimits Media and Communication Limited.

Ladan, S. (2000) Tarihin Kasar Hausa, Minna, Nigeria: (Unpublished)

Laye, C. (1954) The African Child, Glasgow, UK: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.

Nakolisa, D. (2006), "Introduction" to Girls in Search of Husbands & Other Stories, Enugu, Nigeria: Klamidas Communication Ltd.

Obafemi, O. (2006) Woman Unity and Landscape of Social Advocacy: Woman Literature since Wole Soyinka's Prize. In Adeoti, G. & Evwierhoma (Eds.) After the Nobel Prize: Reflection on Africa Literature, Governance and Development, Ibadan, Nigeria: Kraft Books Limited.

Skinner, N. (1980) An Anthology of Hausa Literature, Zaria-Kaduna, Nigeria: NNPC.

Usman, B. (2005) Marainiya Da Wasu Labarai: Taskar Tatsuniyoyi, Littafi na Daya, Kano, Nigeria: Gidan Dabino Publishers.

Usman, B. (2009) Muguwar Kishiya Da Wasu Labarai: Taskar Tatsuniyoyi, Littafi na Goma sha Hudu Kano, Nigeria: Gidan Dabino Publishers.

Usman, B. (2006) Girls in Search of Husbands & Other Stories, Enugu, Nigeria: Klamidas Communication Ltd.

Usman, B. (2006) The Stick of Fortune & Other Stories, Enugu, Nigeria: Klamidas Communication Ltd.

Yahaya, I. Y. (1972) Tatsuniyoyi Da Wasanni, Book Five, Glasgow, U. K.: Oxford University Press.



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