Monday, February 12, 2007

Fragments--Dearth of Reading Culture by Safiya Dantiye in the Daily Trust

I am copying this article in its entirety here, as often one cannot access articles after they are archived. The columnist bemoans the loss of reading culture. She speculates that one of the reasons youth are no longer "reading" is because of the proliferation of Hausa novels: "Another thing that also leads to the lack of reading novels in Hausa communities among our youth is the proliferation of Hausa novels or more aptly novellas. Some will read them, but will not touch English novels, this is more so for those that attend government schools, thinking that they are too sophisticated for them." So, is the columnist saying that reading Hausa novels is not "reading"? Is there something inherently bad in preferring Hausa novels to English novels? What does this say about "education" and how people are being taught to think about their own cultural property?

(I thank the H-Net Hausa listserve for bringing my attention to this article.)

Fragments - Dearth of Reading Culture
Daily Trust (Abuja) COLUMN
February 2, 2007
Posted to the web February 2, 2007
By Safiya I. Dantiye

Reading is simply a way of learning by yourself, and I am not referring to textbooks or notes taken in classes.

Rather I am referring to reading outside the classroom, where you will hone your writing skills and learn more about different topics and different parts of the world.

In the early 80s you would see students reading a lot of popular fiction like Mills and Boon, James Hardly Chase, Pacesetters, among others. And instead of the novels to distract them from concentrating on their studies, the students learn new words, phrases and expressions to write impressing essays and letters to their friends.

Nowadays students don't read for leisure. Instead they watch films and play video games all the time. A video game may have its educational relevance, but it cannot be relied upon to take the place of reading outside the classroom. Therefore parents should not allow their children to play too much game, while they neglect their books.

Also computer games and chatting make some youngsters to become so engrossed to think of picking up a book to read.

Years back, I was in a forum where the deteriorating culture of reading was discussed. Some believed it was caused by high cost of books as with everything else over the years. And some believed it was just that the interest was not there. Whatever may be the reason, I find it quite surprising to see somebody who doesn't read novels, or even newspapers and magazines for that matter. To them if they listen to news over the radio, it is enough, they don't care for details.

As far as I am concerned the key to being brilliant is through reading outside the classroom, that is why when I was admonishing some young girls on their poor result, I told them to go and read novels. At least it would make them to write correct sentences and learn direct and indirect speeches. Since from all indications they were not taught in the government secondary schools they attended

Another thing that also leads to the lack of reading novels in Hausa communities among our youth is the proliferation of Hausa novels or more aptly novellas. Some will read them, but will not touch English novels, this is more so for those that attend government schools, thinking that they are too sophisticated for them. Besides, they can't even read them even if they want too. This shows the shortcomings of our government schools where you will find all kinds of negligence there; the students can hardly read and write. There was a time I helped my friend in marking some English papers of junior WAEC, which made me very unhappy to see that form three students didn't really know their subject well enough to write comprehensively. It was all like unintelligible jargons.

I used to believe that teachers take pride in imparting knowledge and seeing their students competing to do their best, so I wonder what those types of teachers feel when all their students perform pooly, because it could not be the fault of all the students. If I were such a teacher I would resign because I have failed. It is better than to keep producing failures forever attached to my name and reputation.

So how could anyone expect such students to read novels, in any case, they should be praised if they can read in Hausa.

Thereafter, the proponents of reviving the culture of reading have a lot of problems to tackle. Sadly I don't foresee a positive change in the near future. That is unless the government schools are improved. Also parents can encourage their children to read. Though novels and other books may be expensive, but you can find second hand ones very cheap. The idea is to read and learn more, or else you will find that you don't know a simple thing that you ought to know, especially if you find yourself among readers. Which is a very uncomfortable feeling.

Copyright © 2007 Daily Trust. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (


Fred said...

I find it laughable that the article's author decries the declining standards of English grammar then proceeds to butcher the language her(him?)self. "It was all like unintelligible jargons" indeed!

I do see the author's point re Hausa novellas--although I also think you have a point: Reading is reading, whatever the language--if education in English is the goal (and I believe it is, for these students) then they should read as much as possible in English, no?

texter said...

FYI, Stephanie Newell has a series of interesting essays and books on the issue of reading (in Ghana and Nigeria) - but also how 'reading' is approached in african studies more broadly. At one time, I collected a bunch of citations by other scholars too who were focusing on the culture of reading, and how readers understood their own experiences - in Africa - for example, Bearing Witness (about Nigeria) by W. Griswold and Sarah Nuttal's work on women readers in South Africa (a journal article). All interesting...
Regarding the issue of Hausa novels - yes, her critique has several assumptions embedded in it- sounds like the critique of popular lit being too "stock" or formulaic. I've read a few commentaries on that by some scholars - on the Bollywood thing too - Whitsitt, undervaluation of pop lit - I'm rushing this comment - Have to get back to work! Hope you are well

Talatu-Carmen said...

@ Fred,

thanks for the comment. yes, i know that her point was that people need to read in English if they are to learn in English. And I agree. My initial reading of Hausa novels was what propelled me into an obsession for all things Hausa, although I'm sure if I tried to write an editorial in Hausa I would butcher the language far more than she has butchered English. The fact remains that one is usually not connsidered "educated" in Nigeria until one has mastered the English language. (Perhaps one of the reasons why the north is often stereotyped as much less "educated" than the south?) However, my point, as I think you understood, is that it is a shame that reading socially relevant novels in one's own language should be considered inferior to reading "Mills and Boons, and James Hardley Chase."


I think I have put some books edited by Stephanie Newell on my prelims list. I often hear this bemoaning of a lack of reading culture by various writers on my ANA listserve, and to a large extent it is true that it is difficult to obtain much African literature in English---much easier to get James Hardley Chase or Sydney Sheldon. (when I co-taught a class at Unijos, I did a little survey on the student's favourite authors and they tended to be the aforementioned JHC and SS.) And perhaps among those not university educated, there is more watching of video-films than reading. However, in the north, at least, there is a very strong reading and writing culture--only it's in Hausa, not in English. If you've read Whitsitt, you know about the soyayya literature--the majority of which is written by women. (There's a very interesting gender bias now. Because more women than men buy and read the books, women authors sell easier than men authors. A few male authors I knew in Kano joked about how they were going to have to start taking female pseudonyms to sell their works!) And, yes, the whole debate about the popular lit being considered too formulaic is fascinating. After the initial (snobby) reaction by various academics, I think there has been some change in how academics look at it. There are quite a few MA theses being written on soyayya literature now at Bayero University in Kano.

aaahhh... ok, i knew if i checked my email i'd get distracted... {-; Back to work...