Thursday, March 08, 2007

The stupidity about removing ajami from the naira





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Ok, I've been following the controversy about removing the "Arabic" from the naira for some months now (see the following articles and here and here and here, and I'm annoyed by the lack of historical knowledge behind this decision....

First of all, it is NOT Arabic that appears there in that beautiful flowing script at the bottom of the N500 pictured above. It is HAUSA written in AJAMI, which is the name for the Arabic SCRIPT that was brought to the region that is now northern Nigeria probably around 900 years ago. Therefore, to take the "arabic" off because it is a foreign imposition is just nonsense; it precedes Roman script in the region now called Nigeria by about 800 years. Hausa has been written in ajami script for at LEAST since the 17th century (See John Edward Philips article "Myths of Twentieth Century Hausa" also "Hausa Orthography in the 20th century" or Hausa Roman Orthography: Reform). And for a far longer time, historical records were kept in Arabic (just as official business and writing in Europe was often conducted in Latin). So is Arabic even a "foreign" language? (Here is another link to the importance of ajami to the study of history)
Second of all, Hausa in roman script was introduced by Lord Lugard at the beginning of the last century, because he made Hausa the official language of the army (according to Philips because it was already widely spoken as a trade language from the north to the middlebelt where he was trying to recruit soldiers) and wanted his colonial officers to have an easier time of learning the language... and apparently it would have been too hard on them to make them learn ajami... (I know... I started learning ajami and have forgotten it all... but plan to start again.) So, really, if one is worried about foreign impositions, the roman script is a far more recent imposition. And the anxieties that pushed the colonialists to make the change to writing Hausa in Roman script seem to be the same anxieties that propell this "nationalist" decision to remove ajami from the naira. Does that mean roman script should be tossed out and ajami reinstituted. No. But does the fact that the colonizers preferred Hausa mean that all Hausas colluded with the colonizers? Any more than the warrent chiefs mean that all Igbos colluded with the colonizers? Obviously not. The issue with the naira is... what of the people who only read ajami? which brings me to my third point....

Third of all (not proper grammar I know), my impression is that the ajami on the naira was to communicate with those people who were literate in ajami but not roman script. There are still quite a few people in the north who recieve Q'uranic education (and not government education), for whom the ajami lettering is helpful.

I understand the argument that it is not fair that Hausa is the only non-English inscription on a national currency, but then Hausa is the only language that has another script. Now that there are Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo roman inscriptions, what does this say to the other 400 or so languages in the country? Too bad for you?

Anyway, the rant continues in this article and also this very excellent article....

For more information on the introduction of the roman script and colonialism see John Edward Philips' Spurious Arabic: Hausa and Colonial Nigeria

7 comments:

Charity said...

Carmen,
I had no clue that it wasn't Arabic. And I actually did know that Hausa could be writen in the Arabic alphabet, though I didn't realize that Hausa was originally writing in ajami. That fact had never dawned on me. But now that you say it, I realize that should have been obvious.

This is an interesting argument that's going on. I'll have to follow it when I have more time. My impression is that some Nigerian people are wanting the country to develop in ways that are more western. They wish to emphaisize their ties to Post-colonial history.

Sociology is my method of study, and this argument makes me curious about what changes are occuring in society. I believe some factions of Nigeria are lining up with the West. In the music and flim you see American influences. I wonder if it's starting to take on elements of Right and Left in the arguments.

Cheetarah said...

Ajami ko? I didnt konw that! Thanks for the info gonna read up some more about it.Just browsing on a lazy day and found ur blog, sanu da aiki,kin na kokari.

stuck in my throat o said...

Ajami.
Thw truth is that i will spend it as long as i have it to spend.
It is not an issur really for me.
I am sorry you are so upset by it sha.
Will read up on Ajami.
Thank you for the info.

Talatu-Carmen said...

hi "stuck,"

In truth, I'm not all that "upset" about it. I'm sure life will go on as normal with the new naira, and I know that those who don't read roman script are certainly intelligent enough to still figure out which bills are which. And, i do think that it's nice to acknowledge other languages (ie. Igbo and Yoruba) in the roman script.

I'm just peevish about people's ignorance about pre-national history, about language in general, and the kind of assumptions that are made in decisions like this.

On an academic Hausa listserve that I'm on someone noted that the values on Chinese currency are written in chinese characters, arabic script, latin script, and others...

so, in a play for "national unity" do we risk merely covering up/purging that which is not "uniform"? And how much rich knowledge do we risk losing when we do that?

Professor Philips said...

Thanks for plugging my book. (Do we know each other?) I don't think one has to suppose there is a conspiracy when ignorance of others is a simpler explanation. My Ph.D. advisor, an Ibo, used to hand around Nigerian money in class and point to the Ajami as proof that Africans had written languages before the European colonialists came. Some Nigerians seem bent on erasing the memory of African literate civilizations.

IKENNA said...

It is a good thing to preserve a large part of a region's historical heritage. Ajami is one such heritage and every effort should be made to preserve it. I hope it is still being used in most parts of hausa land. I remember reading of something similar in Roots where Kunta learnt to write his name in Arabic script while he was in the second kafo.
But then I doubt if the person or people that introduced the ajami script on the Naira note had the preservation of the ancient script in mind. If the currency is to be spent in the entire "amalgamated" territory known as Nigeria, every effort should be made to make it equally readable and acceptable to the entire country which consists of several tribes and nations each of which has gone through its own historical processes of development almost independent of the other nations until colonial times.

IKENNA said...

It is a good thing to preserve a large part of a region's historical heritage. Ajami is one such heritage and every effort should be made to preserve it. I hope it is still being used in most parts of hausa land. I remember reading of something similar in Roots where Kunta learnt to write his name in Arabic script while he was in the second kafo.
But then I doubt if the person or people that introduced the ajami script on the Naira note had the preservation of the ancient script in mind. If the currency is to be spent in the entire "amalgamated" territory known as Nigeria, every effort should be made to make it equally readable and acceptable to the entire country which consists of several tribes and nations each of which has gone through its own historical processes of development almost independent of the other nations until colonial times.