Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ali Nuhu Official Website

Grateful to Ibrahim Sheme's blog for pointing out that Hausa film superstar Ali Nuhu has a new official website. Very impressive.
Here's a good interview the Daily Trust did with Nuhu back in March, in which he talks about the censorship crisis.
Photo Credit: (Much better pics on Ali Nuhu's site, but I couldn't link to them)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Recent articles on the Censorship crisis and an interview with Sa'adatu Baba

My friend, the Hausa novelist Sa'adatu Baba was recently interviewed on IPS news about the censorship crisis in Kano. See the interview here. A related article gives an overview of the crisis here. Here is a link to an article by Maryam Ali about the writing side of the censorship crisis, and a priceless piece by Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim himself.... There are more that I will try to add soon...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A week of (mostly) blessings

Some encounters I’ve had this week:

I meet a woman on the bus who tells me she was inspired to study special education from an Indian film she watched. She tells me the story—about a blind girl who was able to achieve great things from learning to read, and then she tells me about a blind professor she has at BUK, who asked how many of the students in the class would marry someone who is blind. Only 13 stood up, and he said only 3 of those were probably telling the truth. But his wife married him. “Some people don’t pick education as their first choice,” she tells me, “but I did.” Her passion is obvious in the way her face shines when she talks about how “everyone has a disability. It’s just that some are more obvious than others.” She continues on about Helen Keller--how much she contributed to the world.

I sit with the sister of one of my friends whose husband divorced her two weeks ago and would not let her take any of the children, two boys and a girl, 6, 1, and 5. Come back with me, and say you are a lawyer from abroad, she half jokes, half pleads, as she shows me their pictures—healthy beautiful children, laughing into the camera lens. Her co-wife refuses to take care of them, so they were given to the grandmother to take care of. “But she’s blind. She can’t even see to wipe their noses…. I asked him, even just give me the baby to take care of until he is three, and I’ll give him back. But he refused.” She sits in a corner, hugging herself. She wants to take her husband to court to gain custody of the children. Her sister advises her against it. “He has money, and you don’t. You know the courts will side with the one who pays them…” Whenever I visit my friend, she is there, smiling sadly. I ask her about the children, “To, suna can.”

Last night I sha ruwa (lit. "drink water"; break fast) with a friend, while watching Antz from a DVD. She tells me how much she likes cartoons, and how they teach you to live in peace with nature. Now the children whenever they see ants make sure they don’t step on them because they remember the film. “Even now, I don’t like to eat eggs because I think what if I were the hen and my child were taken away…” She tells me she has thought of becoming a vegetarian…

On Tuesday, I sha ruwa with a studio full of musicians, actors, directors, and film editors. They bring bags and bags of food, oranges, kosai, roasted chicken, koko, pure water, and put it in the middle of the office. We descend upon the food. I am delicately finishing off my first orange slice, when I realize that if I don’t hurry up, I will miss out on the food altogether. In about 5 minutes, there is nothing left but bags of peels and bones. I finish off the night with the Bollywood film Chalte Chalte on a borrowed laptop. A singer watches over my shoulder, tells me he did a version of one of the songs in Hausa. He sings along with Shah Rukh Khan in Hindi.

Last week, I sha ruwa with a friend in the old city. We go to greet his elderly grandmother. He thinks she’s around 118. She cannot see or hear, but recognizes him when she touches his face, and holds on to his hand, shaking it with every blessing she gives him. When she takes my hand, she can tell I am a visitor. She blesses me too.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Review/Gender Analysis of Hausa Film Inda Ranka

This is a summary/analysis I wrote up as a sample for a class I'm teaching. I'm a little uncomfortable with the 'judgmental' end, as I tend to like to just analyze and not 'review,' but I figured a practical componant might be good for the students, since many of them are hoping to become practitioners.

Inda Ranka
Produced by Nura Hussani; Directed by Sulaiman Alubankudi
(no date, purchased in 2008 from Almah Video, Jos)

Summary: The film Inda Ranka engages with recent criticisms of the Hausa film industry by following the rise and fall of a poor girl Safiya (Kubura Dackho), who enters the Hausa film industry and is able to transform her economic situation for the better while transforming the lives of those around her for the worse. While initially discouraged in her dreams of becoming an actress by director (Ishaq Sidi Ishaq) and the producer Mahmoud (Nura Hussein), Mahmoud’s wife Samira (Jamila Nagudu) urges him to give the girl a chance. Upon being accepted as an actress under Mahmoud’s protection, Safiya goes to a boka who gives her “control” over Mahmoud’s mind. The rest of the film shows how Safiya destroys lives around her: Mahmoud leaves his patient and kind wife Samira at home while chasing Safiya and quarrelling with her over her supposed affairs. Safiya is shown with a series of lovers: the producer Mahmoud, her elder sister Binta’s (Maryam Usman) fiancé, a wealthy alhaji (Mustapha Musty) who provides her with a house, a car, and trips abroad, another wealthy man (Baballe Hayatu) who wishes to marry her, and an elderly ‘Commissioner’ (Aminu Hudu) who promises to help her take revenge on Mahmoud for shouting at her. Safiya kicks her sister out of the house, ignores the advice of her mother who wants her to leave her profession and get married, and calls Mahmoud’s father a “useless old fool.” When her duplicitous nature becomes obvious to her various suitors, Baballe, on the advice of Alhaji Mustapha who says she is “not marriage material,” rescinds his marriage proposal and instead marries her virtuous elder sister Binta. The bewitched Mahmoud is reconciled with his long-suffering wife Samira, whose sad song has stitched together the episodes of the film. The final (and only) song and dance number comes at the end of the film, in which Safiya and Binta are shown dancing with their various suitors.
Analysis: Inda Ranka reproduces many stereotypes of women in its reflection of the controversies currently surrounding the Hausa film industry. While the film industry is shown as a professional public realm operating according to established procedures (particularly one in which young girls who want to enter the industry are advised to return to school and get the permission of their parents, while no similar injunction appears for young men), Safiya (and by implication, other ‘greedy’ and ‘ungrateful’ young actresses) introduces chaos into these smooth operations. It is arguably not the film industry that spoils her but she who spoils the film industry. Mahmoud is shown as being a respected and professional film producer in a loving relationship with his wife, but Safiya destroys his life by “controlling him” through the powers of a ‘pagan’ boka. Safiya also disrespects her chosen profession by coming late to the location and using it as a way to attract wealthy lovers. In addition Safiya is shown as being contemptuous of her elders and Hausa traditions in the way she responds to criticism from her mother, sister, and Mahmoud’s father. She refuses to marry, preferring to have the independence of a profession and the attentions of many suitors. Cinematography, editing, and mis-en-scene emphasize Samira’s shrewish nature—she is shown in close-up shaking her finger at those who offend her. She is often portrayed as sitting in shadows. For example, when Mahmoud’s father confronts her, his virtuous nature is highlighted by the light yellow background, which casts light on his face. On the other hand, the shadowy corner in which Safiya sits casts a sinister green pallor over her face, a colour motif that is repeated when she tells Alhaji Mustapha she would rather lose him than her career.

Several ‘virtuous’ women appear as foils to Safiya. Samira is portrayed as the opposite of Safiya. She is a kind, loving, and faithful wife, and her mournful song provides the bridge to many scene transitions. While Safiya responds with a shrill and angry voice to ‘just’ criticism, Samira is never shown as raising her voice even when her husband abandons and abuses her. Instead, she is shown as constantly weeping. Closeups on her tearful face reinforce portrayals of the ‘good wife’ as helpless victim. Similarly, Safiya’s kind sister Binta, who cared for their ailing mother while Binta chased career ambitions, is shown several times weeping—the ‘good’ to Safiya’s ‘bad.’ (The choice of actress for this role becomes ironic in light of later ‘sex scandal’ involving Maryam Usman. The marketing possibilities of Maryam ‘Hiyana’ Usman’s participation of the film are highlighted in the choice to have her face prominantely displayed on the cover of the video, rather than that of the main character Kubura Dackho. The cover becomes more of a commentary on 'real life' than on the 'fiction' of the film--illustrating the name of the film "Inda Ranka" the beginning of a proverb "Inda ranka kasha kallo" meaning "In life you will see many things...." In this case, life is stranger than fiction...)

While the film challenges current interpretations of the inherent immorality of the film industry (since the problem is seen with the character of the actress rather than her work), the treatment of Safiya as ‘devil’ woman and Samira and Binta as ‘angel’ women perpetuates the social ideology of the status quo. Professional behavior in filmmaking is shown as the realm of men. Actresses, who use their fame as a platform for personal enrichment, become scapegoats for the misfortunes of the industry. Safiya lifts her sickly mother and unemployed sister out of poverty, but her ambitions to maintain an independent professional life and not immediately marry are shown in the context of a rebellious and ‘immoral’ lifestyle.’ Her ‘success’ is shown not in terms of her ability to perform well as an actress but in her ability to sexually attract wealthy men. On the other hand, the women praised as being virtuous are those who have no identifiable profession and who are defined by their relationships with their husbands or fiancés. Samira faithfully grieves her bewitched husband. Binta, whose first fiancé is stolen by Safiya, is rewarded with Safiya’s humiliation when the rich alhaji who had first proposed marriage to Safiya decides to take Binta as the ‘mother of his children.’ This seems to be the best reward a good woman can be offered.

However, even these virtuous women are portrayed as ‘weak’ in judgment. The film subtly places the entire debacle at the feet of Mahmoud’s wife Samira, who encourages him to employ Safiya as an actress, despite his better judgment. Men are seen as the victims of women. At the beginning of the film, the male production assistant tells Safiya that when they have helped other actresses enter the industry, young men have ended up as the errand boys to these ‘ingrates.’ The fall of the virtuous Mahmoud is seen as result of Safiya’s scheming. Her other suitors are shown mostly as innocent dupes, who eventually discover her with other lovers. Mahmoud’s father suffers humiliation at the hands of Safiya when he advises her to leave his son alone (initially at the request of his wife). This humiliation is shown visually in an extreme close up of his profile, which obscures his eyes, while he begs the woman who is sitting spider-like in the shadows behind him.

In a film that engages the current controversies surrounding the Hausa film industry, the producers of the film missed a chance to creatively respond to criticisms in a gender-balanced way. Portraying the achievements, as well as the challenges, women face in the film industry could have provided an enlightening defense of the role of the film industry in contemporary Hausa society. Instead, Inda Ranka risks perpetuating dangerous stereotypes that damage the reputation of the film industry and hurt the chances of women to choose the film industry as ‘respectable’ profession. .

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Meditations on Azumi: Thoughts during the Ramadan Fast

written 1 September 2008
2 Ramadan

Ever since I knew I was going to be in Kano for a year, I thought that I would try to fast during Ramadan. First, I thought it would not be appropriate to eat in front of other people who are fasting, even if it’s just sneaking a meatpie and sachet of water from the canteen to my office (although it may eventually come to that); second, I thought it would be good to experience what millions of people, and specifically those around me, experience every year. As I told one of my friends on the first day of Ramadan. “Idan kuna jin yunwa, zan ji yunwa. Idan kuna jin kishin ruwa, ni ma zan ji kishin ruwa.” If you are hungry, I will be hungry. If you are thirsty, I too will be thirsty.” The day before the fast began, I bought a book from an Islamic book seller, 70 Key Points on Fasting by Shaikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid (translated by Luqman Abdur Ahman Alamu), to better understand fasting from an Islamic perspective—what my friends believe. But ultimately, what I hope to gain out of this is spiritual discipline practiced from the perspective of my own faith. Fasting is a spiritual discipline in Christianity as well (Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert in preparation for his three years of ministry), although not compulsory. I thought that, though I am Christian, I live among Muslims, so I will fast when they fast and pray when they pray. And I will hopefully grow in my own spiritual life.

Today, on the second day of Ramadan, walking wearily across campus to wait for the bus at around 5pm, I thought, maybe I should stop this. It’s not a requirement for me, and I’m finding myself dull, forgetful, distracted, irritable, impatient, on edge. It’s not easy to manifest the “fruits of the spirit,” (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self control), when I have not eaten or drunk all day. On further thought, as I was walking from the bus stop to my house clutching two packets of dates and a sliver of watermelon I had bought to break my fast with, I realized that perhaps that is the point of fasting, at least for me. It forces me to realize, humbly, how much of my good spirits, my mostly cheerful demeanor are chemically-based, physical attributes. I have been blessed with good health, with chemical balance, with a fairly even and laid back temper (though my good friends and roommates all know the exceptions). Peeling back those layers of the physical, one comes closer to the core of one’s being, what is underneath the surface pleasantness—what comes out when there is no protective politeness—and it’s not always very attractive. I have thought often over the past few years of what C.S. Lewis says in Chapter 4 "Morality and Psychoanalysis" of Mere Christianity. About the verse that humans look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.

“Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge.

"We see only the results which a man's choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man's psychological make-up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first tune, see every one as he
really was. There will be surprises.” (culled from

I meditate on this in relation to fasting. When fasting, those base-human characteristics, the instincts, the first reactions, come out more dramatically, and you have to deal with them. You are impatient but you force yourself to speak patiently. You don’t feel gracious but you make yourself be gracious anyway. It becomes a discipline, training and subduing those initial reactions that surface more clearly when you are hungry and tired, and it encourages humility. You don’t have that easy excuse—oh sorry, I haven’t eaten yet today, and I can’t think clearly—because no one else has either. You become weaker and more vulnerable to your community while stronger in your individual will. This is spiritual growth—going beyond one’s personality to something deeper.

At the same time, you also become more aware of the joys of the physical. The pleasure that comes at the end of the day, especially when you are breaking the fast with other people. (“A sha ruwa lafiya” is the greeting towards the end of the day: “enjoy quenching your thirst”)—the sweetness of the crystallized sugar in a dry date when it is the first thing that has touched your tongue all day; the fresh wetness of a tangy orange or sweet watermelon or solid banana; the way the spicy flavours of Hausa tea detach themselves and come one by one: cardamom, ginger, other flavours that I cannot yet identify; the nourishing thickness of chocolate Milo with Peak milk. The first burst of energy after the sugar enters your blood stream and the pleasant stuffed feeling when your stomach is extended with tuwon shinkafa and miyan alewa or fried yam and potatoes, peppered tofu and kosai. Denied for 13 or 14 hours a day, the senses are heightened. Listening to the Ramadan service on the radio, the chanted Arabic, the call and response, it reminds me of listening to a mass—Gregorian chants in Latin—or a BBC broadcast of the Nine Lessons in Carols on Christmas eve.

I am not sure if I will complete the fasting for the month of Ramadan or not. The training is good for me, but as an embodied spirit. I crave the blessings of the even-temper that comes so much easier when I have properly fed myself. Since it is not compulsory for me, I may only fast for a few more days, or, in my desire to be in solidarity with those around me and in my curiousity to see if I can make it, or maybe out of sheer cussed stubbornness, I may fast the whole month. We shall see…