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Towards a Hausa Verbal Aesthetic: Aspects of Language about Using Language

Linda Hunter and Chaibou Elhadji Oumarou
Journal of African Cultural Studies
Vol. 11, No. 2 (Dec., 1998), pp. 157-170
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1771878
Page Count: 14
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Towards a Hausa Verbal Aesthetic: Aspects of Language about Using Language
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Abstract

This paper examines the terminology of Hausa metalanguage in verbal art, the discourse about language in verbal art, and the social function of that discourse in Hausa society. The primary sources are the language in oral narratives; the language of bori, the Hausa system of possession-trance; and the language used in the performances of two contemporary Hausa oral poets from Niger. The Hausa trickster Gizo, for example, provides performers with a means to discuss language through the metalinguistic terminology of his own speech: baki biyu 'two mouths,' deceitful speech; romon kunne 'ear broth,' flattering, meaningless speech; tsammin baki 'sour-mouth,' baby-talk, Gizo-talk. An examination of the verses in praise of the bori spirit Mai Dara suggests that the voice of the spirit is powerful, as strong and fearsome as that of the ogre Dodo, of a lion. Seen as metaphorical discourse about language the verses proclaim that language is so powerful that it must by used judiciously. It can have far-reaching effects, it can convey truth, it can convey hypocrisy. Its power can and should sometimes be tempered by rechannelling it, by having a spokesperson intervene. Zabia Hussei and Ali na Maliki, two contemporary oral artists from Niger, create a poetic metalanguage as they create poetry itself. Using images such as the building of fences or farming, they allude to the process of creating oral poetry or song. This paper examines how Hausa artists create a discourse about language within the artistic language of performance.

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