Afrikult. on Balaraba Ramat Yakubu

11th Aug 2015

In the third instalment of their bi-monthly series on African women writers, the team at Afrikult. introduce us to Balaraba Ramat Yakubu. Originally self-published and one of only a few Hausa writers to be translated into English, Yakubu is an influential author whose work is laced with social commentary and feminist critique.

During the 1980s and 1990s Balaraba Ramat Yakubu was able to use literature to create a space in which she could start a dialogue centred on social change and the gendered effects of Islamic Hausa traditions within Kano, Northern Nigeria.

Her works, all written in the Hausa language, engender the concept of revision, and critical restructuring of traditional perceptions of womanhood. This is a very deliberate and didactic feature of her work that seeks to facilitate women assuming a larger degree of responsibility in their familial, educational, and career choices. The fact that she was able to do this can be seen as a result of the economic collapse that struck Nigeria during the 1980s.

The economic collapse coincided with the maturity of a new generation of literate young adults who had benefited from the introduction of Universal Primary Education in 1976 and basic adult literacy classes. When it came to getting their work out there authors such as Yakubu had no choice but to personally foot the bill and self-publish in order to get their voices heard. In fact the lack of established institutional interference in their work contributed to their freedom of expression. Authors could pick and choose what to write about; topics of love and marriage with particularly urban traits were predominantly featured.

The style of fiction writing Balaraba Ramat Yakubu produces has been coined ‘Littattafai na Soyoyya’ which translate as ‘books about love’. Littattafai na Soyoyya is cheaply mass produced, and readily available from market stalls and street hawkers. Yakubu’s authorship is laced with her own personal experience of ‘auren dole’ (forced marriage), and limited education which serve to make it all the more empowering as a social commentary on Hausa culture.

By examining the subject matter throughout Yakubu’s novels a call for social reconfiguration can be seen; the adoption of a more ‘equitable gender system’. Broaching issues like the day to day domestic politics of polygamy and encouraging female education through fiction, Yakubu’s social commentary seeks to give women options they have not previously had. Through the creation of binary figures and stock characters she critiques the norms of Hausa society. For example in her first novel Burdurwa Zuciya (Young at Heart) published in 1986, she challenges polygamy by focusing on how women are seen through the eyes of the main male character, Alhaji Usman, who at the beginning of the novel has three wives, wishes to marry another and also frequents prostitutes. As the plot unravels it becomes clear that Alhaji views women as disposable; when he is displeased with one of his wives, he remedies his situation by divorce, and then quickly marries someone new. The implication is that his household is always in disarray as a result of his moral depravity and lack of respect for the institution of marriage. His inability to act fairly towards his wives is reinforced by the Hausa word for co-wife, ‘kishya’ which translates as ‘jealous one’; all the women in his household are unhappy. This novel centres its critique on the abuse of Islam through the lives of Alhaji’s wives to whom he does not listen. As Alhaji ultimately meets his untimely demise, Yakubu’s creative manipulation of her story line calls for a collective reassessment of Hausa society and its gender dynamics.

Yakubu’s success can be measured by considering the adaptation of her work into different media within the last two decades. Widespread availability of cheap personal computers and the windows 3.1 package during the 1990s aided the progression of Kano market literature into video film. The most popular novels could now be made into films creating a whole new genre of visual literature. Yakubu’s Alhaki Kwikwiyo (Sin Is a Puppy That Follows You Home) is perhaps the most famous of her novels to have been developed into a film. The fact that her written fiction is so widely read, fostered this development, and her popularity within the Hausa literary community has meant that she is one of the few Hausa authors whose work has been translated into English. Her successes as a result of creative freedom of written expression have transformed her from an author into a screenwriter, producer, and director of her own Kano market literature films. Needless to say her contribution to the genre of African language literature is quite considerable; not only has she garnered recognition for her achievements in her first language but actually develop and mould the specific field of Littattafai na Soyoyya writing in northern Nigeria.


In the month of July 2014, three friends came together to consummate their love for African literature. This auspicious encounter led to the birth of Afrikult. an online forum for people to connect, explore and expand knowledge on African literature and culture combined. Afrikult. aims to make African literature less exotic, less highbrow and more accessible. All materials on the site are cleverly presented in a simple language and in a bite-size format for easy readability. Check us atwww.afrikult.com or follow us on facebook.com/afrikult, Twitter and Instagram @afrikult.