Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu in an interview with BBC Hausa service proclaimed that the Bayajidda legend was nothing but bunkum, a sheer fabrication by those who constructed the mythology, perhaps for the purpose of deconstructing age-old narrative, which chronicled and reaffirmed the autochthony of the “being and becoming Hausa”.
According to the disclaimer put on the story that is widely considered as mere folklore, this narrative must have come from Arab scholarly sources going by the way and manner it resolutely privileges the ascendancy of Islam and Arab culture in the territories of Bilad al-Sudan.
That BBC interview was of course a follow up to the paper Uba Adamu presented on the same subject some couple of days back in Abuja. My grouse with his submission is not over the authenticity or inauthenticity of such a narrative, but with the definitive authority he canvasses his position on an issue that is still embroiled in ideational controversy. I must reckon to have not read his paper to establish the actual trajectory of his argument. I searched for it online but to no avail. However, my main concern is with the certainty of claims he exhibited in the interview, which I relayed to myself a couple of times. I did just that to sufficiently grasp the kernel of his argument in order to attempt a reasonable rebuttal.
As far as I know, in intellectual engagement humility is the guiding principle. One does not absolutely foreclose other possibilities, no matter how strongly one feels about anything under the sun. In this venture, facts are summoned and marshaled to promote our own choice, perspective and point of view. Is this not the reason why disciplines in the humanities are called liberal arts? And in principle, liberalism is often pragmatic approach. In the earlier stages of its development, it was thoroughly noncommittal in its posture, except of course in its recent neoliberal global phase where force is now used by the promoters of its values and ideology to ram its logic down our throats. Again, in the dialectics of humanist discourses, subjectivity is usually considered as the binary of objectivity. Subjectivity cannot therefore be discarded in its entirety in our everlasting search for meaning or its possibility in the unending maze of cultural symbols that have saturated our world. In the speculative enterprise of liberal arts, answer to the most rudimentary equation – one plus one – may not necessarily be two, but three, four or any number for that matter. In this form of academic exercise, there cannot be a definitive answer. There are always limitless possibilities in terms of human action and motivation. The currency of our position depends largely on the degree of our persuasiveness, our way with words if you will. In other words, everything depends on our ability to convincingly deploy tropes for the purpose of rhetorical effect.
For whatever it is worth, the conclusive manner in which Abdalla Uba Adamu dismissed the Bayajidda legend as heresy is to me curious for a scholar of his caliber, to say the least. He at the same time ironically appropriated one of the fundamental pillars of the narrative where he bought the notion of “Hausa Bakwai” (so called genuine seven Hausa States), hook line and sinker, to validate his repudiation of Bayajidda story. I for one did not believe that Abdalla Uba Adamu is unaware of the fluidity of the Bayajidda tale as it mutates in Hausa folklore and history over the centuries. For about one hundred years of modern scholarship Hausaland, historiographers, ethnographers, anthropologists, cultural theorists and linguists have assiduously attempted to unearth the veracity of Bayajidda legend, but they are yet to arrive at some reasonably acceptable surmises, even with all the intelligence and brilliance of their discourses. Instead, we are left to wallow in the ocean of facts and insights that are in themselves requiring further investigation and research. In the midst of all these variables, how can one make conclusive declarations?
Even historians of the Central Sudan, for instance, are sharply divided on the Bayajidda tale. Two very clear tendencies have indeed come to characterize academic debates on this issue. Eurocentric historiographers as H.R. Palmer, M.G. Smith, Mervyn Hiskett have conducted their studies as far back as the colonial period and afterwards, where they wrote on history, society and culture of what we herewith referred to as Hausa people. In their writings, they gave lots of credence to the legendary story of Bayajidda, which they interpreted as that moment of transition when Hausa States adopted Islam as State religion. Furthermore, Dierk Lange conducted the most in-depth investigation of mythology in Hausaland. In his path breaking study, he historicizes different types of mythologies, including the Bayajidda legend. He painstakingly and convincingly analyses the meaning of the symbolism of ancient rituals, festivals and cultural practices found in ancient Hausa kingdoms of Daura, Kano, Katsina, Zazzau, Gobir and Kebbi. He traces the geographical diffusion of similar practices in the Near East (Levant), Arabian Peninsula, other parts of Asia and Europe. You cannot make that up, can you?
The other tendency is of course that of liberal-humanist Nigerian historiographers whose focus of study was Hausaland. Some of the scholars here passed under the tutelage of Abdullahi Smith. A very prominent figure in this group was Mahdi Adamu, the writer of Hausa Factor in West African History. Undoubtedly, the leader of the pack that have questioned the argument which factors Bayajjida legend into the historical evolution of Hausa States is none other than Abdullahi Smith, the leading figure of the Zaria school of history. Smith argued persuasively that the Bayajidda story could not have been for its lack of historical evidence to support the claims it made on Hausa genealogy. He however favored empirical pieces of evidence. By which he meant concrete artifacts, language, migrations, movements, integration and urbanization. In his words, the transition of Hausa society from decentralized “segmented institutions” to “centralized institutions” of government was a product of existential conditions than the reductionism seen in the narrative of Bajajidda and his sons. The story of what he called the processes of state formation in Hausa country is a more complex one.
Closely following the above cluster of historians are the Afrocentric historians, influenced by Marxist objectification parlance, such as found in the notion of history in its methodological nuances as science or as pure empiricism. Like liberal-humanists of the Zaria School of history, the towering figures of Bala Usman and Mahmud Modibbo Tukur and their surrogates, have also questioned the veracity of mythology as a credible source of historical truth. Consequently, this set of scholars have in their own perspective critiqued both oral and documented accounts on the contribution of myths and legends (the role of individuals and mythical renditions in shaping our history) in the historiography of the so called autochthonous peoples and cultures existing in the territories of what is today known as Nigeria.
In their writings, they wholeheartedly rejected the idea of autochthony for a more progressive and objective theory of history. As far as they are concerned, there have been different waves of movement, migration and integration of individuals and groups across territories that people today claimed as their indigenous homelands (the works of Kenneth Dike and Bala Usman are the best known examples here). Colonial and postcolonial urbanization processes in Nigeria seemed to lend weight to the theory of cultural miscegenation over and above the autochthonous enclaves of our peculiar centrifugal public discourse. A more recent scholarship in genetic mapping highlighted by Prof. Ibrahim Malumfashi, is a good confirmation of the migration theory of individuals and groups across continents for eons before our compartmentalized modes of existence in our modern nation-states. Also, mounting ecological problems of the day are certainly going to upset the currently fixated composition of societies and cultures due to the increasing pressures of migrations.
Despite this, some of these scholars have agreed on the fact that the entire history of the world from ancient times to date is full of anecdotes of movements, migrations and integration. Until the creation of modern nation-state with all its strict border controls and restrictions on movement, people had been moving from one place to another in search of food, shelter and security. Even with the strictures and barriers of nation-state, human beings are still being compelled by existential circumstances to migrate from one place to another. History is full of testimonies of how people run away from wars, persecution, famine, pestilence and ecological problems. Movements and migrations are a constant narrative of our existence. Even in the scriptures of our dominant faith-systems migration is recognized and encouraged, especially when members of a given community of faith faced inhuman persecution. The recent phenomenon of economic migrants and immigrants running away from the horrors of wars in Africa and Middle East could be seen struggling to make it into more stable and prosperous European countries. This singular history-making event is right now threatening to bring down the transnational mega economic and security edifice otherwise known as European Union.
In our postmodern context, mythology, like religion, which was before now consigned to historical oblivion by modernity, is coming back with vengeance. Increasingly, the complexities of human condition are forcing science to swallow the apple of humility, because it is proving to have no answer to so many great questions bedeviling our common humanity under the system of globalization. Religion and mythology are being resuscitated for possible answers. That is why folklore and anthropology are once again becoming very hot areas of scholarship and research. To this end, we are on a step-by-step basis witnessing the centrality of culture in nation building, despite attempts by puritanical religious proclivities to emasculate cultural expression (a topic for another day). In fact, without shared narrative, common mythology or legendary figures upon which society cohere there will be no nationhood, sense of belonging to the land (nationalism), and much coveted development and progress in all spheres of life.
Mr Liman is a professor of Comparative Literature and Popular Culture at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Nigeria