Remembering Hausa teaching and research at SOAS


Blog co-authored by Professors Graham Furniss and Philip J. Jaggar

As we sit here in summer 2020, it looks as if, after some 90 years, the teaching and study of the Hausa language at SOAS is coming to an end. Aged 75 and 71 respectively, we (Professors Philip Jaggar and Graham Furniss) have played a major role in the language’s teaching, and we have watched its evolution at SOAS over the years. This blog aims to document, from a historical perspective, some of the major events and personalities associated with the teaching of Hausa at SOAS, from its colonial beginnings to the present day.

Colonial beginnings

Formal language instruction began when colonial officers needed language training before being posted to Nigeria. ‘Devonshire’ language courses were taught in Cambridge, Oxford and London. The first permanent teacher of Hausa at SOAS was the Rev G. P. Bargery, appointed in the 1930s. He had spent many years in Nigeria, working in the later years with a group of Hausa malamai  ‘teachers/scholars’ in Kano city, most notably Malam Mahmudu Koki, on a monumental (over 1200 page) Hausa-English dictionary published in 1934 by Oxford University Press.

In 1905/6 Sir Frederick Lugard, the High Commissioner of the Protectorate, in a report on Northern Nigeria submitted to the British Government, recognised Bargery’s medical skills and his remarkable fortitude when he wrote: ‘…during an outbreak of sickness at Rimmo Mr Bargery saved the lives of over 80 persons, and the thanks of the Government were conveyed to this gentleman for having ridden on a bicycle 65 miles in one day to attend an officer of the West African Frontier Force.  Having been overtaken by darkness, he spent the night in a tree in pouring rain.’ 

Bargery’s junior colleague at SOAS was F. W. (“Freddie”) Parsons, a former colonial officer who said of Bargery: ‘He was intensely practical, forthright and down-to-earth, a stickler for order and punctuality, a hater of cant and humbug and on moral issues uncompromising. His sense of humour was immense, earthy, and sometimes bordering on the macabre.  Every story he told – they were legion – was relived and dramatized, and he would end up with tears of laughter streaming down his mobile face, his deep-throated chuckles reverberating around the Common Room.’  I (Jaggar) recall Freddie explaining to us that class was cancelled because he was attending Bargery’s funeral in 1966. Freddie was quite emotional I seem to recall. SOAS’s world-wide pre-eminence in Hausa was enhanced by the appointment of R. C. Abraham as lecturer in Amharic, also a prolific lexicographer and grammarian of Hausa.

Learning to speak and write Hausa required conversation classes with mother-tongue Hausa speakers. One of the earliest lectors was John Tafida who worked with both Bargery and Parsons, seen in this remarkable photo, taken outside SOAS in the late 1940s, with Bargery (left) and Parsons (right):

Hausa lecturers at SOAS
Bargery, Tafida and Parsons on the SOAS steps, circa 1947

The post-colonial curriculum

The post-colonial era saw the establishment in SOAS of a range of 4-year degrees within a wide range of non-Western languages and cultures, both single-subject and joint degrees, joint with an array of social science and humanities disciplines. It was these degrees that were offered to students with an interest in studying and learning about the non-Western world.  Hausa could be taken in a joint degree with history, linguistics, social anthropology (both Furniss and Jaggar combined Hausa with social anthropology) among other subjects.

Parsons succeeded Bargery in the late 1940s and was the main Hausa teacher (and Hausaist scholar) when Jaggar and Furniss were learning Hausa in the mid to late 1960 onwards. Freddie carried the bulk of the advanced post-year 1 Hausa teaching, puffing on his pipe and distributing, through a cloud of blue smoke, his copious and densely-packed Hausa materials to the class. These materials were edited by Furniss in 1981 to preserve them for later students. In later years Furniss and Jaggar would regularly visit Freddie and his wife Pam in retirement in Holmer Green (near High Wycombe, Bucks).  

Former Hausa lecturers at SOAS
Jaggar, Parsons and Furniss in Holmer Green, circa 1987

By the late 1960s the teaching of first year Hausa was formally in the hands Courtenay Gidley, a former police officer, and Hausa lectors such as Isa Kurawa, Adamu Misau, and most notably, Kabir Galadanci (see below). Other Hausa lectors included Umar Dami in the mid-seventies, and Kabiru Gote, who was tragically killed in a car crash in Nigeria in the early 1980s. 

Hausa lecturers at SOAS
 Kabiru Gote in conversation with Courtenay Gidley, circa 1982

Classes in Hausa phonetics were taught by Jack Carnochan from the phonetics and linguistics department, and Hausa music was taught by A. V. ‘Tony’ King. Hausa religious verse was covered in classes by Mervyn Hiskett, but the key teacher who held the curriculum together and provided both an overview of Hausa literature and poetry and indeed explained what was sometimes opaque in Parsons’s teaching, was David Arnott. Arnott’s work on the Fula(ni) and Tiv languages had come from an extended familiarity with Nigeria as a former district officer of many years.

David Arnott (facing camera), circa 1982

Each summer Parsons organised walks in the Chilterns for the students, or failing that the staff would lead the way down Oxford Street (at a sharp pace) to a restaurant to share a meal in a relaxed atmosphere outside the classroom environment. The stuffy 1940s had been replaced by the more informal 1960-70s!

Freddie Parsons with students Graham Furniss, Marike Allen (left) and Barry Burgess (right), circa 1971

For us students, and there were about five or six of us in each year’s cohort, the main source of inspiration and engagement lay in getting to know the many Nigerians who were at SOAS, as doctoral students, masters students, or Hausa lectors. And there was always the Hausa section (Sashen Hausa) of the BBC World Service, only a fifteen-minute walk away at Bush House in the Aldwych. 

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, we sat and practised our halting Hausa with M. K. M. (“Kabir”) Galadanci who was writing a doctoral dissertation on the Hausa nominal system under David Arnott (1969). Kabir returned to Nigeria to eventually head the Nigerian Languages Department at Bayero University, where Furniss and Jaggar were later employed). Dauda Bagari worked on adverbial constructions with David Arnott, and also helped to place students such as Furniss with the families of acquaintances in Kano. SOAS students were expected to visit Kano to improve their spoken Hausa. Dauda went on to complete his PhD at UCLA, and was subsequently appointed Nigerian ambassador to Morocco.

SOAS’s student common room also saw many other prominent northern Nigerians, always willing to discuss any aspect of Hausa culture with us students, some of whom also reinforced the language teaching with conversation classes. They included: Hassan Gwarzo who was writing about the historian Al-Maghili; Adamu Fika who was researching the Kano civil war; and Gidado Bello who was completing a dissertation on verbs in Fulani.

In later years, Sambo Junaidu wrote on scholarship in the Sokoto Caliphate; Omar Bello wrote on one of the leaders of the 1804 Jihad, Muhammad Bello; Tukur Bello Ingawa studied the cotton industry; Yakubu Mukhtar wrote on trade in Borno (and is currently vice-chancellor of Yobe State University); Dalhatu Muhammad wrote a dissertation on the poet Akilu Aliyu, and was instrumental in establishing and expanding  the Department of Nigerian and African Languages at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Through his collaboration with Furniss, the sum of 1.8 million naira (approx. 18,000 US dollars at the time) was raised via a book launch in Kaduna in 2000, devoted to the development of the Oral Documentation Unit at ABU. 

Sa’idu Babura Ahmad, latterly dean of arts in Bayero University, wrote about Hausa oral story-telling;  Aliyu Mohmed wrote on adjectives in Hausa;  Mu’azu Sani Zaria wrote on aspects of Hausa phonology and phonetics, and, until his death, was a senior member of the Department of Nigerian Languages at Bayero University; Andrew Haruna, now vice-chancellor of the Federal University of Gashua, completed his PhD on glottalic consonants in Hausa at SOAS, alongside Muhammad Munkaila who wrote his dissertation on indirect object constructions in Hausa (both supervised by Jaggar). Munkaila has led the Department of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Maiduguri throughout recent difficult years.

Malami Buba, is now professor in the division of African studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.  He completed his PhD on deixis in Hausa (demonstratives and adverbs) and was a lector in Hausa for more than a decade. He was also professor in the Department of English Language and Linguistics, Sokoto State University, where he also served as deputy vice-chancellor (administration). He has published jointly with Jaggar on deixis in Hausa, and with Furniss on literature. Tae-Sang Jang wrote a dissertation on proverbs in Hausa and Mansur Abdulkadir studied the language of advertising and is now the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives member for Funtua.

In the early 1970s, David Arnott was instrumental in the formation of the Department of Nigerian Languages at what was to become Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria. By the early 1980s it was apparent that there was now a regular flow of first-degree graduates coming out of northern Nigerian university language departments. These graduates needed masters level training to staff both these ever-expanding departments and the tertiary institutions that were producing the new generation of teachers. Provision came from a number of Nigerian HEIs as well as universities abroad. In the early 1980s, a new MA programme at SOAS was created by Arnott, Hiskett, Furniss and Carnochan, providing training in Hausa linguistics, in addition to the tools to study the variety of forms of oral and written literature in Hausa.

For a period of about five years, scholarships from Nigerian universities funded a number of men and women to complete their masters training at SOAS before returning to pursue academic careers in their home universities. From Usman Dan Fodiyo University in Sokoto: Sa’adiya Omar, Abdullahi Bayero Yahya, Haruna Birniwa, Miko Diso; from the University of Jos: Fatima Uthman; from Bayero University in Kano: Babanzara Hassan, Omar Hassan, and Abdulkadir Dangambo, who headed the Department of Nigerian Languages at Bayero University for many years. SOAS played a crucial role in supporting the early development of Hausa Studies through its provision of such targeted training.

Interest in Nigeria in the teaching of Hausa at SOAS has been reflected in visits by traditional leaders from northern emirates to visit the SOAS Library and discuss Hausa teaching. In this first photograph taken on the steps of SOAS, the Sultan of Sokoto and his retinue are seen with SOAS staff and students:

Visit of the Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III; front row (l to r): Alhaji Isa Bajini Galadanci, Philip Jaggar, Muhammad Abdelhaleem, the Sultan, Graham Furniss, Abba Isa Tijani; middle row: unknown, Malami Buba, Alhaji Bello Maccido, Akin Oyetade, Alhaji Mu’azu Abubakar III, Defence Attache at the High Commission; back row: Dimitry Bondarev, Hamid Bobboyi

The former emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, was awarded an honorary doctorate of SOAS in 2019:

The former emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, at a reception at SOAS in 2019

The emir of Katsina, Alhaji Kabir Usman Nagogo, also visited SOAS:

Visit of the emir of Katsina Alhaji Muhammadu Kabir Usman Nagogo; front row (l to r): Mansur Abdulkadir Funtuwa, Frances Harding, the emir, Katsina State minister, Philip Jaggar; second row (l to r): Akin Oyetade, member of delegation, Margaret Kassam, SOAS student, Malami Buba, circa 1995

The emir of Dutse, Alhaji Nuhu Sanusi, also came to visit:

Visit of the emir of Dutse, Alhaji Nuhu Sanusi; (l to r): Jean Seraphim Kamdem, Graham Furniss, the emir, Philip Jaggar, circa 2014

In addition to students at SOAS, a number of distinguished researchers have been resident for periods in SOAS.  Abba Aliyu Sani was a Commonwealth Fellow at SOAS and went on to become deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Gombe before returning to ABU, Zaria. Abdalla Uba Adamu, now vice-chancellor of the Open University of Nigeria, was a Leventis Fellow at SOAS and jointly published with Furniss on Hausa popular fiction and video film. Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino was another Leventis Fellow at SOAS and is a leader of the new fiction movement in northern Nigeria. He was awarded MON (Member of the Order of the Niger) by the Nigerian Government for his contribution to cultural revival.

SOAS and the BBC Hausa Service

For many students learning Hausa at SOAS, access to the BBC Hausa Service in Bush House on the Strand was a source of great interest and excitement. Regular visits to try out our Hausa on the journalists and to watch the live broadcasts from the control room not only woke us up to the reality and importance of contemporary Hausa, but also stimulated constant discussions in advanced classes about innovation, translation and style in the news. Famous radio voices in West Africa, e.g., those of Usman Mohammed, Umar Yusuf Karaye, Sulaiman Ibrahim Katsina (himself a well-known author), and Yusufu Kankiya, were ever-present in the corridors and in the Bush House restaurant.

When one of the SOAS graduates, Barry Burgess, joined the staff of the Hausa Service and later became Head of the Section, the links were reinforced. On his retirement from the BBC, Burgess joined the teaching staff back at SOAS. SOAS had its own landline to Bush House and its technical staff recorded daily broadcasts for us. A number of students of Hausa went on to use their knowledge of the language in later careers: Patrick McConvell used his language training in a career in linguistics in Australia, Joe McIntyre taught Hausa in the University of Hamburg, Tae-Sang Jang taught Hausa in the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, Melanie Green uses Hausa in her linguistic research and teaching at the University of Sussex, and Nicholas Awde wrote a number of practical dictionaries of Hausa.

The teaching of Hausa at SOAS has a ninety year history, the publications by staff and former students on Hausa are a matter of public record, but the matters that are not recorded are the people, Westerners as well as Nigerians, who have contributed to and benefited from the teaching and research programme that has been the communal endeavour of so many, one that sadly is drawing to a close. We hope this blog can preserve some glimpse of this unwritten history and of the people who were part of it.

Professors Graham Furniss and Philip J. Jaggar both hold the title of Emeritus Professor and Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS.

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