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This research explores the court praise songs of Zazzau Emirate. This particular research focuses its attention on who are these singers, what are their songs about and what constitute the themes and the literary styles employed in their royal court songs.The study features the songs of court singers in Zazzau Emirate such as Sarkin Sankiran Zazzau, Wazirin Zagi and Barayan Sarki. It also includes Rabi Bazamfara who is the only female court singer in Zazzau Emirate that chants epithets within the inner compound for the Emir and his wives. These royal praise singers were randomly selected.To foreground the society it discusses, the formation of Hausa States and the myths of the origin of songs in Hausa land and a brief biography of the Emir of Zazzau is given. The research adopts the functionalist approach as its theoretical framework. The aim of using the functionalist approach for this research is to explore the unique nature of Hausa oral art forms particularly the praise poetry, using the field work method and also to explore the different factors of Hausa culture.The researcher also analysed the various literary and stylistic devices found in the selected songs such as the themes of praise, eulogy and satire; also the figures of speech such as metaphor, simile, personification, allusion, repetition, have all been analysed. The significance/functions and the role of the court singers are well discussed. The convergence and divergence of the themes of the songs were also looked at. Finally, the state of praise singing has also been discussed.






To talk about poetry raises the question of what relationship, if any oral poetry has to do poetry. Talking about the two we are essentially talking about the culture of a group of people. This culture is given expression by the language of the people. It is poetic language that is used to express their ideas. Words and common words are spoken everyday by the masses in communicating with one another. When these words are spoken, it resupposes that the listener is not mute. The listener is also able to speak and make appropriate responses. Poetry here refers to as rhythmical form of words which expressed the imaginative-emotional intellectual experience of the poet in a way that creates a similar experience in the mind of the reader or listener. This pronouncement shows that the poet uses a combination of words-symbols to convey his ideas. Whether or not he succeds depends on how well he manipulates the word-symbols. He uses common words that touch us emotionally and spoken orally.


Oral poetry is poetry that lives in the mouth of the people and is transmitted verbally from one person to another.


The concise Oxford Dictionary defines “oral” as “spoken, verbal, by word of mouth”.


Oral poetry is unwritten poetry. According to Finnegan (1970:14).


„Oral tradition‟ (including whatever should now call oral literature) is passed down word for word from generation to generation and thus reproduced verbation from memory throughout the centuries or alternatively, that arises communally from the people or the „folk‟ as a whole so that there can be no question of individual authorship or originality.



Oral poetry essentially circulates by oral rather than written means. In contrast to written poetry, its distribution, composition or performance is by word of mouth and not through reliance on the written or printed word. Cuddon (1977:465) says;

Poetry belonging to this tradition is composed orally or made up as the poet goes along. As a rule it is usually sung, chanted or recited and it is the earliest of all poetry, in the sense that it precedes written poetry.


This is the poetry that is fading away in many parts of Hausa lands because of the fast emerging technology that comes with modern musical equipment. As literacy is now speeding throughout the entire world at a rapid rate, oral poetry seems destined in time to disappear if it is not collected and stored in accordance with one of the objectives of this study.


Praise poems exist in many different parts of Africa, its laudatory verse is addressed to Emirs, chiefs, and even ordinary persons including children. In a way the term “praise poetry” is a misnomer since such poems contain elements of satire and at times whole passages can be abusive. The subject of the praise poem may include anything from people to lifeless objects. In this way we may talk of poems composed in praise of practically anything. The poem may be partially narrative or wholly descriptive. When the praise poem is in the form of narrative, it glorifies the deeds of individuals and gives details of successful battles waged. When it is descriptive, some attributes of the addressed is usually sighted out for extended treatment.


Historical Evolution of Oral Songs in Hausa Society


In the writings of Leo Africanus, Al Magriz; and Ibn Batuta in Bargery, (1933) the term Hausa is not found, but other names of countries or peoples being used made it clear that the forerunners of the present Hausas are intended. It is, however, most interesting that in the earliest of all the writings mentioned, those of Ibn Said (died 1286), the form al Hausin is found. It is used to designate a tribe living west of Lake Chad and spoken of as a branch of Zaghawa, a people who lived in Kenem. This corresponds to a modern term Aussa reported as sometimes found now in use among peoples of the Chad Basin, and in particular, as used among people living in the certain shores to denote the people living on the Western side. It can be argued from this that, the ancestors of the Hausas lived in the farther East than the Hausas of today. Bargery, (1933)


A somewhat fuller record was gotten from Leo Africanus (1492 – 1526: his book was published in Latin in 1556). Although he mainly described the several regions which are now part of the Hausa land and in which Hausa was spoken and is spoken. These are Gubar (i.e. Gobir), Agades, Kano, Kesena (Katsina), Zegzeg (i.e. Zaria), Zamfara, and Guangara (i.e. Wangara). From his description of the people of Agades and Gobir, it is clear that he is describing rather Berber tribes who had come from the north in the former and Berber or Fulbe (Fulani) herdsmen in the latter, then Hausa as we know them today. Bargery, (1933)


Tradition Concerning the Origin of the Hausa


It has often been said that the Hausa is rather the name of a language than of a people or tribe, and it is the fact that many of the tribal groups who speak Hausa as their only language today and are described as Hausas have little or nothing in common in respect of their ethnological origin. Nevertheless, it would appear true to assume the existence of a basic Negro stack, which has been expanded, and in fact, transformed by immigration from the north and east, the group being in turn further enlarged by commercial, political and other influences.Bargery (1933)


The Hausa distinguished between seven proper Hausa „States‟ which are called HausaBakwai and seven spurious Hausa, Yan’uwa bakwai, the latter being tribes who have been under Hausa influence for a long time and have therefore partly or wholly adopted the language and civilization of the Hausas. The Hausa Bakwai are Biran, Katsina and Zegzeg, Kano and Kano (S.W. of Kano) Gobir, Daura. The Yan’uwa bakwai are Zamfara, Nupe, Kebbi, Gwari, Yauri, Yomba and Kororofa. In both these lists, some names are disputable and the Yan‟uwa bakwai can be called Hausa States, only in a very limited sense. How far the seven Hausas were each one political unit, we do not know, but it is certain that they were independent of each other, connected only by language and a certain type of civilization Bargery, (1933).


According to tradition, Daura was the original home of the Hausas but Daura again is personified as the forefather of Hausa came from Bornu, and the female ancestor Daura was derived from a family of hunters who lived east of Lake Chad. Daura and her husband went westward and finally settled in the country later named Daura.


Whether Daura and Biram are considered as persons or names of places which were later personified, it is certain that, in most traditions these two places are seen as the earliest settlements of the Hausas. The several offices which acccording to tradition, the children of Bawo inherited from their father were as follows: Gobir became Sarkin Yaki, war leader, Kano and Rano were established as Sarakunan baba, chief of indigo, Katsina and Daura as Sarakunan Kasuwa, chief of the market, Zegzeg are Sarkin bayi, chief of slaves.


Nachtigal in Bargery, (1933) is of the opinion that, the Hausa come from the east, and he is supported by Marguart, who maintains that the Hausas lived up to the ninth century immediately west or North West of Lake Chad. Barth on the other hand is convinced that they are a branch of the Berbers (Amazigh) in North Africa, that they lived for a long time in the region between Damerghus and Azben (Air) and imigrated into their present residences about AD 1000. On the origin of the Hausa, Barth in Bargery (1933) gives same tradition as given above, but instead of placing the home of the „mother‟ of the Hausa people in Bornu, he asserts that, it belonged to the Degara, a small Berber tribe north of Munio. He also says that Azben was formerly called the country of the Gobir people and emphasizes the fact that Hausa is very widely spoken in Azben. Both authors based their views not only on oral and partly written traditions, but also on linguistic affirmatives of the Hausa language with Logone and with the Buber dialects respectively, Bargery, (1933).


Myths on oral songs in Hausa Land


To state the history of how oral songs came into being is very difficult. There are different versions of stories on how oral songs started in Hausaland. History has it that, human beings created songs in the process of looking for what to eat “hunting” From there people looked for other means of surviving and “farming songs” became a household name. In another version, some are of the belief that traditional worship also contributed to the growth of Hausa oral songs, Gusau (2003).


Among the different versions given, some are of the belief that songs in Hausaland started with a certain praise singer called “Sasana”. Scholars think that oral singers are grandchildren of this man called Sasana who spent his life in Asia, some of his children migrated to Hausaland. According to Gusau (2003), the word “Sasana” means praise singer in French. It also be argued that he was one of the first men to praise-sing in Hausa. He praised people in order to get something in return (Ibrahim, 1983: vii) in Gusau, (2003).


The praise singer Sasana is the leader of those who know the ethics and knowledge of praise singing. He has travelled and stayed in so many countries, he never stays in one place. This family name is Bani-Sassana Gusau, (2003).


Shehu Sarki from Blind Street in Sokoto said, that the word “Bani-Sasana‟ means „praise singers‟ which he dipicted in one of his songs saying: Malamai da sunke malelo,Sunke saki tazbaha na lilo, Sun koma bani sassana Gusau, (2003).




When Islamic scholars came, They left rosary hanging, They then went back to „bani sasana‟


In another version, scholars are of the opinion that Hausa people learn to sing from some empires in West Africa like ancient Ghana and Mali. At that time, Mali Empire had already had royal praise singers and they had a good relationship with Hausa singers. After the collapse of the Mali Empire, then, the Songhai Empire took over during the reign of Sarki Askiya Muhammadu Ture (1493 – 1528) whereby some Hausa States were under his Emirate. From then on, some Hausa Emirs learned from their predecessors thus, Royal Praise-singing became prominent (Ibrahim, 1983: vii in Gusau 2003).


With the Jihad of Usman Danfodio, the Hausa state and some towns were captured by the Jihadists but it did not stop the Royal praise singers from praising their Emirs during war. What followed after the reign of Usman Danfodio was ethnic clashes between cultures in Hausa land until the coming the Europeans into Hausa land. The war continued until the Sokoto Caliphate was championed and became under European control in 1903 (King 1980:2– 6 in Gusau 2003).


After war songs, some of the praise singers decided to go back to the Emirs court and sing for them. In the songs, they praise the Emirs showing how courageous their grand fathers were during wars. Royal praise singers are the ones who replaced war singers. Among them were Abubakar – Akwara Sabon Birni, Buda Dantanoma Argungu, Muhammadu Dodo, Mai Tabshi Sakwito, Ibrahim Gurso Talatar Mafara, Jibo Magajin Kuwaru Gwadabawa, Salihu Jakidi Sakkwato, Abdu Kurna Maradun, Musa Nadada Sabon Birni, Nagaya Zurmi, Zamnau Raba, Aliyu Dandawo Argungu, Ibrahim Narambada etc, are some of the first prominent court singers in the Hausa Land, Gusau (2005).


History of Zaria


According to Smith (1960), Zaria is situated in the centre of Northern Nigeria. It is a country of many names, Zazzau, Zakzak, Zazzeg, or Zaria the last being also the name of the capital city. The people of Zaria are still called in Hausa Zagge-Zagi, Zazzagawa warrior queen called Zaria in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.


Writing of Zaria in the early years of the sixteenth century, Leo Africanus in Hogben and Kirk-Green (1966) noted that:


The South-East part thereof bordereth upon Cano, and is distant from Casena almost an hundred and fifty miles. The inhabitants are rich and have great traffique with other nations. Some part of the kingdom is plaine and plaines intolerably hot. And because they can hardly endure the sharpness of winter, they kindle great fires in the midst of their houses, laying the coler thereof under their high bedsheads and so betaking themselves to sleep…


According to Fagaci (2016), Zazzau is one of the decendants of Abu Yazid (Bayajidda). They were under Habe rulership of Gunguma that is why Zazzau is one of the towns called Hausa Bakwai. According to history, Habe ruled for a period of sixty years. It was Usman Danfodio‟s Jihad that brought the down fall of Habe. It brought back the formation of Fulani rule in the Usman Danfodio calipahte in 1804, that was within the control and leadership of Malam Musa Sarkin Zazzau who was the first to rule under Usman Danfodio Empire. The Fulani rule brought so many changes that differ from the way the Habe ruled in terms of their tradition and culture while the Fulani ruled through the use of Islam guide. Fagaci, (2016)


According to Fagaci, (2016) the Emir of Zazzau is the leader that is chosen to lead the entire Emirate and also is the person that has the responsibility of protecting his Emirate and the entire people. He is also responsible for bringing law and order and peace into the Emirate. In Northern Nigeria, each Emirate has an Emir, the Emir of Zaria is called Sarkin Zazzau. Among those that ruled Zazzau were Malam Muhammadu Lawal Kwasau (1897-1903), Dan Sidi (1903-1920), Malam Dalhatu Yaro (1920-1924), Malam Ibrahim Kwasau (1924-1936), Malam Jafaru Isiyaku (1936-1959), Alhaji Muhammad Aminu Kwasau (1959-1975) and then the present Emir His Royal Highness Alhaji Shehu Idris (1975-to date). Zaria is just part of the different towns that falls under his Emirate. His palace is in Zaria, he is not the first Emir with the title Sarkin Zazzau but even those that ruled before him have used it because it is the only title given to those that rule Zazzau.


Fagaci, (2016) went further to say that the Emir is the overall leader within the Emirate but he has some district heads that help him overlook the activities in their respective areas and they report directly to him. For example, there is Sarkin Yamman Zazzau, Sarkin Kudun Zazzau, Sarkin Tudun Wada etc. the Emir has the power to turban a district head and also has the power to dethrone him whenever he is found wanting. Apart from district heads, there are also some important title holders that are there to guide and advice the Emir on certain issues concerning the Emirate and also serve as the king makers in terms of choosing a new Emir. They are Waziri, Fagaci, Galadima, Sarkin Fada, liman (imam) and Makama. Other title holders are those that live within the palace and their responsibilities do not go outside the palace but within. For example there is shantali, Shamaki, Kilishi, Baraya, Sarkin Dogarai, Sarkin Sankira, Sarkin Zagi, Sarkin Lema, Maja Sirdi, Jakadiya etc. These are some of the house helps whose duties are within the palace.


The Emir of Zazzau is highly respected both within and outside the Emirate. For the great respect the people have for him, they cannot just have called him “Sarki” (Emir) but must add Mai Martaba Sarkin Zazzau or Mai Girma Sarkin Zazzau (His Royal Highness the Emir of Zazzau).


Introduction to the Study


Scholars have classified literature into two: the oral and the written. The Oral has been in existence since time immemorial among the Hausa, while the written is new because it was introduced with the coming of Arabs and then later the Europeans.


Hausa Orature is also called traditional literature (adabin gargajiya), which to the people as it is the literature that is passed from one generation to another by the word of mouth. Orature comprises of song, stories, riddles, jokes etc. Songs which this research focuses on play very important roles in society by entertaining, educating and informing the people. Gusau, (2014) has likened singing to a conveyer belt charts paths for the cultural memory and relevance of the society by relaying what they feel is good and morally upright; and and therefore worth preserving for the benefit of generations.


Gusau, (2014) further notes that, societies world over have since time immemorial built up unique ways of life that are not just valuable to them but also they become custodians of such ways of life for which they could become well known. He further argued that, there is no society where some form of singing is not found. He gave examples with Europe, Asia, and African societies such as Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and Fulani societies. He also classified Hausa oral songs into two namely: traditional/classical and modern/contemporary songs. He argues that traditional or classical songs are songs that are composed orally, presented in gatherings or in public or in any of the homes memorized by the composer/singer. And again, he argues that all oral songs are the same in performance pattern, mode of composition between solo, choruses or without chorus, music or melody patterns, rhyme and rhythmic pattern and communicating pattern.


The Hausa oral songs are also classified into different groups according to their specialty, Ibrahim (1983) classified the singers into two namely: Royal praise singers (Emir‟s court singers) and singers for the wealthy. There are those classed based on their professions: like hunting, boxing, wrestling etc., but his research is more focused on Royal Praise Singers or the courtly praise songs in Hausa land.


Ibrahim (1983) defined royal praise singers as singers that are devoted to singing the virtues of a patron, such as a sultan or Emir, Praise singers are accompanied by kettle drums and kalangu (talking drums) along with the kakaki (a long trumpet) Looking at them, one will know that they are part and parcel of the Emirate. They don‟t wear ordinary flowing gown but the gown with royal designs. They are also title holders for example Sarkin Taushin  Katsina, Sarkin Kida Jankidi, Galadiman Kotso etc. It is hardly possible to get someone from outside the troupe claiming to be part of them because its hereditary. That is why they know so much about the history of their patron. In trying to praise the Emir, they make sure they mention the great grandparents of the Emir. The whole narrative of the family chain is commited to their memories. They don‟t sing outside their Emirate except with the permission of the Emir.


According to Ibrahim (1983), these praise singers classed according to their musical instruments and the type of songs they compose, but they can be classified into three:


The first are those that sing accompanied with musical instruments, example Narambada, Musa Dan Kwairo, Saidu Faru, Jankidi etc. They are first generation praise singers.


The second class is the instrumentalists that pass information with the sounds of the instruments used. They are found in Kano and Zazzau Emirate.


The third are those that praise the Emir by words of mouth without musical instruments. These kind of praise-singers are not in groups. They are individuals, such as Sarkin Bambadawa, Soko, Gawaji in Kano Emirate or Kakaki in Katsina Emirate and Madakin Magana in Zazzau Emirate.


This research is based on the analysis of the third category of court singers in Zazzau Emirate that is the bards. They try to show their talent when it comes to uplighting the names of their patrons through praise singing. The themes and literary styles of the songs will not be left out.




In Hausa society, there are lots of writings on oral songs but not much exists on Royal praise singers. Scholars have also focused more attention on occupational songs and praises of the spirits of „bori’. Thus, royal praise singing is purposely chosen area of coverage and deepened knowledge of the Hausa songs. This particular research on the court singers of the Emir of Zazzau focuses on who these singers are, what are there songs about, and what constitutes the themes and the literary styles employed in their royal court songs.




The aim of this research is to analyse the Art of royal praise singing with a view to project its continued relevance among the Hausa speaking people. The specific objectives of the study are:


  1. To consider epithets (kirari) and how the singers use their talents in praising Emirs of their land and to examine epithets as a literary device by praise singers in Royal courts.


  1. To examine the functionality of praise singing within the Hausa speaking people.


  1. To document the songs for posterity, because some group of young talented youths have come with their own version of songs using modern musical equipment to attract attention. With this, people can leave the old songs for the new ones in the process losing the old completely.




The major sources of information in this research is data collection via interview and recording of live performance with the the performer at the Emir of Zazzau`s palace on 11/05/2015 and 11/08/2015. Available oral literary materials obtained from secondary sources about Zaria praise singers are also reviewed. A few people like Malam Haruna Abbas has experience with praise singers through his travels was interviewed in his house in Zaria city on 14/12/2014. At the end, the songs are transcribed in Hausa and translated to English language for analysis. The study focuses on the people‟s culture by giving detailed explanation through the collection and documentation method. The study also utilises relevant text books, articles in newspapers, magazines, the internet as well as other unpublished sources.




This study looks into selected royal praise singers in Zazzau. Although oral songs are classified into different groups like war songs, wrestling songs, hunting songs etc, this research is limited to songs sung in the Emir‟s court. It means this research is based on only Hausa oral songs and not written ones.


This research also delimits its focus to praise singing (epithet) as a literary device that brings out the beauty of a song.


The research further delimits its scope to just male and female royal praise singers and will come up with examples of selected songs from the court praise singers only.




This research will be of great importance to students of literature for them to really know more about traditional oral songs. Through this study, the relevance, social content and context, and the nature of royal praise singing in Hausa land revealed. There is no doubt that the ancient repositories of orature are passing away and it is on this premise that this research is necessitated to document royal praise songs for the purpose of posterity. It is true that Westernization and Modernization have affected the culture of the people as they are fast disappearing without proper record being kept and the younger generation shows little or no interest in these royal praise songs. They prefer modern light-hearted entertainment songs that make use of modern musical instruments.


Lastly, another aspect of this research is how it will portray oral singers in the eyes of the people interested in their songs, and how they put to the tests, craftsmanship and singing prowess in entertaining the people.





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