Discourse | The Contributions Of Indigenous Languages In Promoting Literature In Northern Nigeria – The Nupe Language Experience (Part I) By Isyaku Bala Ibrahim | The Arts-Muse Fair


Nigeria is made up of two broad regions: Northern and Southern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is a region with a diverse social cultural make up. It is a multi-ethnic and religious region consist of three sub-regions popularly known as geopolitical zones: North Central, North East, and North West zones that has nineteen states and Federal capital territory (FCT) all together today.

Language is a means of communicating between two or more people in a particular area or medium. It could be oral or written. Virtually, one finds two or more speakers of a Nigerian language in almost all the regions of the country because of our integrated demography overtime. Mutual struggle to make ends meet led to migration of southerners to the North, and vice versa. So, today, there are Igbos, Yoruba, Hausas, Fulfulde, Nupes in also every state of the federation. When one visits Sabongari in Kano, you will think one is in Aba, Abia State, likewise if you are in Sabo in Ibadan, Oyo state, you will think you are in the centre of Katsina town or Zaria city.  Likewise, within the north, one witnesses integration of other tribes within the region accepted by their host communities. For instance, there is Anguwar Nufawa in Zaria, Bauchi, and Kano; Tudun Nufawa in Kaduna. Therefore, most of these languages’ speakers are currently living in different communities across Nigeria, their ancestors settled there for centuries which led to their full integration thereby divorcing host communities of their languages’ homogeneity in all the regions.

The sad thing here is we have allowed external forces such as politics and tribalism to overwhelm our thinking, and our resolve to leave together in a genial multi-lingual society. How does a Berom and the Hausas see themselves in Plateau today?  How an Agatu person from Benue or Nasarawa State sees a Fulfulde person/herdsperson; or a Fulfulde sees a Nupe farmer? How did we degenerate to this level of distrust and discontentment among ourselves as northerners, let alone people from the other side? 

Then, as writers, how can we integrate ourselves and solve these problems? Will it not be wonderful to have Magana Jari Ce translated into Agatu or Berom? Do you know that Berom in Plateau does not have its Bible until July 31st, 2010, but comfortably used Hausa Bible for worship and prayers for decades, but when there is fracas, you see both in battle ground against each other? Therefore, language is a powerful tool for integration or disintegration, it only depend on the motive of the actors who will either choose to use it towards good or evil.

Therefore, the evolution of Nupe literary development in Northern Nigeria and the current efforts to position it among the most literate languages in the country is what this paper is going to elaborate.

Indigenous Languages of Northern Nigeria
There are over three hundred and fifty distinctive tribes or languages in Northern Nigeria out of over 520 in the country. Majority of them exist today in their oral forms or unwritten in the diverse communities of the entire north.  Below are some of languages in Northern Nigeria:

·         Benue (14) Tiv, Idoma, Igede, Agatu, Akpa, Etulo, Abakwa, Akweya and Nyifon
·         FCT (7) Gade, Gbagyi, Nupe, Gbari, Koro, Igbira-koto,
·         Kogi (15) Igala, Ebira, Nupe, Okun, Kaba, Bassa, Oworo, Yagba, Igbira-koto,
·         Kwara (7) Yoruba, Nupe, Baruba, Fulfulde and Hausa
·         Nasarawa (29) Agatu, Bassa, Eggon, Gbagyi, Gade, Goemai, Gwandara, Ham, Kofyar, and Lijili.
·         Niger (38) Nupe, Gbagyi, Hausa, Gbari, Kadara, Gade, Bauchi, Ayadi, Busa, Gwandara, Fulfulde, Kamuku, Kambari, Pangu, Koro
·         Plateau (40) Berom, Bassa, Hausa, Fulfulde, Afizere, Amo, Anaguta, Aten, Bogghom, Buji, Chip, Fier, Gashish, Goemai, Irigwe, Jarawa, Jukun, Kofyar (comprising Doemak, Kwalla, and Mernyang), Montol, Mushere, Mupun, Mwaghavul, Ngas, Piapung, Pyem, Ron-Kulere, Bache, Talet, Tarok, and Youm.

·         Adamawa (58) Bura phabir, Fultfulde, Huba (Kilba), Bacama/Bata (Bwatiye), Longuda, Mumuye, and Samba Daka.
·         Bauchi (60) Bole, Fulfulde, and Hausa, Ajawa, Gamo-Ningi, Kubi, Mawa, Lere, Shau and Ziriya 
·         Borno (28) Hausa, Babur, Bura, Shuwa Arabic, Kanuri, and Marghi
·         Gombe (21) Tangale, Hausa, Fulfulde, Awak, Bole, Hone, Jara, Kamo, Kwaami, Loo etc.
·         Taraba (14 )Jenjo, Jibawa, Kuteb Chamba, Yandang, Mumuyes, Mambila, Wurkums, fulfulde, Jukun, Ichen, Tiv, Kaka, Hausa and Ndola
·         Yobe (10 ) Kanuri, Ngizim, Karai-Karai, Bolewa, Bade, Hausa, Ngamo, Shuwa, Bura, and Maga.

·         Jigawa (4) Bade, Hausa, Kanuri, Warji
·         Kaduna (57) Gbagyi, Gbari, Hausa, Mala, Jere, Gwandara,
·         Kebbi (15) Hausa, fulfulde, Gobir, Kaba, Dakarkari, Kambari,Gunga, Danda, Zabarma, Duka, Fakka, Sakaba Wasagu, and Banga
·         Kano (2) - Fulfulde and Hausa
·         Katsina (2) - Fulfulde and Hausa
·         Sokoto (3) – Hausa, Gobir and Fulfulde
·         Zamfara (2) Hausa and Fulfulde

Aside Hausa, no any language in the north has done much in written documentation, majority of them remain undocumented. Only few are making marginal efforts toward achieving such objective like the Nupe, Tiv, Berom, etc in the region.

Nupe Language Literatures
Nupe is one of the major languages in Nigeria. The word Nupe means a language, a person, a former country of its speakers. There is no tentative figure on the number of its speakers, but they are predominantly found in Niger, Kwara, Kogi States, and the Federal Capital Territories (FCT) but their population could be estimated between 6-8million across the country. They are also found in big cities and towns across Nigeria as settlers.

However, let us try to define or know what constitutes Nupe literature. There are different analogical explanations or definitions of what constitutes a Nupe literature. First, it could mean books written about the Nupe people in whatever form or format. Secondly, they are books written by the Nupencizhi on the tradition and culture of the Nupe in whatever language. The third school of thought strictly defines it as the literature written in Nupe language by whosoever about others, the speakers or any topic of interest for the consumption of humanity. So the key word there in the last school of thought is just the language that matter not the culture or the people, but the written language. For instance, Magana Jari Ce originally written in Hausa could become Nupe literature once translated by any person that learnt how to write Nupe language, not necessarily a Nupe person. He could also write other books about Nupe culture using Nupe language even if he is not from Nupe. That is the school of thought that I belong, a Northern Literature should be a book written in any of the indigenous language from any of the nineteen states and FCT by any person.

For the purpose of this paper, I will explain the efforts made in the three schools of thought on the development of Nupe Literature, and how far it has gone in developing the language to date.

Development of Nupe Language Literature
There are two phases to Nupe language literary development which span over a century ago. It was first led by the missionary activities in the Niger territories, and then followed the current efforts by students, scholars, anthropologist and historians etc.

1.       Missionary stage
This can be traced back to the early missionaries of both Islam and Christianity. The early Islamic scholars used the Qur’an and Hadiths to translate/interpret in Nupe language their messages to Muslims from the oral to the written Nupe Ajami. Though very unpopular now but Nupe Ajami was widely used by the businesspersons, emirates and the aristocrats in the ancient Nupe Kingdom from about seventeenth to the mid twentieth century through the use of translators or interpreters orally or written. 

This trend continued until the coming of the Christian Missionaries whose activities heightened in the mid-nineteenth century in the kingdom. This is submission on the importance of indigenous language in missionary activities in the north:
“At the dawn of the twenty-first century a new interest in vernacular translations has arisen among Nigerians. It is fueled by the popularity of the Jesus film, which is being dubbed into the tribal languages. Most of this work is being done by Nigerians themselves, many of whom have been prepared in United Missionary Church schools such as the United Missionary Church of Africa Theological College and the Tungan Magajiya Bible College. Often this has been followed by linguistic training from the Nigerian Translation Trust, an heir of Wycliffe Bible Translators.” 1

The use of the indigenous languages became a catch for effective evangelization of Nupe Kingdom in the nineteenth century which called for translations of the scriptures in the native languages. So this profession was pioneered by the Church missionaries in the 1840s. The activities in the 19th century have made tremendous impact in the literary activity and development of the Nupe language. Nupe was among the first target when mission stations were stationed in different parts of Niger River territories.

The Anglican Bishop Herbert Tugwell suggested that the missions interested in the Nupe come together in a conference to decide on matters related to translation questions. These missions were the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS), SIM and the Brethren Mission (UMS). Their first meeting was held at Pategi in 1906 where they settled on a working alphabet. They also planned to translate the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Banfield was asked to be the secretary. The second meeting in 1907 was at Shonga, and later meetings were at Pategi in 1908 and 1909. At the first conference J. L. McIntyre (CMS) was asked to write a Nupe grammar. Banfield was to revise his translation of the Gospels. After the committee decided his translation of the Gospels was good quality it went to the Bible Society and they were printed in 1908. The Banfields were on furlough and were able to be in London when the Gospels were being printed.

The Nupe Literature Conference’s work was not the first attempt at Bible translation into Nupe. Samuel Ajayi Crowther had a translation of the Gospel of John printed by CMS in London, fruit of his many contacts with the Nupe and his attempts to open the kingdom to Christian missionaries. In 1886-87, the BFBS published the four Gospels translated by Archdeacon Henry Johnson and a later revision by J. L. McIntyre and T. W. Bako in 1889. This same Thomas Bako also had a translation of the Psalms, with revisions by Obadiah Thomas and J. J. Williams, published in 1903 after Bako’s killed in Lokoja. As they met, the 1909 Literature Conference urged Banfield to continue translating.2

Pioneer Nupe Language Literature
The interesting part of the earlier Nupe translators was that their source language was not Nupe. They worked through oral interpreter or translators to get their messages across to their target group or their work published. 

Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c. 1809 -1891)
i.           Primer for the Nupe language in 1860
ii.        A grammar and vocabulary of Nupe in 1864
iii.      Translated Gospel of John into Nupe in 1877 

Rev. Henry Johnson (1834 – 1908) was an eminent Anglican Bishop
i.        Nupe reading book and a translation of the Catechism of the Church of England, 1883. 12 pages
ii.      He translated the Gospels into Nupe and popularly known as the African Pastor between1886-1887
iii.    Adua Lazhin be Lozun, Be Litani, Be Gigo Lilici, Be Baptismi Lilici, To Katekismi. Be Konfirmesoni, nimi ezhi Nupenci. (Portions of the Book of Commmon Prayer in the Nupé language.), 1899

T. W. Bako died 1902, an Oworo Yoruba slave bought in Lagos, he worked together With A. W. Banfield in Lokoja briefly before he was killed during his mission activities at the area
i.        Gospels translation to Nupe earlier by Henry Johnson (revised) by J. L. Macintyre, CMS, and T. W. Bako in 1899
ii.      Psalms into Nupe. It was revised before printing by O. Thomas and J. J. Williams

Alexandra Banfield Wood (1878-1949)
A.W. Banfield was an evangelist who stayed in Tsonga (Shonga) for over two decades in the current Kwara State of Nigeria. He started the work of translating the Bible into Nupe in 1900s; by 1908 he has translated the four Gospels into Nupe language from English Bible. In 1914 Banfield completed the entire translation of the New Testament Nupe language and later the whole Old Testament. He is considered as giant in Bible translation.

However, R. V. Bingham, the co-founder of SIM said: “Mr Banfield applied himself wholeheartedly to mastering this difficult tongue. Into it he began to translate the precious Word of God. He compiled his own dictionary and when he returned from his first furlough he had ready the manuscript which the British and Foreign Bible Society printed, so that he was able to take back to the field these portions of the New Testament (the four Gospels) to the two or three million people who spoke the Nupe language.” Bingham later said: “A.W. Banfield set the standard and tone for SIM’s translation programme.”3

He used the Niger Press and translated & published his works in Nupe language as listed below:
i.        Gospels (Matthew, Luke, John & Mark), 1908 
ii.      Completed the translation draft of the whole New Testament in 1914 using the Reverse Standard Version of 1881.
iii.    Romans - Revelation (Portion of the Bible), 1910-1915 
iv.    A Grammar of the Nupe Language together with a Vocabulary by A. W. Banfield &  J. L. Macintyre in 1915
v.      A Nupe Dictionary in two volumes of over 13,000 words; volume 1 in 1914 and volume 2 in 1916.
vi.    Gamaga - Nupe Proverb and translated in English, a collection of 623 Nupe proverbs, 1916.
vii.  Zabura tò Gạ̀cìṇẓì. (Psalms and Proverbs – Part of the Old Testament into Nupe) in 1920 and revised by a committee in 1950, the committee included: A. W. Banfield, I. W. Sherk, F. Merryweather, A. E. Ball, and C. H. Daintree.
viii. Nupe Language Bible in 1953 by same committee.

Rev J. L. Macintyre, a CMS missionary
With Banfield, A. W. in 1915 published -  A grammar of the Nupe language together with a vocabulary (London)

Isaac Madugu
Sharp Sayings: Aphorisms of Jesus in the Gospels 1994

Sheikh Saidu Muhammad Enagi (1952 – 2011)4

Translated the Holy Qur’an into Nupe Language in 2002