Need a dose of “Romance and its Readers Rule?” Got it right here: relationship books published in Islamic northern sections of Nigeria are a huge hit among local women who crave reading about relationships based on mutual feelings:
The books are mostly written in the local language of Hausa. They extoll the values of true love based on feelings, rather than family or other social pressures. Some also carry anti-drug messages.
Several volumes instruct women on how to send loving text messages to their intended mate’s mobile phones: “Knowing I can love U with the distance between our hearts makes my love 4U stronger.”
Still, readers hoping for Kama Sutra-like instruction in male-female relations will be disappointed. The story lines in most of the novels highlight issues facing women and girls, particularly their relations with men. Many men in northern Nigeria have up to four wives….
Of course, these books, which are described as little more than stapled brochures with paper covers, are a huge hit with women readers and set on fire by religious and cultural authorities.
Conservative scholars and clerics in Nigeria’s north deride the tomes as pulp fiction that degrades Islamic and indigenous cultural mores. A top Islamic leaders recently set fire to a pile of the books.
But female readers say the volumes — with such titles as “Edge of Fate,” “False Love” and “Undeceiveful Heart” — help them navigate contemporary life and their titles are proliferating rapidly, pitting younger women against a predominantly male, conservative elite.
Critics in Nigeria dismiss them as poorly written negative influences that threaten to pollute the sanctity of their culture, their language, and their society. These books are also attracting the attention of academic scholars in the past few years as a new example of feminist literature, and Novian Whitsitt’s article from June 2002 details the objections raised:
Public opinion harshly criticizes the literature for allegedly corrupting the minds of the youth, especially young women. Much of the response is based on hearsay, as most people have only familiarized themselves with the literature through word of mouth. Common belief holds that most books are read by female youth in secondary schools and that the vast majority of the works have prompted moral decay. Critics contend the romantic stories promote sexual promiscuity and the encouragement of youthful disobedience of parental desires in conjugal affairs.
My, oh, my. That doesn’t sound familiar at ALL, does it?
In [the writers’] estimation, [the] novels possess the dual attributes of entertainment and instruction. Readers can experience an array of pleasurable fantasies while remaining conscious of the fact that the romantic trope of stories is a vehicle for the social concerns of writers. Books become thematic commentaries on the place of auren dole (forced marriage), auren mata biyu (polygamy), purdah (female seclusion), and ilimin mata (women’s education) in contemporary Hausa society.
The Yahoo!News article also examines the possible advances brought about by these books, “known to Hausa speakers as Littattafan Soyayya (books of love):”
For many others, the books herald broader shifts, while also encouraging literacy among women in a region with low levels of female education. “I do think (the books) have some prophetic qualities, in terms of where Islamic and Hausa culture is headed,” says Novian Whitsitt, an associate professor at Africana studies at Luther College in Iowa, who has studied the phenomenon.
“It speaks to younger generations’ desire to make for a more liberating environment with regard to women’s expression and contributions to society.”
While some books have had publishing runs of over 100,000, the writers say authorship doesn’t pay a living wage, but they find importance in communicating with a mass audience.
So, the next time someone disses the genre, you can bring up this bit of information, along with the Cook sisters to refute them. Pass me a romance, please.