KANO, Nigeria — Nestled among vegetables, plastic kettles and hand-dyed fabric in market stalls are the signs of a feminist revolution: Piles of poorly printed books by women that advocate forcefully against conservative Muslim traditions such as child marriage and quick divorce.
They are part of a flourishing literary movement centered in the ancient city of Kano, in northern Nigeria, where dozens of young women are rebelling through romance novels. Hand-written in the Hausa language, the romances now run into thousands of titles. Many rail against a strict interpretation of Islam propagated in Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram, which on Sunday posted video showing dozens of the 218 girls militants abducted from a remote school in April 2014.
“We write to educate people, to be popular, to touch others’ lives, to touch on things that are happening in our society,” says author Hadiza Nuhu Gudaji, whose views have gained a recognition unusual for women in her society.
Gudaji’s novellas are so popular that she is invited to give advice on radio talk shows. She describes how she was able to influence the future of a 15-year-old who called in, begging the novelist to persuade her father not to force her into marriage.
“We said: ‘The father of this girl, you are listening to us, you hear what your girl is saying,” Gudaji recounts. “‘If you force her, maybe the marriage will not end so well, maybe the girl will run away and come to a bad end.'”
A few weeks later, the girl called to say thank you, and that she was back in school — a striking example of the kind of power the author wields.
The novellas are derogatorily called “littattafan soyayya, meaning “love literature,” Kano market literature or, more kindly, modern Hausa literature. Daily readings on about 20 radio stations make them accessible to the illiterate.