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A focus on Hausa folklore and culture: Why madness and mental trouble?

A focus on Hausa folklore and culture Why madness and mental trouble
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Abstract: Traditionally, the Hausas believed in divergent number of ways in which an individual might acquire madness, or be mistaken as mad rather. It is beyond just the question of spiritually possessed by jinn(s). Hence, that is the most recognized of all causes of a mental break down among the Hausas. However, factors such as depression, marital controversies, economic conflicts, indignation, ire, rage, fury, wrath, phobia, and/or physical illness may present an individual as mad. Therefore, madness is a simply unintentional violation of societal norms, reasoning or normal action that might be caused by suggest, desire or intent to revenge and action or being treated unfairly. This is evident in various Hausa folktales. This paper explores the instances and causes of madness from Hausa folktales with the view to showcase the belief of the Hausas on the causes of madness. The data (instances of madness) are collected from various Hausa folktales to show instances of various forms of mental trouble. Furthermore, the paper accounts for measures adopted by the Hausas in dealing with these social and/or psychological problems. The paper learnt that madness is caused by several factors and not only spiritual. It, therefore, offers some suggestions as a panacea to such mental disorder. One of such is to understand the cause of such mental disorder; another is administrative procedures or communicative processes, depending on the scenario and the issue at hand.

Keywords: mad, madness, mental trouble, Hausa, folklore, culture


Yakubu Aliyu GOBIR (Ph. D.)

Department of Nigerian Languages

Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto

08035605024, 07087765510

Email Address:


Abu-Ubaida SANI

Department of Educational Foundations

Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto

Phone No. 08133529736

Email Address:

1.0 Introduction

Madness is a term used to describe mental health disability. Whereas, disability is considered by WHO, (2012) as an overall term used to describe impairments, limitations and restrictions encountered during participation in an activity. The victims of such mental health disabilities are either prescribed medication, locked up or, sometimes, both measures are applied so that they receive compulsory treatment (Beresford, 2004). Hence, they mostly lack access to education, and socioeconomic benefits of the society they belong to (Rodney, 1970; Mitra et al, 2011). Abang, (1988) notes that some societies in Nigeria welcome such individuals, as they consider their situations as God-given.

A voluminous number of researches have been conducted on madness, see; Abang, 1988; Dols, 1992; Bresford, 2004; Mitra, 2011; WHO, 2012; Vivian, 2012; Denny, 2016. However, the most popular form of madness in Hausa land is the one, which is acquired spiritually. However, researches have proved that madness is caused by several factors apart from the aforementioned one. This is because the term madness connotes a deviation from the normal way of life into an abnormal one. Therefore, madness is caused by several factors, since such deviations may be subject to any of the number of factors including; depression, marital controversies, economic conflicts, indignation, addiction or alcoholism, ire, rage, fury, wrath, and phobia among others (Sampson et al, 1968; Dols, 1992; Muhammad, 2008; Vivian, 2012; Alex et al, 2016).

It is concluded by Alex et al (2016) after conducting empirical research on the madness that, disturbing behaviours are the primary signs of madness. Also, madness is attributed to a 5wide range of causes and that, responses to madness are dictated by cultural factors. Signs of madness include; visible disturbance, wandering and running away, odd behavior, violence and aggression, self-harm, decline in function, poor hygiene, work performance, isolative behavior, distorted perception and beliefs and sometimes somatic symptoms such as vomiting continuously, stomach pain, headache, disturbances in sleep and others of similar kind. On the other hand, causes of madness have been noted to include supernatural, biological substance use, psychological and social among others. This is similar to the opinion of Muhammad (2008), where he holds that some minor signs will appear first before the case develop to real madness.

However, this work is set to explore instances of different causes of madness in some Hausa folklore and culture. This is because folklore of any society is the reflection of the cultural beliefs of such a society. Hence, the work is subdivided into the study of the relationship between literary works and human beliefs, Hausawa’s conception of madness, instances of madness in Hausa folklore and culture, then the conclusion and suggestions.

2.0 Literary works and humans’ beliefs: Which affect which and how?

Literature and human beliefs as well as behaviors are mutually interrelated and they influence each other respectively. It is obvious that the influence of literature is indispensable in human’s minds (A’azamiyyun, 1962; Shirley, 1969; Helmut & Jurgen, 1991; Sani & Tsaure, 2016). Yet, what is written in literary works has a lot to do with the writer’s culture, behavior, background, environment and personal philosophy (Sani & Tsaure, 2016). Bloom’s ideology of poetic influence is also salient here. Bloom affirms the influence of one’s literary write up on individuals, where he concludes that:  “one poet helps to form another” (Bloom, 1973:5). However, Helmut & Jurgen learned that, literature writings do not only influence the readers, rather they affect the ideology and thoughts of other writers (Helmut & Jurgen, 1991).

A series of studies have been conducted on the impact of fictional narrative experience on human cultures and attitudes (Green, Strange, & Brock, 2002; Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011). On the other hand, researches on different aspects of literature have been conducted in relation to different fields. For instance, such researches were conducted in organization studies, cognitive psychology, and communication sciences. The studies however, show that the experience and events in literary works may alter people’s beliefs about the world in different ways (Wheeler, Green, & Brock, 1999; Marsh, Meade, & Roediger, 2003; Appel, 2008; Matthijs, Olivia, & Arnol, 2011).

However, people’s cultures, attitudes, values and characters are sharpened as a result of literary works such individuals read. This is indeed the reason of motivating the production of more books that teach morals, humility, humbleness and kindness among others. Perhaps especially for children, as of after the second world war, during which it was considered strive towards moulding children’s character positively (Eric, in Helmut & Jurgen, 1991).

Shirley (1969) attempted the study of the effect of reading on concepts, attitudes and behaviour. He asked 420 Arizona High School students to report any changes in concepts, attitudes and behaviour that they had experienced as a result of reading. Result of the study shows that, though the overwhelming number of changes occurred in the cognitive areas, about 15 percent of the reading influences results in behavioral changes.

Similarly, Schneyer (1969) conducted research on effects of reading on children’s attitudes. His research shows that, children’s stories have a positive effect, at least for a while on children. A similar assertion is made by Martin & Lois eds (1964), Gauntlett, (1995) and Ferguson, (2014) where mass media (TV and Movies) is noted to have effect on children’s attitudes (Helmut & Jurgen, 1991). Nonetheless, there have been contentious phenomenon as to “crossing the borders between the disciplines of law and literature” (Chompson, 2012:8). Mutual and interdisciplinary relationship is observed to exists between the field of law and literature (Anthony, 1999; Richard, 2002; Gwen, 2004; Chompson, 2012).

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Miall & Kuiken (2001) have proposed a typology of emotional reactions to fiction reading consisting of four types of feelings: evaluative, narrative, aesthetic, and self-modifying feelings.

Notwithstanding, literary works could definitely be affected (to some extent) by the central setting of the community (CNRS in Science Daily, 2014). Perhaps, “The the central setting of the community in one way or the other likely influenced writer’s mental power and experiences. Whatever he might say could then have elements of cultural influence” (Sani & Tsaure, 2016: 11-12).

3.0 Hausawa’s conception of madness

Hausawa believed that not only jinn, rather other socio-psychological factors, cause madness. Various literary and Hausa cultural traditions are evident to this assertion. Hence, the Hausawa have different names, which they give to individuals with abnormal behaviours. Such include; mahaukaci, tavavve, zararre, bugun-shawo, sama-sama, gyaran-garaya, ragowar-turu and gabasawa among others (Muhammad, 2008). Sometimes, such individuals are addressed with the names of the closest mad hospital, thus depending on the locality. For example, Kware or Dawanau as in Sokoto and Kano respectively.

Moreover, the use of madness in various Hausa fictional books supports the notion that Hausawa believed in the various causes of madness. Thus, including jinn, socio-psychological and even physical factors – see; Imam, 1934, 1937; Daura, 1971; Kagara, 2004. More so, there are various Hausa poems as well as oral songs, which talk about madness. See, Ladan, 1995; Abdulkadir, 1979; Sidi, 1980; Bunza, 1998; Muhammad, 2008.

Furthermore, various Hausa proverbs indicate the belief Hausawa have in the diverse causes of madness. Examples of such proverbs include:

        1. Danyen kara maganin haukar yaro.

Stick, a cure to child’s madness.

       2. Tabarmar kunya da hauka ake naxe ta

Madness saves embracement.

      3. Ba a hauka a warke duka

Madness cannot be cured totally.

      4. Sansomin hauka, zubar da yawu.

spitting, the beginning of madness.

      5. Ba shiga ba fita, an sanya mahaukaci gadi

No in, no out, if a mad person is made a gateman (Bello, 2007; Danyaya, 2007; Malumfashi & Nahuce, 2014).

However, another evidence of Hausawa’s belief in madness lies upon their use of idioms, which explain the deviation of something or somebody from normality. Examples of such include:

Hausa version              Loose translation    Meaning

Mahaukacin direba         Mad driver                 A very reckless driver

Mahaukaciyar guguwa    Mad storm                 A very powerful and destructive storm

Mahaukaciyar dariya      Mad laughter              A very loud uncontrollable laugher

Mahaukaciyar qara        Mad sound                  A very loud and frightening sound

(Dikko & Maccido, 1991; Muhammad, 2008)

In addition, there is a number of Hausa superstitions, which shows that the Hausawa believed in madness. Below are a few examples:

  1. If a person laughs while in water, that person will run mad.
  2. Whoever swears falsely with the Holy Qur’an, that person will run mad.
  3. Whoever answers his name in the night without knowing the person that calls will run mad.

4.0 Instances of madness in some Hausa folklore and culture

Hausa folklore in one hand and the Hausa culture on another are pieces of evidence of Hausawa’s belief in madness. However, they believed in madness not only acquired through sprits, rather, other social-psychological factors. Here, therefore, the paper strives to illustrate instances of madness as they appear in Hausa folklore and culture respectively.

4.1 Madness in Hausa folklore

Instances of madness are traceable in a number of Hausa folklores. They include prose, drama, poetry and oral songs, myths and legendaries as well as proverbs among others. In various Hausa fictional books, madness is presented to be caused by different factors. Thus, they range from spiritual or magical, depression, stress, psychological unrest as well as pretence and fallacy among others.

4.1.1 Magical/spiritual madness

This is a cause of madness which Hausawa believed in that involves jinn. In such situations, an individual performs magic to cause madness to another person. One might be unlucky to end up being mad instead of the person he intended convicting. Such happens especially if the person fails to abide by the magical regulations.

An instance of this type of madness is traceable in Kagara’s Ni da ‘Ya’yana. In the book, Talatu plans turning her rival (Fatima) mad. Unfortunate for her, their husband forces her against the magical rules. Therefore, Talatu runs mad instead. Thus:

Ya ce mata: “mene ne kika rufe a qasa? Dole ki tone shi.” Sai ta durqusa tana roqonsa tana cewa don Allah ya yi haquri. Suleman kuma ya qi, ya ce “dole sai ta tone.” A qarshe ta fara tone ramin, sai kawai wani tsuntsu ya tashi fir! Ai kuwa nan take ta haukace, ta fara yin ihu tana cewa “ka vata min magani, da yanzu Fatima ta haukace! Fatima ki haukace mana!” (Kagara, 2004).

He asked her: “What did you buried in the ground? You must dig it out.” She went onto her kneels begging him. Suleman denied and emphasized that she dig it out. She lastly started digging and a bird came out fir. Alas! She instantly runs mad. She started shouting, saying: “You have destroyed my magic, Fatima would have gone mad! Fatima, run mad now (Translation).

4.1.2 Madness caused by depression, stress or psychological unrest

This is the type of madness, which is subject to misery, hopelessness or dejection caused by maltreatment or life failures. Majid, (2012) takes us through such an instance. Talle suffers the loss of her first son Yakuba. She later loses her remaining and only daughter Fati, notably called Godiya. When Fati goes out to nobody-knows-where, Talle’s husband blames her (Talle) of being careless and he divorces her irrevocably. The situation results in Talle’s madness. Thus:

An kwana biyu ana ta abu xaya. Yaya na yawon nemanki har watanni suka soma lafawa. Qafafuwa suka huta,, aka bar abin wa ido da zuciya. Tun da wasa-wasa dai iska ta soma buge ta, ta soma surutai…

… to mu dai sai ji muka yi wai Yaya ta fita da daddare da cewa za ta neman xiyarta. To fa dawowar da ba ta yi ba kenan har yau (Majid, 2012: 116).

The issue had been ringing for many days. Aunty had been up-doing looking for you for quiet number of months. People had to rest, but bear the thought in minds. Bit by bit, Aunty started running mad…

… We only heard that she left in the night to find where-about of her daughter. She has never returned (Translation).

Imam, (1934) takes us through a similar scenario in his Ruwan Bagaja. A man loses his wife and for many days, he has been sleepless. He keeps weeping and singing all overnights, disturbing neighbours. Imam says:

… Kai ka san tun watan jiya matarsa ta mutu. To tun daga ran da ta mutu har yau, kullum ba ya barci. Da tsakad dare sai ya tashi yana waxansu waqe-waqe kamar mahaukaci yana cewa da ma shi mutuwa ta xauka ta bar matar da ya huta (Imam, 1934: 22).

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… You know that he lost his wife since last month. He has not been sleeping since the day she died. He wakes up at mid night singing like a mad man. He says, why not the death takes him and leaves his wife, he would have rested (Translation).

4.1.3 Fallacy madness

This is a situation whereby an individual holds an erroneous belief. That could be as a result of misleading information he received and thus sticks to. Consequently, other people might consider his actions (i.e. which are subject to the misleading notion he holds) insane. In the book ‘Tauraruwar Hamada’, authored by Daura (1971), fallacy madness is depicted. Perhaps, fraudsters deceive a villager that they will provide him a herd of cattle. They collect his money and direct him to the cattle market, that the entire cattle in the market are his own. He then tries stopping whoever attempts moving away with any of the cattle from the market asking where the person will be moving his cow to (i.e. the villager’s cow). Daura says:

Mutane da suka ga haka sai suka zaci tavuwa ya yi. Saboda haka ba wanda ya kula da shi. Yana nan in za a tafi da shanu sai ya tsare ya ce “Ina za ku kai mini?” a ture shi har ya faxi a wuce. Har magariba aka watse aka bar shi a masayar shanu ba sanuwa ko xaya (Daura, 1971).

Seeing that, people thought he has gone mad. Therefore, nobody cares about him. He stopped whoever tried moving out some of the cattle, asking: “Where are you taking my cattle to?” People keep pushing him down to pass until sunset when everyone dispersed leaving him alone without a single cattle (Translation).

In the story, even his relatives considered him mad. This, however, is an example of a situation where an individual is considered mad for his actions, which are as a result of circumstances that the person alone understands.

4.1.4 False/pretence madness

This is a situation whereby individual pretences to be mad in order to gain a benefit, escape punishment and/or get particular information among others. The person does so by faking madness characteristics. In Ruwan Bagaja (1934), the author displays an instance of false madness. He does that through the hero of the book where he says:

Da na ga sun wuce sai na nemi shuni na shafe fuskata na nemi wata qotar gatari na sava, maimakon in bi ta hanya inda take tsammani sai na hudo musu ta baya daga daji, ina tafe ina zage-zage.

Da suka hange ni, sai matar ta ce “ga mahaukaci can tafe.” Sai na ji mijin ya ce “Ina yake?” Ya juyo wajena yana qyafqyafta idanduna (Imam, 1934).

When I noticed they have gone, I dyed my face and got a stick on my shoulder. Instead of following the route she was expecting me from, I approached them from a bush behind them, making blaster.

When they saw me, the wife said: “look at a mad man coming!” I then heard the husband asked: “Where is he?” He turned to my directing blinking his eyes (Translation).

Here, the hero (i.e. Alhaji Imam) pretends madness. The author uses this scenario to create in the readers’ minds the mental image of how mad man looks. However, the author takes us through a similar instance of false madness in this book. This is where the hero is convicted of trespassing and is brought before a king for disciplinary measures. He then pretends madness:

Da safe ya kai ni gidan sarki, sai na yi shawara a raina na ce “Tabarmar kunya fa, da hauka akan-naxe ta.” Saboda haka na tsiri hauka qarfi da yaji. Sarki ya tambaye shi dalili ya gaya masa duka, sa’an nan ya dube ni, ya ce: “Ina sunanka samari?” Na ce: “Haka aka yi.” Ya ce; “Me kake nufi?” na ce: “Haka aka yi.” Kowace tambaya ya yi mini, sai in amsa masa da ‘haka aka yi’. Sai sarki ya ce: “Na san a rina, in ba motsattse ba, wa zai faxa xakin wani ya ce wai turo shi aka yi! Lallai aljannunsa suka turo shi.” Ya sa aka kai ni gidan mahaukata aka sa a turu (Imam, 1934).

In the morning, he took me to a king. I thought inwardly that, madness saves embracement. Therefore, I faked madness. The king asked him and he explained everything. He then turned to me and asked: “What is your name young man?” I replied: “That was what happened.” He asked: “what do you mean?” I replied: “That was what happened.” Whatever question he asked me, I answered with ‘that was what happened. King then said: “I had perceived it. If not a mad man, who will bang into someone’s room and affirms that he is pushed in! Surely, his jinn pushed him in.” He gave directives and I was taken and tightened in a mad hospital (Translation).

Here, Alhaji Imam faked madness in order to escape been punished by the king.

4.1.5 Nemesis madness

Imam, (1937) takes us through a scenario where a man kills Yautai’s friend. Yautai follows the man into his house. He makes the man and his wife destroy their belongings. It goes as far that the wife kills her husband when she attempts killing Yautai. Thereafter, the wife runs mad. Thus:

Ganin wannan al’amari ya sa matar ta haukace ta shiga jeji. Kowane tsuntsu ta gani sai ta kai masa jifa tana cewa, “Raina kama ka ga gayya!” (Imam, 1937: 109).

Seeing this, the wife went mad and entered into a bush. She throws at any bird she sees, saying: “!” (Translation).

4.2 Madness in Hausa culture

There is a number of plays and/or traditions of the Hausawa that depict various causes of madness. Gwaúroó or bachelor (to roughly translate), is a dramatic play, which is conducted in the various Hausa communities, usually during the Muslims’ month of fasting (Ramadan). Group of boys or young men will tie a rope around the west of one of them (i.e. the Gwaúroó) and will hold the tail end of the rope. They will then, for boys, go house by house. When in a house, the Gwaúroó will be making efforts, forcefully, to enter any of the rooms available or get hold of anybody in the house, especially females. The other boys holding the rope will use power to drag him back. They sing:

Gwauro ya kwace!

            Mata ku kulle xaki.

Gwauro ya qwace!

           Mata ku jaye hanya.

Gwauro ya qwace!

          Mata ku voye kanku.

Gwauro ya qwace!

         Mata ku ba shi nera ya yi aure kafin baxi.

Bachelor has escaped!

        Women close your doors.

Bachelor has escaped!

        Women move away.

Bachelor has escaped!

       Women hide your selves.

Bachelor has escaped!

       Women give him money to marry before next year.

They will continue that way until when they are given alms. They will then move to another house, praying:

Gwauro ya gode,

Allah ya ba wa bazaura miji,

Allah ya ba wa gwauro mata.

Bachelor is grateful,

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May God provide widow a husband,

May God provide bachelor a wife.

Here, the event shows that the zeal to satisfy one’s sexual desire is capable of driving one into madness. In the event, Gwaúroó has gone mad, thus need to be controlled by others. Otherwise, he gets hold of any female he sees.

6.0 Conclusion

This study has learnt that madness is caused by several factors and not only spiritual. So also, an individual might be interpreted mad as a result of a foolish display of the behaviour. Again, people do fake madness for one reason or the other. However, all these forms of madness and many others are traceable in Hausa folklore and culture. As such, it is right to conclude that, Hausawa believed in madness. Hence, a lot of literature has shown that events and ideas in literary works of a particular society are the reflections of cultural beliefs, customs and ethics of the society.

7.0 Suggestions

  1. When there is any case of madness, a step should be taken to find out its cause and type. This will allow for the right measure to be taken.
  2. Some forms of madness only need administrative procedures or communicative processes as cure, depending on the scenario and the issue at hand.
  3. Individuals with mental troubles should not be isolated. Rather, they should be accepted as God given and possible measures should be taken.


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Abu-Ubaida Sani

Abu-Ubaida Sani

I obtained a degree in Education and Hausa from Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. I have a number of publications with different academic journals across the globe.View Author posts

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