I recently came across a very interesting review of the history of the Hausa Bible up to the 1979/1980 edition, by history professor Musa Gaiya in 1993.
The Hausa Bible of 1980 is a notable publishing event in the history of Bible translation. The author tells the story of the leading personalities responsible for this translation and recounts the many challenges faced. The author also points out that this landmark achievement should not obscure the fact that the sub-groups under Hausa hegemony have mother tongues that should not be neglected. “No language can substitute for the mother tongue… [In] the case of the 1980 edition of the Hausa Bible, care was supposedly taken to express the message in a way that non-Hausa speakers can readily understand, since for the non-Hausa in Northern Nigeria the Hausa language is his second or even third, if not fourth language. Real Hausa, whether Sokoto, Bauchi or Kano, for most of them is often out of reach.”
25 years after this writeup it’s interesting that the Hausa Common Language version (finally published in 2015) again aims to be useful more to those who speak Hausa as a second language. Many churches in the north of Nigeria were planted on the basis of Hausa as a language of wider communication between evangelists/pastors and their congregations. ECWA and other denominations regularly rotate pastors so that they have little chance of learning the local language, and if Hausa is the universal church language then there would be no need to do learn local languages.
However, Gaiya concludes with a telling observation and a suggestion for further research:
It may be safe to postulate here that a close study of the effects of the use of Hausa language as a language of catechism and liturgy in the “middle belt” might be revealing. It might show the degree of superficial Christianity in this area.
There is much anecdotal evidence to support this, but I haven’t come across any rigorous research in this area yet.
What’s the place of Hausa as a language of wider communication?
While Hausa continues to be spoken by many in the middle belt it’s also interesting to note that since the start of the 21st century Hausa literacy in the middle belt seems to be decreasing as the focus in schooling shifts to English literacy. At the same time the ambivalent relationship with Hausa (given its associations with past Hausa/Fulani domination) and inter-communal troubles have perhaps contributed to the rising popularity of Nigerian Pidgin as a language of wider communication.
It may be timely that the Nigerian Pidgin Bible translation project has published the New Testament. Northerners do often laugh in surprise when they hear the Bible read in Pidgin, but it seems to be developing beyond being a language just for southern rappers and comedians to use, to a language expressing at least some identity functions as well as practical communicative functions. So perhaps alongside the academic English and the traditional Hausa, Christians and evangelists should be looking to lean on the Nigerian Pidgin translation of the Bible to communicate to people, without neglecting the impact that ordinary home language translation may have.
Too often people have become familiar with going to church, recognising familiar words and thinking that they know what Christianity is about, until they hear it expressed in local language and realise that they had barely tasted it.