The Strength in the Song: Muslim Personhood, Audible Capital, and Hausa Women’s Performance of the Hajj

  • Barbara M. Cooper


Two hackneyed phrases in English capture a certain impatient and impersonal sensibility regarding capital in the West: Time is money, and talk is cheap. These phrases make little or no sense in Hausa speaking Niger, so far as I can tell, in which the classic adage regarding capital is magana jari ce—speech is wealth. While this expression is commonly invoked in celebration of Hausa literary arts (indeed a well-known publication promoting literacy is so named), in this chapter I would like to take seriously for a moment the understanding that oral performance can be a form of capital. The Hausa language has many words for wealth, but it is the word jari, generally used to mean investment capital, that is used in this proverb. What would it mean to say that the act of speech is a kind of investment or that oral performance can be thought of as a transaction involving wealth? The finest gift I ever received in Maradi was a song. Of course one receives many gifts as a researcher: eggs, soap, chickens, taxi fare, cloth. One struggles mightily to ascertain what sorts of gifts might be appropriate to give in return. In this chapter I would like to return a gift commensurate with the kind of wealth that was given to me—a celebration of a life through the power of song, an evocation of the potency of what can be heard but not seen.


Muslim Woman Islamic Bank Oral Performance Islamic Community Folk Tale 
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© Dorothy Hodgson 2001

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  • Barbara M. Cooper

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