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Author Topic: What's the real meaning of "Boko Haram?"  (Read 21130 times)
Iniko Ujaama
Posts: 541

« on: May 07, 2014, 06:44:37 PM »

'Boko Haram' doesn't really mean 'Western education is a sin' by Dan Murphy

 I've been wondering about this recently since news articles are constantly informing me (including ones on this website) that it means "Western education is a sin."

I was surprised that Nigeria's Hausa language, spoken by the mostly Muslim group that is dominant in the northern half of the country, would have a four letter word that meant "western education." Haram has always been obvious - a borrowed word from Arabic that refers to things that are forbidden in Islam (as opposed to things that are halal, or permitted).

I wondered if it was an acronym, or a mash-up of two other words. So I started looking around and struck gold with a paper by Paul Newman, professor emeritus in linguistics at Indiana University and one of the world's leading authorities on the Hausa language.

It turns out the Hausa language doesn't have a four-letter word that means "Western education." It isn't a mash-up or an acronym. What it has is a word that came to be applied to a century-old British colonial education policy that many Hausa-speakers saw as an attempt, more-or-less, to colonize their minds.

First, some information needs to be dispensed with. The word is often described as being borrowed from the English word "book." Not so, as Dr. Newman's work makes clear.

Starting in 2009, Wikipedia's article on the Hausa "Boko alphabet" incorrectly asserted that the word derived from "book." It was corrected two days ago, when someone noticed Newman's article. Wikipedia's entry on Boko Haram likewise carried the falsehood for at least a year and a half until it was partially corrected at the end of last month, though allowing a falsehood to persist on equal footing with the truth: "The term "Boko Haram" comes from the Hausa word boko figuratively meaning "western education" (often said to be literally "alphabet", from English "book", but the Hausa expert Paul Newman says it derives from a Hausa word with meanings such as "fraud" as "inauthenticity".)"

Often said? A dangerous phrase. This is how we end up with lazy reporters who parrot what they read on Wikipedia or what they read in other news stories (who were often, in turn, parroting from Wikipedia or other reporters.)

And it doesn't stop there. Newman found the US National Counterterrorism Center started passing along the "book" claim circa 2011 (it still is), and cites nine other instances in works by academics and polemicists like the anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller. The press is an even bigger megaphone.

Newman writes that "boko" has a variety of meanings focused around denoting "things or actions having to do with fraudulence, sham, or inauthenticity" or deception. He says the false linkage to the English word "book" was first made in a 1934 Hausa dictionary by a Western scholar that listed 11 meanings for the word – ten of them about fraudulent things and the final one asserting the connection to "book." An incorrect assertion, says Newman.

A big deal? Not a huge one, but a good example of how received "facts" are often far from the truth.

I'm more interested in the current claims that Boko can be translated as "Western education." Does it? Sort of, but not really.

Let's go back to the British colonialists in northern Nigeria. In their aggressive push for modern secular schooling – and the resistance from Muslims – lie the spark for Boko Haram's murderous rampages against "Western" education.

Newman writes about the history of the word's use in this context:

                   The correct answer was implicitly presented by Liman Muhammad,
                   a Hausa scholar from northern Nigeria, some 45 years ago. In his
                   study of neologisms and lexical enrichment in Hausa, Muhammad
                   (pp. 8-10) gives a list of somewhat over 200 loanwords borrowed
                   from English into Hausa in the area of “Western Education and Culture”.
                   Significantly, boko is not included. Rather one finds boko in his category
                   for western concepts expressed in Hausa by SEMANTIC EXTENSION of
                    pre-existent Hausa words.

                   According to Muhammad, boko originally meant “Something (an idea or object)
                   that involves a fraud or any form of deception” and, by extension, the noun denoted
                   “Any reading or writing which is not connected with Islam. The word is usually
                   preceded with ‘Karatun’ [lit. writing/studying of]. ‘Karatun Boko’ therefore means
                   the Western type of Education."

Newman explains that when Britain's colonial government began introducing its education system into Nigeria, seeking to replace traditional Islamic education (including replacing the Arabic script traditionally used to write Hausa with a Roman-based script that they also quickly called "boko") , this was seen as a "fraudulent deception being imposed upon the Hausa by a conquering European force."

                   Rather than send their own children to the British government schools,
                    as demanded by the British, Hausa emirs and other elites often shifted the
                    obligation onto their slaves and other subservients. The elite had no desire
                    to send their children to school where the values and traditions of Hausa and
                    Islamic traditional culture would be undermined and their children would be
                    turned into ’yan boko,’ i.e., “(would-be) westerners”.

Newman accepts (as can been in the passage above) that "boko" is reasonably associated with "Western education" in English translation today. But the actual resistance was to something being imposed by triumphant foreigners. I suspect that an imposition of a Japanese or Chinese or Indian educational system would have been just as boko (in the sense of "bogus") to the Hausa elites of a century ago as the British imposition. And it would probably not go down well today.

What a little reading about the group's name reveals is that their desire is not to obliterate non-Islamic education all over the world. Just in their own backyards. While that does not make their behavior in Nigeria any less horrific, recognizing that this group is inwardly focused (like most Islamist militants throughout history) is useful to start trying to understand what the US, the rest of the "West," Nigeria, and anyone else should do about the situation.

Posts: 1810

« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2014, 08:02:54 AM »


Hausa,  people found chiefly in northwestern Nigeria and adjacent southern Niger. They constitute the largest ethnic group in the area, which also contains another large group, the Fulani, perhaps one-half of whom are settled among the Hausa as a ruling class, having adopted the Hausa language and culture. The language belongs to the Chadic group of the Afro-Asiatic (formerly Hamito-Semitic) family and is infused with many Arabic words as a result of Isla-mic influence, which spread during the latter part of the 14th century from the kingdom of Mali, profoundly influencing Hausa belief and customs. A small minority of Hausa, known as Maguzawa, or Bunjawa, remained pagan.

Hausa society was, and to a large extent continues to be, politically organized on a feudal basis. The ruler (emir) of one of the several Hausa states is surrounded by a number of titled officeholders who hold villages as fiefs, from which their agents collect taxes. Administration is aided by an extensive bureaucracy, often utilizing records written in Arabic.


Hausa people

The Hausa (autonyms for singular : Bahaushe (m), Bahaushiya (f); plural Hausawa and general: Hausa/Haoussa; exonyms being Ausa, Mgbakpa, Kado, Al-Takari, Fellata and Abakwariga) are the largest ethnic group in West Africa and one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. They live primarily in the Sahelian and Sudanian areas of northern Nigeria and southeastern Niger, with significant numbers also living in parts of Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Chad, Togo, Ghana,[2] and Sudan. The largest population of Hausa are concentrated in Nigeria and Niger, where they constitute the majority. Predominantly Hausa communities are scattered throughout West Africa and on the traditional Hajj route across the Sahara Desert, especially around the town of Agadez. A few Hausa have also moved to large coastal cities in the region such as Lagos and Cotonou, as well as to parts of North Africa such as Libya. Most Hausa, however, live in small villages or towns in West Africa, where they grow crops, raise livestock including cattle and engage in trade. They speak the Hausa language, an Afro-Asiatic language of the Chadic group. The Hausa aristocracy had historically developed an equestrian based culture.[3] Still a status symbol of the traditional nobility in Hausa society, the horse still features in the Eid day celebrations, known as Ranar Sallah (in English: the Day of the Prayer).[4]


Hausa - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. About 90 percent of the Hausa are Muslims. "The traditional Hausa way of life and Islamic social values have been intermixed for such a long time that many of the basic tenets of Hausa society are Islamic" (Adamu 1978, 9). Islam has been carried throughout West Africa by Hausa traders.

Adherents are expected to observe the five pillars of Islam—profession of the faith, five daily prayers, alms giving, fasting at Ramadan, and at least one pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj). Within Hausa society, there are sects (brotherhoods) of adherents; of these, the Tijaniya, Qadriya, and Ahmadiyya have been important. Wife seclusion is basic to the Hausa version of Islam, although it is believed that the institution is more a sign of status than of religious piety.

Read more: http://www.everyculture.com/Africa-Middle-East/Hausa-Religion-and-Expressive-Culture.html
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