Heart of Poetry: Alhaji Mudi Sipikin’s Wasiyya Sipikiyya by Ismail Bala

HeartOfPoetry, Poetry

Wasiyya Sipikiyya (Sipikin’s Will)

O Lord! I request that the day I should pass away,
Let me die in my room.

Before my family members, children, and siblings.
I beg Allah let it be in my home.

On getting the news of my death, O my brothers,
On hearing about my death, assemble at my house.

Whether it happens during the day or night,
Let there be no delay in my funeral.

When the funeral prayer is done, do not pause.
Carry me off right away to the grave.

On arrival there, instantly and gently put
My body in just like that in remembrance of my deeds.

The earth dug out of the grave should be used,
And be thrown back inside to cover my body.

When the burial is done and you rise,
Resume your normal activities, O my people.

For the third, seventh, or fortieth day prayer,
Or for the first year’s, I do not ask for it.

Those who would cry, wail, and grieve:
I ask you not to do so for me.

I am sorry that you have to attend my funeral,
And endure the long walk just to dig my grave.

All that labour in washing and carrying off
My body in a casket for the final rites.

Surely if on the day of my death I could have readied my
Grave all by myself I certainly would have done it.

I pray to God to reward you all,
And fill you, O my compatriots, with compassion.

I must stop here for my will, too, must stop here.
It’s Mudi Sipikin, the father of Amina.

(Unpublished, translated from Hausa by Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano)


An elegy (or a poem about death) written around the funeral of the poet, in a form of his notion about death. It is a lamentation of a person-about-to-die.


Born in 1930, Alhaji Mudi Sipikin is, arguably, one of the most distinguished and accomplished Hausa poet, and indeed one of the early-modern Hausa (speaking) poets of Kano and northern Nigeria. He is easily one of the most prolific writers, in addition to also being a politically conscious and technically superior poet. (An excellent biography of Mudi Sipikin, titled The Public Poet is recently written by Professor Attahiru Jega, Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano and Dr Asma’u Garba Saeed, all of Bayero University, Kano and published by Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Mambayya House in 2003).

Written in 1958, at the height of Sipikin’s involvement with the radical, anti-monarchist political party, Northern Elements Progressive Party (NEPU), Wasiyya Sipikiyya is considered by many to be Sipikin’s finest poem, his undisputed magnum opus. (It was also well received: it is said to have moved Akilu Aliyu [1912-2001], another great Hausa poet to write a response in the form of an epitaphic lament aptly titled “Ta’alikin Wasiyya Sipikiyya” in 1958).

Given the history of Sipikin’s active involvement in politics, especially in the 1950s it is easy to argue that Wasiyya Sipikiyya is written in the light of ceaseless persecution and repression of the Native Authority (NA) during which many NEPU members were banished, exiled, tortured or simply imprisoned. On the surface the poem consists of a will (“wasiyya”), an invocation to God on how the poet should (best) die, and a set of instructions/directions about the funeral arrangement of the poet when he dies.

It is at once an unusual poem since rarely do we find Hausa poets writing about their death. What is common in Hausa poetic tradition is the pervasive presence of didactic poems where the poets pray for the reward of paradise after death. Wasiyya Sipikiyya consists of couplets (15 stanzas of 2 verses). The poet tries to speak to the reader through the use of first person narrative voice. As such, one can say that the poem has, as it were, three kinds of readers.

There is an Ideal Reader: God (as in the first stanza) Who is invoked by the poet and Who is responsible for the life and death of the poet. The second reader is the Inscribed Reader. This can be seen where the poet addresses some people directly, the people that are expected by the poet to carry out his will (as in the second stanza). And where the poet seems to be speaking to no one in particular he is addressing an Implied Reader since no proper name is called, the address is not directed at any particular person, (as in the tenth stanza). Rather it is addressed to the whole society. The title “Wasiyya Sipikiyya” suggests that obsequies arrangement is never a private, but a communal affair. Hence the address of the poem is directed at more than one set of readers.

Skilfully, the poet talks about himself as he would want to be understood by his different readers who would obviously outlive him. Specifically, the poem orders the Inscribed Reader (the poet’s family) on how to proceed with the poet’s funeral arrangement. But it is also apparent that with the sole exception of the Ideal Reader (God) the other two kinds of readers cannot exist or claim to exist outside the textual ambience of the poem: they are merely narrative devices used for a shrewd technical and tactical purpose. By this device the poet is telling the readers how to read the poem, while he seems to believe that his willed funeral arrangement is not so complex, and that the instructions outlined in the poem would be seen through expectedly. Therefore, the poet dreams to die as he wishes; yet it is via death that the poet intends to leave behind his legacy in the world, and to enter into a sort of agreement with his readers who would carry out his wishes, which, in turn, can be seen as inserting the poet into a new method of dying; a kind of textual (aesthetic) death in which person’s death is celebrated.

By thinking and writing about his death in advance, the poet is forced to split, i.e. divide textually into three subjects: The Real Author whose by line is “Mudi Sipikin”; the Narrative Voice who speaks to his readers in the poem through some narrative devices; and lastly the lyric “I”: the subject of the poem. The first subject, or the real author is Mudi Sipikin, but in writing the poem as a creative piece belonging to the genre of poetry, he cannot and should not be directly present in the poem, but must, as it were, use a narrative voice to speak on his behalf. Therefore, by employing the first person narrative voice, the poet/subject has unknowingly “effaces” or rather fictionalises himself since the bearer of the narrative voice who doubles up as the subject would outlive him and lives on: speaking continuously even long after Sipikin has died physically. The poet/subject has to, in addition, function as a figure of speech because he can only narrate the poem by pretending to be the subject who compose the poem. And it is in this regard that the narrative subject is also the lyrical “I” which necessitates the poem.

Conversely, while the poet intends to die, it is the narrator who discloses to the reader the story of the intended death; while the narrator is essential in telling of the poet’s death, it is the lyrical subject, which turns this story telling into a poetic address. The narrative voice renders the poet’s death wish into a linguistic/metaphorical death. Accordingly, the death wish is conditional since the poet intends to die at his house and in the presence of his family members. Since real death is somewhat a communal event, it’s opposite which the poet sidelines is somehow unexpected, unintended and therefore non-poetic or non-textual.

The whole poem in the last analysis could be regarded as an example of Prosopopoeia, (a figure of speech): the notion of a poet speaking about herself as a dead body. Prosopopoeia is an imaginary person who is speaking through either a narrative device or an inanimate object while embodying personal qualities. Here, Mudi Sipikin, a mere narrative voice makes himself the subject/object of his own comprehension by inscribing himself into the poem as non-living thing; while he wishes that he should be read and thought of as a living thing.

At the end, Wasiyya Sipikiyya is, in a way, about the opposition to death, as it is an alternative to death, an embodiment of life. It is through death that Mudi Sipikin, the poet would live again and be remembered by his readers who would outlive him. As such, by speaking about his death, the poet/subject gives a picture in which death, or rather “future death” as a result of which he would die, while at the same time foregrounding its impossibility. In other words, the poet reveals how he would die, how he would be buried, yet it appears that it is not him (the poet) that would eventually die, but his other, non-textual self; for only the real author (Mudi Sipikin) would perhaps survive in his poem, which would in turn survive him.

The hinting of death in the poem is no more than a gimmick employed to allow the poet/subject to play himself/itself even when it is apparent that the kind of hypothetical death that the poet is hoping for will never be possible, (i.e. dying in his home, before all his family members, being buried at two o’clock in the morning, without any one crying about it). It is not only highly unlikely, if not out rightly impossible, but even unthinkable. Such kind of death is only possible in the confine of poetry and its textual space.

form of his notion about death. It is a lamentation of a person-about-to-die.


Born in 1930, Alhaji Mudi Sipikin is, arguably, one of the most distinguished and accomplished Hausa poet, and indeed one of the early-modern Hausa (speaking) poets of Kano and northern Nigeria. He is easily one of the most prolific writers, in addition to also being a politically conscious and technically superior poet. (An excellent biography of Mudi Sipikin, titled The Public Poet is recently written by Professor Attahiru Jega, Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano and Dr Asma’u Garba Saeed, all of Bayero University, Kano and published by Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Mambayya House in 2003).

Written in 1958, at the height of Sipikin’s involvement with the radical, anti-monarchist political party, Northern Elements Progressive Party (NEPU), Wasiyya Sipikiyya is considered by many to be Sipikin’s finest poem, his undisputed magnum opus. (It was also well received: it is said to have moved Akilu Aliyu [1912-2001], another great Hausa poet to write a response in the form of an epitaphic lament aptly titled “Ta’alikin Wasiyya Sipikiyya” in 1958).

Given the history of Sipikin’s active involvement in politics, especially in the 1950s it is easy to argue that Wasiyya Sipikiyya is written in the light of ceaseless persecution and repression of the Native Authority (NA) during which many NEPU members were banished, exiled, tortured or simply imprisoned. On the surface the poem consists of a will (“wasiyya”), an invocation to God on how the poet should (best) die, and a set of instructions/directions about the funeral arrangement of the poet when he dies.

It is at once an unusual poem since rarely do we find Hausa poets writing about their death. What is common in Hausa poetic tradition is the pervasive presence of didactic poems where the poets pray for the reward of paradise after death. Wasiyya Sipikiyya consists of couplets (15 stanzas of 2 verses). The poet tries to speak to the reader through the use of first person narrative voice. As such, one can say that the poem has, as it were, three kinds of readers.

There is an Ideal Reader: God (as in the first stanza) Who is invoked by the poet and Who is responsible for the life and death of the poet. The second reader is the Inscribed Reader. This can be seen where the poet addresses some people directly, the people that are expected by the poet to carry out his will (as in the second stanza). And where the poet seems to be speaking to no one in particular he is addressing an Implied Reader since no proper name is called, the address is not directed at any particular person, (as in the tenth stanza). Rather it is addressed to the whole society. The title “Wasiyya Sipikiyya” suggests that obsequies arrangement is never a private, but a communal affair. Hence the address of the poem is directed at more than one set of readers.

Skilfully, the poet talks about himself as he would want to be understood by his different readers who would obviously outlive him. Specifically, the poem orders the Inscribed Reader (the poet’s family) on how to proceed with the poet’s funeral arrangement. But it is also apparent that with the sole exception of the Ideal Reader (God) the other two kinds of readers cannot exist or claim to exist outside the textual ambience of the poem: they are merely narrative devices used for a shrewd technical and tactical purpose. By this device the poet is telling the readers how to read the poem, while he seems to believe that his willed funeral arrangement is not so complex, and that the instructions outlined in the poem would be seen through expectedly. Therefore, the poet dreams to die as he wishes; yet it is via death that the poet intends to leave behind his legacy in the world, and to enter into a sort of agreement with his readers who would carry out his wishes, which, in turn, can be seen as inserting the poet into a new method of dying; a kind of textual (aesthetic) death in which person’s death is celebrated.

By thinking and writing about his death in advance, the poet is forced to split, i.e. divide textually into three subjects: The Real Author whose by line is “Mudi Sipikin”; the Narrative Voice who speaks to his readers in the poem through some narrative devices; and lastly the lyric “I”: the subject of the poem. The first subject, or the real author is Mudi Sipikin, but in writing the poem as a creative piece belonging to the genre of poetry, he cannot and should not be directly present in the poem, but must, as it were, use a narrative voice to speak on his behalf. Therefore, by employing the first person narrative voice, the poet/subject has unknowingly “effaces” or rather fictionalises himself since the bearer of the narrative voice who doubles up as the subject would outlive him and lives on: speaking continuously even long after Sipikin has died physically. The poet/subject has to, in addition, function as a figure of speech because he can only narrate the poem by pretending to be the subject who compose the poem. And it is in this regard that the narrative subject is also the lyrical “I” which necessitates the poem.

Conversely, while the poet intends to die, it is the narrator who discloses to the reader the story of the intended death; while the narrator is essential in telling of the poet’s death, it is the lyrical subject, which turns this story telling into a poetic address. The narrative voice renders the poet’s death wish into a linguistic/metaphorical death. Accordingly, the death wish is conditional since the poet intends to die at his house and in the presence of his family members. Since real death is somewhat a communal event, it’s opposite which the poet sidelines is somehow unexpected, unintended and therefore non-poetic or non-textual.

The whole poem in the last analysis could be regarded as an example of Prosopopoeia, (a figure of speech): the notion of a poet speaking about herself as a dead body. Prosopopoeia is an imaginary person who is speaking through either a narrative device or an inanimate object while embodying personal qualities. Here, Mudi Sipikin, a mere narrative voice makes himself the subject/object of his own comprehension by inscribing himself into the poem as non-living thing; while he wishes that he should be read and thought of as a living thing.

At the end, Wasiyya Sipikiyya is, in a way, about the opposition to death, as it is an alternative to death, an embodiment of life. It is through death that Mudi Sipikin, the poet would live again and be remembered by his readers who would outlive him. As such, by speaking about his death, the poet/subject gives a picture in which death, or rather “future death” as a result of which he would die, while at the same time foregrounding its impossibility. In other words, the poet reveals how he would die, how he would be buried, yet it appears that it is not him (the poet) that would eventually die, but his other, non-textual self; for only the real author (Mudi Sipikin) would perhaps survive in his poem, which would in turn survive him.

The hinting of death in the poem is no more than a gimmick employed to allow the poet/subject to play himself/itself even when it is apparent that the kind of hypothetical death that the poet is hoping for will never be possible, (i.e. dying in his home, before all his family members, being buried at two o’clock in the morning, without any one crying about it). It is not only highly unlikely, if not out rightly impossible, but even unthinkable. Such kind of death is only possible in the confine of poetry and its textual space.

 

 


 

#KSRCollective
Dr Ismail Bala

Ismail Bala
Department of English and Literary Studies
Bayero University, Kano
ibala.eng@buk.edu.ng
08065380091

 

 


 

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