Unseen Text: Hausa
Text Type: Encyclopaedia Entry – Informative Text
Guiding Question: Comment on how the combination of image and text conveys particular insights in this text.
While encyclopaedia entries are rarely seen, information texts are more common. It’s always a good idea to consider the source of the information you have been given: does it come from within the given field of knowledge or from outside? Today’s text is written from an outside perspective, and from that initial observation, a great deal of insight can be gleaned into not only what information we learn, but how it is phrased – and also lets us consider what is not being said. This type of thinking shows a great deal of evaluation of the text, something that is explicitly called for in the Paper 1 mark scheme. Nevertheless, the response you’ll find below is only one possible way of analysing a text like this. You should feel confident to put forward your own, alternative analysis which is likely to be equally valid should your ideas be rooted in the words and images of the text.
This text is an extract from the Encyclopaedia Britannica and is intended to provide information about the Hausa people. People use encyclopaedias as reference books, for research, and to check facts and gain knowledge. Britannica is a well-established British encyclopaedia which was, until the advent of the internet anyway, widely used in libraries and homes as a go-to book for reference. The social media buttons and hyperlinks indicate this version has been digitised, but still retains the informative style of a printed encyclopaedia. The writers of encyclopaedias are academics and researchers. As such, the encyclopaedia is an authoritative and trustworthy source. It should be reliable and accurate. However, in the case of describing the Hausa people, the writers are outsiders to this culture. They are making judgments about the ‘definition’ of an entire group of people, probably without their involvement. Therefore, readers of this text come away with the impression that the Hausa are an agricultural people, somewhat ‘backward’ and uncivilised. They have a long history, but the way they are described here makes them seem primitive compared to western readers who live in the ‘modern’ world.
As the image is at the top of the page, it is likely that a reader’s attention will be drawn to this first. Therefore, the first impressions of the Hausa people will be led by what they see in the image. The photograph depicts two Hausa women sitting on the floor sewing or doing needlework. In the background are two round gourds and what looks to be the wooden boards of a hut. The ground is dry and bare. The details of the image fit a common preconception of African countries: that they are dry and poor. The women are wearing brightly coloured clothes decorated with beads and jewellery. Through metonymy, these items stand for the whole of Hausa culture, making it seem like the Hausa are a traditional people, but also that they are primitive and undeveloped. The women are sitting on the ground in a way that people from developing cultures are often depicted. On one hand it creates the impression that they are in touch with nature; on the other hand their position plays into the preconception that the Hausa are less civilised than people in western countries.
Parts of the copy support the conclusions drawn from looking at the image. In lines 23 – 26, we learn that the Hausa ‘practice craft specializations such as thatching, leatherworking, weaving and silversmithing.’ Words such as ‘market’, ‘traders’, ‘vendors’ and ‘tourist items’ suggest that a good amount of income comes from traditional crafts, bartering and trading. The majority of the diction used in the text belongs to a similar lexical field of ‘rural’ or ‘pastoral’ life. For example, the third paragraph includes words like ‘sorghum’, ‘maize’, ‘millet’ and ‘thatching.’ The word ‘fiefs’ in the second paragraph is outdated, and the words ‘commoners’, ‘chiefs’, ‘slaves’ and ‘noble lineages’ create the impression of an anachronistic society belonging to a past time. While much of this information is no doubt accurate in a broad way, the lack of alternative viewpoints means the text generalises about Hausa people. There is no room for a subtle appreciation of their culture.
Two particular uses of diction seem particularly impactful. The first is the phrase, ‘agricultural activity has yielded considerably more than subsistence.’ The meaning of this phrase is that the Hausa people are good farmers – they earn more than they require to live comfortably given the standards of their culture. But the inclusion of the word ‘subsistence’ reminds us that the Hausa live close to a western definition of poverty. Secondly, the phrase ‘crops grown on rotation principles and utilizing the manure of Fulani cattle’ suggests the farming methods are still primitive or old-fashioned. The word ‘manure’ jumps out in this regard. Another way of explaining this could have been to emphasise how sustainable and effective Hausa farming methods are, but the use of language seems biased towards a ‘western’ way of looking at the world. The fact that both these sentences are formal and authoritative makes it hard to disagree with the writers of the text.
Encyclopaedias aspire to include as many references as possible. They are often published alphabetically, so this entry would come from the ‘G-H’ volume, or thereabouts. There are constraints on the length of each entry; they tend to be brief, prioritising summary and concision over depth of understanding. This extract is structured so that a range of facts and information about the Hausa people can be delivered on a single page. Paragraphs are used to organise this information: the first paragraph gives geographical and historical information; the second political information; the third economic; the last two paragraphs describe Hausa society. However, no quotations from Hausa sources are included. Readers of encyclopaedias assume the text is reliable and trustworthy anyway, which means they can be locked into their own preconceptions or not question the ‘definition’ imposed by the writers of the text. Furthermore, the sequence of paragraphs reveals a selection bias. In paragraph 5, the text acknowledges that ‘the Hausa have settled in cities,’ suggesting that , like most cultures, the Hausa have multiple identities. But this information comes towards the end of the text, after the descriptions of the Hausa as a primitive people. It is possible that, by this time, a reader has already made up their mind.
In conclusion, while providing a considerable range of information about Hausa people as a whole, the text suffers from its limited perspective; written by outsiders for outsiders. The encyclopaedia form demands concision, which leads to superficiality. There is also a sense that the text confirms preconceptions of African people, rather than subtly presenting the complexities of people from other cultures in a meaningful way.
Categories:Paper 1 Analysis