Notes on Translating Poems of Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino into English

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Every language has its own qualities, not only in the poetic or linguistic sense, but also in the manner in which through the uniqueness of that language, the speakers of the language interpret its history and express their reality. In translating a poet like Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, one has to be aware that he comes from Northern Nigeria, and even more importantly than this, one has to know that he is bringing to the fore a form of poetic and to some extent social awareness, which, though specifically his own, is connected to the larger Hausa people’s culture, and to the history of modern Hausa written poetry, points out Ismail, in his erudite research paper. A Different Truths exclusive for the Special Issue on Africa. 

 

Blind Love1

Oh! Lord, the maker, You created the heavens,

Created them in pairs: men and women among the creatures.

 

You decreed we love the Prophet, who’s worthy of emulation,

The son of Amina, he’s favoured.

 

It exists: I ‘m conscious of love, oh! My brothers,

Even God has induced it in His creatures.

 

Love deceives one to see himself a hero,

Love conquers all.

 

I used to blame whoever fell in love,

The lover was a fool.

 

Now I’ve fallen into the same trap,

I’m longing for a lady among the multitudes.

 

Every night when sleep beckons I am anxious,

For all my thoughts get focussed onto her.

 

I dreamt about her a million times,

My deep desire is to behold her.

 

In dreams we’ve met and settled in an agreement,

In reality none has uttered a word.

 

Her radiant eyes bedazzle me a lot,

It’s worse when she sizes me up with ogling stare.

 

She looks more beautiful when she’s angry,

Her glare is the most appropriate.

 

Haven’t even mention her exquisite features,

She’s far more beautiful than anything you can imagine.

 

She’s very patient excelling even the proverbial iguana,

Has no equal among her peers.

 

I’ve become renowned in matters of love,

But now I’m invalid in her presence.

 

How could I be her beloved

So that she honours me and my love?

 

I hesitate to reveal the extent

Of my love and desperation.

 

My lone desire is that she notices me,

So that she knows my deep yearning for her. 

 

Even if she wouldn’t recognise my love,

Alas, I’ve accomplished my aim.

 

Oh! My brothers your help is critical,

A reprieve from this unrequited love.

 

How could I recover from this ailment?

To roam undeterred the confines of her heart.          

 

[ . . .]

 

If love is a disease, forbearance is a cure 

Now an incomparable love dwells.

 

I’m at loss of what to do now?

Come to my rescue lest I crumble.

 

An ailment of love grows worse gradually,

Till one day you become bed-ridden.

 

Ardently your advice I seek, 

Should I confess or stay mute?

 

Oh! My friends

You’re learned in the lore of love.

 

We wallow in shame if you fail,

Then and only then should I pity myself. 

Notes on the Translation

One simple, though profound problem characterises the translation of “Blind Love” into English. Unlike Hausa, much poetry in English does not have the sentimental idiom that underlines its love poetry. In fact, Hausa poets are not known for publishing their love poems: love poems in Hausa are written and circulated not so much underground, but closely, often secretly shared only with the kindred minds and fellow poets.

When I first published a translation of “Blind Love”2 (without the present preparatory notes) in an anthology some years ago, somewhat against my better judgement, I strongly favoured the sentimental tone. Only recently, however, while revising the translation did I realise the extent to which my choice simplifies the position and the voice of the speaker greatly. That is why in revising the translation, I decided to, in a way, ‘abandon’ some of my choices. Obviously, the revised version still does not do justice to the complexity of the original.

Every language has its own qualities, not only in the poetic or linguistic sense, but also in the manner in which through the uniqueness of that language, the speakers of the language interpret its history and express their reality. In translating a poet like Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, one has to be aware that he comes from Northern Nigeria, and even more importantly than this, one has to know that he is bringing to the fore a form of poetic and to some extent social awareness, which, though specifically his own, is connected to the larger Hausa people’s culture, and to the history of modern Hausa written poetry.

But a translator has to bear in mind that the possibility of word association and combination in one language (Hausa) completely changes or disappears in another (English). This makes literal translation very difficult, though in an academic text, for instance, literal translation substitute one word for its equivalent, in poetry this is not always possible, because when the possibility of association is lost, the poem no longer exists. As such, a translator has to take risks, foregoing some options in order to take advantage of other possibilities of analogous association that can save the “life” of a poem. And in order to carry out this process of “salvation”, it is indeed necessary to identify and find the poem’s core. This ultimately makes translation a process of investigation.

Before venturing into a translation of poetry, the translator must find where the original’s key image is, how the force of association within lines was made possible and how it was accomplished. The translator must realise, too, that this is a process that is unique to each poet. The translator can investigate by focusing on syntax, or on image association. But what the translator discovers must be saved in the grammar of the new language. The most important thing to save, however, is the point of view and the context.

An option, safer, though less appealing to any translator, is to write footnotes specific to the culture portrayed in the poem being translated. And there is still another option, which in my opinion is the least attractive: to translate everything strictly according to the literal meaning, using the established structure of the language into which the poem is translated.

There still remains the problem of finding an appropriate idiom into which to translate certain passages of Gidan Dabino’s poem: how to translate lines that are so strong, so melodic in the original. Doing such a translation would require sacrificing brevity, as it is obvious there are more words in the translated version than in the original. In translating “Blind Love”, I lean more toward the safer solution: balancing, as it were, meaning and music, and trying to solve the puzzle of translating the local speech in Gidan Dabino’s poem by thinking through each line separately.

In the end, if my choice of words is able to reproduce, even if remotely, the internal logic of the original, the melodious music, if I touch even slightly its mystery, I will then have something I can confidently call a “version” of a poem by Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino.

Note

  1. The original Hausa version is reproduced below

Appendix

This is the original Hausa version of the poem:

 

  1. Makauniya

 

Allah gwani kai ne ka qagi samaniya,

Kai yo maza mata cikin su halitta.

 

Ka ce mu so Manzo Rasulu abin biya,

Xa gun Aminatu Sidi ya cancanta.

 

Na san akwai so gaskiya ne ’yan’uwa,

Domin ko Rabbi ya sa shi nan ga halitta.

 

Me sa mutum ya zamo kamar wani jarumi,

Me ji kamar zai doke dukka halitta.

 

Da can ina zargi a kan mai so ku ji

Na mai da shi wawa cikinsu halitta.

               

Yau ga shi na faxa a tarko har wuya,

Bege a kan wata ’ya cikinsu halitta.

 

Kullum na zo barci in ta tararradi,

Domin tunanina yana a gare ta.

 

In don mafarki na yi sau zambar dubu,

Domin yawan shauqin in sami ganinta.

 

A cikin mafarki mun haxe mun daddale,

Amma a fili babu wanda ya furta.

 

Qwayar idonta kawai tana rikitar da ni,

Balle ta yo farfar da na dube ta.

 

In tai fushi sannan take daxa kyan gani,

Balle harara ta fi  kyau a wurin ta.

 

Tsari da suffa ba batunsu a nan wurin,

Ta zarce duk wani kyau da za a musalta.

 

Haquri  damo ya sallama mata kun jiya,

A cikinsu mata ban ga wadda ta kai ta.

                         

Ni na zamo sarki a harkar so ku san,

Amma a yau na zam mariri gun ta.

 

Ya zan yi ne na zamo gwani a wajen ta ni?

Har ma ta san ni ta san ina qaunarta.

 

 

Ni ba ni so na faxa da baki ta san ina,

Mutuqar masifar so yana a gare ta.

 

Babbar buqatata a ce ta san da ni,

Ta gane lallai ni ina begenta.

 

Ko da ko ba ta so gare ni ku tabbata,

Na cim ma burina a kan qaunarta.

 

Ya ’yan’uwa ku taho da tanyon agaji,

Ko na ji sauqi kan batun matsayinta.

 

Ya zan yi ne in warke ciwon nan kuwa,

In sami yarjewa cikin qalbinta.

 

Ala da Rabi da Anka har ma Aisha,

Na zo bixar  tanyo a kan begenta.

Hauwa Nafisa haxa da J.B.Y. ku zo,

Na san ku lallai kun qware a bajinta.

 

Dakta na ce ko Yusufu xan Adamu,

In so ya zam cuta ana ta haqurta.

 

Muktar Yau Habibu Hudu da kai Nazir,

Kun san akwai so wanda ba ya musalta.

 

Hajiya Halima da me a yau ni za na ji?

Ku taho ku tattarbe ni kadda na kwanta.

 

Ciwo kaxan da kaxan yake daxa qaruwa,

Wata ran a wayi gari ya kai ka ka kwanta.

 

Ni shawara na bixa gare ku mawallafa,

In bayyana ne ko ko kadda na furta.

 

’Yan Dandali ku fito da amsar tambaya,

Ku malamai ne kan sa so ku fahimta.

 

In kun gaza kun ba mu kunya bai xaya,

Sai dai na ce kaico a harkar son ta

 

©Ismail Bala

Photos from the Internet

#Poem #Poet #AdoAhmadGidanDabino #Africa #SpecialFeature #DifferentTruths


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