The Song of San Kano by Khalid Imam


Genre: Poetry

Publishers: Gidan Dabino

Year: 2010

Number of Pages: 63

Reviewer: Aliyyu Umar Abubakar


Since the desert is the ocean of sand | Kano of Sarki Ado is a gold mine…

You are a book that will thrall | its readers for ages…

The pen that planted wise words | Words that served as shepherds…


Personalities like kings, heroes and warriors as well as special turning points are magnified in what is best known as panegyric poetry—an encomium that celebrates, eulogizes wonderful achievement or reverence of such persons, their fame, virtues, honour and unique events. Song of Deborah is a notable example of panegyric. The Greek poet Pindar, the English poet Andrew Marvell and the legendary Mamman Shata Katsina were known for their panegyrics.


The above densely metaphoric lines are excerpts from Khalid Imam’s The Song of San Kano, a unique panegyric that not only eulogizes the reign—including the virtues, honour, and fame—of Alhaji Ado Bayero, San Kano, but also documents poetically, the norms, values, history and culture of Kano and its people. From the Emir’s palace to Kurmi and Kwari markets to its diplomatic ties with other regions and beyond the borders of the country, Kano of Ado Bayero is the cradle of tradition/ the hub of craft/…the pinnacle of monarchy…/ the home of commerce… It is indeed “a gold mine” and its emir, a book that will enthrall/ its readers for ages. And a pen that planted wise words/ Words that served as shepherds…


Like any panegyric poetry—which typifies oral tradition—this poetry book makes adequate use of imagery, symbols and figurative language. In other words, the imagery the poetic lines conjure in the mind’s eye, the symbol of power, warrior king, philosopher king, a king loved and revered by his subjects, and a Kano of traditions and culture, of a jolly people engrossed in fruitful businesses, politics, etc. This is made a reality (in the book) because of the lexico-semantic exploit of metaphors, personifications, paradoxes, allusions, similes, proverbs and so on. In this review I will therefore explore the unifying elements—images, symbols and figurative language— the hagiographer poet, Khalid Imam employs—though the presence of such elements could be the normal unconscious writing process, poetry for that matter, or it is the unconscious process that requires less from the writer and much from itself — in The Song of San Kano.


Dan Abdu, the lion of Kano—(21)

You are a book…/ its readers for ages—(26)

A giant mango tree—(51)

Giant oak—(33)

A Gamji tree—(27)

The back that carries orphans—(27)

A mighty arrow… (27)

The aforementioned instances of metaphors in The Song of San Kano, when elucidated, will conjure an image, a clear image and a symbol of the venerated persona, San Kano; it would no longer be a mere flesh and blood being but a figure worshipped and idolized, revered and kept to bosoms. The persona is the lion of Kano. The poet—poetic voice—to fetch the readers to the doors of royal realities, wraps and presents the persona in the gown of power hence, the persona is the lion of Kano. Lion, the king of jungle, symbolizes power in the above metaphor and by comparing the persona to lion the poet achieves success in creating an image and a symbol of powerful emir of emirs. But the persona, the eponymous San Kan, is also a giant mango tree—a tree that not only bears sweet fruits but also serves as shelter to the people in times of need—and a Gamji tree—firm its roots like the mango tree, medicinal, a shelter and never waver in the face of enemies, and a back that carries orphans. This craftsmanship is not without effect on the readers’ minds; it gives birth to a figure that is feared and revered, loved and venerated, a figure that lives for the happiness of his subjects. San Kano, the persona, is portrayed, hyperbolized, by the poet—poetic voice—as a being bigger than flesh and blood human but a book that will enthrall/ its readers for ages.

The poet calls the persona a mighty arrow that killed/ the evil rhino of paganism (much will be written about allusion later). This terrible metaphor, a very strong one, needs the following similes to be understood.

Takawa who soars like an eagle—(35)

Dan Toron Giwa who dresses like a jaguar—(35)

Kigama who climbs like leopard—(35)

Jatau who swims like a shark—(36)

Hana Kangara who runs like a cheetah

You bite like a cobra

You fight like a tiger

…roars like thunder—(41)

Like a full moon

Kano smiles like a rose—(46)

Likened to an eagle, a Jaguar, a leopard, a shark, a cheetah, a cobra, a tiger and thunder, the person’s image is such that cannot be taken for granted, threatened, let alone duel with (the allusions will be discussed later); like the imagery in the metaphor “a mighty arrow,” the imagery in the aforementioned similes is of a fearless warrior emir, San Kano, fierce to infidelity of hypocrite. On the other hand, the imagery creates a signified, a symbol, so bold that it remains not a single entity but a chameleon, a multifaceted being, a being equal to kindness of the kind and brutishness of the brute. No one dares to dare Jaguar, leopard, cheetah, cobra or tiger; no one consciously runs into a shark.

The poet—poetic voice—likens the persona, poetic object, San Kano, to a full moon whose sight invites procession, a crowd of onlookers, and light decorates the heavens and illuminates the face of Kano with smiles—Kano smiles like a rose.  In other words, the moon, San Kano, brings jolly feelings to the happy people of Kano whenever they watch him pass by or ride to Fanisau or simply durig Durba. The poet again is able to conjure these images and symbols by careful embellishment encapsulated in the deployment of similes.

The pen that planted wise words/ Words that served as shepherds—(38)

His famous name/ travels beyond the sea—(41)

Why do leaves tremble/ When the ruthless and cruel wind/ Roars like thunder?—(41)

The encroaching weeds/ invading the farm—(26)

Again, the poet personified “pen,” by embedding in it the ability to plant, as if it were human, wise words—the words too, abstract as they were could serve as shepherds. This is the poet’s way of portraying the persona, San Kano, as a knowledgeable and wise leader—the pen, the Emir and his utterances, wise words, if stick to, could be a guiding light even after his demise. In other words, the personification embedded in the pen and words as shepherds could be interpreted as a dense metaphor signifying a sort of philosopher king not only a warrior king as depicted in the metaphors and similes above. This is an Emir whose famous name/ Travels beyond the sea. Yet another instance of personification in that famous name, an abstract idea, arbitrary for that matter, is reified, bestowed the ability to travel like a moving object or human being beyond the sea. Tell me a better way to poetize the fame and wide reach of such a reign like that of San Kano, Emir Ado, a prince crowned a king forty seasons ago!



Grandson of Cigari—(21)

The son of Sarki Alhaji—(22)

Son of Maje Karofi—(23)

The successor of Yaji—(25)

Maje Nassarawa—(28)


These are historical figures, names of predecessors of San Kano, Alhaji Ado, to the throne. The word “Cigari” which loosely translates to “conqueror,” implies the might and strong hold of his reign; the allusion is a stylish manner, the poet uses to engage the reader into a rare voyage through the historical pages of not only the royal palace but also of the ancient city of Kano. Through the thick fiber of Imam’s poetic oration the history of the emirs of old and their wonderful achievement, the battles they fought and emerged victorious, the places they peopled, the events they innovated/started etc., could not escape the reader. In other words, the poet takes the readers in a stanza-like steps right to the riverbank where the emirs of old anchored their greatness for the generations to come. This no doubt earns Imam the prolific status of not only a poet but a hagiographer poet whose pen is masterly handled to retrace the rich history of Kano in verse.
The allusions trace or retrace great emirs of Kano, their names, fame and achievement only to, by implication, turban the readers the reality that all the qualities, honour, fame, virtues, achievement, and so on of the alluded historical figures, the emirs of Kano, inhere in the person of the present emir, Alhaji Ado Bayero, San Kano, the persona. Put another way, San Kano, the persona, is himself, a person, and other persons—his forefathers—in a word, many persons in an individual. San Kano, as the poet presents him, has become a custodian, an epitome, an embodiment of the rich history, rich culture and beautiful tradition of both ancient and modern Kano city—a book that will enthrall/ its readers for ages, as metaphorically portrayed.


Desert is the ocean of sand—(24)

Man ceases to be man—(40)

Desert is the ocean of sand is indeed paradoxical statement which only is true when construed and internalized literarily; the same applies to Man ceases to be man.



A palm cannot cover the sun—(21)

A prince sitting on a mat is not a king—(21)

Since no bird’s foot ever touches water/ the river shall continue to rest—(55)

A child who is rich in character/honours his parents—(32)

A wise fish never swallows/ the bait no matter how much he starves—(36)

A calabash never locks/ horns with a stone—(38)

The ant remains the ant/before an elephant—(22)

The poet expresses the richness of his tradition, his language, by sharing with the readers some proverbs rooted in his traditional oratory. The proverbs, among other things, are instances of the treasure of wisdom inherent in the poet’s language; more than that, the poet uses such expressions to extol the personality of the persona because while the expressions remain proverbs, the meanings they evoke and the images they conjure as the readers read them all return directly or indirectly to San Kano. More appropriately, the poet uses the proverbs as vessels transporting the greatness and wisdom of San Kano directly to the consciousness of the readers. For instance, a palm cannot cover the sun is a metaphoric expression which, among other things, hyperbolizes the persona, San Kano, to the higher status of sun and euphemizes the others as just a palm; the ant remains the ant before an elephant is yet another instance of metaphoric expression that does create an image of two incomparable beings, one very small and the other, which is the persona, extremely huge, an elephant. That is to say, the image the poet creates by using the proverb exaggerates the persona and downplays the others hence the persona is an elephant, huge, great, strong and daring and the others just ants.

However, there are, like in many publications nowadays, typographical errors in the book which not only disappoint the readers but also necessitate production of new edition of The Song of San Kano. I would suggest rigorous proof reading and editing be carried out whenever the production of another edition is considered—this, however, is not a way of downplaying but seeing to the satisfaction and gratification of the reading public which yearns for works of this ilk and consumes it whenever available ravenously.
On the final note, I would not want the reading public to miss the lucidity and eloquence of The Song of San Kano, the dense metaphors and extensive allusions that inevitably take the mind’s eye to a symbolically historic voyage. And so, I would like to suggest that the book be considered a good read especially to the literary minds and particularly to mouths whose literary thirst proves insatiable.

received_1743015092393124A graduate of English and Literary studies Bayero University, Kano, Aliyu Umar Abubakar hails from Udubo District, Gamawa Local Government Area of Bauchi state.  A poet, and a writer working on his debut novel and collection of poems, Aliyu enjoys any literary and social discourse, especially with people alien to his world view.

One Reply to “BOOK REVIEW (ISSUE 7)”

  1. Indeed, this review comes from a naturally tailored literary mind. The reviewer is of course a course mate, a friend, a core of our group discussion, an expert in language, and bold in challenging and so also the same when challenged.

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