Verbal Art and Identity Construct: A Study of Humour in the Songs and Poetry of the Ham of Nigeria




Ham; humour; identity; poetry; songs; verbal art


This study asserts that humour, primarily a verbal art, is a domain for identity construct among the Ham of the Nok culture from north-central Nigeria. To validate the idea that humour is linked to identity, we offer the context which illustrates how hilarity is orally deployed and provide examples of a variety of humour typical in the discourses of the Ham; their songs and poetry, all spoken art forms, engage with and embrace joviality as a field. Accordingly, the postulation is that humour, usually a fusion of subversion, puns, and context, is a potent tool for social and personal affirmation as it permits speakers to express views and ideas which could be viewed as “unsuitable” within everyday interaction. The view is that the Ham, by way of a verbal construct, could poetically signify humour through an enunciated joke, irony, anecdote, sarcasm, parody, or by direct insult. Yet, the humour is not aimed at scorn in the real sense of the word but is a stratagem to construct identity. In the end, the study exemplifies that every spoken language coherently organises its meanings, embedded in the verbal-linguistic features intrinsic to it, to represent the worldview of the speakers. Moreover, such an exemplification demonstrates how the Ham distinguish between contempt and a spoken humorous anecdote and that humour, in that way, generates expressions which indicate identity.

Author Biographies

Philip Hayab John, Kaduna State College of Education, Gidan Waya


Department of English
School of Languages
Kaduna State College of Education, Gidan Waya


Marianna W. Visser, Stellenbosch University

Department of African Languages
Stellenbosch University




How to Cite

John, Philip Hayab, and Marianna W. Visser. 2019. “Verbal Art and Identity Construct: A Study of Humour in the Songs and Poetry of the Ham of Nigeria”. Southern African Journal for Folklore Studies 29 (2):17 pages.



Received 2019-01-11
Accepted 2019-08-31
Published 2019-11-22