From cleaning to totality – the semantic core of the “dusting off palms” gesture among the Hausa of Northern Nigeria

Izabela Will


The paper shows a close relationship between speech and gestures by arguing that in oral utterances the verbal part is one of the components of the message, while the other is embedded in gesture. The analysis is based on a few hours of recordings containing natural discourse, mainly sermons preached by Hausa sheiks and religious leaders from Northern Nigeria. The focus is put on the use of a recurrent gesture referred to as the “dusting off palms” gesture. The semantic core of the gesture based on the contextual analysis shows that it refers to cleaning, mental dirt, rejection, termination and totality. The link between all of these notions is to be found in the action which gave rise to the gesture: dusting off palms after a manual job.

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