Many Won’t See It

I remember that summer of ’86, in that cozy family-style restaurant in Didsbury Manchester when my father had placed a bounty on whoever spoke Igbo — our mother tongue. It was a game he introduced, that whoever spoke the language will lose some unforeseen gift. His assessments were “We spoke too much Igbo”, “We needed to get used to speaking English so we could fit rightly in”. I and my sister Ijeoma had kept mute throughout that dinner and only conversed in eye movements and hand gestures. We were pantomimes. Tongue-tied in faraway England. We didn’t say peem.

In faraway England, we all knew the garden behind that Longford street house was an “mgbala”, we knew those “mkpuru and akwukwo ofe” were those things oyibo brandished as garden harvest, I knew for sure that “akukuru” was thunder and no soothsayer would have convinced me otherwise that “bekee awugi agbara” the first time we visited a dungeon.

While growing up in Owerri, a city that housed many affluent people of immense means, schools had our local tongue taught as a subject of ease — a subject that we all knew how to speak, one that we all understood, but one we needed a formulary to write and comprehend. It was our language, well-spoken throughout the school, environs, and homes without the fear of reprisal as it stood today. We acted out plays in our language and danced to so many folklores, we ate and drank our language and only patronized the centralized form, that one that stopped “Emeka Ude” my friend from “selling me” with his “Akaeze” dialect. We were all at home and would in a minute switch to English if required to do so. It was not a big deal. We were all excellent writers in English and Igbo. I think that was what made schools different, I think it was the reasons shell camp primary school stood well ahead of Mann street primary — They could not write and speak in English at the same time, they were overwhelmed with the local tongue.

A majority of our children today do not speak the local tongue. Igbo language would soon be listed as a dying tongue in the near future given the elites craving for a status that accepted English as a prerequisite for membership.

Many won’t see it, the Igbo language is becoming extinct.

Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash

I was reading up on the stories on “policies of assimilation’-those infamous strategic french policies on Africa, the English had similar policies that probably still hold sway in today’s Nigeria — those policies that had sole purposes of turning the African French-like and stripping him totally, that which made him African. I remember the love for the baguettes and cheese and the uncanny want for condensed milk and Pamplemousse among the willing majority who in the quest to be accepted, indulged in everything french — even popularized the bleaching cream — Clear tone cream, a futile attempt to become a shade shy of the white man.

In the western world, even in the subtle quest to mask our inert orientation, it was the common notion to see parents of Igbo descent grinning from ear to ear, bragging that their offspring could muster some form of our local language. The brazen ones would make the kids recite the numbers or say a few of our common words, making emphasis on the childs’ recollection when asked his or her name. These parents relived in some false joy, ones that assured them that the kids were not totally lost, and were true sons of the soil given that they can at least reply each time to a simple question as “kedu?”. These parents were not of the Korean, Chinese, Indian or Yoruba breed, who understood that language was not a stand-alone but an integral part of the way of life of a people. These parents were not Pakistani nor Spanish who recognized that language also defined identity. These parents were the Igbo ones whose only aim to transfer a few words of our lingua was the same as the reasons why we wanted male children — whose main want rested on the pride of fostering a lineage rather than identifying as one.

Many won’t see it, the Igbo language is dying.

Today’s Owerri is different. One can hardly recognize it. The kids were all English-speaking — all overwhelmed with some fake type of spoken lingua that would surprise the queen and her wards. Our kids that lived in the hearts of our people had become foreign, alienated from that identity that bore credence to them being of Igbo extract. They all spoke in some language that did not match our heritage. These kids wouldn’t tell the difference between “egbe -gun and egbe-kite”. They would marvel when they hear that “iyi” was our local parlance for a stream or “Ighalulo” —meaning “ are you back?”. The littlest of our words have slowly died with these new beings, fuelled by that voracious appetite of Igbos to provide that which they didn't have, one that drove a lot of us to marry graduates, while being illiterate, one that borrowed to provide lifestyles that we weren’t lucky to have. One that must speak English, “gaa-bekee”, “kuwaa slate”, one that gave the English language a top league status, one that had made people like me join in awe during the festive periods in the village, observing the new-generation kids as if they all came back from Congo Brazzaville — -given the broken attempts at queens English.

Photo by Jeremy Zero on Unsplash

Many won’t see it, but we have lost a lot of potentials to foreign leagues, we have widened that gulf — one that would have added value to dying communities, one that would have been a resource for fresh ideas, ones that would enjoy sitting amongst their people, eating the language with “ilu and njakiri”, ones that will understand that it was normal to have “ndi okenye aruruala” in the villages — those ones that farted and never said sorry.

Our language is an integral part of who we are. If we continuously lose that which gives us this unique identity, a greater divide will arise — one that will keep us in perpetual discord, one that will continue to fan the embers of hate and disharmony among the home-grown and the new generation.

Our language is that bridge.

Our language is an important part of who we are. If we do not find ways to encourage a love for it, then we stand to lose more children who would think that the village was for cannibals, we stood to grow a population who would take camera home to take pictures of lizards and chickens, thinking we were of a primitive world.

Our language is that bridge

Our language is a major part of who we are. If we do not find ways to promote its perpetuity, we stand to lose the popular “Aku ruo ulo” mantra of the common Igbo man. We stood to lose that age-long tradition inert in Igbo-land — that one that mandates a transfer of some wealth home. If and nothing is done, we stand to have empty shells of homes and edifices, built by the last knowledgeable generation — ones that might not be appreciated even as a museum by humans but glorified by “nkika”, mkpukpu” and termites

Many won’t see it — — agwo no n’akirika.



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