After This Generation, What Else?

BY ESTHER IDIABANA
IT was so heart-breaking and tearful when, one day, my father took me to my village for the third time after I had visited twice as a kid; once for my uncle’s wedding and later, as a little bride for my aunt. I was dazzled by grand uncle as he inquired to know my name. As much as I would have been generous enough to feed him the information, I was not able to, due to a bridge in communication. I couldn’t understand and speak my dialect but depended wholly on English Language as the only means of inter personal communication.
Every creek, settlement or nation has a distinct characteristic that defines them; from the way they eat, speak and relate with those around them – this is what makes them unique and constitutes their culture.
Nigeria, as a country, has diverse and multiple languages. The language speech pattern and even the way we dress spell out our roots. It defines who we are and where we are from.
Language is an all-encompassing and distinct form of expression. It is the pathway through which we communicate with one another. It is the only form of speech used in communicating ideas, thoughts and expressions.
The death of an old man is the loss of a living library in Africa. This is due to our traditional method of record keeping which makes an elderly person an embodiment of our cultural heritage and history. He is a walking and working book that opens up whenever there is an opportunity to speak with people. Then every word he speaks is laced with proverbs and words of wisdom. From the stories told, down to the little chit chat he has with his children, relatives and even strangers, all are forms of giving out the culture and tradition of years gathered over time, through the same process of oral transmission of cultural values. These cultural heritages include the proverbs, the norms and especially, the language, which is a prominent characterization of the people.
In our different social gatherings, you can better appreciate the beautiful and harmonious mix as different personalities from different backgrounds, display their rich tradition in their different regalias. The women from the south can be spotted In their “I can never be intimidated “ head gear called “Igele”; a typical Urhobo man will majestically go the length and breadth of the world in his well tied wrapper on a matching blouse. The Ika man is seen glowing in his white up and down matched with a red cap. The Hausa man can be identified down the hall in his flowing Agbada and the Yoruba man is not left out. Then, everybody was able to recognize one another and those who share values were able to identify with one another by words of mouth which is the dialect.
Unfortunately, this trend is gradually going down the drain.
In social gatherings, the medium of communication is no longer our local dialects; rather, English is spoken as a more accepted medium of communication.
Nowadays, it is quite difficult to see children who can fluently and proudly speak their mother tongue on the streets. It is now an uncommon sight to see a young girl tie two wrappers and igele without having a foreign material attached to the combination. When you inquire how many times she has gone on such attire, you are told; “I have never tied wrapper in my life before”. The pride of an African woman, which shows that a female had come of age and could be so addressed as a woman, used to be her ability to tie certain kind of wrapper. But how will this generation be able to understand the eminent importance of their local dialect and its peculiarity, when they know nothing about it, and when the children are denied the knowledge of their culture?
Why will a child want to preserve a culture he knows nothing about when they cannot even understand a distinct part of the culture which is its language? Language, which is a vehicle through which the values, norms and systematic ways of conduct is transferred from one generation to another has been hampered by the aping of the white man’s culture, which has so invaded our sense of judgment; hence everybody wants to be like the white man. The western culture is now so valued that we have enthroned it on the stool of superiority, while we expertly tuck our own culture under the stool, such that when our children ‘see’ the two languages, ours becomes the slave and the failure that nobody wants to associate with, while the western culture is magnified.
On the lips of every child today is the English Language. A person is considered literate and well learned when he has the ability to blend his tenses and turn his tongue such that he begins to sound like a white man. I was dazzled when I watched how a man was attended to like a king simply because he came into the shop and was speaking the ‘Queens English’, while another who had been there long before he came, was sidelined simply because he spoke his native dialect. Then I queried “does speaking one’s language make anyone less dignified than the person who speaks the English language? Then I realized that, that was the way our society had made it, such that a person who can well communicate in English is considered literate and those who converse in their native dialects are presumed to be “village cargoes”
To thwart the afterward effect of having their children treated like trash in the society, parents have now cultivated the dangerous habit of speaking only English to their kids. Consequently, from childhood, all a child hears is English and so finds it difficult to blend it with any other language, especially his local dialect. Children are no more given the luxury of travelling to the villages; they no more have the privilege of experiencing the different carnivals and displays that characterize the rural setting, that is, the ones that have survived the onslaught of modernization and Christianity. Over time, our tradition and culture have wrongly been considered demonic practices. Then the question is: How will a child want to learn the ways of his people when he sees it as evil?
Sooner than later, our languages and traditions will go into extinction as there will be nobody to speak or practice them because 70 per cent of this generation cannot speak their language. The danger of this makes me want to ask our parents, how did you feel when you had people teach you all you know? What is the whole essence of holding back the most essential from the generation that needs it most?
Soon, we will be like a people without an identity and without root and, therefore, vulnerable to the extent of being tossed by the wind of modernization and stereotyping that goes wherever the wind of trend blows. Soon we will be like sheep without shepherd that pays obeisance to any oracle and we will be neutral people that are neither here nor there.
Then our language will join the long train of “in my days”, the usual saying of elders when they come across a younger person who lacks the weaponry of knowledge of his culture. Then we will have no tangible gift to offer the next generation. Hence I seek to know; after this generation, what else? When we abandon our responsibility as parents and decide to chase after money in exchange for the preservation of our culture, who do we blame?
It is high time we realize our mistake and desist from it. We should be able to realize that our culture, especially our language, is the only force that binds us together. This force cuts across all national boundaries and borders. Our language is one prominent part of us that nobody should take away. Your language is you and when lost, it invariably means you are lost. The earlier we revive our culture, the better for us.