Language, Culture and Colonialism.
okay so I had originally planned to post my year in review next but life happens so I have a whole new post that I hadn’t really planned to write. Now this might not appeal to all people so if you’re reading this and getting really angry or bored well, not really sure what to tell ya buddy. Oh and you should know this is going to be a long one 🙂 .
Anyhu, a while ago and well every so often this argument bubbles up within my Nigerian circle “why don’t people our age speak their native languages?”. Usually this question is followed by a huge eye-roll from some people (*cough* me) and then the never ending back and forth of how we’re letting our languages die and what shall we do. Now don’t get me wrong I wish I had the diversity of tongue that my parents do. I wish I could sashay between languages without even realizing it and I certainly wish I had a stronger command of my language than I do but somehow it just didn’t happen for me as with many of my peers.
Finally one day as I was thinking in the shower, it finally made sense! We have been discussing the symptoms and completely ignoring the real issue. Language has no basis without culture. No really think about it, has anyone ever told you that in order to learn a language you need to visit the place and truly be immersed in the culture? Same concept! So by this am I implying that Nigerians are losing their culture? Yes and no. Of course as Nigerians I feel most of us can attest to having an undeniable “nigerian-ness” that you just can’t shake, whether it was in your upbringing, your craving for spicy food or the way your body moves when the beat drops and you just can’t deny the gbedu. However how many of us know our history? No I’m not talking about the history we learned in high school that starts at slave trade and continues through colonialism and lands us in this present day confuffled political collective. I mean the history of your people before they ever saw a white man.
Yea its a little more foggy isn’t it? Oh I’m so sure someone is reading this and thinking “well its not like they wrote us a diary to preserve that history” and I would ask you; have you become so heavily dependent on your colonial education that you completely disregard traditional ways of knowing that very effectively passed down knowledge up until a few generations ago? Language is simply the medium through which we tell our stories but if we don’t even know what those stories are then language is nothing but a strange combination of letters that have no value. In order to effectively partake in the intricacy of language, you must first situate yourself in the culture. So are you Yoruba or Edo or Igbo or Efik simply because your parents have told you that’s what you are or do you see your tribe as a fundamental piece of your identity. The honest answer to this question might explain your language proficiency in your native dialect.
Now seeing as I have written this entire post in English I clearly have no issues with a person speaking English or French or Portuguese or whatever the language of your colonizer was. BUT!!! I am no longer content with this cultural cluelessness. For example, why are different traditional marriages conducted the way they are? What is the significance of some of these practices or are we just all kneeling down and pouring alcohol on the ground cause its cool? Why do we eat the way we do? Why do we greet the way we do? Why do we dance the way we do? Without knowing the answers to any of these, language is really just one more thing that I’m barely holding on to.
Picture by Willyverse