Watch your tongue

Language, Culture and Colonialism.

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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

I think of my Country

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Reflecting on Nigeria

I couldn’t count the number of times I rolled my eyes while listening to this young man mouth off about the demerits of Nigeria. By the time he described Nigerians as narcissistic I had just about had it. In his opinion, Nigerians are always quick to remind the world that we’re the “giants of Africa” but what do we have to be proud of? The smug look on his face spoke volumes to me. He was either trying to annoy somebody (eg. Me) or he honestly believed what he was saying and was daring the audience to disagree. I would not honor his desires then simply to spite him but I will speak my mind here.

As Nigerians we love to complain. Its a natural talent that we seem to possess. If we do well, we ask why didn’t we do better? If we fail, we ask why didn’t someone else stop us from failing. We complain about the corruption in our country like we invented corruption. We complain about our diversity like its the greatest curse. We would complain about anything as long as you give us the chance. What we fail to do however, after all this complaining is 1) look at what caused the problem  and 2)work to make it better.

Every time a Nigerian stands before me and tells me that we have no national identity all I see is a lack of understanding for where we as a country have come from. The country we now call Nigeria was a colonial construct that was set to ensure ease of colonial rule. The way Nigeria is set up was not for Nigerians to govern. It is a perfect representation of divide and rule because the people from one place to the next are so culturally different. It is hard to believe, with the sheer diversity of the nation that our people would mobilize to fight for independence; but we did. Our national identity should come in our shared history. We do not have to be Nigerian in the way that Americans are American to claim our national identity.

Every time a Nigerian suggests that secession of either the north or the south of Nigeria would solve all of our problems, I wonder how quickly we have forgotten the pain of the civil war. The lives of many people thrown in complete jeopardy because some people did what “seemed” to make the most sense. The north and the south of Nigeria have become very co-dependent irrespective of what some southern people might think. One would find it very difficult to survive without the other. The lives of civilians living in both parts would be horribly affected, and for what reason? Tribalism is our problem in the way some other countries have to deal with racism. As much as I hate to compare sites of inequity, I find this necessary in order to put things in context. Yes managing the power relations between multiple tribes is an incredibly difficult task but I don’t believe that it is impossible.

I am not naive. I know that there are many issues with Nigeria. I am often disappointed and frustrated with the people who lead us. I want more from and for the citizens. I expect so much from this country and it repeatedly falls below my expectations but I am not ashamed. I see potential in Nigeria. I am hopeful for a brighter day. Most importantly, I believe we have plenty to be proud of. There are Nigerians within the country and all over the world who are positively impacting the lives of millions. We are a resilient people who still find something to laugh about even in the darkest situations. We are smart, strong and we have such rich cultures. I don’t think that’s being narcissistic, it is choosing to acknowledge the positives when everyone insists on reminding you of the negatives.

picture by  willyverse