IGBO LANGUAGE: A KEY COMMUNICATION TOOL TO SELF PRIDE AND IDENTITY

By DR. COSMOS NDUKWE on 28/06/2014

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INTRODUCTION:

When I first encountered this subject of discussion, I thought the most appropriate way of doing a very good job would have been to write this piece in Igbo Language. Unfortunately, it dawned on me too that I had not done enough myself to position the Igbo identity in my psyche. Yes, it would be practically impossible for me to express my thoughts in Igbo Language having inherited a poor language transition mechanism, being a victim of institutionalized identity theft and refusing to be identified as Igbo.

This piece does not intend to cry over spilt milk as already the Igbo Language and the Igbo identity are gradually going extinct. We will therefore attempt to identify the various factors that probably endangered the Igbo Language and try to proffer solutions on how to position it as a key communication tool to self pride and identity.

The Igbos are found in South Eastern Nigeria. It is important to observe that they are republican in nature, predominantly merchants and the most out – going ethnic nationality in Nigeria. Igbos leave more outside their shores, and probably more than any other ethnic nationality in Nigeria. If  these postulations are true, then it is easy to imagine why the Igbo Language spoken by Igbos is mere;y seen as a convenient means of communication and not a key communication tool to self pride and identity.

 

KEY WORDS

In other to properly understand the subject, we will extract few key words that would serve as compass as we navigate through the piece. These words will equally serve as mental short hand to enable us organize our thoughts.

Igbo Language:  body of conventions, means of written and spoken expression used by Igbos of South Eastern part of Nigeria. The Igbo Language is, contrary to wide beliefs; rich in lexical structures and speech parts. It is yet to be established if the language is spoken or adopted elsewhere outside South Eastern Nigeria. Experts record that more and more people encounter loose parts of this language as Igbos globe trot in search of greener pastures. What this simply translates to is that a large number of people in the world are aware there is a language called Igbo, a people called Igbo who do just very little to institutionalize Igbo first as a culture, then language.

Communication: It is a process of imparting or exchanging information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium. In this context, we will see Igbo language as a veritable tool for written or spoken ideas. Invariably what English is to United Kingdom, what Hausa is to Northerners in Nigeria, or Polish to Poland should be what Igbo is to South Eastern Nigerians.

However, communication has a way of giving peculiar identity to a people found within a particular geographical entity or culture. It helps to express closeness, affinity, bond an indeed expounds the peculiar ingredients of self pride.

Self – Pride: It is situated in man’s consciousness. It is a feeling of personal worth originating from what or who one can attest he truly is. It is a product of awakened consciousness, a personal evaluation of one’s emotional worth. As hard as it seems, this term suggests that Igbo Language can be rediscovered to help increase the Igbo person’s credentials of personal worth, place him on the pedestal of self esteem for speaking and writing the Igbo language and most importantly living the sIgbo Language.

Identity: The person who has low self esteem obviously deals with either a split or cracked identity. Yes, Igbos desire to have identity but truth is, they prefer to be identified by their wealth of skill, creativity and industry and not the Igbo Language. Identity is personal, it is peculiar and a standard characteristic trait which identifies one thing as being distinct from the other. This piece suggests that as tribal marks distinguish the Igalas, as clutching kettles is a constant trademark of the fulanis, Igbos could use the Igbo Language to practically distinguish themselves from other ethnic nationalities. This is even more desirous now that the totality of way of lives of Igbos including dressing, language and style is facing danger of extinction.

 

THE ORIGIN OF LOSS OF IGBO LANGUAGE

There is an obvious dearth of literature relating to our topic of discussion. In the absence of rich existing literature, we could fall back on several empirical evidences to attempt tracing the origin of the loss of Igbo Language and unfortunately the gradual loss of identity.

  1. The business/Trade angle:  Igbos have one thing going for them. They are enterprising set of people.  The level of independent – mindedness handed over to them from their forefathers, means they venture a lot. This is indeed the crux of the matter. They work so hard to learn  the language of others just to sell. They go extra mile to adopt the identities of their potential clients just to sell. Whereas this postulation may seem controvertible, I am yet to see full blooded Yourabas who bear Chinomso or the Igala man who bears Chukwuebuka. From Idumota Eko, Central Market Wuse, Sabon Gari market Kano to Beach Market Oron down to Relief Market Jigawa, Igbos adopt names of other tribes as a potent marketing strategy and paying little attention to the gross implication of losing  his identity. It is also simple to see a lot of Igbos in these markets who are fluent in diverse languages to win the hearts of their clients. This method ensures that the Igboness in them is forced to play the second fiddle. We travel more than all the tribes in Nigeria and as we move, we adopt cultures, making the Igbo language the most endangered ethnic language.
  2. The copy copy mentality. This phrase is entirely mine. Igbos are creative and do very well in copying juts everything. So, except what is copied; the other things are inferior. Other tribes name their business ventures and concerns in their native names, but the Igbo man who had gone round the world prefer to exhibit world class by inventing borrowed cultures and business etiquettes. I had once jocularly told a young enterprising Igbo to name his business with his native name. He quickly told me that “Uncle, that name will not sell”. What in his mind that would sell is oyibo name. Even when I told him that Mercedes is a native German name, he argued that it sounds Oyibo and still sellable. You can now imagine the extent of wrath
  3. The Elitist factor: Igbos also have the best brains, accomplished technocrats and professionals. A good number of them too have also failed in their bid. They people who look up to them are exposed to the wrong orientation. When I confronted Ambrose my friend, a University Don; on the dangers being faced by Igbo, their language and their identity, he told me he has done his best to promote the Igbo Language in his household. How? He told me all his children bear native names. On getting to his house, his daughter Adanne replied “Fine Thank you” when I asked her “kedu?”. If “Fine Thank you” is Igbo response for “Kedu”, then we are in for bigger problems.

These factors are way too many and cannot be exhausted in one single piece. I have narrowed them down as three principal weknesses which could also be converted to strengths, and obviously help promote Igbo language as a key to restoring self pride and identity of the Igbos.

 

THE CONVERSION

The conversion is sandwiched in between the challenges. I remember when the Government as an effort aimed at restoring native Nigerian languages, made the offer these languages compulsory. Beautiful idea! Faulty implementation. More than ten years after that wise decision, you will see that no meaningful progress has been made. Candidates still offer and sit for native languages and honorably settle for an “F” because the law did not say they cannot work except they are proficient in any native language like Igbo. I have an idea of how these factors enumerated above could give us the reprieve we have long yearned for:

  1. LANGUAGE AMBASSADORS: If Igbos are able to conquer the fear of losing their wealth, the fear of losing their long list of clientele, inferiority complex, we could just convert ourselves to language ambassadors. If for instance the Igbos In Ariaria Market Aba, Ochanja and Onitsha Main Market decide to speak only Igbos to their teeming customers , we could be achieving a milestone without going through the process of policy making and decision. It will even be worthwhile if  the the ones in Kofo Wambe and Sabon Gari markets in Kano agree  to communicate in Igbo. That way, the Igbo Language would have made a remarkable in road. But first, we must accept that the Language is part of our identity. We must accept that the more we avoid communicating with it, the more of our identities we scratch and deface.
  2. SETTING THE PACE: Let all Igbos everywhere in the world unanimously agree to have confidence in who they truly are. We must resolve that no matter how much of America, Europe and Asia that we travel to, we must not mortgage our identities on the altar of modernization. We are forced to learn German Languages as a prerequisite to study in most Universities abroad. We could still replicate the same thing in our local markets and and business concerns. I have seen people from Equatorial  Guinea, the Cameroon, Togo, Ghana and other sister African countries show desperation in tapping into the Igbo business potentials. Let us eschew fear of losing our customers, let us show willingness to preserve our identities by advancing the cause of Igbo Language through our very many business interactions with ourselves and others.

 

  1. FAMILY EXAMPLE: Let us go back to our families. Let us go beyond giving our children Igbo names. The best way to learn or preserve a language is to speak it. Let us start speaking Igbo Language. If we cannot wear our Isi agu, let us speak the Igbo that distinguishes us from the rest of others in the world. The family is key. The family is central to realizing this tall ambition.

 

CONCLUSION

Restoring our self pride and  identities as Igbos using the Igbo Language is possible if we could do just one thing: SPEAK IGBO EVERYWHERE WE GO.

 

Cosmos Ndukwe  (MA)

 

Posted on June, 28 2014

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