The imperative of Afamefuna in the 2025 augury
May I use your service? Thank you. If you are close to an Ibo at the moment, engage him or her in a conversation using the Igbo language and see for yourself that the dialogue won't last two minutes before he chips in an English word or totally veers into the English language. You may even meet an Ibo who while you are using the Igbo language, he or she is responding in English. What a shame!
You will be highly mistaken to think the person you are conversing with is trying to carry you along, that's if you are not an Ibo, by his veering into the English Language repeatedly. That is definitely not the case, rather, the case is that the Ibos are increasingly losing their ability to perform in Igbo. How sad!
At a scenerio where an Igbo man is addressing his kith, you may mistake him for a Briton owing to his lavish use of English in talking to his own people. At a family meeting, everyone who can afford it, generously trade the English Language that you will be right to ask if you were in an Igbo gathering.
Perhaps, we may excuse this as a public show, where everyone want to prove to the next that "my English is better than yours," but how about the situation in the home? Here, it is the English language half the way with the amount of English spoken, more than the Igbo. There are other homes where it is English Language all the way with no member of such family giving a hoot about the Igbo language. Please tell me how their secret can be safeguarded from a stranger?
Language is the essence of culture as it conveys a culture. When a language is relegated to the back, the culture follows duly. The Ibos have a fantastic and smashing history and culture that only a fool will take for granted. As far back as the 9th Century, Igbo Ukwu was already famous for its bronzes that were used to fashion items like iron swords, bronze and copper ornament and vases. In the 30th Century BC, the Neolithic man was already said to be in existence in Igboland.
It is indeed true that the Ibos were in the frontline of people who started festivals. In 1043, the kingdom of Nri has already devised a festival they called EzeNriIfikuanim. It is on record that the Portuguese explorers made contact with the Igbos in 1434, long before the Atlantic slave trade exports that took millions of Igbo people, including other Africans to America. The Ibos alongside Hausas and Yorubas are believed to be the earliest settlers in today's Nigeria
This shows that we have come a long way and that we came this way in style with our language bearing us. Apparently, one of the things we have to show for this rich history is our cultural heritage personified in our language. However, it goes without stating that there are reasons why Ibos are increasingly finding it difficult to effectively use their language.
The chief reason is the contact the Ibos had with the Europeans. This brought about a new culture that affected the Igbo traditional beliefs, family structure and functions, religion and language. These triggered a gradual replacement of the old order with the new order in all facets and has now built up to the stage we're in.
The adventurous nature of the Ibos also accounts for the decline in the usage of Igbo by the Ibos. The Ibos are known to be increasingly mobile and adaptable. Even before the outbreak of the Civil War, they had settled in all parts of the country. Today Ibos are found in the different countries in Africa and around the globe. As industrialists and traders scattered all over, they easily blend with their immediate environment absorbing the language, dressing mode and tradition that are prevalent.
This is compounded by the fact that these Ibos in diaspora seldom return to their homesteads or visit home with their families for the fear of being victims of witchcraft, spells and other evils that are common in the native. Thus they stay back in their base, adapt to its culture and language while the Igbo language suffers. Now, do you still doubt the prediction that the Igbo language will go extinct in 2025?
It will be recalled that a prediction was given by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation(UNESCO) Advisory Committee on Language, Pluralism and Multi-language Education that Igbo Language, and by implication culture, may be headed for extinction as it will be subsumed by other stronger Nigerian languages by 2025. That is about 12 years from now!
This, they believe will come through if nothing was done by its speakers to ensure that it is not only taught in schools, colleges and universities, but, also used as language of official communication within government and business circles in the five Igbo-speaking states.
I suppose, it is in this light that the newly formed executive members of Ohanaeze Ndigbo (Enugu State chapter) called for the enactment of a law making Igbo Language compulsory in all primary and secondary schools in the state. They further advocated for a law compelling every civil servant in the state to put on native wears on Fridays so as to showcase and sustain the Igbo culture.
The Ohanaeze Exco members who made these demands during a courtesy call on the Speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly, urged the House to enact a law mandating members of the House to use the Igbo Language in conducting the business of the House at least four times in a month. Thank gracious, they used the phrase 'at least' for I don't think four time a month will do. Will the heavens fall if they used the Igbo Language for all their deliberations? Even the UNESCO's Advisory Committee called for Igbo to be used as the official language of communication within government's circles.
Still on efforts by interest groups to see to the preservation of the Igbo Language, the South-East Millenium Development Goals(MDGs) Summit had, after its two-day meeting in Owerri last Thursday, passed a resolution that the Igbo Language should be the mode of communication in all gatherings of Ndigbo. This resolution forms part of the eight-point communique they issued, which read in parts, "The Summit agrees that in every gathering of Ndigbo, especially in Igboland, the lingua franca should be Igbo Language"
I don't think they should have said "especially in Igboland," instead it should read, especially in foreign land. Since Igbos are very mobile and have a penchant for living abroad, they thoroughly need the language to remind them of where they are coming from and to aid their identifying one another.
I know not of any country that has a law prohibiting the use of another language different from theirs in their country. Thus, the Ibos who are scattered overseas are those to be encouraged to hold tight to the language. Another reason for this is because Igbo Language will face a keen rivalry with the language spoken at any place where an Ibo is living. Such a language should not triumph over Igbo in the Ibo man's tongue and brain else he becomes alien to the Igbo language.
It is to this end that it will be strongly advised that all those interested in averting the Igbo Language from seeing extinction should work to have cable channels dedicated to the Igbo language come on board in DSTV and other ubiquitous satellite stations. They should also work to make the language heard in the BBC, Voice of America and the likes. This will greatly help Ibos abroad to keep abreast with the Igbo language.
Also, Nollywood actors, directors, scriptwriters, producers- most of whom are Igbos- should bring back those days when Igbo movies were always on the shelves. They should use Igbo in acting their flicks as this will again help in making the 2025 prediction not to come to pass.
In the final analysis, the Ibos themselves must begin to appreciate and use their language the more. 'Afamefuna' is a common name among the Ibos. It means my identity should not be lost! Igbo Language is our identity. It is our name. We should therefore make sure it is not found missing.
Ugochukwu writes from Otukpo. You can follow me on twitter via @ugsylvester