Language is perhaps one of the most noticeable symbols and mode of national identity. Language is significant because it is about the fastest and most effective vehicle for cultural integration anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, most ethnic nationalities have witnessed the greatest cultural erosion in the area of language loss and this is disturbing. Just how fast do nations lose their culture? The fact is: measuring the rate of language loss does reveal a lot about how much grip the people still have of other aspects of their culture. And if ethnic nations suffer a high rate of loss in this area, then such nations are in real jeopardy. In other words, any loss in this core and sensitive aspect of the people’s life is worth redressing before greater harm is done.
Nationalists perfectly understand the importance of language and how it works in socio-cultural integration and nation building such that they make it a point to protect their language. In fact, they go all length to preserve with a frame of mind that spells their value of the language. After the holocaust, the nation of Israel faced the threat of extinction in all facets of their national life. Even after their statehood was restored and territory reclaimed, they still recognised the threat their language faced and great effort was put in to ensure that Hebrew is both spoken and written as Israel’s native and official till today. It can only be imagined the trouble the Lithuanian-born scholar, Eliezer Ben Yehuda went through when he “single-handedly coined 4,000 new words from biblical Hebrew roots” to reconstruct the Hebrew language as it is spoken today@.
In their time, the Greeks employed language to project their civilization through the Hellenization policy that taught Greek to the world. Romans followed suit and taught the world Latin and their numerals. Next was the British and then the French with the policy of assimilation that aimed to make a Frenchman of every African that they colonised.
I dare say that today, the Ukwuani language is seriously endangered by the practices of some of us who should normally have the responsibility to develop, nurture and protect it. Considering that language is at the heart of culture and does hold it together and also the first thing that projects a people’s identity, it is amazing no conscious thought is given to it in our land. Particularly in these days when traditional dressing is only for occasions, we must realise that language is all that is left to help project our identity. After all, people do not bear facial or any other form of tribal marks.
Our history never left us an inferior language yet we have made what we were given inferior before that of other ethnic nations. For instance, the ease with which the average Ndokwa person abandons his language for the next available one is embarrassing. Among the Aboh man in diaspora for example, they seem to have lost their indigenous language to Igbo. And for the rest off us, English is much more preferred as if speaking it can make us Englishmen or women or in fact confer some rights.
The irony of this is that history has proved the French Colonial Administration, whose policy of Assimilation fought hard to integrate the Africans through the French language wrong. The French language never made the African anymore French than the French. Rather, he became a caricature of himself having lost track of his root and yet could not catch up with the French. This is to say that our penchant for the English language or any other language whatsoever would not help.
I was quite elated to read in the course of my research the Obu-Onwe of Aboh speaking Ukwuani to his white guest: “Makka” (sic: ọmaka). It was not just that he could not understand the white man’s language; in fact that situation helped his dignity because it afforded him a better negotiating power. It helped me appreciate the accuracy of the records and to know that the Obu-Onwe (Obi as reported) was truly Ndokwa in nationality and an Aboh man as pertaining to his clan.
It is a historical fact that Ukwuani language is our heritage. The real issue in the context of our historical past is: what use do we put the language today? What is the language doing for us as a people? Is it just a tag or has it got a functional value? How best can its potentials be realized in terms of cultural projection?
*Excepts from The Ndokwa Nation by Ween Chukusa (to be published)