- Posted by Newsroom
- On November 19, 2019
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- Ohwo Isha, Pauline O. Esievo, urhobo language, urhobo Nation, usi
This essay is premised on Prof S. Awhefeada’s article, ‘ Those who cook Isha have died ‘. The general views of responders further confirmed the position of the writer and prompted the object of this topical discussion. Quite a number of responders claimed that they ate the delicacy at their grandmothers’, my case was slightly different. Isha was my paternal grate grandmother’s specialty. As a little girl, the delicacy was my second favourite and I looked forward to a regular portion or portions. This closely similar case, is indicative of two generational gaps
As I pondered on the reality of a decline in culture, I grew worried that perhaps in a few decades from now, it could be said that ‘those who speak Urhobo have died’, God forbid! Sad to note that the worrisome composition, though excellently articulated, is a predicator of a pending extinction that trails the Urhobo language, closely catching up, if the needful is not done by custodians . By custodians I mean fluent speakers of the language, both the old and young alike. A vast majority of speakers have not considered the consequences of not deliberately handing down this great asset to younger generations. Am afraid one of such scary consequences, is the loss of identity of a people.
Further, many Urhobo parents are polyglots, versed in Urhobo and other languages but lack the impetus to pass down the oral literacy to their children. A large number of such parents, a generation of fluent speakers, come together to socialize in the language and relate with their kids in pidgin or the Standard English (RP), in their homes. Urhobo parents in the diaspora are also guilty of this practice. Parents and grandparents must go by the concept of ‘cultural heritage’, the handing down of the language should be intentional and not when beckoned by instinct. Like the relay baton, the language must be transferred from one generation to another
Without a doubt, pidgin and the Standard English(RP) pose serious threats to the Urhobo language. There are persons, who hold the former variant of English more religiously than that which comes naturally, the indigenous languages . This form of English having no native speakers and lacking a definite form of grammar, contends closely with the Urhobo language. Pidgin in some parts of Nigeria, was improvised to bridge communication gap between two groups of people having no common language. However, the ‘middle’ language has found its way into the hearts of lovers. Advocates of the variant, especially some youth in such regions, must decolonize their minds and forge ahead with current language trends.
In a similar vein, Urhobo people must ‘mark’ their language territory by engaging more often in the language than in any other language. Pidgin English has also robbed many adults the ability to learn the real stuff of the English language and its dynamics. In the absence of a clearly defined or dominant means of expression, like the Urhobo language, an artificial lingual franca such as pidgin may be developed and imbibed instead of the original. Similarly, if the Urhobo language is not passed down by parents to children, in the actual sense of the word, a generation or generations of non speakers of the language will emerge. The implication of extinction is the loss of a language, a people and a total displacement of their geographical origin or space.
I strongly suggest, in the words of a friend from Kogi state, Nigeria, “every adult and fluent speaker should engage my kids in my mother tongue, as for English, they will learn in school”. These were the words of a friend who speaks the ‘Queen’s English’, an impeccable fluent speaker, with eurocentric worldviews yet bent on transferring the language of her descent to her kids. She sticks to the rules and has not failed to remind others on the need to comply . She speaks her language proudly to her kids in and out of her home, even in fancy restaurants, not deterred by her social status and ambience of such social settings.
Traditionally, the Urhobo woman is marked by her tenacious drive to succeed, energy, sense of purpose and commitment. She’s self motivated, independent, enterprising and resilient. She has an inherent impulse to help her children reach their potentials. The same could be said of the contemporary Urhobo woman, as the cub of a lioness is a lion. She’s supportive by instinct yet desires to be heard professionally and empowered financially. In spite of her fixed schedule, Urhobo mothers must help their children fix their crowns by relating in the language with their kids and wards. They must understand the magnitude of their space – the home, and leverage the mother-child relationship to pass the language across. In view of this, the ‘message’ will definitely go a long way. The language should be taught and enforced with the same drive to succeed. This therefore shows, that the viability and sustainability of the language lie largely and not solely on mothers.
The narrative of ‘my spouse is not Urhobo’ is inexcusable and no longer holds water. With the aid of information gadgets children and adults can learn as many languages as possible. Children of mixed parentage, have the privilege of learning more languages because of their exposure to two different cultures. A coworker is biracial, a mix of Hausa, Nigeria and Russia, and she flaunts her knowledge of both languages excellently well. She relates with another coworker who’s also fluent in the Russian language.
Notedly, some Urhobo people who live in different parts of Nigeria and the diaspora, embrace and speak fluently the language of their host communities and neglect theirs, thriving on borrowed languages and advancing the frontiers of such cultural expressions. I accompanied a relative to an agbon function, a few years back. Two Urhobo ladies and siblings, sat beside me and had their conversations in one of the three major Nigerian languages, from start to finish of the function. That is true in many cases. I was forced to find out the reason for their choice of language. No convincing reason was given but it was evident, they were not residents of the state, hence the reason for the ‘adopted language’. According to them, they are fluent in Urhobo but they went for the ‘preferred option’. If they could not speak the language at an Urhobo function, they probably will not speak it in a lifetime, at best sparingly. To these young vibrant ladies, ‘it does not really matter ‘but It does really count against them and for owners of the borrowed language.
The misconception and fallacious belief that pidgin is ‘ours’, held religiously by some young Urhobo people and their neighbours is condescending, misleading and quite disturbing. Believers of this school of thought lack the zeal to learn their mother tongue but conveniently and totally embrace pidgin. I personally would rather have Urhobo spoken to a child than pidgin. With respect to lovers of pidgin, the language was a colonial device , intended to ease business transactions, a temporary resort to meet an immediate need for effective communication. It has long fulfilled its intended purpose and has lost some steam of ‘relevance’ for important communication. Pidgin is artificial, lacks originality and finesse, unbranded and not particularly identified with any group of persons. There are scholars who profess in pidgin and research on ways to further develop this form of expression, the case of BBC Pidgin. it however, must not take the place of the ingenious language. This is also, not to undermine the viability of pidgin but it should not be placed on the same pedestal with Urhobo. Pidgin may not go completely obsolete because it spices the everyday informal conversations and appeals to the elite and peasants. It is loosely a 21st century language used for business, a front line interaction with costumers and its usage no longer overstretched.
The beauty of a language lies in its usage. Language is not a product of man’s efforts and creative thinking ability but God’s gift to man. The sacredness of language cannot be explained away; language is sacrosanct, it therefore should be perceived as such and guarded jealously, hence it slips away from our consciousness and existence. The Urhobo language, like other languages is a brand, one that its speakers must reckon with and earnestly seek to advance by deliberate engagement. Lovers of branded items pride themselves in the brand name of an item, hence, Urhobo people must identify with this brand to promote further all it stands fo and to expand its language base.
Like the Chinese, Africans must begin to view the world from their cultural perspective. Cultural assertion is key in this sense. China is one of the five major economies of the world. They are known for their language and cultural inclinations on one hand, competing with the rest of the world in technological advancement on the other. Children must be taught to exercise and prove the existence of their language in the face of modern civilization. Giant strides are not attained by relegating language to the background but perhaps one way to advance a language is to state positively of the language especially in the presence of children. The Chinese are highly and unapologetically decolonized, unique in their ways, yet compete with world powers and stand out in their technological and economic pursuits ; not deterred by western values, discoveries and innovations. A people whose minds have been conditioned from childhood to believe that language learning is paramount and theirs is next to non.
In spite of my fears and pessimism, that a number of languages are on the trail of extinction, I am optimistic that the Urhobo languag will stand out. The language will increase in extent, number of speakers and scope. Urhobo has the potentials of expanding its language base and becoming great. Am also of the opinion, that the Urhobo people have the positive vibe to drive the language forward and to retain their identity. With expanded wings, the Urhobo language will fly beyond shores and boundaries..
This article is one of two serial editions.
Ahmadu Bello University,
Mando ,Kaduna ( CAAS) .
Novemb 18th, 2019