It may sound like a fairy tale but some decades ago, stories were told about school children being slammed with all manner of punishment for speaking Igbo language in the classroom!
Apart from this, any student that offered Igbo language in school certificate examination was laughed to scorn. With this development, the speaking and writing of Igbo language started a slow but steady decline.
Apart from the school environment, the language equally suffered serious bashing in other sectors of the Igbo nation.
Back in individual Igbo homes, parents no longer told the scintillating, entertaining and educative folktales to their children. Several families no longer find it fashionable to talk to their children in Igbo language or teach them Igbo idioms and proverbs.
Every man, irrespective of his relationship to an Igbo child of this day and age, has since transformed into an “uncle”. For the women, they turned “aunties”. This was what parents sadly taught their children. The delicious and nutritious local delicacies slowly but steadily gave way to canned and continental foods. Local music and dance steps gave way to hip-hop, reggae, rock, blues and jazz tunes.
The sad thing is that Ndigbo have names for all manner of relations but all these have sadly been lost in the unholy attempt to be more English than the English nationals. The downward slide of the language continued over the years unabated. A recent alarm raised over the imminent extinction of Igbo language has however reawakened the consciousness of a number persons and organisations.
The Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Anthony J. V. Obinna, has since floated the Odenigbo Lecture series. This is an intellectual harvest that is written and delivered completely in Igbo language. This is the Archbishop’s sincere effort at encouraging the writing and speaking of the language.
The South East Zonal Office of National Institute for Cultural Orientation, NICO, organised a workshop in Owerri, August 8, 2011, on Indigenous Language Programme, NILP. This is the third edition of the programme, which was started in 2009 and hosted in Owerri.
Addressing the participants during this year’s outing, the South East NICO Zonal Head, Mrs. Chioma R. Duru, stressed the importance of ensuring the preservation of Igbo language. While regarding Igbo culture and tradition, especially the language as “intangible”, Mrs. Duru, however, implored traditional rulers to do everything possible to re-awaken the consciousness of Ndigbo, as well as sustain the language.
“We must collectively lend our support to the elders, the royal fathers and Archbishop Anthony Obinna, who is very determined to revive the speaking and writing of Igbo language. We should not allow the recent prediction that some Nigerian indigenous languages are facing the risk of going extinct,” Mrs. Duru pleaded.
Continuing, the NICO zonal boss reiterated the establishment’s commitment to promoting, preserving and propagating positive cultural practices in its area of jurisdiction.
In a message delivered on his behalf by the Director, Finance and Accounts, Mr. G. Ordu, the Executive Secretary of NICO, Dr. Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, reasoned that the revitalization of any indigenous language is dependent upon the will of its speakers to constantly use it.
He warned that “it is no longer the responsibility of government agencies alone in this task of preserving native languages and keeping it from dying, pointing out that families, parents, churches, children, custodians of culture, stakeholders and culture practitioners must acknowledge their responsibility in preventing the demise of our indigenous languages”.
Ayakoroma lamented that some elders, who should know better, have even lost fluency in speaking their mother tongue, stressing that the so-called modern homes have children who are mute in, and are migrants to their mother tongue.
“We should not allow our native languages to be endangered by the forces of globalization. There is the need to conserve linguistic diversity, especially in the face of English language’s awesome ability to displace and eliminate other languages,” Ayakoroma pleaded.
The leadership of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers has taken up the challenge. The Council Chairman, Eze Samuel Ohiri, told this writer that the leadership will ensure the promotion of Igbo language and culture. He opined that adopting this measure would enhance the status of traditional rulers in the state as never before.
*Mr CHIDI NKWOPARA is a staff of Vanguard Newspapers