By Ishola Balogun
It is not in doubt that our indigenous languages are going into extinction as a result of our attitude to our native languages. We despise it, undervalue it and repudiate it as if it was criminal to communicate in our mother dialect.
Rather, we cherish and appreciate English language, foisted on us by our colonial masters over our indigenous language. Even at homes, children and kids who are victims of this scorn tend to believe English is far superior to that which confers in us our natural identity.
Surprisingly, those who are real custodian of English language are more interested in our languages and cultural heritage. Professor Andrew Apter, a Director of African Studies in University of California, Los Angeles, is very proficient in Yoruba language.
He speaks and writes the language as if he was born and bred in a Yoruba remote village. A couple of years back, he wrote to a friend: Ore mi owon, omo ile naa ni! Inu mi dun nigba ti mo ri iranse eamil re! Yes, Emi ni, Ogundele, Omo Ayede, Igi aje to mi Igi Ogun gbelele!…
Apter works on ritual, memory, and indigenous knowledge as well as colonial culture, commodity fetishism and state spectacle. His historical ethnography of Yoruba hermeneutics informs his research on “syncretism” and creolization in West Africa and the Americas.
Andrew came to Nigeria in the 1980s and within the few months he stayed in Nigeria, he chose the rural areas of Yoruba land which in his estimation still have the African culture and traditions intact. As an anthropologist, he investigated such challenging questions as how humans evolved and came to adapt to diverse environments, what led to the rise of urban life, what causes disease and death, how people imbue their lives with meaning, and how language reflects and shapes social life.
As a person who actually wanted to accomplish his mission, he did not stay in the cities like Lagos or Ibadan, he chose an ancient town in Ayede-Ekiti, the then OndoState, now EkitiState of Nigeria.
He interacted with the people, mostly indigenes of the town and embraced their traditional religions like the famous late Aduni Olorisa who spent her lifetime in Osogbo in OsunState.
He lovesYemoja and Sango festivals to the extent that he wrote a book on them entitled: Black Critics and Kings: The Hermeneutics of Power in Yoruba Society (University of Chicago Press, 1992).
He went the extra mile to study the history of the town including the number of Obas that had been crowned, a history that is hardly known to many indigenes of the town.
He was so in love with Yoruba language that he studied it well. When he communicates to his Yoruba friends, he does it clearly in Yoruba with perfect lexis and structure whereas, so many of his Yoruba friends have almost become foreigners in their own country due to their inability to speak or write very well in their native language .
He adopted Yoruba name – Ogundele and he is widely known and called that name in Ayede Ekiti till date.
We have heard of many white men who came to Africa and fell in love with our indigenous languages and religions. Remember the Aduni Olorisa of blessed memory.
Aduni found our mode of dressing attractive and interesting so much that she lived in Osogbo, learned Yoruba language and equally believed in Osun goddess. We will not forget the American who only visited University of Ibadan for the first time to learn the language and preferred the name – Titilayo falling in love with our culture and traditions.
It is true that we had our kingdoms and empires such as Oyo, Benin, Songai and our system of administration. If the white men endeavour to re-write history and tell our children that their ancestors were living like apes before they were colonised, who will will be ready to dispute and challenge that notion with good knowledge of our history, culture and heritage? Is it our children and kids who we have not taught our languages or traditions at our various homes?
It would be ridiculous for an American or Briton to return to Africa in order to teach our children and grandchildren their native languages, customs and traditions. It will never happen, God willing but that is only when we shift the paradigm.