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THE ORACLE: SO THAT OUR LANGUAGES MAY NOT DIE
By: NOSAKHARE ISEKHURE.
About 28 years ago, I was a student at Concordia University in Montreal Canada , where I studied Journalism and political Science combine honours before my post graduate degree in Public Administration in the US . In 1999, the Department of Mass Communications of the University extended an invitation to me to visit as alumni of the Institution and to participate in the marking of an event in the Department. Unfortunately, the Canadian High Commission had no consular office in Nigeria as they had severed diplomatic relations with the country during the last Military era. During this period, Nigerians intending to visit Canada had to travel to Accra , Ghana to do so, which I did. The rest is now history. When in the month of April 2008, an invitation was sent to me from Edo people in Montreal to join in the launching of their organization, the Edo Association in Montreal , Quebec Canada , I saw it as another great reunion, and accepted the offer to attend. Having just attended a similar event in Danvers City in the State of Massachusetts , USA , I had to transit Toronto before enrouting Montreal to attend the occasion. The event was certainly a home coming reunion, a crucial one, more so when I was also to present the Goodwill message of the Oba of Benin and in addition to personally present a paper, as requested by the group, on “HOW EDO CULTURE, TRADITION AND LANGUAGE CAN BE REVIVED”. I saw this as an occasion to deal with a subject that had bordered my mind over the years, as one often see and witness how Nigerians by sheer symptom of inadequate knowledge, reject and treat with contempt their own indigenous cultures.
My enthusiasm was hyper-elevated by the historical and contemporary knowledge displayed by the Nigeria High Commissioner to Canada Professor Iyorwuese Hagher Phd, from Benue State,who during his opening speech inflamed the hall with authentic history of the Great Benin Empire; its contributions to international diplomacy by being the earliest kingdom that established diplomatic relations with the Western World. He spoke about his sojourn at Iguobazuwa Town the then headquarters of Ovia Local government under the Midwestern State when Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia was the military Governor. He appraised the unparalleled development projects he started, the development of sports, the social and economic boost he provided women when Midwest was the first and still the only state in the County that recruited women as Greyhound Bus drivers. Greyhound buses, the type that still runs in the United States of America and Canada started and ended in the then Midwestern State, now Edo State. He recalled the state excellence in sports, particularly the OGBE HARD COURT INTERNATIONAL, that brought World class Long -Tennis players into the country on international tournaments, a pace setter in the utility of Pre- Paid NEPA meters then, which is now returning to the country under the PHCN, the well paved roads and the construction of the largest ring road within the centre of the city metropolis, the first and perhaps the only one in the entire country.
The High Commissioner, however, remarked that in spite of these great and wonderful achievements Benin City in particular and the State in general nose-dived into stunted development, reduced to a glorified neighborhood with collapsed infrastructures as a result of bad governance, while her daughters became accused of indecent jobs participation abroad, thus bringing disrepute to a once noble ,flourishing empire, and her people. In spite of these temporary short comings, the High Commissioner told the audience that Benin will rise again and that ,in fact, the entire country shall blossom to greatness within the next 20 years as the Federal Government under President Shehu Yar’dua was already laying the foundation for this growth. He announced that a Railway system from Lagos , passing Benin City all through to Calabar shall be constructed soon, and the audience responded with deafening applause. The High Commissioner did a perfect ambassadorial job for the country and by extension before the international community. I wish him well. When it was time to present my papers, I saw my task being made easier. The High commissioner had set the standard, I had the inspiration to follow suit by drawing attention to how broad and topical the theme for discussions was which relates to culture and how to revive same. I made it clear that the gradual erosion of culture in Edo State also affects other Nigerians of different ethnic nationalities. This to me was a phenomenon that bothers on issues that many of our people back home worry about when they witness the daily erosion of our cultural values and traditions in the name of foreign cultures that are alien to us no matter how we may be tempted to copy them.
As the Chief Priest of Benin who has pretty good knowledge about our customs and traditions including its taboos, one feels quite disappointed each time people believe that culture means westernization and civilization means rejection of ones heritage in preference for something totally alien. A Polish national who was a professor that took us in philosophy classes in the university those days used to say that “the more educated a person becomes, the more the person understands the value of his culture” But in Nigeria, the more they often claim to be educated, they more grotesque they believe and behave as foreigners and strangers in their own country. One maybe kind enough to asked them what streets their families houses are in London, New York , Amsterdam, Vienna, Geneva or Rome, that now make them feel that thy are now super immigrants without origin. They may not have any ready answer. Back home, a good number of them have no idea about who they are, where they come from, what obtains in their communities, and what are the fundamental cultural traits of their people. These people claim to be Nigerians, but have divested themselves of being product of Nigerianism. By NIGERIANISM, I mean any Nigeria born by any of the indigenous ethnic nationalities that existed prior to the amalgamation of the country in 1914.
Any Nigerian who does not fit into this parameter, must be seen as an alien. The term Culture has been accepted as covering the totality of a peoples’ peculiarities from their history, experiences, traditions, marriages, burial rites, food, mode of dress, concept of good and evil, religion, spiritual dimension, political organization, world view, laws, philosophy of life and the concept of life and death, all summing-up to what is understood as the ways of life of a people. Anthropologists all over the world have offered theoretical suggestion that life on the planet earth is more than 200 million years old. This suggestion presupposes that the current species of man from which our primal ancestors descended refers to as homo sapien, is evidently the last stock in human evolutionary process on earth. Historical records have kept clue to the various material and non material artifacts left behind as legacies from which upcoming generations had to pick their clues of classical – existential –paradigm. One of the most potent traits of human civilization is the evolution and development of languages. This is one of the prime technologies invented by man.
On the surface of this earth, human lives exist in many parts, be they the Eskimos of the Tundra Region, the aborigines of Australia, the gypsies of North England, the Red Indians, the Arabians, the Sumerian, the Aryans, the Incars, the Mexicans, the Egyptians, the Edos, the Yorubas, Hausas and the Bantus etc, have had to develop complex language technologies that enabled them to communicate on a daily basis. They created codes to retain secret and sacred information and above all, held consequentially to oral tradition that helped to keep memories of the past in order to have a reference point to build their future. I do not know of any great civilization of man that did not develop a language. Language, therefore, is one of the earliest human-knowledge- development processes and it is still with us today. Mankind developed much higher when oral language evolved a written text through hieroglyphic writings developed in Egypt , which has revolutionized global knowledge and world-out reach. All over the world today, both the spoken and written languages have reached their optimum and final levels of universal permanence.
The big question is whether our people in Nigeria , particularly the Edo people both at home and abroad, are aware that while others are propagating their spoken and written languages, our people are shamelessly disowning their own and helping consequently to destroy them. Our people feel so terribly inclined to believing that to speak English and abandon their local language is an indication of education. And I reply them, An English person who by birth inherited English language, speaks it as a first language and cannot write it as it were, is an illiterate. So also is a Benin person or any person from Nigeria who speaks his or her language only and cannot write it is equally an illiterate. Merely being able to read and write in a colonial language only successfully makes you a half-literate person.
The owners of English language know that you are not English. They refer to you as speaking English as a foreign language. That is why Africans traveling to America are required to pass a test call TOEFL , meaning TEST OF ENGLISH AS FOREIGN LANGUAGE as a requisite condition for admission into approved Universities. If a pregnant woman and her husband were to develop the skill to speak English to their unborn baby from her worm, that would still not make the child a native English speaker, except perhaps the child is born in Britain and therefore had acquired birth certificate to that effort. There is nothing special about speaking or writing English or any other language outside that which is indigenous to us, except as a matter of circumstance and convenience. To correct this imbalance, we must retrace our steps and begin the divine process of being literate in our local languages. Language is a gift from the most high power known in Benin as “OGHENE-OSA”. Maybe that is what they refer to in English language as the “THE ALMIGHTY GOD”. Plants and Animals have their languages too. They speak, communicate and understand themselves.
In the month of February, 2008, a reverend gentleman from the Catholic Church in Benin City forwarded a letter to me with a screaming head line, EDO LANGUAGE IS DYING BEFORE OUR EYES, PLEASE HELP! I felt so touched by the contents of the letter which exposed what we already know, which is the relative negligence of the arts of speaking and learning Edo languages in primary and secondary schools in the State even when the subjects have been duly approved by the Federal Ministry of Education as one of the language-subjects to be written under the West African School Certificate Examination. Good as this intention were, it was further noted with dismay that the department of languages at the college of Education Ekiadolor that trained teachers under the National Certificate of Education (NCE) scheme had closed down for reasons of no further enrolment of students into the department. The University of Benin that offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in Edo language was also closing up because no enrolment into the department. The decline in enrolments into the two institutions was because many of those who went for the programme and graduated could not find jobs. These graduates could not be engaged because government could not enforce the teaching of local languages in schools.
It is a paradox that past governments that were run by our own sons and daughters, not British colonialists, could not enforce the legal mandate as encompassed in the United Nations charter on indigenous languages which says that every child has a right to be trained and educated in his or her local and indigenous language. It is rather unfortunate that this universal declaration has not touched the minds and sensibilities of policy makers in Nigeria hard enough. Let it be noted that eight years of the past civilian rule further accelerated the destruction of Edo language in schools. The letter from the catholic reverend father, further spurred me to action. I wrote a letter to his Excellency Prof. Oseriehmen Osunbor, the executive Governor of Edo state, the Oba of Benin and the Commissioner for basic Education drawing their attention to this grave trend. I am informed that the state has since begun action on this scheme of compelling Edo languages as provided for by the enabling laws to be taught in our schools. We are going to be on the look out to monitor its implementation to the letter. Because of the concern of our people with regard to this development, the Institute of Benin studies has just begun a programme that will enable our people, both young and old to begin classes in the institute to be able to learn to read and write Edo languages. It must be noted that other Nigerian languages must be given the same push.
The next disturbing phenomenon is the rejection of our cultural festivities which find expression in our traditional- spiritual- mode-of worship, (now call traditional religion), burial ceremonies, naming ceremonies, social interaction, community based organizations and identity. Sadly enough, it must be stated that parents have been guilty of the offence of bringing up their children as foreigners within their own country. The World at large and all the human beings on this earth had passed through a lot of trial and error experiences which form part of the festivals celebrated in different places Worldwide.
Festival is the re-enactment of events in a peoples’ life that have divine spiritual meanings for community survival and self perpetuation. The missionaries came with their own religion and a theolgy they called Christianity. They told us that in the absent of Christianity, all other mode of worship was Satanic and not supported by the God they propagated and the heaven and hell they invented. We did not cry to them that we were in need of a “God” to worship, and a kind of Heaven or Hell as sought for as a final destination point; a kind of one-way ticket to nowhere. Our primal Ancestors had a better understanding of what “God” essence meant and how to relate to it. They were never in need of tutorials as to how to reach the ultimate Being. They knew that every thing in existence both animate and inanimate had lives and such entities exploit vibrations as a medium of contact with that “Great Spirit” without requiring any written text or a trained evangelist. For example, all living things, outside mankind are on a daily basis communing with the Supreme- Being or the “Great Spirit”. They see what we cannot see, hear messages we cannot, have no doctors, no hospitals to attend, no schools, no supermarkets, no maps to navigate, yet these animals never get strayed coming to our homes asking us to take them back to where they came from. They never cry to us for food, we go to them for food, violate their territorialities looking for survival means.
Our primal ancestors know them better, just like plants, they have their own languages and the elevated souls can hear them and communicate with them. They saw them as co-inheritors and co-participants in the divine mission to unravel the hidden plans of the most High God on the planet earth. The earth is here to stay for eternity and the Benin people say “ AGBON-EFO” meaning the World shall never end. “ODARO-AGBON RIE”, meaning the World is constantly on a forward march, no going back. This movement provides for new strength, knowledge, discoveries which certainly put all previous dogma into nothingness and disuse. The World entered the aquarium millennium about eight years ago, the 21st century. This 1000 years is very crucial and unique in its own sense and dimension as many profound revelations and events shall take place and mankind shall see the earth and her divine activities from an angle that mankind never anticipated. All genuine spiritual messages being suppressed for financial benefits shall sprout with renewed vigor. All fake Religious and Scientific dogma shall fall apart. The Earth shall experience profound spiritual cleansing. As the old dialectical saying goes. “NOTHING IS, ALWAYS BECOMING”
Our ancestors were not religious, but highly spiritual. Religion is political and exploitative, while spirituality is self-realization, actualization, and soul development process, which recognizes the reality that man is an explorer on this particular planet earth. This condition of man, is preparatory to the next process of reincarnation for either a higher or a lower mission, depending ofcourse, on the activities of the person during the current and past embodiments. Unlike the Christians and the Muslims, the Traditional African Religion, as now being called and as practiced among the Edo people never engage in PROSYLITIZATION . They never condemn others, never ask you to come and join them. They know that every human being is spiritual. For them spirituality, on like religion, is a purely individual personal relationship with his or her divinities, and therefore wholly exclusive. They never killed other fellow human beings in order to intimidate others to join the fold to propagate their beliefs. They saw the Almighty God from everything in existence and their neighbors as an extension of themselves. For them, if one cannot see God through ONESELF, then God does not exist anywhere else because MAN is the APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF GOD ON THE PLANET EARTH. It is not their business to convert others because the spiritual need of every person is decreed from the most high divinities and not a function of earthly fancies, interest and mere enrolment. The “Great Spirit”,(God) according the Incans is within every human being. If anyone fails to recognize such a phenomenon, then such a person has to undergo personal self discovery in this present incarnation. And if one fails such realization in the current embodiment, one would be provided another chance in the next embodiment. That is the role of reincarnation. This is the essence of human spiritual evolution, growth and the extension of FREE WILL.
Our Edo people like every other African people had customary practices, taboos and decrees that ensures that when a person discovers that his her domestic animals are missing, traditional alarm is raised and anyone hearing such alarm would know that the missing animal belongs to somebody and such stolen or held up animal(s)is quickly released. I grew up to see my grand father wives and other older women in our neighborhood, shading and displaying their farms wares on a Cane tray call “ATETE” positioned on a wooden platform and placed by the Roadside. Then prospective buyers walking pass would come to collect the quantity they require and deposit the money an the tray and leave. The entire items would be sold without any one supervising and present to enforce the rules or terms of purchase. . The money sold remained on top of the Tray and the owner of the wares returned to collect her money, complete without a dime missing. This was a crucial aspect of a well cultured people who cherished the virtues of absolute sincerity and trust. The Trust and Sincerity mentioned were enforced by a means of deterrence mechanism reflected on a piece of iron tied with a red cloth that was usually placed at the centre of a trading Cane-Tray.
The missionaries intruded in the name of evangelism and called it IDOL WORSHIP, then the deterrence instrument was destroyed and full-scale stealing, looting and killings emerged. While those who engaged in it were told that forgiveness exists every Sunday in the House of a God they brought, the later day modern churches admitted that they have the capacity to cleanse such mortal sins with tithes they collect from their members every Sunday. We have no quarrel with that, every human-being has a right to choose his or her spiritual need. One thing is certain, God does not approbate and reprobate. The laws of NEMESIS cannot be covered by tithes, by mere confession and by beautiful robs. However, it must be understood that the right to accept and practice a religion should not in any way empower such practitioners and their members to cast aspersion or invectives on those who hesitate to subscribe to the Heaven, Paradise and Hell invented by smart theologians from the Mediterranean . They ignorantly refer to us “unbelievers” YES!, we unbelieve what they propagate and they unbelieve what we believe in. Consequently, they too are. “unbelievers” We have our own understanding of what HEAVEN is and where to find it. This is not the subject of this paper. As a matter of recall, the Edo people have more than 100 festivals, the Yoruba, Igbo, Igala, the Urhobo and the Tivs etc have there unique festivals which approximate the same essence and spiritual values as the foreign ones our people are made to subscribe to in the name of evangelism.
The Edo people have their own history and stories of how the Earth came into being. This has influenced the method of our marriage ceremonies, burial rites and other ceremonies which historically, varies from place to place. Every society has a duty to maintain its own unique culture and should never allow it to give way to alien culture that has no relevance to their historical and cultural experiences. The area of emphasis has to be the living culture which is reflected in our individual languages as earlier identified in this write-up.. As a matter of recollection, lately in Benin City for example, both so-called educated and uneducated people speak English as their first language to their children. By this disturbing act, they have lost out on the crucial and unique aspects of our culture as reflected in our customary morning salutation. The Benin people have salutation for morning time, afternoon, evening and midnight . It is distressful to hear from a child of about four years old when their parents speak to them in our popular Pidgin English “make u greet uncle” and the child would respond “good morning uncle” I had on several occasions queried parents who deliberately deprive their children of access to their indigenous language. It is a common knowledge, which is uncommon in Nigeria that the more languages we speak the brighter, more alert and attuned our brains become.
The destruction and neglect of our language also spills over to other areas of human development effort, i.e., music, dance, mode of dress, dignity of labor, social interactions and the food we eat. For example, the traditional dances we have and the instruments invented for playing the music for such dances as IZAGBEDE created in Eguae-Edaiken in Uselu and Esakpaide from Oba palace for example, do not have any equivalent. Ugho as the first social dance in Benin also does not have an equivalent. Just as it is in Benin so it is all over the world. People have been given specific knowledge to develop their skills within the environment and conditions they found themselves.
It would therefore, amount to profound set back if we abandon our heritage and begin to copy and ape as if we were deprived by the benevolence of nature to be co- receivers and givers of knowledge as other people have been privileged as to be. I have been privileged to travel extensively on this earth. Everywhere I have been to, I see profound commitments in different people holding onto their languages and their traditions. On a closer look, one can readily see certain areas of cultural alignment and similarities in spite of apparent differences. Nature acts on the basis of multiplicities and complexities which give results to abundance. On this planet earth no two human beings are ever the same; Finger prints profile had proven that since its invention. This scenario relates to every sphere of human activities. So those praying and working towards a homogeneous culture are those working anti-clockwise against natural laws and God design. For example, apart from England , there is no country in Europe that has English as its national language. If Nigeria were colonized by the French, German or the Spanish, we would have been speaking and writing any of the mentioned three languages. In New York, London, Amsterdam, Rome, Geneva, Vienna and other parts of Europe, the Chinese and India nationals, the two largest race of people on earth ensures that their children not only speak their indigenous languages wherever they are, but also write them. The same is true of all Muslims who subscribe to the Arabic World. It is very easy to identify an Indian national any where in the world because of the way they dress.
They choose to be themselves rather being caricature of alien culture. For them English is a foreign language and, therefore, a second language of communication. India too was once a British colony. Proficiency in English or in any language that is not indigenous to anyone successfully makes the person look more like a damsel of outward beauty, but sick within. Such a person is lost in the oasis of mis-identity which often relates to inverted complex. It has to be radically understood that any language spoken as a matter of colonial intrusion, is a language of captivity and enslavement, so it should be regarded as a language of convenience, and not as a result of any inherent superiority. Each time I see our people regaling themselves in the illusion of presuming that being able to speak or write what they call “good English” presupposes elegance and academics makes me want to puke. By reflex action I look at these people as those who had by self delusion accepted “inferiority complex” .What is special and sacrosanct about English or any other language that makes yours insignificant and profane? After all, the world once knew of Latin, Roman, and Hebrew languages. No language or culture on a broader scale is superior or inferior to the other. All languages are susceptible to death if not propagated. We pray that ours shall never go that way.
The challenges to preserve our useful and unique cultural practices must begin at home. Parents are responsible for the success or failure of their children, not being able to abide be the relevant aspects of our culture. I grew to meet my grand-father who was not educated, and my father who was educated. There was no tine any of us spoke English at home even when vernacular as it was called those days was not permitted during school hours. However, we were taught how to read and write Edo language in Schools, and the fact that we never spoke English at home did not diminish our fluency in English. By the time we got into secondary schools, French and Latin became compulsory subjects also. Today, I feel so
surprised when parents assume and very wrongly too, that if they speak their local languages to their children at home, they will not be proficient in English or in any other language at school. I don’t know where they got that Road-side-theory from. This is a very poor and unscientific theory. The more languages a person learns to speak, the greater positive activities, and utility the person’s brain membrane becomes.
There are people who are called polyglot who are adept in speaking a variety of languages. Those has not hindered or inhibited their capacities and dignities, but rather make them more of world recognized personalities than others. Language is one of the most potent forces used in getting to the hearts of the people anywhere in the world. It breaks barriers, open gates and attracts immediate recognition and acceptance. Ladies and gentlemen let it be re-emphasized that the revival of our culture lies with every one of us. Our culture is part of us and we are part of it. We are dependent on it, and it is not dependent on us. It is an independent variable while we are the dependent variable. We may decide to ignore our culture to our own peril. It has been said that a man who is not proud of his heritage is not fit to be recognized as a human being. The only difference between MAN and the lower animals is the development of a living culture. CRITICAL SAYING: LIVE YOUR CULTURE AND LET IT BE PART OF YOU. THERE IS NOTHING TO LOSE EXCEPT PERHAPS THE TRAIT OF INFERIORITY COMPLEX.
Signed:Hon.Chief Nosakhare Isekhure JP, FIBS.
CONTRIBUTOR TO COLUMN:
THE ORACLE: NATIONAL MIRROR.
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