Great Benin Bronze


Elitism or Just Plain Culture Loss

I have watched with a rising sense of alarm at a rather odd
development most noticeable amongst many Nigerians of southern
origins. A palpably large section of this group of Nigerians
seem to believe that for their offspring to speak any language
besides the English language is an abomination. It has become
fashionable to see parents ensuring (and enforcing) that their
children speak only in English almost from birth. The children
are actively shielded from acquiring their parents’ first
language, which more often that not, is a Nigerian language.

The logic of this eludes me, as the prospects of the loss of an
important part of one’s cultural roots can only be anything but
desirable. In the wholesale adoption of western cultural mores,
our peoples of Southern Nigeria seem to additionally attach an
aura of elitism to the fact that their children do not speak,
say Yoruba or Igbo. They would proudly announce that their
children are not permitted to communicate in the native language
as if this alone would increase their children’s chances in the
real world. They seem convinced that every possible connection
between the children’s ethnic/native origins must be severed.

Bad as it is that this occurs within these Nigerian families in
the Diaspora, I find it singularly unforgivable that its
manifests very rabidly in Nigeria proper. What possible
advantage can a young girl of Edo origin, living in Benin City,
attending a “posh” local private primary school have if she
cannot communicate well in Edo? Are her parents arming her well
for her future by denying her a potent tool that she will need
to communicate with, live with, identify with and most of all
deal with her local community in the foreseeable future of her

By the way, I do not buy that bandied fable that a child who
speaks only in English will do well in all other academic fields
and most certainly in English as a subject. Linguistic
researches in the 1970s and 1980s, have conclusively settled
that issue. It was established that second language acquisition
was remarkably enhanced in children who had learnt their native
languages first. They had a quicker and better understanding of
say English, when they had first been taught to speak Yoruba or
Efik as infants.

There are families who will ensure they only hire nannies or
domestic house helps who will pretend to one form of spoken
English or the other. They are further empowered by the
children’s parent to make sure they (the children) don’t lapse
from the straight and narrow of this dictate. Many-a-domestic
have lost cherished employment for flouting this rule. We then
have very young children who should be comfortable with speaking
and understanding their native languages first, now babbling in
some grammatically and linguistically ghastly form of English
often to almost comical effects. Indeed there are older children
(pre-teens) whose elitist parents have ensured they can
virtually speak only English, the correct way. I have seen
amongst this lot, children with almost racist disdain for local
Nigerian languages. A twelve-year old daughter of a family
friend once jolted me by asking,”but Uncle, who will we speak it
to?” This reflects their clearly elitist thinking planted and
nurtured by their parents. The parents of this child wrung their
hands in feigned helplessness when my partner and I demanded an
explanation for what we considered a tacit acceptance of the
notion that our cultural heritage did not amount to anything. We
have fought so hard and come such a long way from the era when
such beliefs were fashionable amongst the neo-colonialist
thinking of ways back. We have too much to be proud of as it
relates to human development to let anyone make us ashamed of
whom and what we are.

I have seen some children in the Diaspora with parents of
Nigerian original ancestry who are not taught or encouraged to
learn their native Nigerian language because these parents are
seeking to ensure the children’s full integration within the
host country of residence. I ask them, do these Nigerian
descended children out-perform children of Asian origin who live
within these same communities? In the United Kingdom and the
USA, I have noticed countless times with heart-swelling pride
when I watch Asian children (almost all!) who smoothly switch
from (Queen’s) English after saying good night to their friends,
to their native languages when they start to chatter about their
day to their mother or father who picks them up at close of
school each day. What are we ashamed of?

Guilty parents should borrow from the leaf of parents from the
northern part of Nigeria. I am yet to see someone from Nigeria
with Hausa/Fulani origin anywhere in the world, of speaking age,
who cannot communicate in his or her native tongue. This is a
direct credit to the thinking that they are actually proud to be
Hausa or Fulani and that they are willing to propagate this
thinking to generations unborn. I see a nasty future when we
could actually have cultureless black peoples parading in the
one instance as Nigerians who have lost any form of cultural
identity with Southern Nigeria (yet they live there) and in
another as UK/US/Western European descendant of someone who was
once an Igbo or Ijaw man!

Just when some parts of the world are starting to dare to
believe that black people have shrugged off the odious toga of
being a backward race, let’s not now start to dig a low pit for
ourselves by thinking that our languages and indeed our cultures
are inferior or even dispensable. We must passionately keep our
many positive cultural traits (languages, etc) and can then take
from the outside world those many things that will complement
and complete us. The cultures we ardently attempt to emulate and
identify with are the same ones that now (albeit, reluctantly)
marvel at some of the great things our ancestors have done for
humanity. I continue to find it strange that our peoples do not
see that we are still never fully accepted anywhere other than
in our cultural enclaves regardless of how much pretending we
do. That we can sometime think we will become better by losing
this ‘identity’ is frankly hilarious. Let your kids know what
they really are.

by Ayo Abdullah,


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