If you can’t speak your native language, you’re doomed. Sorry I don’t mean to be alarmist, but no matter how you cut it, it is still a tragedy. If you lose your identity, you neither belong here nor there. And neither do your spawn after you. You’re in an identity purgatory, which is like hell on earth. And you’re doomed.
So. I started thinking this way because someone in my office challenged my command of the Yoruba language. She said to me: “Your Yoruba sounds like an Ibo man speaking it.” What?!*&6%>/}***$#<?! Me? My Yoruba is beyond excellent. I speak it WELL! In fact, I not only speak it well, I write it well. And by the way, I know proverbs and I know the accents, too. Yes, I do. So don’t you dare try to question my command of the Yoruba language again. But just to prove her wrong, I asked three other people what they thought of my use of Yoruba.
They laughed. Can you believe that? They laughed. One said, “Well, you try. Maybe it’s because you don’t speak it often.” Another said, “You understand it, no question. But you don’t sound like it’s your native language.” The third person said, “Well, it’s okay. And okay is good.”
Really? Look, I know that for some people, it’s a thing of pride not to be able to speak one’s native language fluently. And some who can actually speak, mangle the sounds on purpose so as to sound like they were raised on the English language – I mean, I hear a lot of that on the radio. But not me. I actually love the Yoruba language because it’s musical. Because it’s deep. And, like Fela said, the meanings in it just can’t be exported into the English language. You ask, Would I still love my mother tongue if it weren’t Yoruba. I say, Absolutely. Why? Easy.
Your language is like the colour of your skin. You may try to change it, but the result may not be universally acknowledged. Ask Michael Jackson. Let’s also say, for instance, that you discard your original language for the English language, no matter how hard you try, you cannot become an Englishman. Black people who are born and grow up outside Africa understand the frustration in this. It is the reason some African American parents impose on their children such ghastly names as Sheniqua, Shatonda, Jabubu, Shinini – names with contrived meanings, in an impossible quest for cultural identity. As for you, because you have trashed your natural tongue, you’ll no longer sound like the natives. Which means you’ve lost your identity as well. You’re not accepted anywhere. And if, god forbid, you’re stuck with an accent, it is game over. This, my friend, is why I am now worried.
I have kids, man. We speak English at home. We live in Nigeria. Yes, I understand that English is the lingua franca in Nigeria. Fine. But it will be a disservice to them if I neglect to help them understand the depth and nuances of the Yoruba language, which should be their original language. How embarrassing will it be to bear a Yoruba name and not understand the language. You won’t even know what your own name means. I’ve got to make this right. Starting now.
This is why I have resolved to speak more Yoruba at home. I will think in it, speak in it, sing in it. It has begun.
Ní báyìí, mo l’érò pé ẹ gbádùn ìtàn kékeré tí ẹ ṣẹ̀ṣẹ̀ kà tán. A ó tún máa rí’ra. Ó dàbọ̀ ná.
[image credits: Cover- informafrica.com; Tribal marks- kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com]