Africa, Language, Writings & Extinction By Ogunjimi James Taiwo
“When an old man dies in Africa, it is like a library burning down.” – Hampate Ba
My piece will address issues from an African perspective while using Nigeria as case study. The differences (if there are any) cannot be too pronounced because there are certain ‘bonds’ or ‘ties’ that knit us closely together; in these, we face almost the same problems, are confronted with same challenges, have to fight similar battles and have to contend with the same forces in our quests for self-discovery and our journey from third-world country back to the heights we once occupied.
My first point of contact is on the issue of language. I’m surprised at the level at which our languages are ‘disappearing’, everybody wants to learn the lingua franca, we all want to learn other people’s languages while branding ours vernacular. While we demonise our languages and brand our poems and rhymes ‘incantation’, other people are paying to learn our language and are memorising our incantations. We are not students of history because if we are, we would know that our trip to societal ‘back seat’ started when we allowed our history and and rich cultural heritage to be branded evil, painted black and demonised. My fear is that years from now, our children will pay heavily to learn the same languages we neglected, then they may even be given scholarships to learn their own language from foreigners. We should not be surprised if foreigners have to teach our children how to put ami ohun (marks) on words. We should not be surprised if foreigners have to teach our children who obatala, sango, agemo, ogun, etc are. Of course, you won’t expect them to teach it without distortion. It is very much possible if we don’t reconsider our ways.
My other concern is on the issue of African writers. What happened to language writers? People who actually wrote in their mother tongue, where are they? Do they still exist? Today, everybody wants to write in English or French. We all want to write about big cities, beautiful sceneries filled with surveillance cameras and prompt security operatives who effectively combat crime. We write of peaceful nations and happy people. Our writings are disconnected from reality. A writer that cannot first of all write of the realities around him is no writer. If we cannot write things that our people can relate with, then we do not deserve to tell them to read our writings. The west doesn’t like writings that shows the imperfections of the world, they want writings that show what a perfect world we live in and how in control we are of developments and occurrences. But could anything be farther from the truth? The world isn’t perfect, every nation has its peculiarities, we all have challenges we have to battle with, we cannot wish them away by refusing to write about them. We cannot because of the prizes and awards that come with writings that depict peace and tranquility betray the realities that surround us.
A call for us to awake is what this is. We cannot neglect our languages or refuse to write about the realities we are faced with. A writer’s first motivation should be the existing realities that abound and not the false illusion that comes with craving for the allures of prizes and awards. We must return because our journey to freedom and self-discovery will not start without first appreciating what is ours and working with that.
Ogun State, Nigeria
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