Unfortunate language like ours

By: Onyeche Ifeanyi Joseph, PhD

I chose this title to reflect the state of our Ika heritage. Never could our ancestors, who shed blood and tears to sustain the existence of their various clans, have imagined that children from their loins, their own very flesh and blood, would betray their heritage. To understand this predicament the reader should ask if there is any other linguistic community in the present political arrangement called Delta state that has disregarded its language and identity as the Ikas have done.

Our identity as a socio-cultural group dies everyday and no one even notices. How many people speak Agbor today? How many people speak Umunede? Make it broader. How many speak the Ika language today? Ika language consists of several dialects. These dialects are quite significant as they are symbols of the heritage and identity of their speakers.

It is indeed pathetic these days watching adults, especially those we call "Nmu oru ebo" (White collar job children), a euphemism for Ika children born and raised in Lagos and other commercial cities, who claim to be Ikas struggle with and humiliate our language. Some of them claim to be experts in the Yoruba language. They speak yoruba even better than the Yorubas themselves and at the same time speak Ika with unacceptable competence. My guts twist at this. If they love Ika so much why don’t they go home to their clan or village of origin and improve their language skills? Of course they usually give that pathetic excuse "too many troubles and ndi iwe at home". However, some of these same people are the ones who do not hesitate to return home, even though temporarily, and snatch Ika’s share of the national cake. By this I mean political positions. At this point they usually have no qualms drinking with those "ndi iwe at home". Now many of these species are among those who have made themselves guardians of our Ika political and economic rights and therefore heritage. What a shame.

On the other hand, it is equally pathetic to watch those of us who grew up at home in the village gradually abandon our Ika vocabularies and fill the gaps with English or Pidgin English and refer to what we are speaking as Ika.

What is Ika culture without Ika language? Proficiency in Ika language consists of a complex process of mastering Ika proverbs, songs, idioms, and all aspects of literary Ika. Although I speak not of perfection in the language as this is relative, I claim here that a mastery of literary Ika is essential for anyone to claim that he can speak the language.

Are Igbo and Yoruba languages more special than Ika just because they have more speakers? Let me make it clear that we as Ika people are not Igbo people. We may have some genetic and linguistic relationship but we are not the same. That the Norwegian and Swedish languages are similar has not made them the same. The Swedes and Norwegians, while acknowledging their relationship, still recognise that they are separate people. So why are we not proud of our Ika language?

Ika culture had a slight luck when some years ago Ika language was introduced as a course or subject at the College of Education Agbor. Students were awarded a certificate in Ika and English languages. Everyone that bothered to know about this was happy. About seven or eight years ago, some people conspired to wipe it out. Some of us cried out but no one listened. As at the end of 2002 Ika as a subject had been wiped out. But note that subjects like Igbo are still existing and well financed at the College. What has made us as a people to dislike our language so much that we do not even care what happens to it?

Today, Dr. Tibi, an Ika man is the provost of the College of Education Agbor. Will he be proud enough to resuscitate the subject at the College? Has he done this? The College of Education at Agbor is our only chance of encouraging the learning of Ika language. How else can we produce teachers who specialise in Ika language?

Languages like Urhobo, Itsekiri, Ijaw are now being studied intensively in Nigeria. Recently an Urhobo dictionary was publish and Ibori along with member of Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU) where there. They obviously know the value of their language. If Ika language is not reactivated and studied at the College level, we may run the risk of losing our language.

The question that will eventually plague us when our language is lost would be what Ika identity is without Ika language.


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