Last week I was in the company of a friend of mine. Let’s call her Ima. I stepped into the room she shared with another friend of ours to meet three other young women, including her roommate. I was so excited to meet these strangers because I haven’t been around Akwa ibom women my age in a long time that I hurriedly introduced myself in Annang (my native language) and made myself comfortable. That was the beginning of my problem. Let me quickly explain something so we can all be on the same page. In Akwa Ibom state where I come from, there are three major languages, Annang, Ibibio and Oron. While linguistically we could refer to the Annang as a dialect of Ibibio since both are mutually intelligible and Ibibio has more native speakers, politically you can’t try it. We would never agree. As much as I can, I wear my Annangness on my sleeves. It makes me feel at ease with myself, confident in my environment, and in touch with my roots.
So I burst into Annang from the word go because Ima is Annang like me and everyone burst into laughter. I didn’t understand why until one of them said in Ibibio, “she’s an Annang girl”. We continued discussing what not (you’ll be amazed at the kind of the long conversations I can make with strangers, right before we exchange Instagram handles.), and once in a while one of the not-so-strange girls would make reference to my Annang and the others would laugh while I watched with interest. I figured it was all the sarcasm that had them in stitches. I was having fun, regardless. All of a sudden, Ima said I should stop embarrassing her with my Annang. I was speaking a language that both of us were raised on and she was embarrassed. I was livid.
This is not white supremacy now, but Ibibio supremacy? How can a person work so hard to erase part of herself as integral as her own language? Of course I called her out on it. But it’s not just Ima with her inferiority complex; it is the many parents who don’t let their children learn their mother tongue because English is a “posh” language. If your child cannot appreciate and celebrate his roots, whose culture is he going to adapt? Is it the white man’s? After all the English we speak, we still have to write TOEFL and IELTS to be able to study in the U.S or U.K. So what good do we achieve?
Some people are products of inter-tribal marriages and didn’t learn the language of either parent because it couldn’t be used at home. It’s fine. I don’t judge such persons. In fact, I don’t judge anyone that cannot speak his/her native language. I just find it very sad and unfortunate. However, I harshly judge people who refuse to speak their languages in an attempt to appear more westernised.
Please understand that the superiority of languages exist only in the mind. It is the speakers that make it so. You think if we had economic and technological prowess of the west, they in the west wouldn’t try to learn our language and culture? Everyone is learning Mandarin now because China has become the economic giant of the world.
Don’t be a sell-out. Don’t be so self-centred and Oyibo-centred that you lose yourself. Understand that every little detail about your identity counts. It is who you are.