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Hausa and Others: Inside the Language Battle in Northern Nigeria

Culture, in recent times, has been reduced to cultural dances, neglecting other pivotal pillars that constitute the core segment of culture— aspects like language. Language is the forebearer of stories and customs, which echoes the legacies of ancestors and connects us to the past of who we were as a people.

Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan-born American novelist, and the physician said “If culture was a house, then language was the key to the front door, to all the rooms inside” 

The northern parts of Nigeria are home to Queen Amina of Zaria, the noble Fulani aristocrats and their regal horses, the ancient sturdy walls, and famous wars. And the voice trails off leaving behind other diverse groups and communities.

Meanwhile, the region in reality is an assortment of over 200 tribes with distinct languages, a smattering of tongues, and dialects. For instance, Gombe state, with just 11 local governments has a total number of 23 tribes, although the population varies with some like the Tangale having a million speakers, and others as low as 700 for the Kamo people.

 All these languages are under the threatening dominance of the Hausa language, the popular language spoken in the region. It is estimated that so far 29 minority languages have gone extinct from the states of Bauchi, Niger Jigawa, Adamawa, and Taraba. Other tribes of Bershewa, people of Eastern Plateau and Yankam, only speak the Hausa language. 

It is apparent that the Hausa language has not only submerged other poorly known languages but also assimilated their proverbs, and idioms as their own. Hence blurring their peculiarity.

While in a conversation with a friend, I mentioned a Hausa proverb, “aiki ya kama Gwari”, A friend who is from Kaduna pointed out to me that it was a Jaba proverb, a tribe in Kaduna state, that depicts the rival relationship between Jaba and the Gwari tribes mainly found in Kaduna and parts of Abuja. With that context, the proverb was more poignant, and its message was effectively delivered. Indeed, Chinua Achebe was right in his assertion when he said “Proverbs Are the Palm Oil with Which Words Are Eaten.” Because concealed within them are truths about ourselves, and our identity, and the extinction of languages has a devastating effect on us as people.

The Hausa language is a language that cuts across several countries of Ghana, Cameroon, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Niger, and Sudan, and is spoken globally by over 50 million speakers. It was first popularized in northern Nigeria states during the 18th century Usman Danfodio conquest, the reformative jihad established palaces with Fulani kings and Hausa as the royal court language. The language also gained more prominence during the colonial and was enforced as the regional language to ease the stress and hindrance of communication among the heterogeneous population.

In most rural communities, you’ll find the mother tongue spoken only by the older generations. By the grandmothers and grandfather, While the youths converse in a fusion of Hausa or English language with splatters of their indigenous language, occasionally. On the other hand, the repertoire of the mother tongue in grandchildren is limited to greetings. So to breach that communication gap the parents and grandparents instead, resort to speaking disjointed Hausa or English to communicate with their grandchildren. 

The Ham people found in Kaduna State

Another issue that further perpetuates the destruction of the indigenous language is the popular conception that The English language is a more “civilized and “modern” language. Therefore, parents banish other languages that are not English in their homes, with the belief of raising more civilized and refined kids.

In addition, schools in the region teach only the Hausa language as the assigned indigenous indigenous regardless of the heterogenous nature of the communities where the schools are established. It shows how the educational system and curriculum only recognize the Hausa language and as such, young children in these communities do not study their mother tongue.

The impact, however, of abandoning our cultures and languages is the loss of identity. We are left suspended amid cultures, ignorant of who we are and never being fully assimilated and accepted on the other side. At last, we are left levitating, rootless of who we are as a people. In the case of these parts, indigenous northern speakers in northern Nigeria are viewed as alien and unrelated to the North. Some go as far as associating them with southern Nigeria because, in their view, the only tribe in the North is the Hausa or Fulani. Likewise, the same misconceptions from the south also blanket the entire Northern Nigeria as a region with one ethnic group of Hausa, oblivious, to the diversity of the region.

Therefore, To preserve our beautiful and diverse heritage, an emerging generation of culture-conscious youth needs to emerge and resist this encroachment. A style already gaining popular acceptance within the three majority tribes of Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba is the use of indigenous languages for creative writing. Storytelling, poetry, and creative writing are all powerful ways to immortalize culture and promote language usage. There should also be indigenous writing clubs and literary hubs dedicated to writing in mother tongues in various diverse communities. The projects should be accompanied by rewards, awards, and other related recognitions to attract younger generations.

Children from Bajju tribe in Plateau state

Mass media platforms vital in today’s world and also the contemporary custodians of culture need to see these poorly known tribes and tell their stories. Culture magazines, writers, and documentaries need to write about these tribes, their festivals, and their myths. Their portrayal in mainstream media will encourage the younger population to understand the matter and also take pride in their tribes and who they are. Artists should encouraged and acknowledged by providing a category for poorly known languages during awards, presentations, and other platforms of recognition

In addition to Art and media, schools should incorporate indigenous languages, each peculiar to its environment and people. Children should be taught their language with the same fervor they are taught the English language from kindergarten. To further cement its importance, it should be made compulsory in WAEC and Jamb Respectively.

Undoubtedly, Language is the soul and essence of every culture, the voice that retains the flavor and distinct heritage and spirituality of each person. We cannot fully grasp the naused stories and intricate relationships of various tribes without consulting their language, written or spoken. The wisdom of our wise sayings, idioms, and anecdotes. Pearls of Wisdom transcends time and paves the pathways to our spiritual enlightenment, and self-identity and gives it to the next generation.

The inferiority of indigenous languages needs to be erased from our society and our minds. There should be a reawakening to the musicality of tongues because until we find the path home we cannot strengthen and continue the primordial cycle of connectivity.

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