It was in 2005 during winter festive season that I got a shocker from a very dear high school friend, M, who had come to town from Lagos with her lovely daughters.
M is a Yoruba woman and in fact an ‘undiluted’ Ibadan girl just like me! She came visiting her affluent elite in-laws, who were then living in one of the highbrow areas in Ibadan – Jericho Quarters. She had invited me over to this place because the in-laws were rolling out drums to celebrate the yuletide.
Being a young mother of two restless little boys, my eyes never stopped roving around the kids throughout and I was also making sure they were well behaved, most importantly to ensure they score good marks from my friend’s bookish in-laws. Then, I was assisting M and her sister-in-law to supervise their retinue of house helps cooking in the kitchen and every now and then I’ll call out to the children in Yoruba language; “e ye se’re pa eyin omo yi” (stop playing rough boys) and also issuing threats of beating if they refuse to heed: “e maa je’gba o” (I’ll spank you).
While I was doing all these, I didn’t realise I was making my friend feel very uncomfortable until she could take it no more. She suddenly dragged me to the guest room adjoining the living area and retorted: (just like you would to your younger sibling): “Lara (she addressed me by the short form of my Yoruba name – Omolara) what is your problem? Why are you speaking Yoruba to your children? Why are you behaving as if you’ve not passed through school at all?”
I was mortified to hear her speak in that manner. And I felt she went overboard. Trust me, I gave her back as I responded in Yoruba: “E jowo arabinrin, omo ilu wo leyin o…America, London? (pardon me lady, where are you from…America, London)? And to add ‘salt to her injury’, I didn’t do what was expected of me throughout the stay as I kept communicating with my children and even her ‘foreign’ children in Yoruba. I was just not ready to become a stooge in the name of friendship.
I call her children foreign because despite that they were born in Lagos, Nigeria and had never left the country’s shores for one day, they were finding it difficult to communicate in proper Yoruba. I needed no further explanation to know that it was their parents’ making.
This is the pervasive and an entrenching situation among many of us Nigerians, especially the Yoruba tribe. Many of us believe that if our children speak our language, they will dawdle in English language. This is a very sad development indeed and it is so sad because the ‘no vernacular’ phenomenon is already a cankerworm that has eaten deep without redemption into the lives of many Yoruba elites. We feel that if we speak our beautiful mother tongue, we are being ‘local’ or ‘loki’ as we used to taunt ourselves when I was much younger and naive.
Thanks to the likes of Mr S under whose tutelage I learnt the importance of wearing my Yoruba banner with boldness and pride. I remember he would say to us whenever we are drifting with the ‘no vernacular’ bandwagon: “Noimot, what’s your fear? If you who was born of ‘unlettered’ parents can be this polished, I don’t see why your children born of graduates can’t speak good English”. That particular admonition as disposable as it sounded then changed a lot in me and I am glad my spouse also appreciates this fact.
If you are one of the parents who are paranoid about their children losing the English language skill if they are taught Yoruba, I’ll plead with you to have a rethink and change your ways. Many parents in diaspora (in the US and the UK particularly) are currently paying through their nose to teach Yoruba to their children because they suddenly realised what they have lost on getting to a foreign land. Of course, there are countless many who still don’t care a hoot! In fact, they are happy to naturalise, especially with the present unpleasant clime in Nigeria.
But, kindly remember these popular Yoruba proverbs: “Eni to ba so ile nu, o ti so apo iya ko” atiwipe “ile la ti nko eso r’ode”. E j’owo e je ka k’omo l’ede o!
PS: Uncle S is a journalist, scholar and an English Language teacher at the University of Ibadan, yet he is an exponent of Yoruba language.
According to http://www.yorubawumi.com, Yoruba is the first language of approximately 30 million West Africans in the South-western area of Nigeria, Togo, Republic of Benin and Sierra Leone. There are many different dialects spoken in different parts, but there is a standard Yoruba language which is understood by speakers of the different dialects. Yoruba Language has also survived in Cuba, where it is called Lukumi, in Brazil, where it is called Nago, in Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.