What more can you think about when you hear, the name ‘Nigeria’?
Would it be a West African nation with the largest number of the black race settling in a geographical region or the seventh most populous country in the world?
Would its unique trigger position in the gun-like shaped African map mean something to you? Or it’s over 250 diverse ethnicity and over 700 dialects amaze you?
Have its beautiful geographical spots such as the Olumo rock, Zuma rock, Ikogosi spring, Shiroro falls, Indanre hills and Ogbunike cave to mention a few wow you?
What about the beautiful Yankari Park, a natural park that houses vast West African animals in troops and colonies?
Have you gotten in touch with history to know about the Sokoto Caliphate, Karnem-Bornu Empire, the Benin Empire or the Oyo Empire and so on, to know how it all came to be and what it stood for?
What about the political history of a name in the year 1897 by Flora Shaw or the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorate in 1914 under the British watch?
What about these unique names in history; Bishop Ajayi Crowther, Herbert Marcualy, Mary Slessor, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa and the list continue? Do they mean much to you?
Obviously, there are so many things to be known about Nigeria which so much of it is not so known to Nigerians themselves.
In this wonderful piece I would be writing about a unique people living amongst the Nigerian village that has caught my interest because of their duo language system. I decided to write a little about them because we are in a unique month for Nigeria and Nigerians; you can call it a commemoration month and we would tell you unique things you might not have known.
Have you heard about this language and people in Obudu Local Government Area of the Southern Nigeria Cross River State, Ubang?
Ubang is a farming village where men and women speak different languages. In the uniqueness of their languages, they understand themselves well but only use the language meant for their sex.
They view this unique difference as “a blessing from God”, but as more young people leave for greener pastures and the English language becomes more popular, there are concerns it won’t survive, reports the BBC’s Yemisi Adegoke.
They are thought the opposite sex’s language until the age of 10. After 10 years, the boys are expected to switch to the “male language”.
“There is a stage the male will reach and he discovers he is not using his rightful language. Nobody will tell him he should change to the male language.”
“When he starts speaking the men language, you know the maturity is coming into him.”
If a child does not switch to the correct language by a certain age, they are considered “abnormal”, Chief Oliver Ibang said.
Chief Oliver Ibang who was dressed in a brightly coloured traditional outfit, a red chief’s cap and holding a staff, when interviewed by BBC Africa, called up his two young children who were eager to demonstrate the languages.
He holds up a yam and asks his daughter, “What is it called?”
“It’s ‘irui’,” she says, without hesitating.
But in Ubang’s “male language” the word for yam, is “itong”.
Another word would be that for clothing which is “nki” for men and “ariga” for women and many other examples.,
It is not clear exactly what proportion of words are different in the two languages and there is no pattern, such as whether the words are commonly used, related or linked to traditional roles for men or women.
An anthropologist Chi Chi Undie who has studied the community says,
“There are a lot of words that men and women share in common, then there are others which are totally different depending on your sex. They don’t sound alike, they don’t have the same letters, they are completely different words.”
She further stated that the differences are far greater than, for example, British and American versions of English.
Ubang people are immensely proud of their language difference and see it as a sign of their uniqueness.
But there are different theories about how it happened. Most of the community offers a Biblical explanation.
“God created Adam and Eve and they were Ubang people,” says the chief.
God’s plan was to give each ethnic group two languages, but after creating the two languages for the Ubang, he realised there were not enough languages to go around, he explains.
“So he stopped. That’s why Ubang has the benefit of two languages – we are different from other people in the world.”
Ms Chi Chi Undie has an anthropological theory for the Ubang people,
“This is a dual-sex culture,” she says.
“Men and women operate in almost two separate spheres. It’s like they’re in separate worlds, but sometimes those worlds come together and you see that pattern in the language as well.”
She notes that her theory does not have all the answers.
“I call it a theory but it’s weak,” she admits. “Because in Nigeria there are lots of dual-sex systems and yet we don’t have this kind of language culture.”
There are concerns about the survival of the different languages.
Neither the male nor female language is written down so their futures depend on the younger generation passing them down. But these days, few young people speak either fluently.
“I see it with young people,” says secondary school teacher Steven Ochui.
“They hardly speak pure Ubang languages without mixing an English word. Mr Ochui says he is worried about the consequences of “demonising” the mother tongue in an attempt to encourage students to speak English instead.
“In my school here we punish students – beat them, at times they pay fines – for speaking their mother tongue,” he says.
“If you beat a child for speaking his or her language, it will not survive.”
Mr Ochui says more needs to be done to preserve Ubang’s languages.
“We need text books in Ubang languages – novels, art, films – and they should allow us to teach the languages in schools,” he says.
Stella Odobi, a student in Ubang, agrees more need to be done to stop the languages dying.
“Parents take their children to study in different communities and don’t bother to teach [them] their mother tongues,” she says.
But she says she is among many young people within the community who plan to pass the languages down to their children even if they leave Ubang.
Chief Ibang has dreams that one day a language centre will be set up in Ubang, showcasing the uniqueness of the community’s two languages.
And he is confident that the languages will survive.
“If the languages die, then the Ubang people will exist no more.”
Were you surprised or excited to know about this people who live among us?
Do you think we need to know that fantastic and unique thing about your community?
This may be an opportunity to share and let the world know about your heritage. You can reach us through our Facebook page @ www.facebook.com/unorthodoxYou.