Our cultural heritage and external validation
I once watched a video where a white lady was filmed singing in Yoruba. It wasn’t the first time I’d come across such, hence the public reaction to it on social media was predictable; excitement and surprise that a westerner identifies with our native language.
A series of tweets from a renowned Nigerian author captured my reaction to the video. In his tweets, he wondered why Nigerians seem obsessively excited about seeing a White man speak our native language. He asks why it isn’t the other way around when we speak the White man’s language?
It follows a trend where we express admiration and appreciation for our cultural attributes through the eyes of westerners. It’s called external validation. This external validation occurs when we fail to see the value of our people, culture, creations and resources until they are either lost to or embraced by foreigners. The reasons for this attribution range from ignorance, colonial mentality and an ironic form of status symbol.
The consequence of external validation is we tend to overlook the jewels in our midst. Take for example the video of the White lady filmed speaking Yoruba. This same Yoruba language is frowned upon by some here as having no value; hence I’ve met individuals who are outspoken in their bias against their kids speaking it.
I’ve heard parents boastfully say, “My son speaks fluent Chinese, French, English but doesn’t understand a word of Urhobo.” They argue that these are the languages of the global economy whose relevance to their professional advancement cannot be excused. Often times, it’s sarcastically expressed as “who Igbo epp?” or “who Yoruba epp?”
Some argue that native languages corrupt their spoken English as if any language ought to be inferior to the other. Last October, I watched several speakers drawn across Africa and outside deliver papers on the growth and relevance of native African languages at a symposium organized by Yale University. What struck me the most was how much influence Nigeria’s Nollywood movies have on Kenya’s slang as highlighted by its researchers.
Thus, why should my native language be relevant only in respect of the opportunities it spells when it comes to career paths? Who says my native language cannot co-exist with western languages? Why should it take a foreigner to make me appreciate my language?
Trevor Noah, the world-renowned comedian from South Africa hosts The Daily Show. In his bestselling book, Born a Crime, Trevor expresses admiration for his native South African languages and talks about how its understanding played important roles in his life. In his words,
Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it… Living with my mom, I saw how she used language to cross boundaries, handle situations, navigate the world.
I recommend listening to the audio version of the book where Trevor’s command of native South African languages ignites a feeling of pride and inspiration.
Perhaps, it’d help to share some examples on what outsiders think of what we possess.
In an earlier piece, I shared a link where the African-American culinary expert, Tambra Raye Stevenson expressed her thoughts on the subject during a radio show.
Yes, I’ve met other Nigerians who fully want to become Americans and they pass off their traditions by not picking up their native languages… And I’m like, Are you serious? I want what you have! Why would you do that?
It didn’t start today. In Malcolm X’s autobiography as told to Alex Haley, he echoes a similar view:
For instance, I love languages. I wish I were an accomplished linguist. I don’t know anything more frustrating than to be around people talking something you can’t understand. Especially when they are people who look just like you. In Africa, I heard original mother tongues, such as Hausa, and Swahili, being spoken, and there I was standing like some little boy, waiting for someone to tell me what had been said; I never will forget how ignorant I felt.
This was over 50 years ago yet those words remain relevant.
We are blessed with distinct cultural traits wherever we look across Africa. The evidence of these inherent beauties when embraced and tapped speak well of us as self-confident people without the need for external validation. There are people out there who will fall over themselves to have what we own. If we’re not conscious of that then we may end up paying a premium in the near or distant future to recover what is originally ours. Sadly, it’s already happening.
Oh how true! I’ve often expressed these sentiments over the years. Europeans are teaching us our indigenous languages, even at university level. Shame shame shame!
What can I say? It really is mind-boggling. Thankfully, there seems to be some effort towards addressing the issue going by the African language academics I interacted with at the Yale conference. Thanks for your comment.
I’m always saddened to see Africans wanting to be so American. The lack of love about how beautiful they already look and the beautiful way their voices sound. The desire to have someone else care for them and give their approval is a real sickness. Thank you for sharing this information
I couldn’t agree more Charisma. Thanks for reading.
This is a painful fact that we have come to live with and now we seem….you seem to be fighting a lost battle. Many African countries have European languages as their “official” language. Unfortunately, learning follows POWER. The global powers control what is “VALID’ and what is not. That you value Yoruba as a language, to use your own words internal validation, never gets you or your child ahead. In the colonial as well as neo-colonial ear we get ahead by the degree to which we have mastered the Western language, culture, etiquette and practices. Nobody gains a place in any top African University because of how much “Oriki” he or she can recite, or how many “Ilulu” he can state and interpret. Thus it follows that the disorientation which we suffer today was inflicted. These are deep wounds on the continent and you, a pioneer are already leading the surge to heal that deep laceration that eviscerated the continent and threw its internal fabrics to hyenas called Westernisation.
It is not easy but as they say, a long journey does indeed start and you have started it. Your games show that you are bold and I am confident that it will work eventually.
I implore you not to blame the victims. They had a role albeit they had very little if any choice in the matter.
Now is the time for us to start redirecting the ship. Content creators like you create content in African languages. Colleges and Universities should develop curricula in African languages. Validate and adopt African languages as your official language. That is when the end will be in sight for us as a people.
Interesting insights into the subject. It’s really deeper than one likes to think it is sometimes. I find that the psychological effects require admission and offer the best approach towards addressing the issue. Thanks for your encouraging words Michael
I think the most affected language in Nigeria is the Igbo Language.
This is due to a lot of reasons including the lack of adequate knowledge of how valuable the culture and the language is.
In my opinion “show me a people who throw away their language and I’ll show you a people who used to exist”
We need to make concerted effort to return the age long culture and language of our people
So so true. We Igbo people have a seriously deep complex with speaking our language. But it’s good to know that folks like Adebayo and others are trying to change our attitudes towards our own culture.
Thank you on behalf of the Genii Games team. I know a number of individuals who are also working to change negative perceptions about our indigenous cultures.
Hi James. I couldn’t agree more on the need to promote our languages. Thanks
I am so glad coming across this awesome piece of article. In my own home, we are a family of six; growing up we did not know how to speak English until later stage of life. The painful thing is that now we speak English my siblings now tell me that they cannot say prayers in Igbo language except for English and I will be what!!!! are you telling me that for over fourteen years of your life you never prayed to God? My elder sister and her husband forbade everyone in their house from speaking Igbo to their children and I find this attitude most irritating and hypocritical.
The disdain our people show towards our precious language is highly disgusting that i have sworn that my children will not speak any foreign language at home just to exemplify to people that proper igbo language can be spoken by modern children and yet attain the highest level they wish in life.
Thank you for this article, I am most thrilled by it and if it is possible, i would like to share on my facebook wall to educate our people that there is pride in been who we truly are. I am an igbo girl and am very proud to be that and would never wish for more.
Thanks for sharing your experience. Glad you’ve taken a stance in your family with your children. Do feel free to share the article .
As an Africanamerican it has always bothered me that I couldnt speak the language of my ancestors. I dont even know what that language is because it was lost to me in the MAAFA (Middle Passage and through the enslavement process) I hate that I only speak english. I am working to learn Yoruba because I am now a child of Ifa. Thank you for sharing this and I am prayerful that my continental brothers and sister will not let the food of their mothers go away.
Thank you for sharing. I wish you well in learning journey. We’ll keep giving you great content.
I often tell my Nigerian and Ghanaian friends, “you guys are trying to shed off your language and culture, and here we are trying to acquire.” We have definitely allowed the white man to destroy us as a people.