The perils of being a British born Igbo.
For most of us, we don’t know the language. Because of many a things:
- unwilling parents;
- our image obsessed teenage selves;
- an illogical definition of what it means to be ‘British’ (defined, either correctly or incorrectly, by the lack of languages you know); and
- (ultimately) embarrassment.
But to give us some credit we know some:
- “See you ewu (goat)”;
- “Oya [insert name] bia (come)”;
- “Hafu ya (stop/leave) makeups/phone/trainers/food”; and
- “Come on will you meche onu (keep quiet/shut up)”.
As well as other useful phrases:
- “Ndewo” (hello);
- “Kedu” (how are you?);
- “Odinma” (I’m fine/fine);
- “Biko/imela” (please/thank you); and
- “Jisike” (well done/you’ve tried).
But there is a time when some of us get bored of switching off as soon as our parents start talking Igbo to all those that speak and understand. And the mission begins – to learn the language through apps, questions, language courses and the like.
But we have been brought up here…
- Our pronunciation of the letter ‘r‘ fails to have that distinctive roll of the tongue;
- Our sentences are not punctuated with ‘ooo‘ (e.g.: “don’t stay out too late ooo“, “make sure you get basmati rice ooo“); and
- (more than anything) We do not pronounce our names correctly – the vowels are elongated; emphasis placed on the wrong syllables – ‘Chioma‘ becomes ‘chi-ooo-mah‘ and ‘Chukwuemeka‘ becomes ‘chuck-woo-em-acre‘.
And so when we learn these words and try to practice them on our parents we are met with responses like:
“What? You’re not making sense“;
[a look like we have just spoken Chinese followed by a shake of the head] “There is no word like that in the Igbo language“;
[insert vivacious laughter here] “Oh you mean [insert pronunciation of the word which is almost exactly the same as you said it]”; and
“Biko (please), we don’t say that. That is for [insert another part of Igbo land] people. My people say this [insert their region specific word here*].”
And so sometimes we want to give up, figure it’s not worth the bother, hand in the towel and stick to English [or other languages that don’t generate this kind of response]. Ofc that would be the easy way, much less work and causes much less embarrassment.
But what it is they say:
“Anything worth doing is not easy”
In the heart of this dilemma we should look to our role models for guidance. Had any of our parents given up, we’d probably not be were we are now. If any of our parents had figured it was not worth the bother, we’d probably not enjoy the privileges we do now. Had they handed in the towel and stuck to Igbo rather than pushing through the laughter, the ignorance that they were met with when they moved here, we – Igbos and Nigerians in general – would not be making movements in the way that they are now.
It is ok to acknowledge that most of us will probably never sound like a native – a simple fact of being brought up outside of Ngwa land/Igbo land. But that does not make us any less Ngwa/Igbo.
Is the German who is born and brought up in England any less German** because he speaks with a British twang? Although they embrace all else that comes with the culture? Are our parents any less Ngwa/Igbo because they speak, after living here for years, with a slight Western twang?
It is better that we try. And do so in earnest, so that we do not forgo one of the main links back to our heritage. And if at first we don’t succeed, to dust ourselves off to try and try again. This is better than just trying. Failing. And then stopping.
*** What do you think? Does it matter that we don’t sound ‘native’? Follow our blog and comment below ***
Looking for where to start? Watch the videos of one of our very own – her “Igbo Survival Kit“:
*dw not as if this wasn’t hard enough already.
**similar to ourselves, the German in this scenario is no less German or British. A simple mix of the two cultures.