MOTHER TONGUE: HOW MY TOT SURPRISED EVERYONE AT THE HOSPITAL – C. NGOBILI

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Took my child with me to a hospital about a week ago. There, she met another boychild a little older than her. The boy was sick and strikes as one who’s naturally very quiet. His mother had brought him for injection after consulting with the doctor.

We had been there earlier before them and only adults had been walking in. And so, my child, in her hyperactive nature, was in high spirits meeting a fellow child like her. When the boy and mum had sat close to us, my child proceeded to touch the boy and shouted:

“Bobo, ọ gịnị, ọ gịnị?”

(that was her way of showing concern and sympathy)

The boy’s mother, nurses and everyone in the waiting room exploded in a mixture of laughter and surprise. My child kept playfully saying “ọ gịnị” to the child as well as rattling the other minor Igbo she knows and speaks often. Intermittently, she would grab my shirts and affectionately yell at me “Nnaaaaa”. The Igbo adults in that place kept admiring her in amazement. The boy’s mother was moved to ask me how manage we got to make such a very little child speak such legible Igbo and I told her that there is nothing wondrous about it; that we simply use and speak Igbo as Igbo people in our house and she absorbs. She and others kept expressing amazement. But I was never to be impressed.

Igbo Children wearing the Igbo traditional ensembles

I thought hard: How could Igbo adults/parents in Igboland be expressing surprise that an Igbo child spoke Igbo — her very own mother tongue? We had also grown up in this same Igbo land a couple of decades ago and this was never obtained. It was very normal for a child of any age to rattle basic Igbo. People only got amazed when a little child goes deep by using proverbs and riddles. What happened between, say 2006 and now must be very tragic — more like we were enchanted, dịka ndị e felụ ọgwụ. The speed of the spread of the stupidity we consider “posh” has not stopped amazing me because I was watching the trend grow like wild fire. I have come to a conclusion that the Igbo parents who raised these non-speaking Igbo children born since 1999 or so especially in Igbo land simply chose to be stupid and paralysed by inferiority feelings. They simply submitted to a virus not because they don’t know it’s dangerous but because they are more preoccupied with social validation and optics. There is never any reason why a healthy and normal Igbo child anywhere, no matter how little he/she is, can’t absorb Igbo and speak it if the parents spoke it at home as an only means of communication or the first language. Never!

I am very unimpressed when people admire my child in amazement for speaking her own mother tongue. Ọ bụrọ ife e ji a nya isi, ndị be anyị. O kwesịrị ị bụ ife a na-afụ ka e si afụ aja dị n’anị. I feel stupider and afraid when people admire her for speaking her own language because it reveals that many other Igbo children of her generation who are raised as non-speaking Igbo would become her frustration in future and force her with majority strength to join the league of morons who are strangers to their own culture. Ma Chukwu e kwena! I’m saying all these that these young Igbo parents would take note ma fie ịsaa n’anya maka ịzụlite ụmụ ha ka bụrụ ndị Igbo na-asụ Igbo.

Ndeewo nụ!

©Chijioke Ngobili, 2019

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