Today’s tsaraba will start with an apology for the unannounced absence of this column in the past weeks just as it was about to make its 100th anniversary since it started as a series two years ago. Gladly the celebration does not require a budget, nor a grand occasion to be marked by speeches from special guests. In fact, the 100th edition anniversary will save you the burden of travelling to my home state of Kano, let alone commit a political blunder that political juggernauts in the city would immediately begin to sweep away.
In the absence of this column, I met two brilliant individuals – one of them a retired senior administrator in one of the leading universities in Nigeria, and the other an active academic who still gives his contribution for the betterment of our society. By coincidence both individuals are linguists with firm commitment to their culture.
Our discussion about the Hausa language in particular dovetailed into the effect of using foreign curriculum from nursery to secondary schools, and the impact of that on our youths. Yes, it is fashionable today to take your kids to schools where Hausa is not taught as a language, and these days, it is common to hear that “kasan ban yi Hausa a makaranta ba”, (I never studied Hausa language at school).
I told my guests about an experience I had around 2003. I was writing a research paper on the Hausa home video industry, and I had to interview one of the leading actors in the industry. He told me that one of his fans telephoned him from Abuja to ask for the meaning of the word Zaure, which she heard in one of the home videos the actor featured in.
As we continued our conversation, one of my guests asked me whether I had ever heard the expression “tuwon rice”. Mhm. I had never heard about it. The only time I remember using non-Hausa terms to explain traditional food was about two years ago when we held a fundraising dinner in Newcastle, UK to do some charity work in Nigeria – supporting orphans and execute some healthcare projects.
My friend and brother Dr Mukhtar Ahmad brilliantly translated names of Hausa food into English for the benefit of the non-Hausa speaking contributors. Yes, I still smile whenever I remember such terms like “mashed rice” for Tuwon shinkafa, and “beans cake” for Kosai, as well as ‘pumpkin sauce’ for miyar taushe. But you see, he was able to do that because he understands the Hausa language very well, and so that understanding was used to benefit the people back home.
Gladly the guests enjoyed the food fair. It was a pleasure to see a mixture of the English, Pakistanis, Indians, Arabs and other groups enjoying African local dishes, not just for the sake of eating, but also to support a human cause.
Language is an asset we should never play with as much as we can. Even those who live in foreign countries try their best to ensure that their kids speak their mother tongues. Those who allowed that opportunity to slip away ended up regretting it, for their children are normally caught in the crisis of identity.
Indeed we live in times when understanding a foreign language is an asset, and we should encourage people to learn as many languages as possible. But that shouldn’t be at the detriment of our native tongue. Language is not as innocent as we might assume. It is important for our school administrators to understand this, particularly private schools promoting foreign curriculum at the expense of carefully developed content that takes care of our languages and value system.
The Chinese, the Indians, the Malaysians, and other countries that are making progress did not do so in a vacuum. They always maintain their culture and language, and even work hard to export it. Today, Indian and Chinese restaurants have become global brands.
I wonder whether our kids who struggle to understand Zaure, will be competent enough in our local languages to be good ambassadors for our people in the future.
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