The Decline of Mother Tongue in Borno

By Mustapha Modu Bama

Since time immemorial, societies around the world are believed to be the custodians of their cultures,norms, languages and other valuable material and non material things around them. These practices have been maintained by many communities over the years by preserving and passing them on to the next generation basically for identification purpose amongst the community.

Inter-relationships and inter-marriages across cultures have certainly find place to stay among different people living in the same societies in Africa. This is because of the existence of the diverse primitive and the so called 'modern' societies, unlike the Europe and some parts of the world. This relationship in most cases brings about having two different cultures together in one home, be it in an extended or nuclear family where maintaining only one culture might be somehow impossible for the upcoming ones.

However, Maiduguri, the home to the Kanuris’, Shuwa Arabs’, Babur Buras’, Marghis’ and many other minority languages is also one of such societies at the brink of the Lake Chad in the north eastern part of Nigeria, battling to maintain some of its rich cultural heritage to its upcoming generation. In the past, there were several exhibitions of both material and non material cultures, verbally, the media and other similar platforms that were oblige by nature in promoting and maintaining Borno’s cultural heritage which are hitherto either neglected by the authorities or the community involved. For instance, the Kanuri Language which is widely spoken in the entire vicinity of Maiduguri and its beyond in those days and present is now gradually confined to strategic areas like the Shehuri, Mafoni, Fezzan, Lawan Bukar and other remote areas. This is not unconnected with the early settlers in the city of Maiduguri, who fortunately maintained and hold their cultures and traditions so dear to their hearts as if it is a religious obligation.

The story is almost the same with the Shuwa Arab’s as majority of them are found in areas like the Kasuwan Shanu, Gamboru, Maidugu Ri, and Ruwan Zafi, of which some are dispersed around the city.

On the other hand, the Coptic Babur Bura, Marghi, Kibaku and Gwoza speakers are only found in places like Biu/Hawul, some parts of Shani, Askira/Uba, Chibok and Gwoza local government areas respectively. In those places, natives are devoted to their cultures and traditions and do not allow a borrowed language dominate their homes as well as daily interactions. Nevertheless, these ethnic groups are also found in Maiduguri but do not constitute a significant number like the Kanuri’s and the Shuwa Arab’s who mostly reside in the same area.

It is heart touching to realize that the Hausa Language which is widely spoken in Northern Nigeria has engulfed any other language in Borno apart from the two mentioned (Kanuri and Shuwa). It is much easier to get in contact with a Marghi family answering to their parents in Hausa language than that of the Shuwa Arab and the Kanuri languages. Though, even most of the Kanuri homes are now overtaken by the Hausa Language as the so called civilised and modern parents of today Maiduguri no longer have thrust to maintain their mother tongue.
In those days, I could vividly remember when our parents tried very hard to see we only speak Kanuri language in our homes unlike in the present where parents speak either Hausa or English to their children. Though, their effort is not in vein, however, the fluency is not as effective as theirs' because we are so much connected to the Hausa Language to the extent that we speak it with our fellow Kanuri brothers and sisters within and outside homes. So also applies to the other languages which in turn the Kanuri language speakers appear to be better.

To some, the cause of this could be attributed to civilisation, westernisation and the recent advancement in Information and Communication Technology. To many, it is either negligence from the side of the parents who allow other common languages, cultures and traditions to overwhelm their homes and surroundings or the upcoming children (societies) who are not patriotic enough to preserve and identify with their invaluable culture.

What remains of the Kanuri or other languages in Borno in the near future, is a question not too difficult to answer, as unavoidably, Hausa is gradually fading away the real Borno dialect. Therefore, we must rise up and be dogged to inculcate that spirit of my language first or rather teach the young my language first to curtail this imperialism.