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Ahamefuna: Academics battle to save Ndigbo’s native names

J ust last week, the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State, played host to the launching of a book on 600 native Igbo names that are going into extinction titled: ‘Ahamefuna’. The title of the book, which is also an Igbo native name literally means ‘My Name Shall Not Go Into Extinction’ was written by Prof Ngozi Ezeohaeto of the English Language Department of the University captured Igbo names and it’s etyimologic meanings attracted members of the public and the academic community. The Vice-Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Prof. Charles Esimone lamented the dying state of Igbo Language expressing fears that in no distant time the language may go into extinction. He further urged parents, teachers and guardians to communicate with their children in Igbo language adding that this is the only way to sustain the Language and culture for the sake of posterity.

Esimone, who was represented by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academics, Prof Prof Fredrick Odigbo, said the trend in the Igbo society, where speaking of only English Language and non- speaking of Igbo Language had become a status symbol, was a dangerous development that would be harmful to the culture and tradition of the Igbo race. Esimone said not only parents, teachers and guardians should be involved in protecting Igbo language but those at the helm of affairs in government and educational sector.

He said: “Some of us here have not helped matters at all. If visit a Yoruba family and Hausa family what they speak is their language even in the offices but if you visit an Igbo man or woman in the office and speak Igbo he will shout at you and ask you can’t you speak English? “The challenge is not only on the schools but but at our homes and some don’t even speak their dialates which would identify you as some one from Awka or Onitsha or Owerri or Abakaliki. “The school curriculum should be fine tuned to inculcate an in-depth study of Igbo language at the primary and secondary School levels because that is the cradle of our learning process.

“How many people are interested in studying Igbo language at the university level? That is one of our problems and those in the Department of Igbo Language are seen as those that do not have future ambition and it discourages prospective students of Igbo Language Department.” Also speaking former Commissioner for Information, Prof Chinyere Okunna, called for the reintroduction of Igbo cultural festivals and carnivals among primary and secondary school children as well of folk tales. Okunna said in those days, folk tales and songs go to teach moral values and educate the children on those things Ndigbo holds dear and sacred to the younger generation. She lamented that even most names of towns in Igbo land have been calling for the changing of those names to the correct spellings. She added: “What is happening to our language is indeed regrettable and the more the years pass the more it worsens. When you understudy the manner our people look down on our language you will discover that at some point we will lose it all.

“There are some primary and post primary schools where it is a taboo to speak Igbo Language and some are even punished for speaking our mother tung and government continues to look the other way. “We need to commend Prof Pita Ejiofor that established an NGO known as Otu Subakwa Igbo several years ago and it has gone a long way in creating the much needed awareness about the culture and tradition of our people and what Prof Ezeohaeto has done by doing a study on Igbo native names should be commended by everyone. “We are first of all Igbos before the white man language, culture and way of life came to us and we cannot throw away what we hold dear and sacred.” Speaking also, the author of the book, Prof Ngozika Ezeohaeto, said she was inspired by the manner which most Igbo names have been bastardised by the younger generation of Igbo people. Ezeohaeto said in the course of her research across Igbo land he discovered that Igbos tell them stories about life and origin through the names the bear and give to their children.

What actually made me to carry out a study about Igbo names is the way those names have been analysed by our people and every Igbo name is given an English spelling and even the way they are pronounced. She noted that: “Most Igbo people don’t even know how to spell their names such as Chimamanda which is now Amanda, we also like the spelling of Onicha that is spelt as Onitsha, Oka is now Awka Ore instead of Oregbunam and a host of others. “This do not speak well of our language which is also our identity and every Igbo name has stories attached to them and that is why when spell or pronounce those wrongly one gets worried. “Worse still when you work into a friend’s house he would tell sorry my child don’t speak Igbo language and one become surprised at what is going on in our society.

“It has become a status symbol for every Igbo name to be giving a foreign pronunciation with a foreign spelling under the very noses of we the parents but my children that were born in Germany speak Igbo language fluently and I wonder why those who were born in Igbo land cannot express themselves in their mother younger.

“The Igbo proverb says ones name leads him or her’ and it has a lot of deep meaning and when you choose to answer what is not your name and a name you cannot explain what it means then you have a problem. “Also most of the Igbo names that we have now are no longer doted in Igbo language and even the names of streets and communities are guilty of the same offence and we use them so brazenly.” Ezeohaeto further lamented that that even government is not helping matters with saving those Igbo names and the government appears to be paying lip service to the issue in discuss . She also observed that even the churches have also adopted the same style by answering names such as Shekina Glory, Praise, Testimony, Miracle, Success and all that and when you ask them what those names mean to them they cannot explain them. Ezeohaeto said: “This book is one that has to do with Onomasiology which is the study of names and I tried to use my Post Graduate students to carry out the research and also visited so many communities in Igbo land and got over six hundred names .

“In the course of my study a lot of stories both myth and legendary came into play in order to explain how those name came about.” The book reviewer, Prof Nkechinyere Nwokoye, said the names of Igbo people shows their identity and circumstances surrounding their birth and existence. She said: “There are names that came about due to the incidents or events that took place during the birth of those children and that is why it is important to retain those names for future reference.

“Sociological studies have proven that a people like Ndigbo uses those names to denote years and age grades. “In late Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God an age grade was known as Otigili Egbe explaining that children born during a certain period when the White man broke the local den guns.

“Similarly those born during the Nigerian Civil War had names of age grades to show that they were born during the war which also records dates of birth in the old Eastern Nigeria. “Studies also indicate that Igbo names has a religious inclination and has to do with the names in praise of God such as Chukwukadibia, Chukwunweike, Chukwunenye among others. “It also goes to establish that the Igbo people are not idle worshippers and the believe in God against the position of the western world that they are don’t believe in God. “For Prof Ezeohaeto it is a new dawn for the battle to save the Igbo language and culture through the recognition of Igbo native names.”

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