‘You can’t even speak your Aro dialect’

Ogbonnaya Akoma

That was what one girl told another girl on one occasion.

As we were on a bus travelling to Arochukwu from Aba on Monday, 31 August, 2020, an Ihechiowa lass had requested the next person  sitting close to her, another lass from Arochukwu,  to shift the bag the latter had placed nearest to her ‘so that it does not soil my clothe.’ That request was rebuffed, and the worried lass repeated herself, this time hooting, ’Shift this bag, please.’ 

Then, the bombshell came: ‘Don’t disturb me, please. My bag will be here. Are you stupid?’ The Aro girl had spoken in Igbo; in her ulo ubi dialect. At the interjection, the Ihechiowa-born lassie boiled and had burst, ‘You are calling me stupid girl? Look at this idiot…. You cannot even speak your Aro dialect and you say you are an Aro girl! I am sure you are one of those who had returned to Aro yesterday from ulo ubi. Go away. I am a proud Ihechiowa girl, and I can speak my dialect very well….’ The duo continued to rain abuses on each other until some other passengers intervened.   

That incident quickly reminded me of what Mr Ukorobo, our teacher at Amuvi Community Primary School, Amuvi, Arochukwu in 1973 (that is not his real name but what the school community called him because of the way he always appeared unkempt and rough while in the school) had asked one girl-pupil in his class then whether she had come back from Achi, Akagbe or Udi when she had spoken an Igbo dialect the teacher could not understand in an answer to a question he had asked her.

Oh yes! In Arochukwu today, I can guess that less than twenty percent of the people that inhabit the nineteen villages can speak the Arochukwu dialect comfortably. No; not at all. That is why in the whole of the town, you hear the people speak different Igbo dialects they had learnt from other places in childhood – where they had been born, reared or brought up. Such people are condemned to speaking the dialects of the places where they had lived.

According to research, once any person spends the first fifteen years in his place of birth, that person will have ‘inherited’ the dialect/language, culture, behavioural and traditional patterns of his place of birth! I totally agree with this finding. Such people hardly change the acquired dialect/mother-tongue in life. That is why the Igbo say that it is always difficult to learn left-handedness in old age. Here, nurture tends to be superior to nature. That is why the black people born and brought up in the US, UK, et cetera are as white as their aboriginal counterparts in conduct, behaviour and speech. Ask the like of Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson and Serena Williams, they will confirm this.  

In Arochukwu today, the Ibibio dialect, Ngwa, Akagbe, Achi, Arondizuogu, Abam, Ibeku, Oru, Ikwerre, Isu, Awo-Omama, Agwa, Ibere, Udi, Izombe, Mbaise, Okporoenyi dialects are spoken freely throughout the town. Other dialects spoken include Isiokpo, Ukehe, Owerri, Uzuakoli, Nembe, Oboro, Ohaozara, Afikpo, Edda, Ezzaa-Mgbo, Ukawu, Ozuitem, Item, Isuochi, Orumba, Bende, Nzerem, Effium, Okija, Nkwessi, Egbuoma, Osse Motor, Ejemekwuru, Akabor, name them! This is because the Aro had settled in these towns and had inherited the languages, cultural and general heritage/practices of these towns before returning to Arochukwu to live (usually in old age or because of conflicts.)

So, the majority of us cannot, therefore, speak the Aro dialect while living in our town, Arochukwu; rather, we speak the dialects of the towns where we had been born and or brought up. So, only a few Aro indigenes can speak the Aro dialect today in Arochukwu, and that is why the Aro dialect is seriously facing extinction now, and the situation is worrisome to some of us, as dialects clearly identify different people. Indeed, the way the Aro live in more than three hundred settlements throughout the former Eastern Nigeria has affected their native dialect that they are hardly able to speak it today. 

This issue of ‘foreign’ Aro’s in Arochukwu affects nearly every aspect of Aro life today – even among the activities of the trado-political leaders. According to stories, many of today’s Aro leaders were born and brought up outside Arochukwu! So, ‘they know next to nothing about Arochukwu even as some of them continue to work and live outside Arochukwu and visit the town occasionally,’ as quipped by one of us recently. Such leaders, therefore, ‘lead in ignorance of the language/dialect, culture and traditional heritage and values of the people, as people usually give what they have.’ Such people are also appointed into political offices to represent Arohukwu’s political interests! 

During the Ikeji festivals, for example, those who handle the microphone and address Aro people at Amaikpe Square hardly speak the Igbo-Aro dialect; and in an apparent attempt to cover their deficiency in this regard, such people usually turn round and resort to speaking the English language at this most cultural event in absurdity and abnegation! In the years past, the like of Mazi John Obinali Nnanna (the Obinkita-born teacher who later served as the first Administrative Secretary of Nzuko Arochukwu) would address the gathering Umu Aro in the most impeccable Aro dialect at Amaikpe Square during the Eke Ekpe activities to the admiration of all – as Aro men who were born and brought up in Arochukwu! Yes; that was in those good days.

I suggest here, in point of fact, that only those who can speak the Aro dialect and know the trado-cultural heritage of Arochukwu should serve as announcers during Ikeji festivals (which differ remarkably from Nzuko Aro meetings.) This is the right thing to do. Those who cannot speak the Aro dialect should stay away here in the interest of Arochukwu and her prestige.

 Yes, it is disturbing that many Aro’s cannot speak their native Aro dialect in Arochukwu but the dialects of other towns, as the Ihechiowa girl had pointed out in mockery. We must do all to reverse this ugly trend and learn to speak our dialect. 

About author

Ogbonnaya Akoma

Public health practitioner/public affairs commentator
Trans-Amadi Layout, Port Harcourt, Rivers State

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Benjamin Nnadozie Udensi

Benjamin Nnadozie Udensi

Agriculturist and businessman turned 58 on the 24th of August. A native of Atani village, Ikemba attended Izzi High School, Abakaliki; Kings College, Onitsha and ...