In one community of Cross River State, it is a taboo for men to speak the same language with women. But as EDEM EDEM, reports, the natives have devised other means to communicate effectively with each other.
There is something that marks Cross River State out of the other 35 states of Nigeria.
The uniqueness lies neither in the fact that the state is one of the tourism destinations of Nigeria nor in the fact that its streets appear as the cleanest in Nigeria.
It is not also presence of no fewer than 250 languages in the state that has stood it out from the others.
It is the fact that one of the LGAs harbours a community whose men speak a distinct language from their women.
They don’t mince words about it. The language dichotomy, which has been with the people over the decades, is like a law which the people must obey at all costs. It grips all like fever and provides no escape route for anyone born there.
Most of the community members were born into the cumbersome tradition, groomed in it and have become accustomed to it despite the hassles associated with the tradition.
It sounds bizarre but it is true. Language is a big issue in this community. Speech plays a dominant role in the community as it marks and defines the lives of the natives of Ubang Community of Cross River State. In this farming area, the tongue affects the people more than hoes and shovels that they use in their daily farming chores.
This is because their means of communication nearly constitutes a barrier to themselves through no fault of theirs. By tradition, which they cannot challenge or change, women are forbidden from speaking the language used by the male counterparts.
In other words, in a home, the husband must speak a different language from the wife, while a man must find a way to communicate with his daughter and vice versa.
Although it is a fact that almost all the 18 Local Government Areas of the state have one or more languages, Obudu LGA appears to have beaten all of them in terms of language endowment. It boosts of dozens of languages.
It has 13 distinctive languages in its ten wards, one of which is the Ubang community the male folk have their unique lingo while the women speak a very different tongue. These two dialects are not mutually inclusive and it is a taboo to try to cross the boundary of one another.
In fact, the Ubang people believe that it is disdainful for a man to speak a woman’s tongue or vice versa. Ubang lies some 13 kilometers down the Alege-Ubang Road. This road stands to the left, driving out of Obudu Urban through Ogoja Road.
However, for simplicity sake, Obudu may be taken for a two-in-one community (Obudu 1 and Obudu 2), to differentiate the Bette-speaking clans from their non-Bette compatriots.
The latter comprises Utugwang, Ukpe, Alege-Ubang and many others. Obudu consists of some 36 clans, which include Okambi, Ohong, Alege, Ubang, Ukpe 1 and Ukpe 2, Ipong and so on. Each of these clans has a traditional ruler.
However, Obudu LGA has a paramount ruler, HRH Uti J. D. Agba, the Uti Itedim III of Utugwang. Interestingly, in spite of their divergent tongues, Obudu people display a welcome penchant for speaking with one voice. This could be gleaned from their politics.
Consequently, amongst the villages in Obudu, there are three distinctive villages where men and women speak differently. In the three villages, the people speak two languages, one exclusively for the women in the family, while the men speak a different language.
While this persists, the husband and wife use the third language which is the language of the local government ‘Mete’. Sadly, the two languages are seriously endangered because they are not thaught in schools since the schools are mixed with male and female students.
The female folks are not allowed to speak the language of the men just as the men are not allowed to speak ‘Araseke’ the language of the women.
Investigations revealed that men who speak the language of the women are considered as outcast or spent-force by the community.
And if the women speak that of the men, they are quickly reminded that they are not men and therefore, should not speak the “Ofe”, language considered an exclusive preserve of the men folk.
Given the difficulties thrown up by the dichotomy in speech, a third language is put in place to enable the natives to communicate in public places such as churches, markets, schools and village meetings.
The paramount Ruler of Obudu LGA, HRH Uti Joseph Agba, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, that the three languages in Obudu have been with the people from their inception.
“Historically, nobody can say how the differences in the languages came about, but it is believed that it came with the people,” the royal father said.
The Uti Itedim III of Utugwang said: “The language difference between the men and female have not caused any conflict as my subjects speak their languages differently when occasion demands while the general language is spoken by all sexes as situation arises”.
He maintained that the natives were not ashamed of the language dichotomy because they did not impose it on themselves but merely found themselves in the situation.
The natural ruler said that there was nothing wrong with differential speeches as long as it does not deter the development of the community in any way but makes them unique on earth.
“In my domain, there are three villages where men and women speak differently. In the three villages, the people speak two languages, one exclusively for the women in the family, while the men speak a different language.
While this persists, the husband and the wife use the third language which is the language of the local government- ‘Mete”.
“At market places, schools, farms and meeting places, our men and women speak their languages; this does not affect them as they communicate effectively. If a woman is married, she speaks the general language with her husband and the woman language with her daughters.
The husband also speaks general language with his wife and daughters and men language with his male children.
Isn’t there any cofusion LEADERSHIP WEEKEND wanted to know.
“There is no conflict at all as far as communication is concerned. My people communicate effectively and we enjoy it. We are also a tourists as there is no other area in the world where this happens. Don’t you think so?” he asked.
A Clan Head Ubang community, Chief Friday Ade, describes the language dichotomy as a tourism potential that should be harnessed by the state and federal governments, saying that it was not a mistake by God to making them so.
“All over the world, differences exist between man and woman only by their sexes, but in the Ubang community the dissimilarities have transcended genital organs, as the men have different words for communication from their women counterparts,” Ade said.
He cited some of the different words for men and women: the men call yam-Kitong while in the women call it Irue, human leg is Okpo or Kufue in men’s language while the women call it Oba.
Other examples abound: the men of the community call cup- Nko while the women call same Ogbala, Goat- Ibue and Obe, head of any mammal- rissi and rishi, dog- kabu and Okwakwe respectively, with some similarities in certain aspects, but entirely different pronunciations.
Another royal father in the area Chief Jonah Iyang described the dialect dissimilarities as a mystery that even their forefathers were unable to unravel but said it was a blessing in disguise.
“Only nature can explain, because no human being can give concise reason for such a mystery. The beauty of it is that the man and the woman understand each other without inviting an interpreter”, Chief Ade said
However, he said it was only believed that the language originated from the building of the tower of Babel in the Bible, in the book of Genesis when mankind attempted to erect a tower that would reach the heaven for them to see God and his throne.
After God had caused ‘confusion’ among the builders who allegedly represented all nations of the world, by creating many languages which saw them speaking differently, he said the Ubang people were apparently the most disobedient group that wanted to continue with building project, hence God decided to unleash further confusion between them by giving the man and woman two separate languages.
Convinced that the uncommon language was an act of God, he said that in one of the Ubang mountains called Okwe Asirikwe, there was a gigantic rock bearing a supernatural foot print, which no one has been able to unravel the source. He said no human being living or dead had the size of the foot print, which makes residents believe that it was the foot print of God.
Amazingly, he said the male child in the area from birth, will naturally grow up and adopt the men’s language, likewise the female child without going through any form of orientation.
To one of the chiefs, Oliver Ibang, the confusion might have occurred when God created the world and was sharing languages to each village and community in the world.
Chief Iyang believes that after God had assigned a particular language to each geographical entity, he decided to give the remaining two to the men and women of Ubang community.
In spite the dissimilarities, he said both sexes understand one another with ease and co-exist amicably and intermarry among the three ancestral villages as a well coordinated community.