Diplomatic ties between Nigeria and China dates back 46 years, however citizens of both countries barely know enough about each other culturally. In these changing times some Chinese students at Beijing Foreign Studies University take up Hausa language as a major. BUKOLA OGUNSINA writes.
There was festivity in the air amid a flurry of activities taking place at the Peking University’s International Culture Festival in Beijing which took place late October this year. People roamed about colourful tents some representing various countries, others curious to have a taste of culture as they queued to have their hands decorated in henna at the Pakistani Booth, while others joined the merry young men and women in a traditional dance near the Turkish booth to celebrate their anniversary.
At the Nigerian booth, there were no Nigerians captaining the activities apart from a PhD student Mr Abba, the others were Chinese. Li Chunguang, fondly called, ‘Bako’ a lecturer at the Beijing Foreign Studies University teaching Hausa language and Hausa literature, seemed to have everything under control with his embracing cheerful smile, and fluency in the language. It was quite compelling and at the same time refreshing to watch the students dressed up in Nigerian traditional costumes. Even more fascinating was the excitement in their eyes talking about why they chose a degree in Hausa, one of the major languages spoken in Nigeria.
A level one college student Meng Xiang whose Hausa name is Habibu dressed in a purple Baban riga, with the head gear ‘told LEADERSHIP shyly , “There are quite a few Chinese that know about Nigeria, so I want to make my own contribution to the communication between Nigeria and China. That is why I chose to learn Hausa.” Quizzed on what he hopes to achieve with a degree in Hausa, Habibu explained, “I think I can be a teacher to teach more people and make them know more about Nigeria and Hausa language,” he responded.
Strengthening the relationship between Nigeria and China has become imperative as both governments begin to focus on more people to people exchanges as well as developing economic partnerships. In reality, not many Chinese citizens know about Nigeria, or that it has over 500 ethnic groups with the three major languages to include Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo.
It is however encouraging that while most Chinese students would usually opt for the more popular languages such as English, French and Spanish, these students have chosen to stick with Hausa language, giving their various reasons.
For Chen Wei, whose Hausa name is Jarmai, dressed in a Yoruba style caftan and head gearoo explained that Hausa language would help him better comprehend Nigeria. “I think Nigeria is just like the African version of China. Both countries have so much similarities. I think if we learn Hausa we can get more familiar with Nigeria. It also helps to contribute in improving my understanding of Nigeria and also the culture of China and Nigeria,” he revealed.
While Jarmai has never been to Nigeria, he has hopes of visiting the most populous country in Africa. “I have never been to Nigeria before. I would like to go because it’s a beautiful country. I got to know about Lagos State, and the city is attractive and I would like to travel there someday,” he professed cheerfully.
Nigeria and China relations is growing with focus on more people to people exchange visits. There’s presently an increase in Chinese investors moving to Nigeria, while more businessmen are seeking partnerships. There have been quite a number of high level visits among government officials , including that of the Emir of Kano Muhammad Sanusi II this year. These are all pointers to how important learning the Nigerian languages is to these young Chinese students.
The young Chinese female students adorned in the traditional head gear, with Áso Oke, and Ankara outfits were happy to share their stories as to why they Chose Hausa language as a major.
Wu Dongjing, also known as Hafsatu divulged, “Because I know that there are several communications between China and Nigeria, and I know that many Chinese have no knowledge of Nigeria, I want to gain more knowledge in order to help with communication between both countries,” she pointed out.
While Hafsatu, like her colleagues have never been to Nigeria, it is a dream she hopes to achieve soon. “Actually, I have not been to Nigeria, but I know that in my level three (3) at university, we have the opportunity to go to Nigeria and I know that I will go to Nigeria and know more about this country,” she told LEADERSHIP.
During the course of the programme at level three, the students are expected to spend up to an academic year or just a semester in Nigeria sponsored by the Chinese government at either Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, or Bayero University Kano. And with Hausa being the major course, the students are focusing on listening and speaking in the oral class as part of their course work.
While students like Habibu, Jarmai and Hafsatu among others have an idea of what they would achieve with the Hausa language, another student Yang Yutong, whose Hausa name is Marka is yet to find out. “I don’t know a lot about Nigeria before I went to college but now the more I’ve learned the more interested I am in Hausa language and the culture in Africa,” she said, remaining optimistic as she disclosed jauntily, “I don’t know exactly what I will do, but for now I will keep learning about the language and culture of the Hausa people.”
Wu Lin, who is called Samira, has ideas on what she would like to do, she says, “I think learning a different language and culture is very interesting to me, and these days Africa and China have a cooperative relationship. I want to help the two countries with communication and cooperation. I think it’s very important,” she stressed, adding that she would enjoy visiting Kano as it is the first state that comes to mind.
Perhaps it’s because of the red carpet visit of the Emir of Kano to China through the China Africa Peoples Friendship Association that has raised Samira’s curiosity to choose Kano as a state she would love to visit. More visits from African traditional leaders could be encouraged to inspire more interest in Nigeria and its culture and language.
Wu Xiaochen, fondly named Sadiya has a story that is a bit different from the others. “I learned Hausa by accident. Before the college entrance examination I did not know about Hausa language, but after the examinations I learned it and found it very interesting. But after settling down to learn the language I realised it’s a beautiful language. I like Nigeria very much,” she added vivaciously.
Asking what she has learned about the language, Sadiya indicated, “I have learned about where the language is used, like some countries like Nigeria and Niger.” She has also learned about the origins of Hausa, stemming from the historical story of the Hausa bokwai.
For Yang Min, who is also called Maimuna, perhaps a future in diplomatic relations has been cut out for her. She says astutely, “I think as President Xi Jinping pointed out about the Chinese dream, I know that 21st century is the century for Africa and I think I can approach Africa more and learn more and to build a shared community for mankind by learning Hausa.”