FRANCIS ILAHAKA IS CULTURE JOURNALIST, DIRECTOR OF AFRICAN CULTURE RECOVERY AND BLOGGER EQUATOR BLOG SPOT 2012
Scholars and culture personalities in Kenya and other parts of Africa are worried about dying African languages
Currently with the introduction of social media mostly FACE BOOK most youth can either read or write in there mother tongue, because they no longer write letters
According to research carried I at major Nairobi bookstores there is shortage of books in local languages except few books in Kikuyu Luo and Luhya which re moving sluggishly noted book shop owner who did not wants to be named
The only source of local language promoter is FM station which are scattered around the Country thanks to Royal Media under S,K Macharia which owns most of local station eg Luhya, Kamba, Masai,Kikuyu, Bunyore. Kalenjini among others.
The first private local language Kameme was established during Kanu regime under Moi who was against it because he believes that it will be the source of tribal propaganda
Apart from FM station in local language which are promoting local langauges Universities like Maseno in Western Kenya had established department of local languages cheers
According to Onesmus Kilonzo number of languages in Kenya arc faced with the danger of extinction is not in doubt. This scenario has necessitated the need to revitalize the endangered languages for the benefit of the affected communities and for posterity.
In a paper he presented during capacity building language workshop held in Nairobi Kenya in 2012 he warns that unless drastic action is taken local languages will not be the same because active languages needs to be used both in spoken and used in publication
Obiero (2008) says that as a result of the necessity to revitalize languages that have shown clear signs of endangerment, several proposals have been put forward by various studies (Paulston 1994 :Yamamoto,1998 all of which appear to agree with Fish man (1991) on the centrality of the community whose language is endangered in leading the advocacy for the rival. Some other studies such as Krauss (1992). Rubin ( 1991)). and Crawford (1996) have been very explicit on the community factor, separately arguing that the responsibility, of language : first rest upon the local community.
However such indigenous communities will usually have had their essence of togetherness disrupted to the extent that a concerted effort towards a goal envisaged as community is near inconceivable. Considering that language shift is often accompanied by a concomitant change in values to expect local variables to provide the spark as well as sustain the fire for revitalization is to assume that feelings of group identity remain intact for such when language shift takes place (which is not always the case).
In an article that sought to report on how factors internal to the Suba community of Kenya were
affecting efforts to revitalize their heritage language. Obiero argued that the progress of languages shift from Suba to Dholuo would most likely persist, the revitalization project withstanding but partly due to factors that may be local, but well beyond the community's control.
Golbally Obiero argues, the problem of language death or endangerment is alarming with the effect that bigger languages continue to expand their territories at the expense of minority languages, some of which do not even have as much as a territory for themselves with the passing of time, many of such minority languages may not survive conducted on language death by Gabriele Sommer in Brenzinger (1992) as well as Batibo(2005) would so far provide a sufficient compilation of all the endangered languages across the continent.
As 10 the causes of such death, language contact has been cited as the main reason. The norm always seems to be that a regional language such as Swahili,Somali. Arabic. Amharic or Hausa suffocate smaller others with which they come into contact.
But in other cases in Africa languages of shrinking speech communities are replaced by other relatively indigenous too.
Owing to the problem that is language death and how it affects cultural diversity across the world, language revitalization efforts are slowly becoming commonplace. Through h --such efforts, a language may be brought back to active use. depending on the state it reached: towards death. Worldwide, very spirited efforts as well as weak ones have been reported through which language revitalization may be achieved. However, if language revival means an attempt to turn a language with few or no surviving native speakers back into a normal medium communication in a community (Nahir. 1984), then Hebrew is the only true instance of this. 1 he two other large and equally strong revival programmes are those for Hawaiian and Maori.
According to Batibo of the fifty six (5d) indigenous languages, about thirteen endangered while a dozen are either extinct or nearly extinct ( although He-1980, report only about 20 languages as spoken in Kenya; Likewise. Brenziger. Heine and Sommer, 1991, report 8 of these as extinct, while 5 are in a process of extinction. as in other African states, indigenous languages suffer the disadvantage of
existing alongside either English (a former colonial language) or Kiswahili (a linguae francae) which may be attributed to the difficult choices based on the politics of language policy in a up. But this co-existence places indigenous Kenyan languages in bad stead v. system since the language policy phases them out at the end of the third grade.
With respect to language policy, Mugambi (2002) wraps up the picture in the paragraph below:
"Kenya is a multilingual country in which: over 40 languages are spoken; however,English and Kiswahili dominate in that they are given official recognition while indigenous languages are not.
English is used in education, for official purposes and internationalcommunication,while Kiswahili is the national language (it has since turned official) and is used in the political arena parliament, and as a language of political unity and national identity. Indigenous Kenyan languages however have not been given the same amount of recognition. They are relegated for use at the household level and for interethnic communication. Although English and Kiswahili are regarded as languages of prestige in that they earn' certain potential for economic benefit. Kenyan people also place great value on their ethnic languages because they carry the people's culture and oral history. However, as a result of increased social mobility,urbanization,interethnic marriages and formal education, among other factors, these languages face the possibility of extinction." (Mugambi 2002 : 12)
Given their functional and prestigious positions,English and Swahili expanded considerably in the recent past, to the disadvantage of the indigenous languages. Since the indigenous languages are themselves never the same in vitality, relatively smaller ones have experienced greater pressure, sometimes from a neighboring other, in addition to English and Swahili. In Kenya, such languages include Bong'om, Boni, Burji, Dahalo, Degerc, Elmolo, Kinare, Kore. Lorkoti, Omotik, Segeju, Sogoo, Taita Cushitic, Terik, Yaaku. and Suba. Somrner ( 1992) summarizes how each of these languages experienced shift and their situations as of then. From his account, none of these Kenyan languages may resist extinction. Despite instances of language shift and extinction in Kenya as above mentioned, some minority languages are on record as having resisted language replacement. As reported in Heine and Mohlig (1980), the Nubi of Kisii,the Logoli of Luo southern Nyanza, and the Waata of Coast province are among these.
However, it must be stated strongly that the Suba case has been unique. Of all those languages here identified as facing extinction, it is the only one upon which the Kenya government attempted a direct intervention with the aim of securing a revitalization. Argument that the Suba case may have been part of a governmental policy to support small languages do not hold; for such efforts may have been applied on other languages in the situation of Suba as "-oil. I is perhaps why the political view has been more persuasive.
Out of Kenya's 42 indigenous languages. 16 of them have either become extinct or are seriously endangered, says a recent UNESCO report. This is the highest number in caster: four countries - Uganda, Tanzania. Sudan, and Ethiopia - are experiencing • termed "high language mortality." Muindi (2002). writing in AFRICANEWS in a "Languages: Living on Borrowed Time" narrates the story of one person whose extinct.
Writes Muindi: "When asked about his ethnicity. 10-year-old Jeff Machogu has no reservations. "I'm a Luo," he says with a chuckle. His father. Robert Oduol. one of Kenya's I just shakes his head in amazement as Jeffs younger brother, Roy Odhiambo, s background. "I'm also a Luo."
The two boys are firmly convinced that their family is Luo because they speak the language. observe the community's customs, and have a rural home near Lake Victoria. which is the heartland of the Luo. However, the boys" father knows otherwise.
"My family." he told AFRICANEWS, "is of Bantu origin, having descended from the Suba ethnic group, a Bantu community that fled to Kenya and Tanzania tearing political persecution in Uganda in the 16th century. Yet most people think we're Luo." Hence, he points out, his children are Bantus.
"In the Luo society, children's ethnic identity is determined by their paternal origins," says Oduol. "Therefore Jeff and Roy are Suba, a fact they don't know yet. But for the time being, I prefer them to stay in ignorance. I don't think now is the time to tell them their true identity as 1 don't want them developing an identity crisis at a young age."
But when he eventually decides to, reveal their ethnic origins to them, it will he as inconsequential as it will be symbolic, since the Suba as a distinct ethnic group are extinct, courtesy of two centuries of active and passive assimilation by their more aggressive Nilo-Hamitic neighbours, the Luo.
Their Suba ancestry only exists in their mythology: the Suba are content to refer to themselves as Luo. Kenya's 1099 national census estimated their number to be 83.000, though pure Suba speakers weren't identified. Indeed, when in 1995 President Daniel arap Moi carved a new district, Suba, out of the Lou-dominated Homa Bay district, cartoonists had. a field day caricaturing how a Suba looks like. They're fictitious people who couldn't be found, concluded one cartoonist.
That, however, hasn't discouraged Robert from naming his sons with names from fr .'"• both worlds: Nilotic, and Bantu. "Jeffs surname is Machogu. a Bantu name for an elephant. While Roy's is Odhiambo, a common Luo name which means one born in the evening," says Oduol. \\hose wife, Helen, is a pure Luo.
The demise of the Suba has been a thorough one. fuelled by a pre-coloniai ethnic colonialism imposed by the Luo, sustained intermarriage between the two communities, and an inconsiderate colonial policy that crafted borders that effectively cut off the Kenyan Subas from their Kin in Tanzania and Uganda.
The end result are hybrid Luos such as Oduol – fluent in Luo wives and names – who cannot speak their extinct mother tongue,practice their culture and pass their own history to youngsters such as jeff and Roy. “I'm only a Suba in name ,” he muses
According to Oduol. the intensity of the Luo onslaught has been sustained by a Luo custom that bans marriages between people from the same clan. Consequently, men from this Nilo-Harnitic society, being largely a socially conservative community, headed westwards, raiding and wooing Subaland for women so as to start families.
Ironically, the name "Suba" itself is a name that was given by the Luo to Uganda. In actual fact, these people are called "abakunta
The colonial government didn't help matters when, in its quest to seduce the politically versatile Luo, it set up most of the area's health centers, schools, and trading centers in i LuoLand. forcing ambitious Subas to head to Luoland. With their demographic insignificance, it was a matter of time before they were finally vanquished, culturally and linguistically. A century ago, they occupied the area from present day Homa Bay district in south-western Kenya to Lake Tanganyika in neighboring Tanzania, in addition to Lake Victoria's Rusinga and Mfangano Islands. Nowadays, their remnants are only found in tiny pockets in Homa Bay.Giwassi. Wuond. and Kaskgiri areas.
The Suba, or whatever remained of them, have stopped circumcising their sons, like what is done in most Bantu communities, and opted for the removal of the lower six teeth as is common in most Nilotic groups. Also gone is their naming system that was based on animals, plants, and natural phenomena; in came the Luo-version based on time and objects. The Subas. known to be agriculturalists, have also ditched the hoe for the rod, since fishing is the main economic occupation in Luo land.
The fate that has befallen Oduol's people is similar to what 15 other ethnic groups in Kenya are now facing, according to a recent report by the United Nations Educational. Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Issued on February 20, the report not on!> confirmed the demise of the Suba language and nine others, but issued a red flag for four more groups whose identity and language will soon become extinct if authorities don't do something fast. Apart from Suba, the other dead languages are: Oropom: Lorkoti; Yaaku. Sogoo; Kore: Seg Kinare.
El Molo. Bong'om. and Terik (Tiriki), spoken by a sub-tribe of the populous western Kenya Bantu Luhya community, have been classified as "seriously endangered.” Two Cushitic languages are in the same dire straits: Dahaalo,spoken in Kenya's coastal area: and Burji.
Which is being wiped out in the northern district of Marsabit by another Cushitic language,Borana. As of now, only pockets of Burji speakers reside in Marsabit. the largest town in northern Kenya after most were killed , and thousands fled following ethnic violence in 1995.
Although the EI Molo - Kenya's smallest community occupying some of the remotest parts of northern Kenya - is relatively isolated from outside influence, concern has been mounting that the community is on its way out. The remoteness of their habitats might have cushioned their culture, but frequent raids by nomadic tribesmen from southern Ethiopia and disease have left the El Molo community teetering on the brink of extinction. Matters have been mad sustained assimilation of the community through raids and intermarriage by their more populous neighbors, the Turkana.
Larger groups near the tiny Bantu community of the Tiriki, who occupy parts of Kakamega and Vihiga Districts in western Kenya, have laid similar siege. Two populous sub-tribes of the Bantu Luhya community, the Idakho and Maragoli on the one hand and the Nandi, a sub-tribe of the Nilo-Hamitic Kalenjin community on the other, have been fighting to linguistically Obliterete the Tiriki for most of the last 50 years. This is through frequent intermarriage,encroachment on Tirikiland,and encouragement of Tiriki's to seek employment from their home areas
With 16 languages on the death list, Kenya far surpasses neighboring Uganda,where six languages are under threat, and Tanzania, where eight languages are soon to disappear. Other African countries that UNESCO has branded as "crisis areas" are Nigeria, Sudan.' Cameroon, and Ethiopia, which the U.N. agency says has"high language mortality."
As per UNESCO guidelines, a language of any community is considered endangered if it is no longer learned by children, or at least by a large part of children (at least 30 percent). Currently, says the report, between 500 and 600 of Africa's 1.400 or so languages are in dc line, with 250 of the latter being under immediate threat of disappearing forever.
This does not surprise Ezekiel, Alembi, a linguistics lecturer at Kenyatta University "The current socio-economic systems in Africa mean that some of the languages can't survive for long." he-says, pointing an accusing finger at urbanization and a lack of parental guidance. ••These two." he says '"are the biggest threat to diversity of languages."
Wanguhu Nganga. a Kenyan politician who has researched issues of ethnicity concurs, saying that intermarriages, ethnic fights and the penchant by the government for multi-ethnic languages such as English and Kiswahili have brought about the sad status. These, he says, have been promoted at the expense of the vernaculars, especially in the urban areas, ensuring a slow but steady eradication of some local languages.
For Oduol. the exit of the Suhas has meant a loss of his cultural identity and history. “ Language is one of the cornerstones of any culture and society." he says. "It cements the unique identity of a group, history, and expresses that particular group's concerns and needs in Sadly 1 don't have that." he says, pointing out that he doesn't "have any Suba folktales to tell my kids.”
Nathan Ogechi, a linguistics scholar, says there are 42 stable codes (languages) in the country.
The numerical strengths of these codes are diverse. Some are spoken by over a million people
e.g. Gikuyu, Luhya. Dholuo. Kamba and Ekegusii while others have as a few as less than one
thousand speakers, namely, the Elmolo, Sengvver. Njemps and Yaaku. Hence, some languages
have less than one percent speakers. Speakers of these codes are associated with Kenya's 42
ethnic groups. That is. although language is just but one characteristic for identifying an ethnic group (Kasfir 1976), in the Kenyan context language is a crucial basic marker of an ethnic group.
In times of crisis such as 1992. 1997. 2002 and 2007-8 during the ethnic clashes either on the eve or following national general elections,it is code that is used to identify “colleagues”and enemies
Ogechi argues that there exist some indigenous Kenyan codes with few native speakers which are endangered and threatened with extinction. They include Sengwer,Elmolo,Okiek (Ogick) minority and Suba. The threat is as a result of the existence of a strong tendency whereby speakers of the minority codes are accommodating their speeches towards the dominant neighbor--v,g codes. In most cases the neighboring code is considered a carrier of superior culture worth emulating. For example Sengwer and Okiek speakers tend to use Nandi and Kipsigis (Kalenjin dialects) while Elmolo speakers use Turkana. Suba speakers adore and almost exclusively use Dholuo Thus these small codes are threatened with extinction.
To preserve the minority codes requires deliberate efforts from government. This is code be done through using them in preliminary grades of schooling and preparing teaching materials in them. However, only 22 out of 42 Kenyan codes have publications for teaching (ROK 1999).
These small codes do not feature anywhere in the list of 22.
According to Ogechi. the introduction of plural democracy politics in Kenya since 1991 is a blessing disguise to the minority codes. Prior to the promulgation of the new constitution, to be declared a president, one must have garnered at least 25% of the votes cast in at least five out of the eight Kenyan provinces. Votes from these minority groups could therefore not be wished away. Politicians started working up ethnic consciousness among these groups to take them "divert" their ethnic loyalty to the superior ethnic group's candidate as opposed to the aspiring presidential candidate from elsewhere. This is what occurred in 1992 when KANU"- Daniel arap Moi lost votes in the entire Luo Nyanza.
Subsequently, he started wooing the Suba who were for a long time considered as Luos. The Suba got government support to revitalize Suba. Funds were availed to study the code and prepare primers for use in teaching it at lower primary schools. In addition, the code received a slot of air time at the state-owned KBC western station broadcasting in several western Kenyan codes from Kisumu. This was about the only effort that is being done to save a dying code in Kenya.
As Africa marked the Year of African Languages in 2006 to help promote the use of mother tongue the British Broadcasting Corporation engaged listeners in a debate on the place of indigenous languages in the continent. In a discussion series titled "Are Indigenous languages Dead? listeners were asked whether it mattered if indigenous languages were dying out.
"New languages such as Kenya's sheng, a mixture of English, Swahili and mother tongue are emerging. But up to 300 languages have less than 10,000 speakers, which puts them on the UN's endangered list, and 37 are in danger of completely dying out in the next few years. So if people stop speaking the old languages, what, if anything, will be lost? Why do people languages such as sheng'? How many languages do you speak? Do you know of a that no longer exists?" posed the BBC.
A contributor said: "If I were to speak to my brother in our mother-tongue in apublic place, this
would be considered rude and bad manners by Kenyan standards,at least. I thinkthis is a shame, because by letting languages die we are letting a culture to die we are letting a culture to die! Nevertheless it is to have a unifying language, English has done this in this totally globalized world.”
Another added: "I am Maasai-speaking from Kenya and living in South Africa. We learn Spanish, German.
French and the others which are of minor significance to us but no one learns African languages and as parents we don't take the chance to teach our own children the benefits of these indigenous languages. Sheng is an irrelevant sort of language that is bound to corrupt the minds of the young generations. It's our obligation as children of Africa to realize the need to preserve this treasure!”
"Language is an important part of a society's culture. As a proponent of cultural diversity, I support the preservation of all 'mother-tongues'. However, in addition to one's mother tongue, I strongly advise the acquisition of an internationallanguage, whether it be English,French or Chinese. The ability to speak andinternational language provides better opportunities for work and life choices." yet another said.
A contributor summed it up by saying: "All parents in Africa should teach their children their native language to prevent it from being extinct. At home. I speak my mother tongue as well as two others. I think it's important that one's language is maintained."
All said and done, it is high time the Government, linguists and all concerned stakeholders geared up efforts to revive languages that are threatened with extinction.
In Kenya the government had embarked on promoting local languages thorough dept of culture by staging workshops and other related culture activities.
During the annual Nairobi International book fair dept of culture sate aside stand for local writers in there respective languages by going around the Country to collect there books and sale during the one week book fair with any fee.
To prove there seriousness they also promote Pros,Drs and scholars who writer in mother language and other related culture promotion languages eg Kiswahiri
Debate ob local languages is not new in Kenya given that by late 50s Grace Ogot and Prof Ngugi wa Thiong were already writing and publishing in mother tongue and up to date nobody knows between Ogot and Ngugi who starts writing in mother tongue than the other
While stiil at the University of Nairobi Ngugi announce his attention to switch to mother tongue and went ahead to drop Christian name James Ngugi to Ngugi wa Thiong since then he had published numerous numbers in Kikuyu, but teaches in English abroad.
Ngugi boost to lead dept of Africa Languages and translation abroad where he had been calling African writers and students to consider mother tongue which he claims that are rich in culture diversity.
The re had been debate in Kenya weather to teach African child in class one in English or mother tongue with claims that developed Countries with stronger economy like Japan and Chine take local language seriously
Africans including Kenyans needs to think in local languages before transforming them to English which is colonial language
With the introduction of Counties kinds of government and since TV station will be established in every Counties local language es will be boosted because in that Country mother tongue Radio station are powerful giving example of 2017 crashes and had seen one presenter ending at ICC at the Hague
It is believed that the presenter used FM station in Kalanjeni in contributing to the historical crashes which shocked the Country and international communities
Apart from that both KBC Kenya Broadcasting Co operation and B.B.C are doing very much as far as promoting of Kiswahiri and other local government are concern
Since election which ashes in Uhuru Kenyatta BBC had been going around the Country with there famous program Sema Kenya in which open debate between voters politician