Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Of Nationality, Nationhood and Miss Shaw

Yesterday while checking on a multilingual website, in search of further networks in translation and linguistics, I came across a curious thing. On the homepage was the language option for the user, and each language option was represented with a flag: the flag of Germany for German, the French flag for the French language, the Union Jack for English, and the Star and Stripes for American, the flag of China for Chinese etc. If there were Zulu there, I have no doubt that I would have seen a South African flag there, and a Kenyan flag for Swahili even though it is also spoken in Uganda and Tanzania. I did not find Yoruba, or Hausa on the site, but I had a chance to think that if they were recognized as international languages of communication, they would each have been represented by the Green-White-Green Nigerian flag. Very few countries in the world have the privilege of being populated by strong and different nations/nationalities who speak different languages that have each been recognized as a distinct national language.

Nigeria was coined by Miss Flora Shaw, the mistress of Nigeria's Administrator Lord Lugard from the word "Niger" which was what they called the large West African river. Some said Niger itself could have been a variant of "Nigger", and Nigeria the same as "an area of the Niggers." It is thus not surprising the revolt and cultural revolution of the new generation of Nigerian youths which has produced another variant of the name, now Naija. The older generation are still struggling to come to terms with the re-definition, as can be found in Dr. Reuben Abati's article A Nation's Identity Crisis. In many ways, it could be read as a reflection of an ageing generation's wonder at the dynamism of the new. The article, and the subsequent rejoinders will go into the archives as a marker of public self reappraisal. A wind is blowing through our polity, and out of it hopefully will arise something new and fresh - a renewal so long overdue.

"One nice thing about egotists: they don't talk about other people." - Author Unknown

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