By HENRY AKUBUIRO
Prolific author and President of the Nigerian Folklore Society, Bukar Usman has established a strong link between Biu language in Nigeria and those in other lands. Writing on “Indigenous Languages of the Biu Kingdom” in his definitive book, A History of Biu, the retired federal permanent secretary says Babur/Bura language, spoken by the Babur/Bura, the Chibok and Marghi in Borno State, shares similar words with the Bantu of southern Africa and even has words similar to some Welsh and Greek words. “There are also some curious Ghanaian, Congolese, and Malawian linguistic connections,” he adds.
In his study, back is “hili” in Bura and “hi” in Bantu/ semi Bantu; while blood is “mamshi” in Bura and “mashi” in Bantu/semi Bantu. In addition, buffalo is “fur” in Bura and “furu” in Bantu/ semi Bantu. Similarly, chief is called “kusi (kuthli)” in Bura and the same “kusi” in Bantu/ semi Bantu; while egg is known as “hlihli” in Bura and “huli” in Bantu/ Semi Bantu.
A History of Biu also educates the reader that, while house is called “mba” in Bura, it is known as “mba/umba” in Bantu/semi Bantu; just as knife is called “inla” and “landa” in Bantu/semi Bantu. In the same vein, leopard is known as “tunvwa” in Bura and “umvwa” in Bantu/ semi Bantu.
Still establishing the linguistic connection between these languages, Usman compares these common words: meat –“kum” (Bura), “kuma” (Bantu/ semi Bantu); salt – “una” (Bura), “onu” (Bantu/semi Bantu); spirit – “melim” (Bura), “melima” (Bantu/semi Bantu); ten – “kuma” (Bura), “kumi” (Bantu/ semi Bantu); woman – “mwala” (Bura), “mwali” (Bantu/ semi Bantu).
Usman’s study further draws attention to the linguistic influences of Chadic languages on Biu Kingdom. He states that, while the main Biu-Mandara Central Chadic language spoken across Biu Emirate is Babur/Bura, other central Chadic languages spoken in the Emirate include Marghi, Jara, Chibok and Hwana. Also, the non central Chadic languages spoken in the emirate are Kanakuru, Fulani, Hausa, and Kanuri.
“The linguistic similarities exhibited by these languages, cutting across several generations, are some of the major reasons behind the long history of cultural affinities among these different Biu Kingdom ethnic groups brought together by migrational forces.
“Evidence of such migrational forces can be discerned from the fact that Bura language is spoken in many places outside the Biu Kingdom. Bura is thinly dispersed across a very wide area, and there are, today, speakers of the language in French Cameroon (now Republic of Cameroon) and even in some parts of Benue. So, linguistic influences with phonological implications might have taken place over the years,” he affirms (pp. 168-167).
However, the author is saddened by the reality of language disappearance in Nigeria, as fluent communication in Babur/Bura and other Nigerian languages even among the educated elite is a big problem. What is more disturbing is the scant attention paid to publishing and broadcasting in indigenous Nigerian languages in the media.
This is not a one-sided problem, though, he argues, extending it to literature: “Foreigners, who access literature translated from another language, are likely reading or hearing something somewhat different from the original. Books by Nigerian authors writing in English have been translated into foreign languages. Chinua Achebe leads the pack with his Things Fall Apart already translated into over 50 languages.
“But there are writers like Wole Soyinka, Niyi Osundare, Remi Raji-Oyelade, among others, whose books have also been translated into foreign languages, such as French, German, Catalan, Swedish, Ukrainian, Latvian and Croatian. But these are non-African languages. This author is not aware of the works of these writers being translated into indigenous African languages, including their own. Are we not losing something here?” he wondered.
The book, A History of Biu, adjudged one of the best books published by a Nigerian author in 2015, and selected as The Sun Book of the Year (non-fiction category), paints a balanced picture of the multicultural Biu Emirate society, and through its portrayal of critical social phenomena, unveils the core of values knitting together this tolerance over four centuries-old civilisation. The book is published by Klamidas Communications, Abuja, 2015.
The author, Usman, D.Litt, OON, retired from the presidency in 1999 as a permanent secretary, and has since devoted his time to creative writing, cultural research and folklore revival in Nigeria.