Divide and Conquer!
Language has the ability to divide or unite people! Colonizers stripped Africans of their native languages because they knew there was power in the ability to communicate. We were fully aware of the fact that most African countries still utilized the language of their colonizers but we believed that local languages were more commonly used than not. As we travel through West Africa we are starting to realize that French and English seem more like native languages versus secondary ones. Having a language barrier is fine when we are talking about people speaking their native African languages. However, we are starting to feel as if European languages have become a part of the norm. Those with a certain level of education and wealth seem to gravitate and hold on tightly to these languages rather than use their “mother tongue.” We have been told that if you speak French “well” you are looked at as some type of superior being as if those who don’t are mere peasants. Language and class-ism seem to toe a fine line here. Language has definitely added a new layer of awareness to our journey.
|Two Ghanaian sisters Welcoming Me "Home" as Cry Together|
When we were preparing to repatriate back to Africa, our focus as a family was to learn at least one African language. At one point, we were teaching Dj Spanish. We stopped teaching him Spanish and began to teach him Twi (one of the local languages in Ghana). We brought a Twi book, downloaded Twi apps, and spoke the language with our Ghanaian brother almost every day to learn the vocabulary. The point was for us to be able to communicate with the people we wanted to unite with, work with, and live amongst.
When we got to Ghana, the learning curve was not difficult. The Twi language is fairly simple to pick up on. If you listen as Ghanaians speak (if they speak slowly enough) you can learn through the context. There was never a time where we were completely stumped regarding what was being communicated to us. The thing we loved most about being in Ghana was that although some Ghanaians can speak English, they primarily speak in their native tongues (Twi, GA, Ewe, etc.). Their ability to speak English was a bonus to aid us in learning their languages. Sometimes we would have to insist on them using Twi as opposed to English because they wanted to practice their English as well. All in all, Ghana is perfect for a repatriate seeking to learn an African language if you’re adamant about it.
|Ghanaian Brother Teaching Del & DJ "Ludo" (local board game) In "Twi"|
Just as we were getting familiar with the Twi language, we decided to pick up and travel around the continent. What were we thinking? Thus far, we have traveled to four African countries (South Africa, Ghana, Togo, Cote D’Ivoire), so the sample size is small, but I think we have had somewhat of a culture shock. As we traveled Togo and now Cote D’Ivoire, we have received a rude awakening. Communication has become an unexpected frustration as in both countries they speak French and rarely anything else. Handling business or simply trying to get from point A to point B has been extremely challenging for us.
As we travel the continent in search for a country to call “home,” language has now become a determining factor. Obviously, as we continue to travel the continent we evolve in our thinking. Most West African countries are francophone countries apart from Ghana. Since we have already learned the language of our oppressor being from America, we didn’t come to Africa to immerse ourselves in another society that has been forced to learn an oppressive language. If we wanted to learn French, France is where we would have moved too!
Colonization has made it very difficult for us to come home and assimilate into some of our ancestor’s countries. Whereas, it’s easier for the oppressor’s descendants to come to Africa and fit right in. Although, we know there are many repatriates and potential repatriates who are bilingual or multilingual, I would advise everyone to take into consideration the mindset of African countries and the people, who are adamant about continuing to use the tongue of their oppressors. Who are these countries trying to attract? Will you be ostracized if you are not willing to speak English or French? How has the language affected the mindset of the people? And is the language barrier adding another dividing factor amongst us as a people?
We plan to settle in an African country where an African language is primarily used within the country and by its inhabitants. If not, that country is more than likely not the country for us. Countries choosing to drop their colonizer’s languages and use African dialects (i.e. Rwanda) show the type of progressive thinking we believe is important for Africa’s future. In our opinion, that type of decision says a lot about the leadership of that country and the direction that African country is headed. How can Africa stand on its own two feet if it relies so heavily on the traditions, languages, and customs of its colonizers? Something to think about. Until next time…