• Posted on: 22 June 2020
  • By: Prof Julie Umukoro


By Julie Umukoro 

An ethnic group is inexorably identified or set apart by a commonness established by a variety of features, language being one such paradigmatic element. Language, simply put, is a well-structured sign or code system built to serve communication purposes for its owners. Despite its multimedia image drawn on its pedigree of auditory, visual and written forms, spoken language, the major focus, is adjudged, to more eloquently delineate a typical group. However, of allied interest are the paralinguistic roles of such secondary media  as scarification, costume, makeup and props.  Against the backdrop of Indigenous movies, the paper takes a critical look at the Ukwuani language of the Ndokwa people; it focuses specifically on its promotion and sustainability in the face of urbanization and globalisation The Ukwuani language is one among many languages found among the over 250 ethnic groups that make up the country, Nigeria. The Ndokwa groups of people, to whom Ukwuani language belong, are located in Delta state (Nigeria), and live in proximity to the coastal region; hence sandwiched between the delta swampy forest and tropical rainforest belt. It is thus home to numerous creeks, prone to perennial flooding and poor agricultural yields. Despite the odds posed by the harsh topographic elements and the tendency for seasonal migration, displacement, famine, pestilence and other factors traceable to weather hazards, the region is richly endowed with different kinds of mineral resources. Highly valued for oil and gas prospection, it has not only acquired the image of a cash cow but serves indeed the selfsame purpose of boosting Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).The harsh realities of the Ndokwa climate and topography, the paucity of infrastructure and good road networks, the persistent economic hardship, as well as the inundating experiential migratory antecedents have provoked in the inhabitants the adverse feeling of being marginalized.  Thus, the Ndokwa man, by disposition is itinerant in nature either in search of a new home, new job or occupation, one season to another. Quite often, settlers with such itinerant disposition readily embrace new kinds of social actions or activities and/or new ways of doing things, in response to new environments. These may include learning and adopting new communication modes, often to the detriment of the mother-tongue models. Language as iterated earlier, more eloquently delineates the individual and without it one is bound to evolve a self-effacing attitude likely to be injurious to one’s cultural identity. 
Ukwuani language of the Ndokwa people, particularly the spoken form, remains the incontrovertible link and index of their ancestral root and identity. There has been a rising fear the world over and with some substantial evidence that most indigenous languages are beginning to erode and may by and by become moribund if effort is not made to revitalize them. This had led the United Nations to declare 2019 as the International year of Indigenous Languages to raise awareness about language loss and encourage action to reclaim and revitalize them. It is in the light of creating this awareness and motivating action toward safeguarding the Ukwuani language from falling into disuse that this discourse has become pertinent at this point in time. What are the factors that could serve as a springboard to set in motion such a degenerating trend? A language can degenerate to an extent that no one can speak the language. This may occur when native speakers thin out and the language is not passed on to the younger generation. In such a worst case scenario a language is said to be on its way to extinction. While asserting that the Ukwuani language today may not be listed among those dangerously close to extinction, there is a new trend that points the way in that direction, and without a concomitant action of checks and balances, the language may be highly endangered in due course. A language is declared “dead” when there are no more native speakers. In such a case, where a language is declared moribund and is completely out of use, one could perceive it as a language killed! Language killing or Linguicide is traceable to many factors, however the discussion here is limited to those germane to the Ukwuani language, and how the indigenous film media could serve the purpose of keeping the language alive.  Although limited to the Ukwuani language, the issues may yet suffice to treat any other indigenous mode with common denominators

. The question to ask here is, how can the Ukwuani indigenous movie be plied to create awareness and emphasize the significance of sustaining the language chain of the Ndokwa people?

Globalization and Urbanization: Nigeria, as a onetime British colony had had to adopted the English Language as lingua franca. Despite having gained independence over 59years ago, she has been unable to relinquish the English Language as the general language of communication. .Having assumed its pride of place as the school curriculum’s medium of communication and indeed the model communication channel for social and economic power in Nigeria, the English language phenomenon has persisted over the years, and has tactically relegated to the background the Nigerian indigenous languages, most  especially at the urban centres.

Cultural, Political or Economic Marginalization: These are other factors militating against the growth of indigenous language as they lead to the preference for popular culture. As earlier mentioned, the itinerant disposition of the Ndokwa people make them amenable to the adoption of other people’s culture. While this is advantageous for social networking and boosts the creative acumen for business and survival, it has had a deemphasizing effect on Ukwuani as an indigenous language. Thus may by and by, lead to the gradual annihilation of this language, including other cultural, practices of the Ndokwa people,   

Inter-Ethnic Marriages: The breaking of ethnic barriers through inter-ethnic marriage is a welcomed development among Ndokwa people like any other but the lingua franca issue and the white collar job syndrome echoed above has had such a debilitating effect on indigenous language. It is only by some great effort that children from inter-ethnic marriages acquire the language and indigenous heritage of both parents.

Promotion and Sustainability of the Ukwuani Language.

To promote and /or sustain any action, there must first be a relative interest to propel such an action. This is followed by a corresponding energy and consequently the determination to make a success of it. Determination here, the corollary of the initial effort, the drive, is the underlying factor toward the promotion and sustainability of an act. To want to promote and sustain interest in a particular dance form for instance, interest should have been aroused first by the music itself, perhaps by its sound and rhythm, which may have in reciprocation elicited the swaying, nodding, clapping or tapping to the music. Once there is a constant reciprocal action toward the music, interest is established. At this point, the necessary drive toward the promotion and sustainability of the dance form is fully secured. This then sets the standard; so much so, more persons develop appetite to formally learn the dance steps, the necessary opium for its longevity. Following the same application, interest is the propelling factor toward the promotion and sustainability of the Ukwuani language. Premised on the forgone, interest; the active agent becomes the spring-board for the corresponding energy and determination to create avenues for the survival of the Language. The more pervasive learning-culture for languages is the established practice of living and interacting with native speakers of the language. This act enables the would-be or potential learner to constantly or consistently hear and see the speakers in action within their own world. Thus, language learning, be it as a first or second language, is preeminently founded on a close affinity between native speakers of the language and the Learner. One of the numerous ways by which this close affinity was created in the traditional societies was through the traditional moonlight story-telling culture where in an interchange of ideas (folklore) a well versed narrator entertained a group of listeners with legendary stories often told in the indigenous language. This often included songs championed by the narrator to which the audience intoned or chorused alongside, in an interactive structure. They also clapped and danced along where necessary. Under this informal artistic mode, the would-be learner of the language learned faster and effortlessly. With globalization and urbanization, this age long tradition had lost its glory and so had been relegated to the background. However, with the emergence of the art of film or the motion picture, came the revolutionized story-telling art often traced to the successful experimental public screening in 1895, of ten short films by the Lumiere brothers. At this juncture, it is necessary to state here that the movie art, which basically is picture cum sound-in-motion, is multi-dimensional in its approach and technique with quite a number of film genres to its credit. Whether based on real and/or imagined events as in documentaries and/or dramas or reality shows of music or dance performances, whether comedy, horror, war or pornographic types, the primary motive had always been to communicate, educate and entertain. This research, however, explores the drama model with emphasis on the indigenous stereotype. The major aim is to identify ways by which the film media can be significantly used to promote and sensitize learning and knowledge of culture, particularly indigenous languages.

  Nollywood, Nigeria’s indigenous movie industry came into existence to create a Nigerian indigenous platform toward promoting the Nigerian culture. This presupposes that the film maker of the Nigerian stereotype from the very beginning set out to capture the peculiarities of the sight and sound of its background. Unsure of its commercial viability, it was with trepidation that indigenous filmmakers began to engage and romance with the idea of selling the Nigerian story through dramatic interpretation. However, with the commercial success of Kenneth Nnebue’s Living in Bondage in 1993 the floodgates were thrown open. Has the Nigerian indigenous movie stereotype made appreciable impact in this direction? Yes and it has since remained a tool in the hands of history to put on record aspects of the Nigerian lifestyle or culture in audiovisual concepts. In recent times, given Nigeria’s ethnic diversity and language multiplicity, the Nigerian story has become even more streamlined toward its autochthonous elements and forms. Now, predominantly, the Nigerian story must first adopt the rubber stamp of the very ethnic background it wants to promote with heavy influence in visual and language aesthetics for identification. For this reason we can now speak of the Hausa/ Fulani or the Igbo or the Yoruba, or the Ukwuani indigenous movies to mention just a few. The films now explore in greater details the ethnicity of the representative group, most especially, dynamic innovations in the use of the indigenous language.

How can the medium of Film be successfully used for the promotion and sustainability of the Ukwuani language of the Ndokwa people of Delta state (Nigeria)?   

 Noted below are two popular film techniques of using the indigenous language as signposts for cultural identity. There have been a number of experimentations on Ukwuani indigenous movie in Nollywood as represented by the collections found on the Youtube channel.

Ije Enu, parts 1&2 produced by Debbie’s Investment, Ife Ekam, Parts 1&2 produced by Joyscon Movie Production, Ukuakpukpor and Nwunyedi  produced by Vascolor Multimedia,  and Nefa Jesu produced by Boskey Music and Film Production. Ukwuan films may have one or more of the following characteristics:


English Language Medium Flavoured with the Local Language: Here, there is conscious use of ad libs of the indigenous language alongside the English language primary medium. Thus we find situations of admixture of local jargons  as interjections, exclamations or garnished with mono syllabic responses such as ‘yes’ ‘no’ ‘go’ ‘come’ ‘welcome’  and so on.

Local Language Medium with English Sub-titles: Here the primary medium of communication is the indigenous language of choice. The English sub-titles help the non-speaker to follow the story and actions of the film. By and by, with consistency, a potential learner would begin to get accustomed to aspects of the language and customs.

Local Language Medium without Sub-titles: These are films using solely the indigenous language medium. To understand or follow the story, you must understand the language.

  Research has revealed that city people, with all the encumbrances of the white collar job have had to abandon their erstwhile traditional moonlight story-telling pastime for the new movie-screen-art form. Today, every household own one device or the other for showcasing the new format. Thus the movies have come to fill the gap and are fulfilling individual dreams for education and entertainment in more practical ways than the outdated story telling art of traditional society. Individuals and groups can now enjoy at will indigenous performances through the new media and could be explored to promote communal interrelationships, promote the culture, particularly language.

Research has revealed that the recent launching out of Ukwuani movies, musicals and documentaries is a development in the right direction. Having gradually warmed its way into the hearts of the Ndokwa people for the love of the use of Ukwuani language, the Ndokwa pride is aglow among the people. Ukwuani, the indigenous language of the people is prioritized as the primary medium of communication in the dramas, documentaries and musicals and this by extension propels non-speakers of the language to learn it and speakers to develop the knack of speaking it. This attitude, well established, would provide a knock-on effect so that the language would grow from strength to strength one generation to the other. This decision to create specially the Ukwuani-world movies has also brought out new facts. The platform has created jobs for Ukwuani youths especially those who understand the language, the medium being the necessary condition for audition. This has given ascendancy to the vision of parents on the need to prioritize the teaching of the language to their children who may be prized out of essential opportunities conditioned on being Ukwuani language compliant. All these point to the need to pursue the vision of establishing the Ukwuani language in the school curriculum. This idea must be given wings to fly by every well-meaning Ndokwa Personality. Language more than anything else gives a group an iconic image that is indexical of the totality of their  existence. Language, dress and locale,  perceived in this study  as indices of the Ndokwa people’s culture are being well utilized in the delineation of Ndokwa or Ukwuani movie. This will do well to promote and sustain the Ndokwa pride, the Ndokwa image and more significantly, the longevity of the Ukwuani Language. However, the re searcher observes that there are yet to be great playwrights of the ukwuani stereotype as the few available ones suggest. Following the characteristic love-tale tradition, the stories are not so engaging; however, they fulfill the cardinal objective to project through dramatic entertainment Ukwuani language and customs.In conclusion, the indigenous movie industry should be given a boost through the supportive gesture of sponsorship from groups and individuals of Ndokwa extraction who are passionate about the Ndokwa dream. We should see this as an endowment towards keeping our culture intact. The movie industry is a school on its own and so much can be achieved in terms of reaching our apogee and recording our Golden Age by investing in indigenous Ukwuani movies.