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The Ubang Community Where Language Transcends Into Gender

By Chinelo Eze
23 February 2022   |   2:00 pm
  Language has been a factor used in society to sustain the identity and tradition of the people. Through the use of language, thoughts and feelings are expressed. Language, as an intangible heritage of many communities, is used to preserve individual languages. The difference between a man and a woman has always been between genders;…

 

Language has been a factor used in society to sustain the identity and tradition of the people. Through the use of language, thoughts and feelings are expressed. Language, as an intangible heritage of many communities, is used to preserve individual languages.

The difference between a man and a woman has always been between genders; the body parts and other differences. Never before has this difference in the form of language spoken been seen until meeting the Ubang community. Their style of language defies this logic and understanding around language and communication by transcending gender disparity into the culture of their language. 

This Ubang community is located in the southern region of Nigeria in Cross River state. It lies in an isolated area that is geographically nestled between two mountains in Obudu local government of Nigeria. The community is made up of 3 villages Ofambe, Okiro and Okwersing.

The Ubang community has an interesting form of communication that is inherently influenced by gender. The man has a language (Ofe) that is entirely different from that spoken by women (Araseke) and it is unlawful for either sex to speak the language not assigned to their sex by their ancestors. In fact, such people are considered an anomaly in the community if that happens. Regardless, they understand themselves clearly. Oliver Ibang, a community leader says “if you are a male speaking the female language, they will address you as an abnormal child.”

As a language culture deviating from all norms and reasoning of communication, the children of the community which include the male children first learn the language of the women. Only at this time is it acceptable and not an oddity for the males to speak the language of females in Ubang community.  Then, at the age of ten, young Ubang males are expected to discard the women’s language and speak Ofe.

Chichi Undie, an anthropologist, studying the language pattern between men and women says, “There are a lot of words that the men and women share in common, then there are others which are totally different depending on your sex. They don’t sound alike, they don’t have the same letters, they are completely different words.” She further explains that the difference is far beyond the British American variations in spelling.

For instance, in some words like water; the male call it itong and the female call it irui, men call cup nkoh and the women call it ogbala, water to the men is bamuie and to the women, amu.

As they are bilingual by their disposition they use a general language called “mete” for communicating especially in public places. 

The Ubang language has been sustained by oral tradition for several years lacking greatly in documentation, and like many languages that are endangered, can lead to the loss of identity and culture. Nevertheless, the community is not threatened by the extinction of their language Chief Oliver Ibang say “If the language dies, that means that people of Ubang are no more existing.” 

Stretching the use of language as an identity, Ubang language uniqueness is a phenomenon that is interesting at its best and forms the core richness of the people.  This sites them on the geographical map as the only community so far known to man that gender dictates the local tongue.

To unravel the mystery behind this elevated system of communication, there are a series of myths about how the Ubang community got their language. One that resonates more as explained by the community chief describing how their language came to be “God created Adam and Eve and they were Ubang people,” says the chief.

God’s plan was to give each ethnic group two languages, but after creating the two languages for the Ubang, he realised there were not enough languages to go around, he explains.

“So he stopped. That’s why Ubang has the benefit of two languages – we are different from other people in the world.”

Just as it remains a mystery how a community has designated languages for a man and a woman, it is not certain if the answer lurks behind the source is gotten from the Ubang mountains of Okwe Asirikwe.

In the mountains is an enormous rock with a paranormal footprint, which no one has been able to decipher because the size of the footprint is beyond the ordinary. Perhaps “big foot” once had a home with the Ubang people. 

This gigantic footprint gives rise to indigenes believing that it is the footprint of God.