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In Nigeria, there are over 250 languages, including dialects. In Edo State, there are diverse languages across many communities. In Ikom Local Government Area of Cross River State, such is also the order. But in Ubang community in Obudu Local Government Area, even within the same community, husbands and wives have to look for a common dialect to communicate in the house.
A recent visit by our reporter to the dusty community which takes a whole day’s tortuous journey from Calabar, capital of Cross River State confirms what was usually believed to a fiction by many.
Situated in the South-west in Obudu Local Government area of Cross River State, the community has over the years agitated, that the state government should see reasons why they should be considered as a tourists attraction in the state.
They argue that if showcased, the language may attract researchers, tourists and foreign investors from various parts of the world to the state, as many people may like to visit the area to see the wonders and beauty of nature.
It is a community where a brother and his sister, born of same parents, grow up to speak different languages, merely understanding each other. Sounds mysterious? This is a fact. And the possible reason for this is yet to be unraveled by experts, anthropologists or scientists.
Regarded by some people as an endangered species, the Ubang people are unique. A lot of people have become curious, that they visit the place frequently to behold not only nature but to feel these people.
Clan head of the community, Chief Friday Ade told Weekly Trust that there was need for their uniqueness and mystery to be tapped by the state government into its state tourism programme as there is no other community in the world that may have two languages separating the man from the woman.
He confirmed that the dissimilarities in languages have interestingly compounded their situation as husbands and wives usually struggling to find suitable words for communication.
He said it was amazing that the male child in the area from birth, will naturally grow up and adopt the men language, likewise the female child without going through any form of orientation.
Asked to cite some examples, he explained that whilst the men or husbands may call yam kitong, the women’s dialect for it is, irue.
Human leg is Okpo or kufue for the men while the women call it Oba.
He gave other examples as, cup Nko for men and Ogbala for women, Goat Ibue and Obe, head of any mammal rissi and rishi, dog kabu and Okwakwe respectively, with some similarities in certain aspects, but entirely different pronunciation.
Chief Ade was at sea when he tried to explain why the men should have different dialects from their women, even those born of same parents!
“This mystery is beyond human explanation. I think it is a natural trait which even our forebears were unable to unravel. Only nature can explain, because no human being can give concise reason for such a mystery. The beauty of it is that the man and the woman would understand themselves without inviting an interpreter,” Chief Ade said.
He linked the possible cause for the confusion and dissimilarities in their languages to the biblical drama (Genesis Chapter 11) when man attempted to build the Tower of Babel, so that they may be able to locate the abode of God in heaven.
Apparently in a jocular manner, he said he believes that the Ubang people were apparently the most disobedient group among those who made the attempt before God intervened and caused division and confusion among them as a way of stopping them from such suicidal mission.
He also went on to sight what may appear to be empirical evidence in one of Ubang’s mountains called Okwe Asirikwe where there is apparent supernatural footprint which no one has been able to unravel the source.
He said they believe that such a gigantic footprint couldn’t have been that of any normal human than God.
Another chief in the community, Oliver Ibang said despite the dissimilarities, both sexes understand themselves with ease and co-exist amicably and inter-marry among the three ancestral villages: Okiro, Ofambe and Okweriseng.
Speaking on the differences in language, Dr. Maureen Chukwumah a linguist said, “I find it very interesting, because I have never heard of any such thing before. Looking at it linguistically, I think there is a tie and both languages have the same root and therefore, have similar words with slight variations.
“If you take an analytical look at the syllables, synonyms and sounds, you are likely to see their relationship as they have the same parent language,” she said.
She also has another dimension to the strange union. “At the same time, I see it as being highly egoistic. If you care to find out, you will see that the community started with one of the languages. If it started with the female language, the men probably decided to start their own language and make it the dominate one forbidding the women to speak it. This gave them an edge over the women and further affirmed their dominance over the female folk.
“This is probably an effort to make the male one the more important and superior language, as they have physically made themselves.”
Meanwhile, Ibang regretted lack of any access road though they thrive in agriculture.
He said people are discouraged from visiting them due to the very poor, tortuous and inaccessible road, appealing to the state government to help them construct the Okworotong- Ukpe-Ubang road.
“It is unfortunate that our community has been totally neglected by successive governments in the state. We do not have access roads to transport our farm yields; no potable drinkable water, health facilities, electricity and good schools for our children.”
He also lamented that the people in the area still depend mostly on herbal medicines for the treatment of various epidemic diseases plaguing the area.
The Ubang people have rich cultural heritage, some of which are nocturnal. They have weird and dreaded cult like the Ikwong which forbids non-indigenes and women and non-initiate from looking at it.