Good people, learning a second language is totally worth the effort.
Knowing two or more languages expands your knowledge and opportunities in life, keeps your brain fit and broadens your perspectives. It gives you the ease to knock on more doors and articulate your needs.
But ignorance of your mother tongue makes you a weaverbird that never tweets like any other, but hoots like a fluent owl.
This is why the news that Maseko Ngonis based in Lilongwe are teaching the youth to speak isiZulu is thrilling.
The contest slated for tomorrow at Crossroads Hotel proves some proud ngonis been hard at work to keep their mother tongue alive.
“There is no such thing as dead languages, but only dormant languages,” reads Carlos Ruiz Zafron’s book, The Shadow of the Wind.
This is what was unmistakable a decade ago when some culture warriors formed Mulhako wa Alhomwe, a gateway to Lhomwe culture which almost disappeared like isiZulu.
Chilhomwe was not dead, but Lhomwes took no pride in it. Now, they are proudly reverting to their mother tongue. Many speak it happily.
Interestingly, other tribes are also rising to do revive their languages, the main vessel of their culture.
Language is like a button in a relay race. Some athletes run fast and others slow, but they pass it on. If you drop it, you lose it.
Nowadays, the streets of Malawi offer a Pentecostal experience as people of different tribes increasingly speak their languages with pride and a sense of belonging.
No one ought to break a jaw with a second language when hearers understand a language that distinguishes them.
Interestingly, the Maseko Ngonis are socialising their brood to know their mother tongue right in the capital just when urban settings have become slaughterhouses of vernacular languages.
Most Malawians have surrendered to westernisation, thinking ethnic languages are primitive.
With globalisation, urban Malawians are quick to teach their children to speak English like birds of the air while doing nothing about local languages.
Silently, Malawians are joining the abstract global market without anything to offer or to define them.
Globalisation does not entail hating ourselves and languages that distinguish in a diverse world.
It is like a bring-a-bottle party, a get-together where guests have to bring their favourite drink. If you turn up empty-handed, you have yourself if party-makers turn you back. Guests who bring only their long fingers, health appetites, yawning mouths and bottomless stomachs cannot blame anyone for reducing them to gate-crashers, beggars and doers of all the donkey work.
Going to such a party with nothing makes you a voiceless cartoon in a vociferous crowd of self-styled biggies who have something to show for it and words to express their style.
Gone are the days learning and civilisation meant knowing foreign languages and despising vernaculars.
The conquest of learning is achieved when learned minds acquire the knowledge of languages, including mother tongues.
Where I come from, my siblings and I learned the hard way what belonging really means if you are divorced from your roots.
Then, the people we had grown up knowing as our fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, ankhazi, asibweni—uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces sound a bit distant in bantu languages—suddenly treated us as uninitiated outsiders in a Them-vs-Us game until we had to prove to show isi ndisi ndisi: ndopa zawo nkhanira (that we are their blood).
This is why we celebrate the strides of Lilongwe-based ngonis knowing mother tongues are a turnkey to the vaults and high table of ethnic words, knowledge and cultural memories of people that cry and party with you.
Languages do not divide any nation, they add a sparkle to the world view that liken multicultural nations to gardens comprising flowers of diverse colours. n