‘If We Don’t Learn Our Language, We Don’t Understand Our Culture’

Gambian academic Dr Cherno Omar Barry of the International Open University, who doubles as President of The Gambia Writers Association, has said that if people don’t learn their language, they naturally don’t understand their culture.

Professor Barry made the remark at the weekend at the commemoration of World Book and Copyright Day by The Gambia Writers Association at Alliance Francaise on Kairaba Avenue, where he lectured participants on ‘Indigenous Knowledge Production to Preserve Our Languages’.

Addressing participants, Professor Barry said: “We did have a way of preserving our knowledge, but unfortunately because we have never done any knowledge production, as such, we have never really taken the writing component or translation into book of it, that knowledge, most of it got lost because it was inherited.

“The blacksmith would teach how to hit the metal, bend it and make a tool out of it, but he can only teach his son. He cannot write in a book. He has secrets of how to bend the metal and all that. He has learnt that secret, but that secret remains in the family. Unfortunately, if the family goes extinct, that knowledge goes extinct.

“The historian also does the same thing. They preserve the knowledge that have grown in society which have built a community, that have played a role, that go to war to protect the people, and a whole problem about language that is the vehicle of culture.”

The Gambian educationist and professor held that such is the very rationale behind the French’s introduction of Assimilation as colonial policy during colonialism, which he said meant learning French and, in so doing, equally learning French culture.

“So it is through learning that culture, you will come to preserve and come to appreciate and understand the differences,” he stated. “The same like us: if we don’t learn our language, naturally we don’t understand our culture, and I have to believe that, sometimes, if you don’t understand the culture of the other, you have a way of judging them wrongly.”

Such a notion or misconception of language, Dr Barry notes, is what is creating cultural conflict. He however states that cultural diversity will not happen if people don’t appreciate difference as enrichment.

The Gambian professor clarifies: “The difference is an enrichment of you because you are what you are; you cannot be more than what you are, but thereby living and cohabiting with another culture, you come to learn how they live, come to learn what they like, come to learn what they eat, (and) you come to learn what they wear.

“To me, I like to go to a cultural dance where I find the Jola dancing. Why? Because it is a symbol of expression of a people’s identity, and we only lose those things when we do not produce them. If you do not preserve them, then you lose them.”

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