In Langscape Magazine Articles

My Missing Tongue

Story by Abraham Ofori-Henaku, age 21, Akan (Ghana)

Indigenous Languages

That’s me. A bright-looking lad with marvelous abilities to dance, sing, write, and speak eloquently, but my regret stems from my inability to speak my local dialect and relate to my Akan culture. Photo: Abotchiethephotographer, 2019

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It’s been quite a long journey growing up in a society that very much holds on to its rich way of life — something that I always took for granted. And now, it’s all coming back to me in regret.

Oh! Pardon me! Where are my manners? Hi there! I’m Abraham Ofori-Henaku. A 21-year-old final-year student pursuing journalism at the Ghana Institute of Journalism in Ghana, West Africa. I was born and raised in a small township called Akuse, in a very peaceful and neighborly hood in the Eastern Region of Ghana. I am an Akan, an umbrella term that refers to a large cluster of related ethnic groups. My parents are both Akans, hailing from a town in the mountains. Having lived long enough with their own parents, who were also natives of their hometown, the Akan traditions and norms — particularly those of their group, the Akuapem — were the two things they could never do away with. My dad once told me that even if they were rich and had moved to the States while he was young, knowing his mum so well, there was no way she was going to raise him and his siblings according to any Western standards.

It’s been quite a long journey growing up in a society that very much holds on to its rich way of life—something that I always took for granted. 

For someone like me living in the 21st century, I would call that tough love, but my folks would say it’s proper training. The funny turn to this whole story is that things actually did change when I was born. My mum and dad had built a comfortable life: okay jobs, traveling to other countries, affording their own accommodation and needs, moving to a hood that was safe, peaceful and neighborly — all part of the benefits they had reaped from education, discipline, and morals. Of course, these three things were passed on to my siblings and me(we’re still working on them), but the one thing that escaped me is my native language, Twi.

Yes, I have been speaking the English language for as long as I can remember, and all the while, I never realized how lost I was until recently. What I can remember was, my parents never really brought me up with their native language. Sure, they did throw in a few Twi phrases in passing, but most of the time we spoke English. Even at times when they spoke Twi to any of us kids, we’d respond in English — provided we understood what they were saying. I had gotten used to it so much, that I almost always engaged with the people I met in the Western dialect of Ghanaian English. Not that there was anything wrong with it; no. But now that I’m away from my family (in university) and I happen to meet different people each day, I realize that I can’t use the English language everywhere and speak it to everyone.

I have been speaking the English language for as long as I can remember, and all the while, I never realized how lost I was until recently. 

What is even sadder is that I had opportunities at my basic level in school to polish up my broken Twi and get much more inclined to my culture, but as the cliché goes, “ignorance was bliss.” People, even my own mates, did and still do laugh at me every time I attempt to speak Twi. Luckily, I do not land in the same pot when I engage with outsiders like market women or street vendors or, to some extent, the elderly. At least, they don’t talk so much, and I can confidently spew a few Twi words or greetings at them — although I’ve been told once that my Twi sounds like a white man speaking Twi.

Honestly speaking, I now do realize how bad this is. If only I had a good grip of my Akan language like I do of my English, it would be such a plus to me. I could find myself almost anywhere here in Ghana and feel very comfortable engaging with people because out of the numerous languages spoken here, Twi is the popular and basic one. Also, I would not have to lose my sense of belonging. By caring less about learning my language, I embraced the Western culture more. I didn’t care to learn about my history, visiting my hometown, attending or witnessing festivals, and even more so, getting to know the family I have in my hometown.

If only I had a good grip of my Akan language like I do with my English, it would be such a plus to me. I could find myself almost anywhere here in Ghana and feel very comfortable engaging with people. 

I really don’t need to blame my parents for this. They did well for trying to teach us our native language and even better for teaching us English. I only wish I had been enthused and curious to learn my language and all that there is about my Akan culture; maybe that interest would have pushed our parents to train us more in those things.

As at 21, I must say that it’s rather a bit late to catch up on learning the Akuapem Twi as easily as I could if I were younger. Now, it’s a bit tough, considering that I don’t get any classes in Twi. I listen and try to learn on my own. I am not giving up though. Hopefully one day — though sometimes I am doubtful — my Twi will be at the same pace as my English language.

A little lesson I’d like to share with you begins with the words of the American businessman Bert Lance, who is credited with the quote, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” To a large extent, he’s right. There was nothing wrong with my culture. There was no need to ignore it and ink myself with “whiteness.” Again, culturally speaking, I am broken and I do need fixing. My regret right now plainly gives me a good reason to reconnect with traditional knowledge, practices, values, and ways of life of my Akuapem home.

Indigenous Languages

That moment of struggling to pronounce a Twi word right. I’m not giving up on learning the language, though. Photo: Abotchiethephotographer, 2019

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Abraham Ofori-Henaku Asamani Yaw is a young writer from Akuse in the Eastern Region of Ghana, West Africa. Aside from his ability to write stories, poems, articles, and news feeds, Abraham is equally a dance prodigy. He expresses a lot of enthusiasm when it comes to the arts and dabbles in singing and a little drama as well. He is currently in his final year at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communication. While in school, he invest his journalistic skills in Sway Africa — an African entertainment production firm where he writes stories for them.

Abraham is a friendly, lovable, and humble young fellow with an optimistic spirit and only longs for making and sustaining a positive difference in the world he finds himself in.

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The Indigenous Youth Storytellers Circle: Share Your Story with the World!

An Invitation to Young Indigenous People

The Indigenous Youth Storytellers Circle is a year-long project (2019) linked to Terralingua’s flagship publication, Langscape Magazine. We aim to collect and publish personal stories from young Indigenous people who are involved with one or more of the following four Focus Areas:

  • reaffirming cultural identity;
  • breathing new life into their ancestral languages;
  • reconnecting with traditional knowledge and practices, values, and ways of life; and
  • reclaiming ancestral links with the land.

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The Indigenous Youth Storytellers Circle is recognized as an official project of the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages, so your story has the potential to reach a global audience. Read more stories from Indigenous Youth.

If you are a young Indigenous person who would like to tell about your experiences connecting to your ancestral languages, cultures, and lands, we want to hear from you!

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