Some say women are from Venus and men are from Mars, and nowhere is that more real than in Ubang, a Nigerian rural community where men and women have their own separate languages!
It’s hard to believe that men and women who grow up together in the same community can end up speaking different languages, but in the case of Ubang’s residents, it’s absolutely true.
It’s not exactly clear how many words in the men’s and women’s languages are different, but there are enough examples to make sentences sound different when spoken by the opposite sex.
For example, for “clothing” men use the word “nki”, while women say “ariga”. “Kitchi”means “tree” for men, while women say “okweng”. Other words are “water”, “bamuie” for men and “amu” for women, “bush”, “bibiang” or “déyirè”, and “goat”, “ibue” or “obi”, among many others.
As you can can see, these are not just some subtle pronunciation differences, but words totally different, and it’s been like this for as long as anyone can remember!
“It’s almost like two different lexicons,” said the BBC anthropologist Chi Chi Undie, “there are a lot of words that 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.”
However, both men and women are able to understand each other perfectly, as both boys and girls grow up around their parents and get to learn both languages, but by the age of 10 boys are expected to speak in the male tongue, and girl the female one.
“There is a stage the male will reach and he discovers he is not using his rightful language,” Chief Oliver Ibang said. “Nobody will tell him he should change to the male language. When he starts speaking the men’s language, you know the maturity is coming into him.”
No one really knows how or why the curious tradition began, but most locals prefer the religious theory according to which God created Adam and Eve as Ubang people and gave them two different languages. He planned to give each ethnic group two languages but realized there were not enough languages, so he stopped at the Ubang, leaving the village different from all the other communities of the world.
Anthropologist believes the two languages are the result of a dual-sex culture, where men and women operate in two separate spheres and live in separate worlds that rarely come together.
However, this is a weak theory, as the dual-sex culture is present in many parts of Africa, except the different languages for men and women.
Either way, as English words continue to enter the lexicon of young people across Nigeria, Ubang’s two languages are in danger of being lost forever and, because neither the male nor female language is written down, they both rely on young people passing them down to the next generation.
Images from web – Google Research