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1.1       Brief Historical Background of Idoma Nation

Etymologically, it is a difficult obligation to actually pin-point the first person that coined the word “Idoma”. Scholars like Erim (93) and Unoma (206) are of the opinion that the Idoma people migrated from the ancient Kwararafa confederacy. But there is a popular belief among the Idoma that the terms, “Idu” and “Oma” were first and foremost the surnames of the Idoma progenitors. There is a fervent practice among the Idoma that someone’s descendants are regarded as “Ai” and that is why we have Ai-Idoma, Ai-Orokam and many others.

It is important to note that Erim’s study of the Idoma nation stipulates that “the Idoma people occupy areas of land which lies within both the broad valley of the Benue Rivers to the Northern fringes of Igbo land” (11). He further states, “ranging about two hundred and eight kilometres from the East to West, the area is flanked by the Tiv and Igede to the East and the Igala to the West. The bulk of the territory of the land is South of the Benue, some seventy two kilometres East of its confluence with the Niger” (6).

It is worthy of note that, among the twenty-three(23) Local Government Areas of Benue State, the Tiv nation has thirteen while the Idoma have nine, which include Ado, Agatu, Apa, Obi, Ogbadibo, Ohimini, Oju, Okpokwu, and Otukpo respectively. Ogbadibo is the Local Government Area which is accommodating the endangered Orokam dialect, which is the subject of this study. There are several dialects among the Idoma people which include Otukpo (the standard dialect), but Orokam, Edumoga, Igede, Owukpa, Otukpa, Agatu, Agila and many others are regarded as regional dialects of the Idoma language. The Idoma dialects are further divided into two major groups which are the “Enochi” (Northern Idoma) and the “Enone” (Southern Idoma). The Otukpo dialect being the standard dialect; Agatu, Agila, Igede and many others are the northern Idoma dialects (Enochi) while Edumoga, Orokam, Otukpa, and Owukpa are the southern Idoma dialects (Enone).

Well, for the purpose of this study, the researcher will narrow this study to the dialect of Orokam only, which is part of the “Enone”dialect group. A brief history of Orokam will be of great help to the study of the dialect (Orokam).

1.2       The Origin of Orokam

Geographically, Orokam is one of the  Idoma speaking communities located at the western part of Idoma land of Benue State and situated in the southern part of Ogbadibo Local Government Area with a land mass of about eight hundred and twenty kilometres (820km) long and four hundred kilometres wide. As the case of other areas, so also is the case of Orokam having boundaries with other states and districts in Nigeria. It is bordered by Otukpa district in the north, Owukpa district to the east (all of Ogbadibo Local Government Area), bordered in the west by Unyi-Ogugu in Olamaboro Local Government Area of Kogi State, and to the  south, it has boundary with Amalla in Obollo-Afor, Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State. Historically, it is difficult to give the  most concise and satisfactory account of  Orokam due to the doubtful account of fallibility of human memory, exaggeration, addition or extraction from the myth, tales, or oral tradition, which is one of the many methods of data collection. Available sources of information to Orokam history are archeological materials and oral tradition. Oral tradition seems, however, to override others due to lack of proper documentations of Orokam history. Based on 1991 National Population Commission Census of seventy-five thousand, seven hundred and fifty-six (75,756), Orokam has an estimated population of people.

Orokam, as it is called today, is an adulteration of the phrase, “Ole Okam“, meaning the house of Okam. The name was mispronounced by the British colonialists who were deployed to teach the Ole Okam children when they found it difficult to call “Ole Okam“. Okam is the son of Apa who was the first person to come to a piece of land near Unyi- Ogugu in Olamaboro Local Government Area of Kogi State in search of fertile land and a good climate. In short, Okam was formerly staying with his father, Apa, at Wukari in the present Taraba State after which he fled to Idah in Kogi State as a result of communal crisis in northern Nigeria, and there at Idah, the problem of chieftaincy title which was at the verge of claiming his life prompted his unplanned journey to the current place, which is today called Orokam.

Okam was the father of five children, who according to their ages are Inamu, Ona (Abakpa), Oko and Agbo, who is called after his mother, Oriko (Agboriko), and Akor (Onyirofe). They were scattered all over the country but were all later called to take their places in Ole-Okam. According to the eldest man from Ai-Inamu (Iyru) clan, eighty-two-year -old Enenche Ameh, in an oral interview, said that Inamu was the first son of Okam to come to the land after his father. He was an experienced native doctor who by the instruction of his father took the place of Okam after his death and thereafter advised the younger ones to come to take their places in Ole-Okam.

In an interview with Idoko Apeh, before his death, he maintains that Abakpa who is popularly called Ona was second to arrive from Icho in Otukpo Local Government Area of Benue State. Out of Ona’s love and traditional hospitality, he helped in carrying out some of Inamu’s domestic chores and was instructed to live by the left hand side of his brother’s house, which is the current Uture (Ejema Orokam now). Mr. Idoko Apeh added that Oko, who was a hunter, was the third to arrive at Okam land from Ugboju, his mother’s place, and was also asked to live by the side of his brother, Ona (Abakpa). Next to settle at Okam land was Agboriko who was believed to have migrated from Nsukka in Nsukka Local Government of Enugu State. He finally added that Akor (Onyirofe) was the last to settle on Okam land and he equally migrated from Ileke in Onitsha Local Government Area of Anambra State. Hence, the children of Inamu – Ona, Oko, Agboriko, and Ako – are all called Ai-Okam. By and large, Orokam is made up five clan representatives of the five adventurous fore-fathers: Ai-Inamu, Ai-Ona, Ai-Oko, Ai-Agboriko, and Ai- Ako respectively. It is important to note that the five children of Okam after gathering, introduced a pattern of sound as symbol of cultural heritage and identity and that is what is regarded as Orokam dialect today. Though Orokam dialect, to some extent, shares some sound patterns with other neighbouring dialects but the tone in totality makes them distinctive as we are going to see in the preceding chapter of this work.

1.3       Statement of the Problem

There is no doubt that a plethora of studies has been done on the concept of language endangerment in Africa, as a whole, and Nigeria, in particular, but no special attention or consideration has been given to Orokam dialect. In an increasing number of Orokam homes, parents now prefer to bring up their children as monolingual speakers of English, which they feel their children need to function in school, thereby giving room to Orokam dialect of Idoma language to be endangered. Since the dialect of Orokam is fading out of use gradually without any serious attempt to revitalize and preserve it for posterity, the researcher here is out to:

  1. examine the extent to which the dialect has been endangered;
  2. factors responsible for the relegation of the dialect and,
  • measures to be taken to revitalize the dialect from extinction.

1.4       Purpose of Study

If a language is spoken by at least two people of different dialects within the same language, then there are always some differences of usage which an observer can detect if he looks closely enough. Therefore, this study is designed to find out the core Orokam dialect as well as examine the extent to which the dialect has been endangered and suggest how the dialect can be revitalized and preserved.

1.5       Significance of the Study

The researcher is optimistic that the findings of this study and its recommendations will unravel the problem of the dying Orokam dialect. It will be of paramount importance to parents, language instructors as well as the children who are victims of not using the Orokam dialect. It will also add to the few literatures on the dialect as well serve as an archive to further researches that may be carried on the dialect or other dialects in future.

1.6       Scope and Limitation of Study

This work is expected to examine Orokam dialect alongside the dialect that endangers it. It will also give attention to ways by which the dialect can be revitalized. The limitations during the execution of this study include the inability of the researcher to do transliteration of the originality of some poetic expressions made by the illiterate respondents in the English language. The respondents were not very free with the researcher as many thought the interview was for their economic disadvantage, constant interruptions by respondents’ family members and passersby, inadequate fund, shortage of time and a host of others.

1.7       Research Questions

The following research questions will guide this study:

  1. How prevalent is the use of Orokam dialect among indigenes?
  2. Do parents nurture their children with the dialect?
  3. Is there any effort to preserve Orokam dialect for posterity?
  4. Is the Orokam dialect used by the media?
  5. How often is Orokam dialect used at home by the parents?
  6. Is the dialect used for teaching in schools in the area where it is spoken?

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