1.0 GENERAL BACKGROUND
This research focuses on the phonology of Yukuben, a language spoken by about 25,000 speakers in Sabongida Yukuben of Takum Local Government Area in the east of Taraba State in Nigeria, and North West Province, Menchum division, west of Furu-Awa, near Nigeria border in Cameroon. In the absence of a population census, a rough estimate would put their population at over 500,000.
Yukuben is however a generally accepted term (oxonomy) for an area, an ethnic group and a language located mainly at the eastern edge of Nigeria (but also in the neighbouring part of Cameroon). The name Yukuben was derived from Jukun (the language of Takum) which serves as lingua franca in Taraba. The speakers call themselves Yukuben, and the language is locally called Uhumkiji.
Today, the Yukuben is widely spread across such states as Kaduna, Yola etc. in Nigeria and also in North West regions in Cameroon. The speakers are also found in every part of the country, and in many African countries such as Niger, Cameroon, to mention a few.
(Source: Lewis M. Paul (ed) 2009, “Yukuben a language of Nigeria”)
1.1 HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF YUKUBEN
According to oral tradition, the Yukubens originated from Iden in the north neighbouring Cameroon. A large part moved down to their present location on the plains at the foot of some hills namely Kichieni, Sabo, Iya, Kehensin, Oluko, Kalakir and Ito during the British colonization. Since Cameroon was colonized by the French, there was a boundary that separated both countries and the people.
Their oral history also has it that the Kuteb once tried to invade the Jukuns, but the Jukuns fought back and were victorious. Then, the Kuteb tried another plot on Yukuben sometime around 1992. Failingly, the Kuteb went back to fight the Jukun again, who eventually put an end to their will of invasion.
Oral tradition also has it that presently there is no king title in Takum since there is no proven superiority nor is there a conclusive agreement between the Jukun and Kuteb. King in Jukun is called Kuru and Okue in Kuteb. Though, history has it that the Jukuns once proposed the king be called ‘chief’ instead of both contradicting names, but the Kuteb claimed the name ‘chief’ was foreign and unacceptable.
However, oral tradition states that the Yukuben, being able to drive the Kuteb away afforded them the opportunity of owning their kingdom and having their king title as the “Udeng Uquen of Uhumkji land”.
1.2. SOCIO-LINGUISTIC PROFILE
1.2.0 THE YUKUBEN SPEAKERS
The speakers of Yukuben call themselves Uhumkiji and call their language Yukuben (“spiritual being”). The origin of the name can be traced to a time during the slave trade, when a rebellious slave from Uhumkiji refused to work and was being tortured. Suddenly, bees emerged from nowhere, stung and scared everybody away. Following this scenario, slaves and slave traders gave the name Yukuben (“child of a witch”) to the slave and people from Uhumkiji generally.
Most Yukuben speakers, including the younger generations are multilingual; using Yukuben, Hausa, Kuteb, Jukun and in rear cases English. English language is the medium of instruction in schools, while Yukuben is used as a second language. The older generation are not quite as fluent in English as the younger generation, who through education; hold positions in the administration and the public service, including the police.
1.2.1 POPULATION OF THE YUKUBENS
Going by the Joshua Project figure in 2010, the Yukuben speakers are estimated to be about 23,000 in Nigeria and 25,000 in all countries. My respondent on this language however argues that the Yukuben population will by now be more than five hundred thousand (500,000). This can be justified considering the fact that Yukuben speakers are spread across the country and most have settled in different regions.
Yukuben speakers are found in any part of the country where farming exists. This is based on the fact that most of the Yukubens are farmers with thousands of settlements in different parts of the country. For example, a large population of the Yukubens is found occupying a large area in Kaduna state, Adamawa state and many other Northern states in Nigeria. Even in the west; Yukubens are found in large population in states like Ondo, Osun etc. as farmers.
1.2.2 YUKUBEN DIALECTS AND NOMENCLATURE
There are three distinct dialect of Yukuben, recognized according to the main villages or towns where each dialect is spoken. The dialects are: Lisa, Shibun and Fete. Also, there are other languages spoken within the Sabongida Yukuben which belong to other ethnic groups. These languages are Lufu, Malam-she and Kapia, the three being Jukun languages, then Genuwa, Acha, kpampo and Lisam form Kuteb.
There are alternative names to Yukuben and they are: Ayikiben, Balaabe, Boritsu, Nyikobe, Nyikuben, Oohum, Uhumkiji, Uuhum, Uuhum-Gigi, and Gohum. These names are given to them by different ethnic groups in an attempt to address them. However, the two popular names with which they are always addressed as are Yukuben and Uhumkiji.
1.3 SOCIO-CULTURAL PROFILE
The Yukubens are Christians with cases of Traditional Religion which according to them is taken as part of the culture of the land. Since Christianity came later, the people believe that their Traditional Religion (Idol worshiping) should not be stopped. They still worship some idols which they believe protects them from witchcraft and burglary. Some of these idols are: Oohgum, Khima (god of thunder), Bahmbie etc.
During the British colonization, Christianity was introduced by missionaries and some of the people abandoned their original clan cults for a reformed form of Christianity (CRCN: Christianity Reform Church of Nigeria), and many other denominations.
It is their belief that all the Yukuben sons and daughter must be Christians of good faith, and should have no reason to change their religion. This is evident in the fact that no single mosque is found in Sabongida Yukuben. It is therefore likely that a Yukuben indigene may not hear or know any Muslim prayer or salutation in his or her lifetime . However, influence based on trade, marriage, education, and some other social factors between the Yukubens and Muslim Hausas, may in no time introduce Islam to the Yukubens.
Except for the educated Yukubens, who occupy positions in administration, police and in educational sector, most Yukubens are farmers. This would account for the reason why they are found more in different settlements in all parts of the country.
The major crop is guinea-corn, which they call “Ihin”. They also grow crops such as peanuts, maize, rice, cassava, soya beans, palm, cocoa, cola nut and different varieties of vegetables. They also engage in hunting, carpentry, basketry, gourd carving etc.
There is a formal family introduction of the male and female families. Then, the male or groom’s family present palm oil (in a calabash) and a fowl (cock) to the in-laws. Other gifts, usually bush meats like grass cutter may be presented.
After the approval by the bride’s family, a wedding date is chosen. On the wedding day, the groom’s family provides locally bade beer (‘Besen, also called ‘Burukutu’) mixed with honey. Then, the attendants drink, dance and celebrate.
The Yukubens have a king title. The king is called the ‘Udeng Uquen’ of Uhumkji land. At the level of the family, the husband is the head of each home. Each extended family also has a chief who is the head of compound.
1.3.5 TRADITION AND FESTIVALS
Yukuben culture is highly enriched with traditional practices, which are often reflected in their various festivals at different times and seasons. The most common and celebrated festival among the Yukubens is the annual “Kukyib Festival” which is festival for appeasing the gods. This masquerade festival is considered the biggest celebration in the land.
Another big celebration is the circumcision. The festival is called “Kukyib Kamang” among them. This circumcision is only observed for the men as sign or a celebration that ushers the boys (between the age 10-15) into adulthood. Other celebrations include death, marriage, chieftaincy, coronation etc.
Yukubens’s mode of dressing is similar to that of Jukun. In the olden days, women use leaf to cover their private parts while men use bark of the tree, called ‘Isang’ among them. A Yukuben female child or woman kneels down to greet, the same way the Yoruba’s do, while a Yukuben male child or man will only squat while greeting.
Yukubens also have a number of cultural food like Tuwo (bunna). The major drink in the land is called Besen (Burukutu).