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Ugochi Ukah: Finding Your African Roots

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Imagine attending an African event in the Diaspora, with the theme “Finding your African roots”. If you have never been to one, I have and I would love to share my experience with you.
The event was filled with people of origin from every corner of the African continent – North, South, East and West and people who were light-skinned, dark-skinned and even ‘whites’, because of course, there are white Africans in some countries such as Kenya and South Africa. The president of the society introduced the first speaker – Adaugo Okeke; she was a dark-skinned girl who came up on the stage, amidst cheers and applause, to present her ‘spoken words’.
She began: “For those of you who don’t know me by now, my name is Ada and I am British” she said with a thick British accent as if to convince anyone in doubt of her nationality.

However, that was not the part that got me thinking, neither was it the way that she had pronounced her name (in the most non-igbotic manner as possible), nor was it the person who shouted from behind “Represent!” when she had said that she was British; No! What aroused my thoughts was the conversation I had with her after the presentation.
I had found her poem or ‘spoken words’, as they called it, quite interesting but there was something that seemed quite artificial to me. It was the way that she had ‘romanticized’ Africa during her speech and yet, somehow had evaded including anything concerning Nigeria in it, which I found odd. When I eventually got the chance to speak to her during one of the breaks, I asked her what part of Iboland she came from but she was swift to correct me, re-iterating that she was British, even though she bore a typical Nigerian name. I did not mean to offend her and so I did not push that topic, but my shock factor came in when I proceeded to ask her what part of Britain she had been born in. Alas! She was born in Nigeria and had only moved to England with her parents when she was ten years old and had been living there since then (she was now eighteen years old). It was at that point that I took a good look around me and began my analysis.

You see, there are different types of Africans but I would like to highlight on two main broad groups:- One; the ones that were born in the Diaspora and their parents never returned home so they barely got the chance to know much about Africa except from reading books and going for events like the one I had attended, and two; those who were born in Africa but left after some years (usually after primary or secondary school) to live abroad and decided that they never wanted to return – of their own free will.

The earlier group may consist of people who are genuinely interested and searching for ways to reconnect with their fatherland and to gain a sense of identity, and so they jump at every opportunity to hear an African story, or attend events about their countries of origin. On the other hand, the latter group may consist of people who would do anything to get rid of their passports from their countries of origin and acquire new accents, but they are also the fastest to echo how much love they have for ‘Africa’ (note that they barely ever mention the exact countries that they come from but they are usually the first to complain when foreigners think that Africa is a country).

And so when occasions like this arise with various ‘African’ themes, many attend with the majority falling into one of either groups mentioned. Everybody comes, looking to mix-up or better still, to show-off. Some people come wearing braids that are so long that one might wonder where they were made or purchased from; whilst the ones who could not afford to do something nice with their hair (probably due to lack of time, money or hair dressers) come with unkempt hair, bragging proudly about how they like to keep it ‘real’ or natural, as if to say that afro hair could not be kept any better. Some come wearing nicely sewn Ankara materials, only that they are usually cropped tops or bum shorts and then, they tell any foreigner along the way who happened to pay them a compliment, that it is their traditional ‘African’ wear (well, we know bum shorts are not!). Others who had nothing ‘African’ to wear on their heads or bodies would come tying beads around their necks or wearing leopard print shoes that do not match their outfit, making them look ridiculous and out of place.

At the end of the day, people give the same speeches over and over again but in different forms; they speak about their undying love for Africa and the dark skin of its citizens (as if one is not African if one’s skin was not chocolate in colour), about how they would love Africa to be united just the United States of America (forgetting that USA is a country and not a continent), about how the white men oppressed Africans (surprisingly, the ‘white Africans’ are the ones who speak the most about this), and most importantly how we should be proud to show the world that we are Africans (perhaps the reason for the display of attire and hairdos).

When the event was over, I knew that I should have spent my time doing something else because I did not see myself being friends with many of those I had met; especially as I knew that half of them would not talk to me or even say hi, if I saw them the next day. It was amazing to see how people thought that their looks – clothes, hairstyle, names etc., was what made them who they were.

In my opinion, being an African is an innate attribute – it is not only about where one comes from or merely about phenotypes; it is also about how one thinks, one’s sense of values and culture, and where one’s heart lies. Therefore I left the place thinking that if these people are actually looking for their African roots (especially those in group two), why can’t they go back to their villages where they initially migrated from, and save others the trouble of listening to the same broken record? After all, it is said that “charity begins at home” and “sometimes what you are looking for, is right where you left it!”

Photo Credit: Dreamstime |Paul Hakimata

Ugochi V Ukah is a student and loves writing in her spare time; using sarcasm, humour and wit to relay her thoughts. Visit her blog for more stories at: www.ugochivukah.blogspot.com and follow her on twitter @vivio_gogo and IG: @ugochiukah

27 Comments

  1. Concerned_Boyfriend

    September 24, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    You’re not the only one that come across group #2 from your narrative. They’re bunch of jokers. They are well acquainted with the culture but feign ignorance. I dont understand the rationale behind their stupid display. After a brief period of “pretending”, I notice they metamorphozied (sorry for the big grammar, but that word best captures my story) into a full blown African with accent and all. I see them all the time and I think age has a lot to do with it. 16 -27 years old, they put on a front, from 28 years old and above, they’re back to their roots.

    • Tee

      September 25, 2014 at 3:43 am

      On two different occassions in the US, i have had situations where my Americans (white) friends, on finding out I am Nigerian, say with such eagarness… ‘Oh I know ‘jane doe’ who is also Nigerian. Let me introduce you two’. Tee meets Jane Doe and Tee asks, so what part of Nigeria are you from? Or wow, you’re Nigerian, nice to meet you. Jane Doe’s first response… ‘sorry i am American. It’s my parents who are Nigerians’. Tee looks on confused. Oh well!

    • Omoye

      September 26, 2014 at 5:02 am

      I have had this experience very recently and even though the dude tried to be friendly after, i never forgave him. He had one of those deep igbo names and yet was telling me he was from New Jersey…shior

  2. Queen of Everything

    September 24, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I don’t quite agree with the 2 categories you presented. It is ill informed and quite naïve.
    It’s just like seeing the world in black and white while most (I hope) people know that the grey area is ever increasing.
    I was not born in Nigeria but had my primary and secondary education there leaving at 17. I have both Nigerian and British passports but do go home from time to time and maintain a strong Nigerian identity. My accent is what it is, perhaps an equal blend of both Nigerian and “British”. My goal when speaking is to be coherent and understood. I am one of the people who get annoyed when people refer to Africa as though it were a country, I only say Africa in reference to the entire continent, every other time I specify Nigeria. I speak Igbo every chance I get and do not hesitate to tell my non-Nigerian colleagues and friends my Igbo names (my first name – officially- is not Igbo). I extol and/or criticise the state of affairs in Nigeria as much as the next person.
    All in all, I feel like your point of view as it comes across in this piece is very warped and is not representative of the average African in Diaspora.
    I would like to know which event this was, perhaps I can attend next time?

    • Tee

      September 25, 2014 at 3:52 am

      Dear, don’t iver personalize this piece. First, the writer is narrating out of her iwn experiences. Secondly, she hasn’t asserted to the fact that all diasporeans only fall into these two groups. Many of us who agree with her perspective have experienced such. On the other hand, i also know diasporeans who are very real and true to their roots. Regardless of whether they were born in the foreign country or migrated there at a later age. Let’s face the fact though, it kinda appears senseless when speaking to a fellow African/Nigerian and trying by all means to convince them that you are british/american/whatever country. Even though we all know your roots lie in Africa/Nigeria.

    • Kodili

      September 25, 2014 at 10:00 am

      hey, don’t take it personal. You probably didn’t read the article properly. she said “there are different types of Africans but I would like to highlight on two main broad groups”. i guess you fall under other types of Africans

  3. Chinco

    September 24, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    I love this write up….I think this might be more common in UK though…where everyone likes to be Nigerian when its convenient. The little experience I have with the US is that there are not as many Nigerians so u r happy when you find one or someone who has visited Nigeria before. I may be wrong though.I

  4. AREA CODE

    September 24, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    E-kiss.girl,you are hilarious!! The ones that get on my nerves are the ones with koroba(rubber thread twisted like mold) I mean warahappen.don’t get me started on the fake accent ones story for ages. ROFL @ bump short natives and unkempt naturals.

  5. josh

    September 24, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Nice…..dre is definitely more to being african than confessin to be

  6. Onye

    September 24, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    Yes o! To be honest, I used to be one of those ones. You know, born in Nigeria then emigrated with family to UK before 10th birthday. The first time I came back to Nigeria, if you see my nose. It was so up that people could see the bogey inside. I thought I was something special. Until my dad tricked me to come back to Nigeria for another holiday and he seized my passport. After many years of torturing him for forcing me back home, it finally clicked that Nigeria is my home. I am now in UK again and I’m missing it like mad. I can’t wait to finish here and go back again. The problem though is the mentality of the men. Shio!

  7. Adebisi Ifeh

    September 24, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    As a Nigerian lady who was born and bred in the UK (London) I totally agree with this post. Despite growing up in London, my parents brought me up in the most Nigerian way they could lol. So it even though I am British by nationality and love many parts of British culture, I have never shirked away from my very evident Nigerian heritage. It’s always funny when you see young people from Nigeria, Ghana or other African countries who have emigrated over here, after being born in from their home countries, trying to deny their roots! An ex-boyfriend of mine, who had emigrated here when he was 16 from Nigeria, despite being able to speak Yoruba fluently, would never converse with me in Yoruba. I begged him many times, as I desired to speak it very well (I do understand most of it though), but he would refuse – saying it was not important! I’m thankful my parents instilled a lot of Nigerian values in my growing up and I am now happily married to a fully fledged Igbo man who appreciates my British upbringing but who always encourages our Nigerian heritage in our home. I love that about my marriage so much. I know my children will have the correct, modern view of Nigeria from us (not the sterotypical stuff about Africa that the British media sometimes potrays lol) even though they will grow up here in the UK.

  8. AZUKA

    September 24, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Honest and so real. I totally agree with you.

  9. Naija Vix.

    September 24, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    I LOVE this article!! She is speaking the TRUTH !!

  10. kike

    September 24, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    I disagree with the post think it’s rather naive. Left Nigeria at 7. I can’t speak Yoruba fluently but I understand it. I am proud of my Yoruba heritage but yes I am also British. Living in a place in your formative years will shape the way you talk and think. While I appreciate my parents culture there are many things I disagree with. I’ve visited Nigeria twice since leaving, and it’s always a massive culture shock! Every time I get to Heathrow I thank God and know I’m home. Regardless I still like Nigerian food, music and literature but i have no romanticised about ‘Africa’! You can be both British and Nigerian.

  11. Ejay

    September 25, 2014 at 12:14 am

    I would like to add that this is not something peculiar to only Nigerians or Africans. People not being comfortable in their skin ( not literal) is usually a sign of low confidence, or lack of a strong personal identity. It takes a certain level of maturity to own your background as yours for better or worse.

    I would not necessarily judge people because of what nationality they choose to identify with ( if they have dual citizenship). But I certainly am one of those who can not stand Nigeria being referred to as Africa. Even media usage does not make it right.

  12. odi

    September 25, 2014 at 12:31 am

    this is so true!!all these fake Nigerians forming British accent just cos they managed to leave plus I totally agree with the first comment

  13. Chisky

    September 25, 2014 at 12:44 am

    For someone who has been is diaspora for less than a month… It’s funny the way some Africans here behave finally…. The “whites” seem to be more friendly and helpful while the “africans” don’t seem to be willing to help
    N/B Talking from experience

  14. wew

    September 25, 2014 at 1:28 am

    @ Ugochi look at you acting like you are more african than others..and you no sabi simple igbo.. It is “igbo” not “ibo”

    I bet you are not fluent in igbo (you cant carry a conversation for 20 minutes in full igbo).

    • Kodili

      September 25, 2014 at 9:57 am

      It means you don’t know Ugochi!

  15. Author Unknown

    September 25, 2014 at 4:30 am

    You won’t catch me at any of those type events. I’m a proud African and black who feels no need to prove it to anyone, or with anyone’s help, They’ll so annoy me. LOL.

  16. signature

    September 25, 2014 at 6:56 am

    I love dis post

  17. Nelly A.

    September 25, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Na wa o…find humor in the story. Laugh and feel better, alongside learn to appreciate your root. For the person analyzing “ibo” and “igbo” some dictionary still spells it as “ibo” and it is not by force to speak your native language, One can be Hausa but speaks Yoruba fluently. @ Wew, swerve! I don’t understand why people take ethnicity serious in Nigeria. I am from Cross River, but live most of my adult life in the North. And i love their culture except for the insurgence.
    To the author, you can know more about your culture whenever you DECIDE to visit or return. Take your time, but nice write up! We even have some Nigerians who return to live here and have refused to let go of their foreign accent because the feel superior with it. So its a problem we should deal with as for this generation.

  18. le coco

    September 25, 2014 at 11:48 am

    this writer was spot on.. i dont understand why those( esspecially in group 2) would bother attending an african event if u r going to claim to be british. i am not saying u are not legally british. however wen one attends an event of this sort.. and a person asks where u are from, i am pretty sure they dont want to here that u are from america or england….rather they are eager to know where ur roots are.. why bother dressing up if u wna identify urself as western..

  19. chaz

    September 25, 2014 at 11:57 am

    As someone has said already, this article is very black and white. I was waiting to see the catogory I fit into and guess what? I don’t!
    Born in naija, lived abroad more or less all my life in UK since 5, the house hold I grew up in is very Nigerian due to my parents and my closest friends are Nigerian but we all practically have the most British sounding accents and NO we are not putting it on, to try and sound Nigerian is probably worse. We all go back to Nigeria, see our villages and yes so much of our lifestyle makes us British and our experiences and up-bringing makes us Nigerian. If I attend an event like the one above, and have natural hair as I do, you should’t be so quick to judge me and others, (I wasn’t there O ) As for the white folks, I’d rather people celebrate us than mock us, there are people who love and appreciate cultures food, dance, art and film and they haven’t left their shores before. As far as I’m concerned I am Nigerian who is heavily influenced by the west but actually which person in a major African city isn’t these days? Its only when I returned to Nigeria after 15 years that people were telling me I’m not Nigerian even tho I’ve never felt any other way. I greet elders the right way and love pounded yam and bush meat more than most Africans I know. (Of course I don’t really think that’s what makes you more African) But my point is, You don’t know the girls reason for being so absolute about being British, there could be a reason which is pretty deep and equally it could be just because she is 18 as you said, One thing for me is clear that right now there is no better time to be African and Nigerian in the UK, young people are so proud of this. I can tell you when I was in Secondary school every African kid pretended they had a cousin that was Jamaican or coolie, or they were half Jamaican because that was the IN thing and Africans from Africa were just arriving and it wasn’t cool..
    The idea of all Africans returning to Africa is amazing, lets work on that.

  20. omawunmi

    September 25, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    dear igbo people . be not deceived by my first name. . and yes it is igbo not ibo. that other people can’t say it the right way doesn’t make it a truth.

  21. lol

    September 25, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    Ok, so this is a two way deal, I was born and only moved to the US at age 17 but, my parents never spoke to us in yoruba, it was pure English and people that we grew up with know this. I have however, met people here when they want to form we are 9ja peeps and I can’t respond in yoruba, see how they will look me like I shit for body. I even had an elderly lady (yoruba) hang up on me once but I heard her complaining to someone that I was responding in English while she spoke to me in yoruba. How dare me? and my thought process went thus: did you ever pause to ask me if I speak the language? because I have a yoruba name does not mean I am fluent in the said language. Did you bother asking my story before deciding I am rude? I don’t know the author but I think it is people with ideas like that, that just assume you are trying to form something when you are not. I tell every one I am Nigerian it is even my American friends that complain that I am not Nigerian, one even coined the Nigerian-American title for me or American-Nigerian she says I have more like 80% Nigerian cos she has been around Nigerians and a lot of them and I don’t act it. I am me, my parents are full fledged yoruba speaking Nigerians but yes I have also met people that will be forming nonesense. I was once introduced to this girl in college, all you had to do was see her and you’d know she was Nigerian and she had told her friends that she was from Nigeria, came the intro,this girl started speaking American “akksent things” that her parents are the Nigerians not her. This girl just assumed I was a Nigerian trying to push myself on her and her family. See me too turnttt up my accent. For where, me sef I be Obama pikin,

  22. chi-e-z

    February 13, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    I’m just finding this now but 3 bosas 4 writer… If my 9yr old migrated here and 3yr old migrated brother and american born brother can all converse in naija accent, eat real eba and egusi, even rep naija after all these years your 15yr old migrated, not even mixed pure igbo name self berra not come to me saying you’re an American tschew… >_ >

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