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Kwene Amayah: Who Says Being Local is a Bad Thing?

Nigeria is so rich in cultural heritage and it is sad to see its own citizens trying hard to water down her authenticity. It is important that we recognize the true meaning of being African and recognize that true liberation and freedom will only surface when we are able to stand firm in our “Nigerianess” and totally love our culture and self.

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Kwene AmayahI recall the first time I came across the phrase “Cultural Cringe.” What does it mean? Who coined it? It still sounds so novel.

The term Cultural Cringe was developed by the Australian writer, Arthur Phillips, in a controversial essay. “Cultural cringe is an internalized inferiority complex that cause people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the culture of other countries.” This is akin to the term self-hate.

The blatant dismissal and rejection of one’s culture is not alien to anyone in Nigeria and some other parts of the world. It is not uncommon to find that a lot of Nigerian employers would rather employ applicants who studied outside of Nigeria and speak in a foreign accent than hire applicants who studied in Nigeria and speak with a “local” accent.

A previous employer I worked for poached a staff from one of the leading banks in Nigeria. This was by no way because of her amazing track record, no. She was hired because she spoke the “Queens” English. He hired her for the position of a Project Manager without consideration of the fact that she had no experience whatsoever in project management. However, he was certain she could deliver, because she would be able to communicate with clients and suppliers alike.

It did not take long before he realized he had made a mistake.

We are so loath to accept ourselves that we terrorize people who speak with the so called “local” accent. This is most glaring in the media where majority of TV presenters, newscasters, radio presenters among others speak with a foreign accent. I often wonder if it is a yardstick for employment.

I’ve seen scenarios where I hear a French man speak English with a French accent and Nigerians actually refer to it as “attractive,” but in the same vein, ridicule a fellow Nigerian speaking English with a Nigerian accent. All over the world, you hear the Russians, the Irish, the Arabs speak English with their local accent. It perhaps sounds good to us because these countries are foreign, but you see Nigerians either trying very hard to rid themselves of their Nigerian accents or trying hard to change anything which makes them appear Nigerian.

The Nigerian airport system is another glaring example where staff responsible for announcements also speak in inexplicable localized, laughable, home-grown foreign accents. It is commonplace for passengers to make inquiry for what was immediately announced, as the message is most times lost in the struggle to grasp words in an accent that isn’t natural for them. It is therefore impossible for passengers who speak only the indigenous languages or pidgin to fully comprehend. This is a known reason why passengers miss their local flights.

Some people are termed “bush” and even ridiculed for daring to eat pounded yam at restaurants instead of rice, steak, mashed potatoes and so on. It is baffling because it is most prevalent in millennials than in older generations.

I must say that I love Nigerian food. I believe nothing compares to afang, edikaikong, ekpang kukwu (Akwa Ibom/Calabar), nsala (Igbo), banga (Urhobo), fisherman soup (Rivers/Bayelsa), dodo ikire (Osun), beans soup, ateve (TIV),  etc.

Regardless, we have indeed made progressive improvements in areas like entertainment (music and dance). There is greater appreciation for homegrown music and dance. We have subsequently infected the rest of the world with our music (afrobeats). Leading to the rise of African music stars like; Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage and so on.

Dance is not left out as we have popularized dances from galala, suo, yahooze, azonto, etighi, skelewu, shoki to shaku shaku and zanku.

Identically, there is a rise in demand for African clothing such as ankara and kaftan. Africans in diaspora and social media influencers alike have made the ankara/prints popular. Celebrities are not left out such as, Beyonce, Solange, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Rihanna, Jidenna and so on.

Nigeria is so rich in cultural heritage and it is sad to see its own citizens trying hard to water down her authenticity. It is important that we recognize the true meaning of being African and recognize that true liberation and freedom will only surface when we are able to stand firm in our “Nigerianess” and totally love our culture and self.

28 Comments

  1. Nina

    March 15, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Such an amazing write up. Having an accent is placed above actual qualifications all because of asthetics . We really need more conversation on this issue. Having an accent isn’t a measure of intelligence .

    6
    • Naomi Omari

      March 19, 2019 at 11:03 am

      This is indeed a nice piece and its also a wake up call for every individual (Nigerians) out there to embrace their culture and heritage. Let us learn from the Chinese and Indian people,they will never give up their language,culture or heritage whatsoever.

      1
  2. Didi

    March 15, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    This topic is about time ready to be explored as it touches a key place in my heart. As a Nigerian licensed attorney, coming to the United States for graduate (grad) school was an amazing experience. However, it did not make sense that I had to change my cultural heritage in terms of modifying my accent to fit into the American culture. I tell people every day if it works for you, by all means, go for it. As for me, I speak good English and the fact that It is spoken with my proud “Nigerian accent” does not take away the fact that it is English or makes it less to understand. In fact, I educate people that I studied Queens English because the Nigerian school curriculum is tailored after the British. And note, Queens English is better than American English (my opinion, everyone is entitled one).

    I remember having this argument with some friends from grad school in 2015. They did present a valid point that speaking like an American makes it easy for the other person to understand you. My friends claimed, “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” I had a friend who sided with me on this issue and disagreed with their reasoning. Our argument was that Britains spoke English with a British accent and Americans loved them. When it comes to the Nigerian accent, they consider it local because they felt we were unpolished. I made a decision that I was never to alter my accent because I was proud of it. I remember a certain period, a friend called me on FaceTime from Nigeria and she teased me saying, when are you going to have an American accent? I laughed and educated her on how proud I was of my Nigerian heritage symbolized in my accent. I told her I was never going to trade it for anything and everyone would have to fall in line with my understanding because I speak good English.

    I have lived in the U.S. for a while and so far, choosing to keep my Nigerian accent has been one of the greatest pride in preserving my cultural heritage. My Nigerian accent is so rich!!! I have presented in both local and international conferences and people love my accent!!!! Even in my daily interactions with people, I constantly receive great compliment regarding my accent.

    18
    • Rae

      March 15, 2019 at 10:08 pm

      Same here, speaking with the Nigerian accent here in the state makes me stand out, it’s some sort of unique attribute because once I speak, people always wonder where are you from which draws attention and becomes an interesting conversation. Though it was a challenge for a while because it kinda affected my presentations but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And yes we were taught Queens English because of the British curriculum which is the best English in the world (I second your opinion). Proudly Naija!

      2
    • didi

      March 16, 2019 at 8:34 am

      You guyz dont want to learn the western tongue but you learn other evil habits from them. You like totalk back at your elders. Take a look at the way poeple open their mouths to insult men and women they know are older than them in the bus,at the bank, market etc we want to keep our indigenous accent but the manners,way of life and worthy habits we take from the white man. A child will misbehave in nigerian posh schools and he is not reprimanded. LETS DEAL WITH MORE IMPORTANT ISSUES WE HAVE LEARNT FROM THE WHITE MAN WE NEED TO UNLEARN. there was a time when COHABITING or getting pregnant out off wedlock was a taboo in nigeria but now we see young women even age 14 becoming single mothers. Please i no wan vex dis mawning.

      7
  3. Posh Yoruba

    March 15, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    Cultural cringe. Finally a definition for what most Nigerians feel.

    Our culture is so rich and colourful and we would pretend or deliberately not want to know more or identify with it.

    We cants all be lie the Britons or The Americans.
    Lets feel comfortable being who we are . Use your native name, talk with your Naija accented tongue.
    Taiwo Ajayi Lycett with the British accent laced with the Yoruba undertones, I still love it! Over 20years after I watched her on Some Mothers do have the m

    3
  4. Chedy

    March 15, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    I love this piece. You couldn’t have written it better. Good job!!!

    3
  5. Taiwo O

    March 15, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Wawu, really nice write up here
    The way lots of Nigerians abandon their culture and replace it with Western culture. Nigeria must come to terms with her own subjectivity by modifying traditional and foreign cultural values in conformity with the realities and exigencies of the day. This modification will yield a system of cultural values that are peculiar to her but open to d society

    2
  6. Gabriel

    March 15, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    Well articulated … I use to feel a sense of pity and anger towards my colleagues who try to adopt the French accent anytime they see and greet a French hierarchy…. it doesn’t make any sense … even the foreigners want to learn our pidgin English at all cost … I hope one day we come out of this self inflicted cringe … keep it up K Amayah

    3
    • Ada Ulenu

      March 16, 2019 at 9:04 am

      Beautifully said. We need to act more on preserving our cultural heritage. Keep it up Kwene.

      1
    • Chinedu U

      March 17, 2019 at 9:52 am

      WORD! I tag this trend as INFERIORITY COMPLEX…. When we forget who we are in the process of trying so hard to be who we are not. Nice One girl…Am proud of you.
      Oh that word Cultural cringe lol.

      1
  7. Gabriel A

    March 15, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Nice and articulated piece … we seem to have a problem with our self esteem … I often get angry at colleagues who try to twist their tongues to sound like a French man when they are talking to a French hierarchy … it’s a deep rooted problem… I stumbled upon a school in Lagos many years ago and the sole aim of that school to fine tune the dictions of people who attend it so they sound like Americans or British … or people who drop their indigenous names to bear foreign names so that it is easy to pronounce… lol

    Keep up the good work

    K Amayah

    1
  8. Rae

    March 15, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    Love your piece… this topic should be discussed further and actions need to be made for Nigerians to do better. I’ve never been more proud of my country especially now that I’m living in a foreign country. Being Nigerian and speaking the accent makes me unique, yes it has its own challenges but according to Robert Browning “best be yourself, imperial, plain and true”

    2
  9. Princess O

    March 15, 2019 at 11:22 pm

    Cultural cringe!!!hmmm, weldone! Weldone!! Welcome!!

    1
  10. Gersh

    March 15, 2019 at 11:22 pm

    You couldn’t have captured the malaise more succinctly. I once missed a flight due to a combination of fake accent of airport announcers and poor acoustics of the public address system at the airport. I hope those who can take action get to read this. Good job!

    2
  11. Mena

    March 16, 2019 at 12:20 am

    Super good piece Kwene.

    3
  12. Adibe maryjane

    March 16, 2019 at 1:24 am

    What are great Piece Keene, I think we still need more of this. Well-done dear

    1
  13. Tamuno

    March 16, 2019 at 3:00 am

    Am so much proud of my Nigerian accent and would forever be proud of using it anywhere and whenever as long as i live

    1
  14. Jennifer Norman

    March 16, 2019 at 6:48 am

    Lovely piece. The airport part got me, because most times i get confused with the phonetics they try to speak. What about our school system? They spend time teaching our kids phonetics which to me is totally useless.Speaking english does not make a country flourish. Look at china and European countries. They don’t speak english. The world is moving at a fast pace and instead of teaching students phonetics, replace it with subjects like coding.Also,our teachers are told to dress in foreign attires and our very beautiful native attires are frowned upon. Kudos Kwene!!

    1
    • didi

      March 17, 2019 at 5:23 am

      How do you feel when someone speaks your language with the wrong accent Huh?i know so many yoruba people who dont mind correcting me for not using the proper accent when speaking yoruba. I believe PHONETICS also is part of learning einglish language too. The essence is for complete learning of english all round. If you are taught any language in ths world my dear the proper use of their specific accent must be taught. I remember the LATE TOSIN BUCKNOR her husband who is white came to nigeria and not just learnt yoruba but THE ACCENT also. If you are a TOURIST like me you would come to appreciate the diversity of cultures,language,race,food,accent,traditions of people all over the world and want to learn them.
      It doesn’t make you lose your identity because thats a choice. So thats why i keep saying the main issue with africans is not learning the white mans tongue but it starts with hating EVERYTHING about us. Have you heard these people here claiming identity INSULT NIGERIA? You will begin to wonder if they are the same people talking here.

      1
  15. Flandy

    March 16, 2019 at 8:21 am

    This amazing piece is what a lot of people in Nigeria needs in order to embrace their Nigerianess. Because a lot of people are currently misled daily. Recently a friend told me I was too real and it wasn’t good. Ask me why she said that, because I wasn’t speaking Queens English, my English was way too Nigeria and according to her it doesn’t fit my looks, honestly I didn’t know when I started laughing which made her looked stupid And I looked at her I was amazed. I made her understand am a Nigerian and I shouldn’t be speaking like what am not besides am proud to be one. The aim is to keep reminding yourself about where you come from and not deviating from our culture. You have done a great job throwing more light on dis Kwene. Good job.

    1
  16. Mano

    March 16, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Awesome piece. More Nigerians need to read this!

    1
  17. Oluchi

    March 16, 2019 at 1:24 pm

    I love this piece a lot
    I think there are other Britain and American vehicles which we need to unlearn🤔🤔🤔
    Accent isn’t the core issue in Nigeria right now,mannerism is!

    I rest my case

    2
    • Oluchi

      March 16, 2019 at 1:25 pm

      *behavior

      1
  18. Alfred

    March 17, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    All accents are fine as long as people understand what is being said. If your accent distorts so much what you are communicating, then culture has nothing that day with it. Our hearers must not struggle to understand us, whether it is British, French or Naija accents. Some Brits are hard to understand and so are many foreigners to the English language. The English language is not indegenous to African’s, so in our attempts to communicate in another man’s language, we must be as clear as possible and not be defensive in making the language our own, it’s never ours.
    Thanks

    2
  19. Nnena

    March 17, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    Insightful write up, however it lost its sense of professionalism when it seemed your former colleague was picked on due to a robust level of insecurity from the writers part …. I think if it was generalized it would be more relatable. Good writer but learn to be more objective than subjective. 💪 my honest observation

    2
    • Dibs

      March 19, 2019 at 11:07 am

      Your observation sounds a bit biased because you sound like someone that was picked based on an accent and not actual qualifications. The writer Simply used her ex colleague as a reference point and nothing else. There is nothing insecure about her write up. Your criticism however sounds like it stems from insecurity . Are you the said colleague ??? You should learn to criticize without bashing the writer . I believed constructive critismn is the word. Your observation seems a bit personal. #justmyhonestobservationtoo.

      1
  20. Michie

    March 18, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    Very nice write piece 👍

    1

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