The Diasporian Experience: British Nigerian Me

February 22, 2014

I recently watched ‘British Nigerian Me’ which is a short documentary by Dayo Adeneye on the problem many Nigerian youth born in England are faced with. That is, how they identify themselves. It emphasises on the importance of parents teaching their children about their culture. Dayo Adeneye was inspired by return to Nigeria in 18 years and the realisation that he wasn’t in touch with his culture.

This short doco answered some questions which I have had in mind since I moved to London. I just couldn’t understand why the majority of Nigerian and Ghanaian young adults I had met couldn’t speak, didn’t understand their parents’ dialect or has a dissociation with their roots. You can call me ignorant to the facts and what not, but in Australia we see London and New York as mini Ghana and Nigeria with first world benefits and other nationalities thrown in the mix. Now I wasn’t expecting everyone to know a dialect; or eat fufu or pounded yam on a daily basis. I thought, since there is a mass population of Nigerians and Ghanaians in London/the UK, language and culture is flowing everywhere. So most people would be riding on that wave.

So I got very confused when adults I met would be surprised that I ate Ghanaian food let alone understood Akan, and could at least hold half a conversation in Akan. I seemed to know more about Ghanaian culture than their own children who were born/brought up here. Obviously the perception I had of Ghanaian-Nigerian-Londoners was off the mark in reality. It’s funny because that’s what happens to people’s perceptions when they meet me. Last week someone asked me if my old high school uniform was like what they wore on Home & Away’s Summer Bay High. That is the perception she had of Australia. It made me wonder where my friends and I got our ideas of London from.
We also used to think that Ghanaian-Londoners go out every weekend to Ghanaian parties and Nigerians do the same respectively. I have had quite a few friends message and ask me if I have gone to any Ghanaian parties or African clubs because that’s just what all the Ghanaian-Nigerian-Londoners do and they know any reason to bust-a-move on the dancefloor I am there! A first I was mopey with my responses because I seriously thought that’s just want they do around here. What a misconception!

In Australia, Christmas is the time to go to Ghana. Besides being Christmas, it’s the international season and you tend to meet many Brits, Americans and Ghanaians from other European countries. In Australia, we are thinking ‘OMGOSH every Ghanaian-Brit/Europeans (sometimes the Ghanaian-Americans) go to Ghana every year for Christmas because they are so close’. Another misconception! I have met a few Ghanaians in London who have never been and they are in their 20s and 30s. At first when I would meet these people, I would be say ‘ARE YOU SERIOUS? WHY? YOU ARE SO CLOSE? EVERYONE HERE GOES TO GHANA?’ Dumb thing to say right? I have now learnt that is not the case. If I called a friend in Australia now and told them this they would have the same reaction I had.

I regret for thinking the majority of young Ghanaians and Nigerians would know their parent’s dialect/a dialect or be really in-tuned with their culture. At the end of the day it’s the environment you grow up in which determines how in-tuned you are with your culture. This is noted in ‘British Nigerian Me’ and I totally agree with that theory. When I was quite young my Mum and Dad spoke English to me. My Mum’s reason for speaking English was because she wanted me to speak English properly at school. When I got to about 4 or 5 years old she threw that out of the window and started speaking Akan to me and has continued till this day. Of course there is some English here and there, but it’s mostly in Akan now. As for my Dad he mostly spoke English to me. It was just the teacher in him that made him do so. My mum speaking Akan, plus being an inquisitive child trying to eavesdrop on my Mum’s phone conversations, trying to translate my parents’ conversations, trying to read the bible in Akan, going to a predominantly Ghanaian church and Ghanaian parties is a very long formula of how I learnt Akan. I have friends with a similar formula and can say one or two clean words in Akan and just as many insults. I am slowly learning that we are all different to how we respond to our culture. There is no right or wrong way. I must admit that it will take me a while to get over the fact that some have no idea or don’t care. However there are some who didn’t care and now do, like in the doco British Nigerian Me, some who act like they live l in Africa and walk around as if it’s tattooed on their forehead, and some who are like me who acknowledge the cross of two cultures. It’s part of the Diasporian experience and I think it’s actually quite beautiful that we have different paths in this experience.

2 comments

  • Sarah

    Hi Gil, Sarah here ( Skype person that you never got to Skype but will skype in the future ha ha) . I think it’s interesting that you make those observations. I also think that australia being a ‘relatively’ fresh migrant community has a lot to do with migrant attachments to their home countries. That, coupled with a very distinct anglosaxan ‘Australian’ culture that posits itself against anything which an ‘other’ or is different. This exclusion on behalf of white australia allows us migrants to feel alienated to the point of having to find home somewhere i.e in our mother languages/cultures. I feel it’s a slightly different story in places like London which have a historical and large presence of African migrant communities that this nostalgia and longing for home can be easily/ if not easier fulfilled. Meaning Ghanaian-Brittish identities might require less of belonging to Ghana and more of working through the dynamic that the two create. Whereas we’re not afforded that in australia where we are ‘neither here nor there’. also, i feel that everyone else’s fixation on our difference coupled with Australia’s violent refusal to accept our existence complicates this ‘hyphenated’ relationship that is more ends up being more motivated by the former ( African) than the latter (Australian). What do you think?

    • Gillean

      See you would think that because there is a stronger African migrant community in the UK (or to be specific London), that their longing for home is not as deep as ours in Australia since we are so far away and somewhat disconnected from the world. However I have noticed that the longing is in fact the same if not deeper for many here as well. Even though I have come across many people who couldn’t care less about the idea of home, culture and roots. A lot of people have never really settled in London even though they have been here 10, 20, 30, 40 years and their kids and developed that mentality. They see London as a place a of transit and home being their respective country in Africa. This post reflected the ones who couldn’t care less, but the ones I have met who care so much about home is endless. I might do a post on that on day. It’s really hard to compare UK to Australia. I think it’s near impossible when it comes to African migration. It’s like putting a 10 year old child up against a 50 year old and saying who has experienced life more. You would say the 50 year old has but then you also can’t write off the experiences of the 10 year old.

      You mention exclusion of migrants in Australia. Exclusion is everywhere. I even think it’s so evident here even though the concept of migration is generations old. Exclusion is always going to be there. There is never going to be a total acceptance from both parties. ie. being the migrant in the land vs. being majority/power of the land. At the end of the day different cultures, different people. There isn’t a formula to blend the two harmoniously.

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