These are two words I read on a post by the political blogger Omojuwa on Instagram. You have no idea how profound these words were to me. For a while now, I have been thinking a lot about my identity, which I’m sure so many people have been doing. But for me, because I spent the longest time being as un-African as I can (surprise surprise) coupled with coming to a country like England at such an impressionable stage in my life meant I had a crisis of identity within the confines of my being. However, the more I delved into literature and Pan-Africanism as well as meeting strong, opinionated and proud Africans, the more I became accepting of my identity. The biggest issue for me at this stage became the use of my full name.
I am Rabiatu Amira but for all my life it was a rarity to introduce myself as Rabiatu. I used to not like the sound of it but preferred the short form of Rabi. Lately I have come to realise how beautiful my name is and how even though it is an Arabic name, It was a window to my full identity which represented myself, culture and where my roots are. I know these are a lot of ‘And’s’ attached to a name but for me that was how it felt.
I have become very proud of who I am, where I come from and everything that came along with it. It was like a re-birth. I have arrived at the doors of being Nigerian. Always.
I met this lady who mentioned in passing that she loved my name. See no one has ever said that to me and I realize now this may have been part of the reason why I hid that part of my identity. I have had the case of school yard bullying and mockery of my name which naturally made me hide it more. She had no idea what her words meant to me in that moment, and because it was a first for me, it took me a while to be accepting of how beautiful the name is. Since that day I have pronounced my name out loud several times a day and have come to fall in love with the sound of it.
I am RABIATU.
I have since changed my social media name to Rabiatu and I have decided all that is me to be known as the name.
I think again to more reasons for this misconstrued disillusionment with my identity and this sudden grasp to be known by my cultural roots and think to the many times I have had people assume I was Somalian, Ethiopian, Eritrean and east African. See for me, identity was a huge part of growing up, it held with it a sense of belonging that I craved. So to be mistaken for all these cultures, regardless of it representing Africa, meant that people viewed me as a single story of physical identity. Their notion of what it meant to look “Nigerian” etc and how I didn’t conform to these preconceived brackets they had. This slowly became reasons for me wanting to identify more with the motherland and show people the many faces that make up the Nigerian sphere.
Twitter as we all know has opened a floodgate of connecting people all over the world and with it I have had the chance to meet and interact with brilliant and diverse people of the African continent. The way they carry their badges of identity from their name, food and language has made me see what it means to have tribal marks (visible and invisible). It made me learn to appreciate who I am, where I come from, and enabled me to unlearn all the ideas I had growing up of trying to fit a mould that my childish mind thought to be “cool”.
As someone who had many characteristics that differed from the norm, I tried to at least make myself stand out less, but I moved on to a phase where I celebrated my differences only forgetting to carry along with it bits of my scattered identity. Today I am gladdened by the opportunity to go full circle in learning about who I am as a person and ending up at the culminating point of what I believe to be a fresh start to understanding my history and all the great things my birthplace represent.
I have had someone ask me recently about the history of Nigeria before colonization and I was at a loss as to how to reply the question because my knowledge was limited to skeletal folktales and post-colonial Nigeria. But with this newfound reassurance I hope to learn as much as I can and someday share with you what insights I have gained. So today, I stand proud as Fulani, Nigerian and African girl with invisible tribal marks and a pan-African spirit to boot. I am….