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Claim our culture now

TRIUMPH: Ahmed Musa celebrates one of his two goals against Iceland in the group stage of the World Cup

IS IT just me or are we black Brits a people without a culture? On the one hand we cannot really claim British culture. Because it ain't ours. And it ain't us.

On the other hand, there ain’t really any such thing as black-British culture is there? If there was we would be able to claim it. And it would claim us. Because it would be ours and it would be us.

Maybe there will be a black-British culture in 100 years or a couple of hundred years, but we won’t be around to absorb it and embrace it and benefit from it.

It’s a shame that we ain’t been here long enough to have our own distinct culture of which we are proud and which reflects who we are.

It’s a shame. How would it be if we had? I just don’t know. What would the tenets of our culture be? What is it that is so distinct and unique about us that we can turn to and say, ‘That is our culture?’ Nothing?

Of course there is one other possible way out of our lack of culture dilemma. If our parents pass our culture down to us on a daily basis while we’re here in this country, and we don’t lose any of it, we would not be cultureless (nor clueless). We would be black-Britains with African or Caribbean culture.

Although I cannot blame my parents for taking me out of Africa and bringing me over this side, the older I get the more I regret that they didn’t feed me on that constant diet of the culture into which I was born. The older I get the more I realise that the Yoruba culture from Nigeria is one of the world's truly greatest cultures.

A mix of histories, tradition and institutions and relationships with our creator has left us with a rich seam of expression which is vital to under- standing who we are as yorubas/Nigerians/black people.

Recently, two particular situations have left me yearning for what I have lost.

When I went to see the excellent play The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, east London, I was taken aback by the way that culture oozed through the pores of every character.

Whether it was the musical cadence of the way yorubas speak English or the sway of our hips as we own our space in the sunshine of our surroundings and the ways of our forefathers and foremothers who have shown us the right way for Africa since time immemorial.

It’s like that Fela Kuti song, Don’t Worry About My Mouth O (African Message), where Fela says, ‘Don’t worry about my mouth-o, cause I dey use chewing stick to clean it every morning. You see, every time I deh use toothpaste, it makes my mouth all yummy-yummy, ah my African forefathers teach me the right way for Africa...’

Well, what Fela says on record and the imagery and historical context he puts our condition into on the record, is reflected on the stage at the Areola in this amazing production. I am reliably informed that you have about as much chance of getting a ticket for it as you have of purchasing one of the out-of-stock Nigerian World Cup football shirts, which are still selling like hot pounded yams, despite the Super Eagles being knocked out of the World Cup without getting out of the group stages.


So I have to thank the brilliant theatre director Femi Elufowoju Jnr for putting this production on. The other cultural experience that left me reeling was the wedding of my niece. I say wedding, it was actually just the engagement party, which I didn’t know is, in our culture, really the wedding. It was absolutely amazing.

Firstly, the groom danced his way up the aisle in an African stylee to the rhythm of two talking drummers banging out a beat, and surrounded by his ‘boys’ - the nine or 10 groom’s friends to the stage where he took his seat on a throne like an emperor, dressed in a swathe of African cloth, awaiting his bride, his ‘boys’ standing like chiefs around their king.

After which a series of four or five veiled women danced their way down the aisle towards him and he dismisses them one by one as not being his betrothed behind the veil.

Finally, his veiled betrothed surrounded by her ‘girls’ dances her way in African style towards the stage where her husband-to-be awaited her. But first, she must be suppliant towards her new in-laws in whose home she willow enter as her parents loser her and gain a son.

She must kneel before her in-laws in humble acceptance that they will now also be her parents. Meanwhile, her parents present an inventory of their daughter to the groom by declaring to him that they are delivering their daughter in one piece, without a mark on her and expect her to be kept in that condition throughout the marriage. To which the husband assures them that will be the case.

I am probably not explaining this perfectly. You have to see it with your own eyes. As the handful of white friends of the bride and groom did, seeing such a cultural-specific occasion for the first time. They were transfixed throughout and have no doubt a newfound respect for their newly engaged friends.

No doubt with the realisation that our culture of the yorubas or the culture of any Africans from anywhere is as rich and as great, if not richer and greater than the cultures of this Great Britain that we live in.

Believe me, if we do not claim our culture in our going out and coming in and everything else we do, we are all the poorer for it. I don’t want to see another black wedding that is not like my nieces.

Because once you go ‘black’ you don’t go back. Culturally.

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