Akata Warrior

The book, “Akata Witch” was recommended to me at pre-departure orientation. We were on our way to see the Nigerian artist Otobong Nkanga’s first US exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, when the women next to me on the bus insisted that I give it a read before embarking on my grant. So, like the avid book reader I am,  I immediately downloaded the book on audible and started listening to it during my flight back home.

The book is part of a trilogy, “The Akata Books”, with the book, “Akata Warrior” being the second book released after “Akata Witch”. Ironically, I didn’t care for the book overall, so after finishing the first book, I never actually read “Akata Warrior”.

“Akata Witch” is about a 12 year old albino girl, Sunny, who grew up in the States but is now living back home in Nigeria. Her peers used to mock her and call her “Akata” because she was so different. The book further explained that the term Akata is a derogatory Yoruba term used to describe African Americans.

However, little did they all know was that Sunny had incredible super powers, and was out performing miracles on a daily basis.

Fast forward several months and the term “Akata” is being used on me in Nigeria during my Fulbright fellowship. Some use it in annoyance when I mispronounce a Yoruba word or fail to understand someone on the first try due to their accent. While others insist that it is not a bad word, but simply a word they use to describe a black person who’s from the States. One of my friends in Ibadan said that he even calls his sister Akata now that she is away studying at Texas Southern University. Confused, I placed a poll on Instagram, asking if the term Akata is used as an insult or not, and the results were nearly 50-50.

Given that, I still have a hard time discerning whether or not Akata is an insult or just a simple term used to describe the fact that I’m African American. What I do know for sure is that I’m being “othered”. Despite having the same ancestral origin, I’m still just as much of a foreigner here as my white Fulbright peers. I used to get so upset and homesick when I would go to the cafeteria to buy jollof beans and plantains, only to get laughed at because of my accent and have everyone pointing at me, calling me “akata”.

However, little did they know is that I have incredible super powers, and am out performing miracles on a daily basis; simply by existing.

On our second week in Nigeria I went to the Badagary slave museum. We saw the cells our ancestors were held in for months,  saw the actual heavy whips and chains that were used, and walked to the point of no return- the same walk our ancestors walked-to an unknown destination. I was fortunate to go to Badagary with my Mom and my Research Assistant, and my mom described the experience best here:

“How can I describe the depth of emotions I felt while touching the walls of a less than 10×10 cell that 40 slaves were held in for 3 months before being shipped to the Americas? 
How can I describe what I felt when I held one of the actual chains that were placed around slaves’ necks, ankles, lips?
How can I describe the long walk to the Point of No Return, the sea, that my ancestors traversed before facing more horrors on the middle passage and years of slavery, then Jim Crow and racism?
I can’t. I can only tell you that I kept repeating “Thank you ancestors- For your strength”. We mourned their ordeal but were so proud of the generations of fortitude.
I left Badagary hugging Kala and feeling emotions of triumph much like the statue of a man and the woman with chains broken that now stands at the site of the former slave market.
We stepped back on Nigeria’s mainland, eyes wide open to how far we’ve come- our ancestors’ wildest dreams. Also looking forward to the continued progress of justice for all.”

 While we were walking the journey to an unknown destination, my research assistant quietly said how it was a miracle for the slaves to have survived this experience, how only the toughest survived. He’s right, it’s incredible to fathom how amazing and resilient my genes are. While I was standing at the ocean front, imagining the fear and terror my ancestors must’ve experienced when seeing that very site, I was amazed and proud at the plight my ancestors had to face to bring me, Kala Allen, to this very point. My ancestors survived slavery, Jim crow and other atrocities for that very moment, for me to return to Nigeria all on the US Department of State’s dime.

The cafeteria workers and other individuals may be right to acknowledge my clumsiness, and my lack of understanding of the Yoruba language and culture, but they are wrong to call me “Akata”.

You see, simply existing is a testament to my families strength, perseverance, and bravery. I am not only here, as an Akata, but I am here as an “Akata Survivor”, an “Akata Fighter”.

An “Akata Warrior”.

9 thoughts on “Akata Warrior

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  1. This was DEEP. My ancestors were dropped off in the Caribbean and then future generations would then migrate to the States. As a child, I was always told that “I didn’t understand” or that I thought I was “better” OR that my ancestors didn’t have it “as bad” because they were dropped off first (go figure). All of our ancestors suffered and we all are plagued with the emotional and cognitive scars of what our ancestors went through. I applaud your perspective on this overall!

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  2. I agree. This trip must have been life changing. To see the cells where our ancestors were and see how they had to endure. It would have me feeling highly emotional and connected to my history. We as a people don’t realize just how strong we really are. Our lineage was made from greatness and we have endured the most insurmountable odds yet we are still here.

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  3. This was such a beautifully written piece! As a British Born Nigerian, I understand exactly what you mean and possibly what you felt when being called names that separate you from your heritage, especially when living in a land that also doesn’t want to accept you. I haven’t visited Nigeria in a while but I definitely want to check out the Badagry slave museum when I finally go – this is the first I am hearing of it! Great post!!!

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  4. This was DEEP. I went to the African American History Museum in DC, and just going through the slavery portion gave me chills. I can only imagine what that felt like being on the land where it started. Thanks for sharing I’ll definitely have to check this out when I go to Africa.

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  5. Kala Allen…Nice experience. Slavery became the origin of the setback of africans and creation of the superiority complex of the western countries. Given equal opportunity and history; African gene is a strong and great gene which would have translated into a more advanced continent over the west if not for this slavery atrocity.

    “Akata” just noting this. It is not common in the South eastern part of the country. Similar to my experience in China when little children point at me calling me “Weiguoren” the youth take selfies with me. They have not seen a black person before. So, Kala, i think you should take it as just an expression of people around you when they see a foreigner this time based on your ascent . will be glad to read more of your experiences

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  6. Wow! What an experience! It’s amazing how things are put into perspective when we think of the hardships of our ancestors!

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