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”.