A Juju Worshipping Half-Caste Nigger



Language na bastard, I tell you. Growing up with a rather white looking mixed race father, the label “half-caste” was one I wore with indifference. I was born in Onitsha 30 years ago, half-caste from my orientation registered simply as a person with foreign lineage. I didn’t understand the notion of a caste system, it was just another word, half-caste. It took fifteen years from when I was born to move to England, and then three months from then to make friends with Edward Clothier in the school play; two weeks to meet his mixed-race girlfriend - a second to call her half-caste.

“Woah, Ed. You didn’t tell me your girlfriend was half-caste.”

The silence that followed still lingers in my mind.


“You can’t say that Will.’ said Ed.


“Say what? Half caste? I’m like quarter-caste.”


“It’s a race thing, and a language thing.”


This was my first brush with the concept of race in a manner that addressed hierarchy. Before then, the only difference I believed existed between white people and black people is that they were more on television - plus they had snow and strawberries. I will write about my disappointment with strawberries one day. Back to the half-caste situation… Ed went on later to explain to me the concept of race and the politics of identity, language, and even colonialism. Even at fifteen, he had read Plato’s Dialogue, 1984 and Frantz Fanon’s White Skin and Black Mask. Some called him a nerd, but he was just my friend - still is today. This is the story of “half-caste”.



The story of Nigger comes later. Still in my first year in England. It was one of those dress-up events in the boarding house. Myself and my Nigerian friend, Jimi, rocked our native swag appearing as the president and vice president of Nigeria - complete with the Abacha aviator shades. Three of our white friends came through as G-unit. And yes, they painted their faces too. A harmless memetic exercise, right? Just boys imitating art. Until we got into rapping and I dropped the N-word like it was nothing to a spitter. Unfortunately, this was to the hearing of one of our teachers. I would later be invited for a “talk” about my use of language. Apparently, my use of the term could make people uncomfortable, and of course - there were children around. This is the story of Nigger. Mind you, at this time, even if a white person said the N-word, I didn’t know enough about the history to understand what it really meant in a racial context.



Then came the last one, juju. And if you are reading this, chances are, you might even still be in the dark on this spell. Yes, spell. Did you not know that language enchants the mind? Or you think they call the art “S P E L L I N G” by chance. Yes, the things we say, even if we are not aware of it, colours our perceptions and ideas. Words are not just words. They are histories, stories, and meaning. Unknown to most, just like Nigger is a collective derogatory term for the negro, Juju is a collective derogatory term for all forms of traditional African religions. In other words, it is a way of saying in one word, that all belief systems indigenous to the African is superstitious rubbish - case closed. In this one word, all pre-colonial ideas are reduced to uncivil, shallow, hollow and even evil. Verily, like it says in the Bible, there is power in the tongue.


This last one I discovered when I began to explore the Odinani cosmological tradition and shared some of my findings with an old friend. After listening to my explanations about the Igbo view on metaphysics and epistemology, she simply replied asking - “but is this thing not like native juju?’ In that moment it clicked to me that by having a word in the colonial tongue to dismiss an idea native to the people, the mind is already conditioned for dismissal. There is much to say about the debate over if Africans can write African thoughts in the English language, or any other colonial language. To this, Chinua Achebe replied that the west should watch and see what we will create with the language.


As a largely English writer, even though I speak Igbo fluently and it shouldn’t take me much to perfect the writing; I am sometimes panged by guilt that our languages are dying, slowly being snuffed out by the power of economic viability. I fear that if care is not taken, we will lose many a “spells” that make us who we are because we will become unable to think in the language of our forebearers. To this, I am appealing to anyone that cares about these things to learn more about the English that we speak. This is important so that we may be able to tell what words demean us and how we can navigate the language better to tell our stories. Also, the practice of banning native languages from home, especially around the middle and upper class needs to stop. The shaming of accents, and other self-sustained acts of violence against what is indigenous has to go.


In these languages even I once called out-dates, there lies a whole history, a whole culture. an entirely different way of being and seeing. There is power in the tongue, in our ears, and definitely, in our words.


158 views

JOIN OUR COMMUNITY

© 2023 by Festive Media and Lifestyle company