“Your novel lacks African authenticity. Your characters were very much like me; an average white man. They spoke English, they drove cars, they were not starving and as a result of this, they were not authentically African.”
These must have been the very words an English professor said to the literary giant; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about his own conceptualization of African authenticity and how the novel Purple Hibiscus lacked African authenticity. Those words really struck me as I began to wonder what really is African authenticity? Are there authentic Africans?
Are there unauthentic Africans? Is there a quintessential model set up for us to imitate so that we can be African authentic? Who set up this model? These series of questions rushed through my mind with no answers at all. So, I was still wrapped up in this delusional quest to understand the concept of African authenticity. I, so I thought, needed to understand the whole chemistry of African authenticity so I could a full fledged African.
Since I could not fathom what African authenticity was, I designed my own world of African authenticity. At first I decided to stop wearing foot wears, I had to banish that idea due the baking earth under me feet. Okay, I was not giving up easily. I removed all foreign clothes from my closet, from now it was strictly Ankara, Makabe, Akwete, Adire or any other rich African dressing. Funnily enough I had to quit, those materials were as colorful as they were expensive! To worsen the situation, my lecturer nearly worked me out because I was hell bent on wearing an Agbada for my seminar presentation. So I went back to my jeans, plain trousers, shirts and polos.
I started restructuring my own English which I called African Authentic English. I started speaking in a thick accented native tone, all in the name of incorporating the whole African flavor, vibe and color. It was very difficult as I had to speak with a blend of the normal everyday Nigerian English with influences from South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and so on. I started spelling differently like: Afrikan as against African, Klan as against clan, Kan as against can, Kalture as against culture. I was annoyed and threatened to sue Microsoft and the host of Bill Gate’s family for red lines consistently appearing when I typed with my new language. I had to call its quit with my new language when a had zero in Mechanical Accuracy in four consecutive essays (I was at the verge of flunking my grammar and writing course).
Then, in my own way I started behaving in an authentically African way. I stopped taking popcorns to cinemas and started taking freshly boiled groundnut, I stopped eating long shiny grains of Thailand rice and started enjoying (or claiming to enjoy) the short brownish local rice, I stopped watching foreign movies and got stuck with African movies characterized by their poor picture quality and horrible sound editing. At last, so I thought, I have attained the much desired African authenticity! How wrong was I?
How can I be African authentic if I could not blend the cultures, norms and values of over fifty African countries. Truth be told, I cannot even be Nigerian authentic (there are two hundred and fifty recognized ethnic groups and over five hundred languages in my country). You could imagine my disappointment when I realized how unauthentically African I was even in my whole authentically African mode.
I almost gave up on my quest before I realized one important fact; the actual meaning of authenticity. Authenticity is about being yourself, staying yourself and not put up any appearance so that a hard to please English professor would certify you: African Authentic. The whole concept of African authenticity is to squeeze the whole African continent, hence enhancing stereotypes and single stories. Why bother to have just one dimension when we can have fifty shades (and still counting) of our beautiful continent. You just have to strive for your individuality and accentuate your uniqueness. That is when you attain African authenticity!
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