A letter from a daughter of the Nigerian soil to colonisers
By Erinayo Oyeladun, Staff Writer
It’s day 35 in Canada, and I have, yet again, been asked to repeat my words, nervous that the English I am speaking doesn’t measure up to “their” standard of English and therefore – not good enough. Or the quiet unravelling of the insecurities that have been entwined in my head when I take a picture with my non-black friends, making me feel like a backdrop rather than an individual – a person – in the photo. I am wary of myself, of where I come from and if there has ever been a time I needed to speak my mind to you, it is now. Now that I am quite alone and still figuring out who I am and what my identity is supposed to be.
What you don’t understand is that when you came, you didn’t just take over my land and my resources; you also took a big chunk of what my identity was meant to be. I , Erinayo Adediwura Oyeladun, who was meant to laugh, cry, argue and share tender secrets in Yoruba, the tongue of my mother; wear lavish hairstyles that complements my sunny personality and adorn myself in the most colorful tie & dye prints is caught toeing the battle lines between pride in her heritage and insecurity waging in her heart.
Growing up, English was seen as a mark of intelligence, that if you made a point in English, it had to be listened to. But couldn’t you hear the beauty, the wisdom, and the same intelligence in Yoruba? I, at first was hesitant, but I do hear it now; when I hear Yoruba on the phone call back home, or any other language when walking the busy streets of Toronto, I listen. I am completely marvelled by this, how language can at times divide and bring us together, back to our roots or understanding a different culture from yours, and all I do is listen. I hear Cantonese, Hindi, Tagalog and I let the world hear a little bit of Yoruba. When I, along with countless others around me, embrace each other’s differences and focus on hearing the other, we won’t be divided.
I admit, I have always hoped to fit into the standard you’ve created but my heritage, husky and thick like the laughter of women from my place of origin,Osun, is way beautiful and meaningful to who I am. Pardon my tone but, never meeting your expectations has been a blessing. In moments when I am not stifled by your rules and Eurocentric standards, I, along with my Nigerian heritage, feel free. It’s almost as if I am being real to myself and the truth of what I represent—a droplet in a great sea-that is my beautiful culture. I no longer believe the lies that you spread, that my way of life is less than yours. That I had to behave like those English actors on the T.V screen to be seen, that my Yoruba, the language that Mother speaks to me in, is secondary to English, and that I am okay with the richness of Nigerian history overshadowed by the arrival of the Europeans.
I can’t change the past, I can’t get back the chances I lost out of ignorance, I can’t undo what you’ve done but I can redefine and reclaim my identity. I can redefine how I see and feel about myself in connection with my heritage. I can make as many meaningful connections to my ancestors and where I am from. I can listen to Yoruba and be heard back. When I grant myself this freedom, freedom to connect with my culture unconditionally, I set a piece of my people’s soul free. You may have owned 17 years of my identity but now I relinquish that power you have over me: I am a daughter of the soil – I am proud to be Nigerian .
No longer yours,