Musings of an African Woman: Fragments of the Colonial Influence
I. ALL BECAUSE OF A NAME!
Claiming your name with all its baggage of ancestral memory brings with it a certain comfort that is very cathartic!
It is 12:16 a.m. on Wednesday morning—the day on which I was born. To us Ghanaians this is very important since most of us are named according to this day. I have just finished reading the preface and some of the introduction to a book written by one of my professors from college. I finally sign my name in a book that I have owned for almost 4 years. Without thinking, I sign “Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe” with oomph; I realize that I like the sound of my own name, my African name.
Why I had never given any earlier thought to protesting my European name was beyond me. Of course, most people I knew in Ghana strove to be regarded as “white” or Europeanized. From my maternal grandmother who tried to make proper ladies out of my sister and I, by teaching us the proper use of cutlery at Tea or the mannerisms of a lady, to the nuns in habits who charged us 10 Cedis for speaking our native languages during recess, everyone made it their business to ensure that this new generation of children were brought up right; trained to fit into the mold that the colonizer was creating for the so-called “educated African.” To top it all off was the Anglican, and later, the Roman Catholic Church, to which my ancestors were probably forced to convert, that demanded that all baptized children of God be named after saints; of course, it came in handy that most of these saints had English names! So, with all these forces working against me it was no surprise that my name was, and had been for 24 years, Melody-Ann D. Yomekpe and not Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe.
I can recall feelings of shame when called upon in class to enunciate my “full name” or to tell my teachers what my middle initial, D, stood for. The teachers, also victims of the colonizer’s brainwashing, didn’t make these feelings any easier to deal with, ridiculing the sound of my names. These names, inherited from my father, originated from the Ewe tribe, who occupied the eastern part of Ghana, who, historically were not counted among the most assimilated and Europeanized of the Ghanaian tribes. I grew up hoping and praying that someday I would be married off to a man from a place outside of Africa and then my last name would change and I would never have to blush when asked to pronounce my last name again! Yes, it was a traumatic experience for a child who strove against all odds to be Europeanized. There were even occasions when I denied the existence of that side of my heritage. Denying my association with my father’s tribe always cost me dearly because quite a few of my fellow students in class were also members of this tribe and this denial was always seen as a betrayal. I would think to myself that they would do the same if they had names like mine that meant “grave stone.”
I am sure you are trying to figure out how merely scribbling my name in a book could rouse up such deep feelings within me. I guess this goes to show how deeply rooted in culture we all are, especially those of us of African descent who carry the baggage of colonialism, imperialism, and racism; we are forever working through our baggage.
This brings me to the real reason for writing…. I have been suddenly seized by an overwhelming sense to re-affirm myself with a sort of “return-to-the-roots” ritual and at this point in my life reclaiming my true name—my Ghanaian name, seems to be the most appropriate ritual. Although in my case I would not actually be changing my name, I would only be reclaiming what has been mine all along, that which shame and brainwashing had prevented me from affirming, that is, until now.
Although some of my Ghanaian friends have kept their original day-of-birth assigned names and used both—the Ghanaian and the assigned-church one, the thought of changing mine had never even occurred to me until now. Was it because I was so steeped in the culture of becoming “white” and fitting in that mold of the colonized African that I just could not be bothered with the local-homegrown name? Was it because I was bombarded with enough messages while I was busy forming my fragile identity that I actually bought into the whole idea that the less I identified with my people and culture the easier it would be to transition? Well whatever the reason, I never felt this strongly about returning to the use of my native name: Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe—Kuukua, a moniker for Akua, given to a female child born on Wednesday in the Akan tribe, Dzigbordi meaning a child of patience, and Yomekpe meaning gravestone, both from the Ewe tribe from which my father hails.
It is 12:45 a.m., a mere twenty-nine minutes later, and I am seriously thinking about what it would take to make the official change. Would I do this at any cost? Would I be willing to teach people how to pronounce my “new” name? Would I still answer to Melody-Ann? O! The joys of being a product of colonization!
Originally Penned Fall 2001; Revised Summer 2009; Published in AWWR Summer 2010