I Am Not Who You Say

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My name is Farida Shaibu and I am not a terrorist. My name is Farida Shaibu and I am not a Northerner.

I imagine you want to know which part of the North I come from despite making myself clear. Well, at least Mr. Shaibu tells me we are not from any of the three Northern regions in Ghana. Believe me; I understand how you feel because I get that misconception a lot.

“Do you speak Dagomba, Dagbani, Grusi or what?” No, I can only speak Hausa because I am Hausa and my root is Sokoto. My mom is Akan. I was born and raised in Ghana so I’m Ghanaian.

In a typical introductory conversation like this, I let out a stifled laugh because of the confused faces of people who would normally expect me to interpret any of the above languages when the need arises. I end up more confused than they are.

Who are they? I am talking about you, my friends, the random guy on the street, the stranger I met in the “trotro,” the bank teller who read my bank statement, the school registrar, the campus mates, that secret admirer, the interviewer, my colleagues. You are all living a life of fallacy!

In Ghana, almost all Arabic names are tagged as having a Northern origin. Sometimes it even extends to the “pepefuor” phenomenon where everyone is “pepeni” by virtue of his or her Islamic name. In fact, I can’t recollect the number of times I have had to explain myself immediately I mention my name because it’s become easier for me to guess the next question- “which part of the North do you come from?”

There’s often that assumption that my name is supposed to have a Northern affair or trace its roots in the heart of some native town of Kpaguri in the Upper West region.

Yes, I have been to Kpaguri. I had the chance to spend a day in the beautiful town while reporting on a forum organized as part of a bloggingGhana project I worked on last year. Immediately it was mentioned that the team would be traveling up North, a colleague remarked: “Oh, then Farida will have the chance to visit her hometown.”

Seriously? That was my first time flying to the North, making a transit at Tamale and riding about 5 hours to Wa, Kpaguri the next day. I just couldn’t hide my joy because I also wanted to travel and see. I’m glad I didn’t miss the opportunity. My biggest observation about the people of Wa? Let’s save that topic for later.

Now let me tell you a little about my tribe- the Hausa tribe. Additional files are by kind courtesy of Google, Wikipedia. Pay attention!

The Hausa are the largest ethnic group in West Africa, and a majority of them are Muslims. The Hausa are originally from an area known as “Hausaland,” a region covering 75,000 square miles and straddling the borders of Niger and Nigeria. They first began to settle in Ghana about 500 years ago.

In the fifteenth century, the first Muslim traders from Hausaland arrived and settled in the northeastern section of Ghana. With the expansion of trade in the eighteenth century and the “holy wars” of Fulani in the nineteenth century, Hausa immigration to Ghana increased. Hausa traders, Muslim priests, and Hausa-speaking slaves helped to spread the Hausa culture in Ghana.

The language of Hausa has more native speakers than any other language in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 22 million native speakers, plus additional 17 million second language speakers. The main Hausa speaking area is northern Nigeria and Niger, but Hausa is also widely spoken in northern Ghana and northern Cameroon, and there are large Hausa communities in every major West African city. Most Hausa speakers are Muslims, and Hausa is often a lingua franca among Muslims in non-Hausa areas.

There is a large and growing printed literature in Hausa, which includes novels, poetry, plays, instruction in Islamic practice, books on development issues, newspapers, news magazines, and even technical academic works. Radio and television broadcasting in Hausa is ubiquitous in northern Nigeria and Niger, and radio stations in Ghana and Cameroon have regular Hausa broadcasts, as do international broadcasters such as the BBC, VOA, Deutsche-Welle, Radio Moscow, Radio Beijing, and others. Hausa is used as the language of instruction at the elementary level in schools in northern Nigeria, and Hausa is available as course of study in northern Nigerian universities.

If you have read to this point, congratulations, you have been informed. You are miles ahead of the confused ones still living under a fallacy. I leave you to make your own research and decide if you want to enroll in any of the northern Nigerian Universities to study “proper” Hausa.

On the contrary, feel free to contact me for the 2 by 4 Ghana Hausa (not the Nima one though). The next time you approach me in town; expect me to say “Akwei-lafia?” (How are you? Or Are you fine?). Please don’t hesitate to respond “Lafia-leu!” (I am well).

“Tor, shey anjima!” (Okay, catch you later!)

PS: Lafia means health.

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