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With Love from Nigeria Bernard Halstead

Journey to the Motherland: A Diasporic Account of My Return to Nigeria (Part Three of Four)

Journey to the Motherland: A Diasporic Account of My Return to Nigeria (Part Three of Four)

More exciting activities filled my stay, which made up for my rather monotonous start. Accompanied by Mychal, the oldest child aged 16 at the time, we took to exploring the gated residential area which enclosed us. An array of modest homes, large houses and grand mansions surrounded us. I was amazed at the diversity yet uniformity of the buildings. Each was unique, yet none looked out of place in the area. We walked and talked, sharing our favourite music genres and artists. I quizzed him on Grime and UK rap, and he mirrored me with questions on Afrobeat songs and singers. I told him that Wizkid was my favourite Afrobeat singer – stereotypical, I know, but true. As we neared the guarded gate which divided our small neighbourhood from the main road that cuts through Ikeja, the Capital of the Capital, Mychal eagerly derailed our stroll to inform me that we were at P Square’s house. I was relatively star-struck: ‘to think, my aunty lives in the same spot as P Square’, I thought to myself. P Square are a musical duo, and most young West African people, living natively or abroad, know who they are. I had to get a picture to show my friends back home (my British home anyway), and I did.

Photo Credit: Hannah Uguru

Photo Credit: Hannah Uguru

The strange position I occupied as a tourist, yet a native, in my home country really resonated with me while I was taking pictures, such as these, as mementoes. It’s a unique space that only people of the diaspora are able to enter, whether that be the Asian, African or Caribbean diaspora. Sometimes the latter two merges into one socio-political identity, in which the term ‘African diaspora’ (or the more straightforward ‘Black diaspora’) encompass a global network of all people of direct African descent living outside of Africa.

I had expressed to my aunty when I had arrived that my main goal was to purchase jewellery and materials for clothes making at the market.

Photo Credit: Hannah Uguru

Photo Credit: Hannah Uguru

‘Ankara’ print, they call it, beautiful fine pieces of cotton fabric in an assortment of prints and patterns. The history of how Ankara came to have such a strong West African association is quite ironic. The fabrics were actually brought over by Dutch businesspeople as a means of trade in the region. Evidently, we took to it with great enthusiasm. Mainly being produced in the Netherlands, the materials have little African roots, beyond our incorporation of them into traditional wear since the 1800s. It’s a conflicting revelation to deal with because so much diasporic cultural identity is tied to the attire, but I’ve come to the resolution that imperialist impact is inevitable. Moreover, our adoption of Ankara print so diffusely shows that it still operated as a signifier of West African and Nigerian cultural identity. I compare it to Indomie noodles, something which no Nigerian has not heard of, despite it being manufactured in Indonesia.

There’s a small shop in Newcastle (where I’ve lived since age 13, though I do not regard it as my hometown), that sells lots of ‘ethnic’ (i.e., not ethnically white) jewellery and trinkets. They boast an array of Afrocentric necklaces and earrings from Kenya, which I have purchased after much internal deliberation over the ethics of such consumption. The shop is owned by two white people. The manager often travels to Kenya to buy jewellery from the markets there to resell in England. I’d often wonder to myself whether doing this as a European, to then sell at a 400% mark up in the UK, was morally sound. However, I reasoned with myself that they would always be fully transparent over where their stock came from; their business did help the local Kenyan economy; and without their enterprise, I would not have been able to come into contact with such beautiful ornaments, certainly not in Newcastle anyway. The last point is what sealed the deal for me. Furthermore, one of my Nigerian-British friends who had recently been to the country told me of her going to the tailor to get clothes personally made for her, at 1/10th of the price you’d come across in England. As a fashionista, this was a huge selling point for me.

Pardon the rather long digression, but I had to set the context of my primary desires to make my account more informative. Now back to the main story, my aunt of course agreed to take me, first to the local market and then to the much larger one that was more central. The trip to the local market was principally to buy food and hair extensions, as I wanted to get my hair done in faux locs at the Dove beauty salon near my auntie’s house. The hustle and bustle of just the local market alone was enough to engage my senses with a multitude of colours, sounds and smells, which thoroughly enthralled my globetrotter being.

Here are some pictures which I feel capture the spirit of the local market I visited. As a Westerner, I didn’t want to make the native marketgoers the ‘objects’ of my photos for fear of encouraging colonialist undertones. Rather, I wanted to make them the subjects of my images and show them as multi-dimensional beings against the indigenous backdrop:

Photo Credit: Hannah Uguru

Photo Credit: Hannah Uguru

The local Ikeja stalls were merely the prelude for the even grander and busier Balogun market, which Aunt Lily drove me to. Sprawling across a concrete network of fabric, clothing and jewellery stalls, it is one of the most notable markets in Lagos and Nigeria.

To be continued…

Written By: Our Commissioning Editor Hannah Uguru – who is an award-winning writer who is passionate about discussions centring black women and the nuances within this identity. Connect with her on Instagram and on her blog.

Header Image: Book cover ‘With Love From Nigeria‘ by Bernard Halstead

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