Tag: Benjamina E. Dadzie


YƐN ARA YƐ KASA NI: LEARNING TWI, FANTI, ITALIAN AND ENGLISH

I was speaking about languages the other day, and it was interesting to see how people approach language and the reason behind it. I said I speak four languages. Truth! But I can read and write only two of them – English and Italian. I can speak and understand Fanti and Twi, but there’s so much work to be done around them because I don’t understand all things – i.e. proverbs.
My knowledge of these languages has been subject to needs and circumstances beyond my control for the most part.

Take English for example, I learnt it because I needed it for university. When I got accepted to study in England, that was a necessary move. When it comes to Italian, I had to learn it because my parents moved me to Italy when I was 8 years old. I had to go to school and live there (against my will lol) so I had to learn it. Before the age of 9, Twi was the only language I spoke fluently. I started learning and understanding Fanti properly when I started living with my dad (he’s Fanti, he refuses to speak Twi lol). I’d speak to him in Twi and he’d respond in Fanti! Some people argue that Fanti and Twi are the same, but they are not, although they are both Akan languages. I often think about them as Spanish and Italian: they both come from Latin, but have evolved differently. If one speaks Italian, one can kinda figure out some Spanish and be alright.

I think from the age of 10 or 11, in my household we spoke all four languages interchangeably (I had a little English going because my parents spoke it to my sisters and I sometimes).

In all this learning, credit goes to my parents for making sure I did not lose our native language. I have friends whose parents chose to speak only Italian or English to them. Some parents were tapping into their children’s knowledge to learn the language themselves – i.e. Italian. I believe the intention was great, but the result not so much because some friends ended up losing the ability to speak and/or understand our native languages.

I definitely want to work more on my Akan – Twi in particular. There are concepts that can never be translated into a Western language, because Western philosophy and ontology are different from Akan ways of being; and I think, because language is the medium through which concepts and ideas are formed, one can never understand a culture fully, unless one knows the language. I think Twi sounds fun and hilarious, Fanti sounds sweet, maybe that’s why some Takoradi boys got girls for days but anyway I digress.

Interesting fact: I don’t know how to count numbers in Twi. I’m learning now.

By Benjamina E. Dadzie

My Culture is not Couture: Angelina by Vlisco

After it was tailored and worn by an African-American teenager to her prom, and by many African-American celebrities, the Dashiki fabric, known in Ghana as “Angelina”, has suddenly become popular in the mainstream Western culture; so popular that everywhere one goes, every store one shops, there are attempts to recreate the design of this well known African textile.
Recently the Angelina fabric caught the attention of many people of African and Non-African descent, after the fiasco of ELLE Canada magazine, which defines the fabric as the “[…] newest It-item of note”; and if anyone has a basic understanding of this material, there would be questions about which part of the Dashiki is new, the design or the cut.

Screen-Shot-2015-08-20-at-12.54.05-PM

Since the fiasco, ELLE Canada has taken the tweet down as an acknowledgement of its mistake; however the problem still remains. See, this incident occurred when Bantu knots were “discovered” by Marc Jacobs, according to a clearly uninformed fashion blogger, and when Louis Vuitton capitalised on the Ghana must go bags during its fashion shows.
Apart from the misconception that the Agelina fabric is a Western African invention, the problem with this incident fuses into the idea of cultural appreciation becoming cultural appropriation, with total lack of credit to whom credit is due, i.e. Black people.

angelina

http://v-inspired.vlisco.com/ambassadors-of-style/

In order to recognise the danger in the perpetuation of this narrative of cultural appropriation, it is important for People of Colour to educate themselves, and understand the structures of social power that enables stories like the above. This education needs to start at home, so we can truly grasp the fact that our culture and system of traditions are not “new”, “trendy”, “edgy” or product of Western ideologies, destined to be passè when the “First World” is done consuming it.

 

The hi(story) of the Angelina fabric is richer and stronger than a “trend”, and knowing it is the master key to challenge those notions of cultural appropriation. It was created by a Vlisco’s textile designer around 1960s, based on the pattern of the 19th century Ethiopian noble women’s tunic, which was inspired the design of Chinese silks. The fabric is very popular in East Africa, but its demand was also established in West Africa.
To know and acknowledge the history behind the textile is to truly understand how rooted and whole, and independent our heritage is; it is to nurture a sense of pride when it is appreciated, and call out those who appropriate it.

By Benjamina E. Dadzie