The Lost Ones

Some ago, I read an article by a young Nigerian lady who came to the U.S. at an early age, grew up and schooled in predominantly white neighbourhoods and now of age, wants to settle down to marry a Nigerian man. She however finds she has hardly anything in common with the Nigerian community and is now at crossroads in her life. This got me thinking and I decided to write this article that dwells on the issue of identity and the price of seeking that piece of the American/European Dream.

In the last twenty years or so, due to the state of the Nation, thousands of Nigerians have taken to leaving the shores of this country in search of a better life in the Western world. This flight in as much as it has afforded them better quality of life, has also resulted in raising a generation of Nigerian children that have little or nothing to do with the country of their parent’s birth. The only thing Nigerian about them is their name. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with seeking better opportunities in life. Even the first wave of Europeans that came to the United States in the 1500’s did so in search of better standards of living from what they were getting in Europe at the time. However, one has to wonder (in the case of Nigerians now) whether the price they or their children have to pay have been worth it. What price you might say? The price of growing up believing you are inferior to your peers, because you’re not just African but Nigerian. The price of not being able to speak or understand your mother tongue or culture. The price of not being able to fit in with your mates if you do eventually come back to Nigeria or being able to have an interest in the running of their country and the list goes on.

I know some second generation Nigerians that don’t speak their native language or relate to the Nigerian experience. Are they Nigerian, African-American, Black British or Jamaican? That’s why we hear names like Chamellionaire and Seal instead of Hakeem Seriki and Bamidele Samuel (their real names) Bonafide Nigerians who you would never guess, if you don’t do thorough investigation.

For 1st generation Nigerians, this is not really a problem because you had the luxury of growing up in Nigeria, attending its schools, understanding and enjoying the culture, speaking the language. You most probably landed overseas in your late 20’s or 30’s and already knew who you were but its not so with the younger ones.

How sad it must be not to know what its like to play “ten-ten” or football in the dusty school playground, to listen to stories told by older ones in the evening under the night sky when NEPA has taken light, to make friends with some of the funniest and craziest characters in school, even to “do punishment” for a senior in Boarding house. How sad not to know what it is like for your grandmother to braid your hair, or bathe and cuddle you. Or for your cousins, uncles or aunties to joke and yap you when you step out of line and you know its all in good fun and not something to call the Cops on them for!

Yes, its good to have an Ivy League education, to speak English better than the Queen, to hobnob with the rich and famous but absolutely nothing compares to being in your home with your own.

This topic strikes a little close to home for me because I was in a not too different situation some years ago. I had the opportunity of growing up with an uncle who had a Jamaican wife that didn’t speak or understand Yoruba. As a result, we the children spoke only English in the home. The opportunity to learn Yoruba in secondary school did not present itself because it was in the eastern part of the country and vernacular of any sort was greatly discouraged. It was only when I eventually left and moved back to my family in Ibadan at the ripe old age of 17 to attend University, that I realized something was amiss. Here I was, a Yoruba girl with Yoruba parents that couldn’t speak Yoruba, living in the heart of Yorubaland! Ibadan for that matter! I was fair game or should I say dead meat, because if there is one thing Yoruba people know how to do, it is to yab! But I survived obviously, albeit with a thicker skin and a sharper tongue! On asking why I was sent at such a tender age to live in that environment, I was told it was done with my best interest in mind. I can not tell you the psychological pain I have endured as a result of this decision. Neither can I tell about all the yabs I received from my peers once they found out my little “secret”. Someone even told me to my face that I should call myself Mary, Stella or Helen and not Bolanle since I could not speak Yoruba! Have I eventually learnt to speak it? Well, it depends who you ask. My friends still laugh and say I speak Yoruba like an Ibo person but at least I get by. You can’t sell me! Things might be tough and not as rosy as when I was with my Uncle but one thing I don’t ever regret is going back to my roots and being amongst my own. There’s something infinitely satisfying about it. It can’t be explained. Blood is indeed thicker water.

For those born and still living in the Diaspora, its not too late. You can still retrace your steps and seek the land of your (or parent’s) birth. Even if it’s just for a visit. At least before you die. Yes, it is not a bed of roses. Yes, it’s lawless, crazy, tough and rough. Some parts of it even stink (according to Sabella) but its still home. It’s still your birthright and no one will ever reject you. Nor can they ever take that away from you. Naija for Life, Baby!

13 thoughts on “The Lost Ones

  • I do agreed with the Ade,that was a nice piece. Though as the realty sinks in it becomes heartwrenching to note,yet these are the gospel truth as outlined in the article. It’s been very easy to diagnose the ills tormenting the nigerian society,yet these plagues have defied all remedies. If home could be accommodating,if home could present a sense of security and comfort at least a little below what the home from home is able to provide,then those “LOST SOULS” might end up relocating to their country of origin.

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  • Bolanle,are you admiral aduwo’s daughter. You seem to bear a strong resemblance to him. A gentle man, when I met him, keeps to time, very unusual for a nigerian “big man”.

    God bless you.

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  • hello Bolanle, i have noticed in most of your write ups that you try to promote Nigeria as a whole which is okay, very, very okay. so please dont get me wrong.A fact we all cannot brush aside is the fact that we all the exposure and it is good to travel to places to learn.

    it helps to develop the way we think and handle things, during school days we were made to go on trips to places and its helps to widen our knowledge not only that it can also help to make one get focused if one is not.

    I am sure your beeing brought up by the jamaican lady is considered by you more of a blessing. as you are polished.

    keep the good works up.

    i love to read good write ups on Nigeria as it is the best publice relations for the nations.

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  • i think we should take it easy on the author of this article as all she was just trying to do( although she would have realised by now how sensitive this topic is),is to share her personal experience with the public.

    very good write up i must say.

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  • I am a 22-year old woman in the US, and I'm what you would call a 2nd-generation Nigerian. My parents came to the US for school and stayed here when things became difficult in the 80's. They produced a whole line of kids (5) and were finanicially unable to return to Nigeria. I grew up in the US. I am Nigerian. I am American. I'm not going to deny my Nigerian culture to claim I'm American, but I'm not going to put down America in order to put Nigeria on a pedestal. Do you all have any idea how difficult it is for us "2nd-generation Nigerians???" I grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods and schools. The African Americans (those whose families came from Africa long, long ago) never accepted me because they thought I was "too white." And the Nigerian international students at my university didn't accept me either because I didn't have an accent and wasn't "Nigerian" enough. Do I feel lost? Sometimes, but hello… this is who I am. This is where God has placed me. What am I to do? I understand Igbo, but I don't speak it because my parents only spoke to me in English. I eat little Nigerian food because my parents allowed us to primarily eat what we wanted… and as kids, that was American food. When I went back to Nigeria, I was so happy to see my own flesh and blood, but I also wanted more than anything else to understand and be a part of the Nigeria around me. Yes…I hated the roads, I hated the heat, I hated the government and the lack of water and electricity. Do I hate Nigeria… no. Do I consider Nigeria home… not in a literally sense. Culturally this is who I am; I would be a fool to deny my ancestry. But I would also be a liar if I said I didn't prefer the US to Nigeria. I want nothing more than to go to Nigerian government officials and remove them from office. Nigeria deserves so much better than what she is getting. At the same time, I would do that and choose to live in America. This is where I grew up, and ultimately where I call home. You all will meet 2nd-generations who either love, abhor, or are indifferent to Nigeria. You don't know how it pains some of us psychologically to never quite fit in wherever we go. So please, don't analyze us, don't criticize us, and don't claim we are lost. We cannot simply flip a coin and decide which culture we are going to identify with. Help us to understand where we are from so we can embrace our culture and our language. But please, do nothing more.

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  • enitanmason@gmail.com · Edit

    Your article clearly expresses your notion of belonging and what it means to feel alienated within a cultural setting. Feeling alienated or lost can only occur when one feels attached to a person, place, thing etc in the first place or when one seeks attachment to a person, place, thing from which one feels cut off or disconnected. A reasonable number of Nigerian-American children feel no sense of loss or detachment from a culture which is largely foreign to them. The young lady who was impetus for your article, as I recall was more distressed by the way she is perceived by Nigerians including her Nigerian parents and wanted clarification on "Nigerian culture" and it's expectations. I am certain that you are well intentioned in your assumption that more people seek the same connections or value the same things that are meaningful to you. Perhaps what we really need is a broader view and much more tolerance as each person defines his or her own concept of home. For some of us who have found our love and dreams fulfilled outside of the borders of Nigeria or mainstream Nigerian culture, the following quote from thinkexist.com suffices as we define home— "A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams." A writer on this (nigeriansinamerica) website, Benedicta Onyero Droese without being judgmental seems to have captured the essence of the concept of home that some of us immigrants can live with as she describes a trip she made to Nigeria at some point in the recent past. I quote Benedicta — As far as I (Benedicta) am concerned, home is not just where you hang your hat or set of keys. Home is more than where the heart is…HOME is also, that special place in your heart where treasured childhood memories reside forever!— Finally, I have to say it is misleading to state that no one will ever reject foreign born and bred children who chose to visit or go to Nigeria. The taunts with which you are faced for not speaking "good Yoruba" is a form of rejection. Good natured as it might seem, intolerance and beating others down until you perceive them to be like you or what you expect them to be is a form of rejection. Some of us in choosing a different path dare to allow our children to define their own concept of home. No one should have to apologize for being themselves when it does not fit an cultural expected image. You are okay. We are okay.

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  • Hi Bolanle, your article was pretty interesting, I happen to have a daughter who is an american, is she lost? My question is, is she one of the lost ones? I don't think so. I strongly believe home is where your heart feel at peace, the bible spoke about God sending Abram (Abraham) out of his fatherland, I can't remember him going back. It's all about individual's choice, I made mine long time ago, my choice was US is home to me but I do go to Nigeria to visit. If my daughter chooses to make Nigeria home and the US a holiday zone, so be it. I love Nigeria, but I love the US more. My choice. I have got only one life to leave, Bolanle and I'm gonna enjoy everybit of it. Once again I love your article. Stay blessed.

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  • I like this article. The author was not trying to tell 2nd Gen. Africans that it is necessary to go home or retrace their steps in order to fit into a cultural category. She is simply stating that it is an option for those at crossroads. We can either embrace the land and culture of our fathers or not. It's up to the individual.

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  • Hello Bolanle

    I enjoyed reading your article and I would like to add my own comments on the topics of "National Identity" and "The Lost ones".

    I think there are many ways of addressing this issue depending on which side of the equation you are on. Children that are born to Nigerian parents that reside in Europe or the continential United States aren't necessarily Nigerians. These children are now first generation Americans or British. I won't refer to them as the "lost ones" because they can't be lost to a culture that they have never been introduced to. When these children grow up here and get married, their own children won't have that link to Nigeria anymore. Those children will become second generation Americans. One has to be emotionally connected to a certain place to consider that place as home. You can't expect children of Nigerian immigrants to consider Nigeria as their home if they have only visited the country once or twice in their life. I have resigned myself to the fact that my children born in the United States are going to be first generation Americans and pledge their allegiance to this wonderful but sometimes complicated country. I will try my best to instill in them the Nigerian African culture of discipline and moral values that was passed down to me by my parents. I will instill pride in them about their Nigerian heritage and build up their self esteem. I will make them be proud of their Nigerian ethnic names because I know that eventually they are going to be teased in school because of their names. I admire the Yorubas because I have found out that wherever in the world they migrate to, they carry their ethnic names with them.

    The United States as a country is made up of immigrants from all over the world – Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Carribean. The children of these immigrants born in the United States are now first generation Americans. Their future ancestors will be regarded as nothing but Americans because this is now their country.

    Will you consider an Indian person whose family has lived in East Africa for generations as the "lost one" because he no longer has any ties to India? He has now become an african. National identity isn't tied to racial heritage. The same applies to the Europeans who left europe and created the new world – The United States of America. The ancestors of those Europeans don't regard themselves as "Europeans" but "Americans".

    The "lost ones" are some of the african children who reside in Africa. The children back home in Africa are now imitating the western culture thanks to Satellite TV with shows like MTV. Children back home don't have any regard or appreciation for african culture at all. They now try to speak with a fake American or British accent because of what they watch on television. They now want to adopt the western culture. I will use myself as an example. When I was growing up in Nigeria I didn't have much regard for the African culture until I migrated to the United states at the age of 19. It was here in America that I began to really appreciate the African culture. It was here in America that I listened to my first Fela song which led me to become an addicted Fela fan. It was here in America that I began to like African music. While I was living in Nigeria you will never hear me listening to "High Life" music or any type of African music. I was more interested in American or British music while at the same time regarding African music as being too native, local and unpolished – I was basically being brainwashed but at that age I wasn't aware of it.

    The "lost ones" are those African parents back in Africa who give their children European names because they are ashamed of their ethnic tribal names. I remember growing up in Nigeria and some friends asking me what my English name was and I would always tell them that I had none. I wonder whether they would ask an English man what his African name is. I know so many Nigerians that change their names to English names after migrating to America. I always ask myself why they do this – Inferiority complex is the answer. Having the mindset that your own culture is more inferior to the accepted western culture.

    The "lost ones" are those Nigerian movie directors who give the characters in their movies european names and try to imitate a western culture that is so foreign to us.

    The "lost ones" are those African children in Africa that can't speak their mother tongue because they all want to speak through their noses with a fake British or American accent. Unfortunately I fall into this category because I am not fluent in my native language. Ask me why? I don't have an answer for you. I always console myself by saying that while growing up nobody spoke to me in my native language and I responded back in the English language. This is very common all over Africa where children are more likely to speak the colonial language – French, English or Portugese rather than their native languages. If I could have my say in the African continent, all native indigenious languages should be taught in primary and secondary schools while foreign languages of our colonial masters should be taught as a second language. Look at the East African country of Tanzania where Swahilli is taught in schools and English is taught as a second language. Germans speak German, Portugese speak Portugese, Italians speak Italian, the French speak French, the Spaniards speak Spanish and the English speak English. Africans should do the same in their respective languages.

    There are so many "lost ones" in Nigeria and africa. The continent has been brain washed and is still being brain washed up till today. Black people scattered all over the diaspora – the Carribean, the Americas and Europe don't consider themselves lost because they have created a new world for themselves. They have created the Carribean culture, the African American culture and also the Afro European culture. These new cultures aren't necessarily "African" but African inspired which is a new culture that the Africans in Africa now want to also adopt or have already adopted – Hip Hop, Reggae, Soca, Calypso, Soca, Rap, Rhythm & Blues – to name a few examples. Unfortunately we have also adopted the bad culture of this new world – It's not uncommon to hear Nigerian rappers using the word "Nigger" in their lyrics. I am sure they don't even know the history of this derogatory racial slur or how it originated.

    As I earlier stated, National Identity isn't tied to racial heritage. You can be a caucasian and be from Southern Africa or a Black person from France or Austraila. You can be an Arab person from Germany.

    We now live in an era where people want to maintain an identity – i.e African Americans in America. This is an identity that they created for themselves not because they necessarily care or are emotionally connected to Africa but because they want an identity. They want others to know that there is a linkage between them and the African continent.

    To end this article, the people you are referring as the "lost ones" have actually created a new world for themselves and their future ancestors. Their ties may be linked to Nigeria but their national identity is now American or British.

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  • It is amazing that my article has elicited such strong reactions/emotions from people….I was merely talking about my experience growing up isolated from my own, how I learnt to deal with it and what it must be like to not have that opportunity to grow up amongst one’s own especially in a foreign land. I was in no way insulting people for taking the decision to relocate. The comment about me being jealous and being denied a visa is completely out of place and uncalled for but I refuse to be dragged into an issue about how many countries I have traveled to or how many visas I have. What’s the big deal about traveling anyway? Some of us are actually quite content being here in Nigeria believe it or not. It is possible to make your feelings known without getting personal. Please lighten up! Its just an article on someone’s opinion.

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  • I think the author's example of Seal and Chamillionaire is lame because these are stage names only much like 2face is the stage name of Nigerian artist of Innocent Ujah. Aren't Nigerian artists abroad allowed to have stage names?? Further more it seems to me as if the author is implying that if one does not experience 'certain' aspects of life, like NEPA ceasing the light, being yabbed by aunties or uncles or playing ten-ten in a dusty school ground then they have not really experienced Nigeria ??? I also know lots of kids of Nigerians, mostly Yorubas, who have not set one foot in Nigeria and yet they can speak the language fluently.

    I don’t think the author knows what they are talking about to be honest because in my view the Nigerians are much like the Indians in that wherever they are in the world they always take their culture and end up having a heavy influence in the area. Up until the 80s Peckham used to be known as a Jamaican area but now if you go there you get even the Asians and Arabs speaking Yoruba or even broken English.

    Ade:

    I totally agree with everything that you have written. My Dad took the whole family back to live in Nigeria in the 80s and when it became clear that Nigeria was going from bad to worst he brought us all back to the UK and I know many Nigerian families who have done the same thing. I suspect that most of those crying about ‘Lost Souls’ would rather be anywhere on earth than in Nigeria anyway so these sorts of sentiments in my humble opinion, probably boils down to plain old jealousy and resentment about being rejected for a visa to leave the country.

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  • We need to stop with this "rubbish" sentiments. Human beings migrate from place to place. Even the founding fathers and mothers of most of our tribes and cultures came from one place to settle in the place we all now call Nigeria. While I am not an advocate for the "Americanization" of African people, I would not consider those born and raised abroad as "lost souls". Lost to what or whom?

    What some people fail to realise is that; gone are the days when Nigerians went abroad to study, then return home to put their acquired skills into gainful and beneficial practises. Back then, people came back with their families, even those who were married to foreign partners. The case is not so these days. The children born in various foreign countries grow to see the societies they are born into as their main base. They have stability that way, at least to an extent. Many of them might continue to claim their parents' nationality as the second identity (or even the main identity) but that is because their parents continue to feel a bond to that place, and somehow, that sense of belonging is transferred to the children. For instance, a child born and raised in the US to a Nigerian family might continue to claim to be a Nigerian American. Some even speak the Nigerian languages of their parents. However when they come to Nigeria and see what the situation of roads, security, social ammenities etc are, they realise they are more American than Nigerians. Many of those who moved back with their families have since been forced to return to the countries they moved back from. Even some of our "typical Naija" sentiments are not shared by these generations. Some of their parents might have fantastic looking mansions in Lagos, Abuja or Ibadan, availing them with all the things to make them feel comfortable in Nigeria, however, these people still have to go out on the streets and they see the reality that millions of Nigerians live in.

    Patriotism has nothing to do with calling things the way they are. The situation in our country is a disappointment considering that many of these people we have wrongfully addressed as "lost souls" would gladly have loved to come and live and work in Nigeria. Even many African Americans, Afro Carribeans, Afro Latinos etc would love to come and work in Nigeria; but you've only got one life and you wouldnt want to spend it or lose it in a place where our political and economical system does not care for human life. Not to say there are killing sprees on the streets of Lagos, but lack of security, good roads, good water etc is enough to kill a man.

    It is indeed a good thing to encourage people to come to Nigeria. It is a good thing to bring one's friends and relatives back "home", but home has to be a place where you feel "at home". Home has to be welcoming. Home has to be peaceful. You dont have to be rich, but at least be satisfied in your home.

    When you go to many countries with a large concentration of Nigierians all over the world, many of them feel "at home" in those places even when they deny it. They can get all types of Nigerian foods, watch Nigerian tv, read Nigerian newspapers, some even go for years only speaking their indigenous languages while living abroad. They move about without fear, armed robbers don't come to hack them to death just because they have a 42 inches plasma tv or drive a Merc. They can get on a flight from one place to another without having to do "special prayers" for God to protect them while they are there.

    When you travel to Nigeria, the emotions are always mixed. At first you're excited, but them you start to think about "armed robbers", bad roads, NEPA, etc

    No this is not "Naija Bashing" but calling a spade a spade. Go through all airports all over the world and you have no hassles. Get to Murtala Muhammed Int. Airport and you see all sorts of "officers" in all kinds of uniforms and from various arms of the law, all sitting about, all waiting like vultures for their next meals. When we are not in a state of war or terrorism, why do we need so many uniformed officials all sitting about, doing nothing but earning salaries? Whatever for? You check in your baggage in countries where they have use highly sophisticated technology to scan and identify that you and what you are carrying pose no threat to anyone or the society; get to Nigeria and its "Oga/Madam Wetin you carry"? Mind you, you have been travelling for hours and miles, most times without hassles, you get "home" and you are met with corrupt and sometimes hostile brother or sister. If you're smart enough to know what their fuss is all about, you just "leave something" and go on your way.

    With many young Nigerians looking to run away from "home", what message does that transmit?

    So perhaps what we ought to do is communicate louder to our leaders and ask them to start looking at "home" and not at their houses. Look at Nigeria and make it more comfortable for people. What is good for the them is as well good for the "omolanke pusher", a right to live well and satisfactorily at home. As soon as we get our "home" sorted, those so called "lost souls" would happily come back to visit and even settle in Nigeria.

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  • There have been generatons of Naijas raised abroad since the 1950s till date. Most are lost to Naija already. Also note that kids in Naija are desperately running away from their identity and emulating African-Americans & Jamaicans.

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