Saturday, March 24, 2007


Kwame Kwei-Armah looked at the impact of the television series, Roots, on the psyche of those who watched it. I vaguely remember Roots, but nobody will ever forget the name of the main character, the slave, Kunta Kinte. Roots has particular resonance for Kwame Kwei-Armah because it was watching it at age 12, that made him pledge that when was older, he would trace his roots and change his name. So Ian Roberts from Hillingdon, became Kwame Kwei-Armah, Ga names from Ghana.

The last ten minutes of the documentary is as poignant a piece of radio as you will ever hear. A class of pupils in South London watched the first two episodes of Roots, and gave their reaction afterwards. At the risk of patronising them, the eloquence with which they express their horror and disgust made me shift uneasily as I listened. One white student said the treatment of the slaves brought shame on white people. Most evocative of all seemed to be the beating Kunta Kinte endured as he was forced to change his name. There's nothing as intertwined as one's name and one's identity. Being removed from one's land is criminal, and being stripped of one's name is just evil.


? said...

"There's nothing as intertwined as one's name and one's identity. Being removed from one's land is criminal, and being stripped of one's name is just evil...."

There is something in the name of a person! Without attempting to dwell on the myriad of divisive issues raised by this excellent post, can Nigeria not drop 'that' colonial name? Originally, used to describe the Negro race, that word has its etymology in an obsolete word derived from the Latin niger, meaning black.

Anonymous said...

@Coming soon,

Dropping the colonial Nigeria name would have been a good idea at Christmas, you speak with the naivety of not knowing Nigeria is now too complex to adopt a singular meaningful name acceptable to its divided peoples who seem only to be united by one language - English, as Nkem pointed out some weeks ago.

No doubt, someone might come up with contraption that combines the 3 major languages - like WaZoBia, but that is as meaningless as it represents no particular Nigerian identity.

Nigeria is fine as it is, it represents black, we are the most populous black country in the world, that is the identity we recognise and hold with pride - unnecessary Pan-Africanism stirring up vacuous patriotism in order to be political correct would be of no particular benefit to anyone.

In fact, before Nigeria, it was Slave Coast, that would have been in need of change in these days, but those of Cote d'Ivoire or Ivory Coast are proud to be Ivorians despite the revulsion of the trade in Ivory - it is their identity and history intertwined.

If Nigeria were 3 countries, then each major tribe might have a tribal national name, but look at the many states and how many really are about the identities of the people, talk less of making it national?

Stop that talk, forthwith, it is unprofitable and unhelpfully soppy.

Anonymous said...

Crumbs! You cannot edit comments posted - Dropping the colonial Nigeria name would have been a good idea at Christmas should have read Dropping the colonial Nigeria name would have been a good idea at independence.

Sorry for that error!

? said...

@ Akin

I think Slave Coast would be of a more appropriate name for Nigeria in light of your reactionary reply. Despite our rights to self determination. My God!

The time was 1941 when britains churchil and americas roosevelt drew up the Atlantic Charter supporting the right of all peoples to chose their own government. Despite that, we hdont only have a foreign name but a constitution foisted on us.

Anonymous said...

@Coming soon,

1941 you said, that was a good 19 years to come up with a name that represented Nigeria then.

However, since you have come up with such a revolutionary idea rather than my reactionary retort, what would you suggest as the name that best represents the people who once belonged to a country formerly known as Nigeria?

Give up on the "foisted upon us" talk, we have 46 years of independence and self-determination behind us, surely, we cannot now blame this on the colonialists, talk less of Slave Trade.

We have had probably 4 constituent assemblies where this issue might have been part of the debate constitutional debate, methinks you are debating from a rather myopic view of the whole Nigerian story.

I still stand by the views I expressed, especially the one about the unhelpfulness of your idea, we have bigger problems in Nigeria, giving it a new name would not change those issues, one bit.

Sorry Nkem, your comment space is becoming the jostling for opinion territory.

Unknown said...

Hey Nkem, didn't realise you blogged ...

I've never seen Roots but I've always wanted to. I've become very interested in the history of slavery recently, I've been reading Simon Schama's 'rough crossings' and it's really interesting to see the role that slaves played in the American war of independence.

? said...

@ Akin

"...Nigeria is now too complex to adopt a singular meaningful name acceptable to its divided peoples who seem only to be united by one language - English..."

At the risk of prolonging this, adopting a proper name could go a long way in establishing the true identity of our current territory. It may well be the root of our problem. It should be the starting point.

? said...

what is a Nigerian?

Anonymous said...

Let us put aside the sentiment of occassion and look at the realities on the ground.

In the last 40 years, the only new indigenous item that encompassed the Nigerian identity is the Naira and kobo, launched in 1972/73.

Abuja which is the Federal Capital Territory (1976) for some hardly represents a gathering point for all things Nigerian.

The logistics of a name change are unimaginable for such a mature country, be it, official documents and governmental systems, international interfaces, our currency, businesses that have to adapt all their processes amongst other things.

Such a change would by conservative estimates cost up to $1bn in total.

All because we have been bitten by the Roots bug to ditch a name we have had since 1914 and there is no other seemingly available indigenous national identity that can be acceptable to all without much disputing.

Beyond that, would you in the sane vein suggest the changing of the River Niger, the Niger Republic and so on?

Nice, as your idea was, it was really not well thought through in terms of the effect or consequences.

I do not see how being Nigeria or Nigerian in name or identity is the root of any of our problems - as I said earlier the superficial change of name in the face of no clear identity apart from responding to contemporary issues would serve no beneficial purpose.

There is no historical reference for Nigeria before 1914 and after that till 1957 it was basically 3 distinct regions which could have been 3 countries.

Nigeria and English are the bases of our common identity, without that, Nigeria cannot exist.

Dare I say, you have not provided one single serious and objective reason why Nigeria should suffer a name change.

Nigeria does not need a Cassius Clay > Mohamed Ali moment - how did I get involved in this vain jangling?

As for your question, you are the one disputing the identity, I have never had problems with being Nigerian to the core, regardless of my tribe.

? said...

@ akin

I can appreciate your point of view however, $1bn is a negligible amount when you consider the fact that at least £220bn has been stolen by your corrupt rulers!

Names are a big part of ones identity.

Back to what I was saying, although many would disagree with the idea of reverting back to our original nation states simply not feasible, it nevertheless would represent a way forward. For instance, when the south-south and the south-west identify themselves as that, what difference is there between this and the original nation states I speak of. No attempt has been made to further divide the regions in the UK. Perhaps because it is not subject to military dictatorships which has divided our territory.

I suspect you became involved in this "vain jangling" since you are clearly interested at least in condemning others opinions. Is it not vain to presuppose only your opinion as correct, valid and worthwhile?

It has taken many years to recognise freedom of speech who are you to deny such freedom. Better you acknowledge democratic reason than your own stifled "janglings".

Anonymous said...

Strangely, having viewed your profile, I am surprised that your approach to rigorous debate is to suggest that opposition to your views is stifling freedom of speech.

If you read all my responses, they have a common thread, demanding that you support your views with empirical facts and detail rather than sentiment.

Now you say our leaders have stolen so much money but that came from the pool of collected oil money - changing the identity of the country would cost the common man more coming out of their own pockets, it is unlikely that the government would subsidise that transition for them, rather they would be compelled by law to adopt the new standard.

Yes, a name is part of one's identity and you have not even passed the first hurdle on your suggestion - a new name for Nigeria.

Why did I call this vain jangling? Because, you introduced a topic for debate but have had no points to proffer such that I am having to drive the discussion only to end up with truculent defensiveness as responses.

I would like to take you on on this topic, but it would require you raising your game a lot more than this emotional incoherence - democratic reason?.

Over and out!

Nkem, I do apologise for this whole thing, I would no more comment on this issue. Coming Soon should write a whole blog on why he thinks the name of Nigeria should change and invite us to discuss it further on his blog

Expose your views to serious public debate, don't hide them in foreign comment areas.

? said...

I cannot think of any right thinking person who can think I would be suggesting that opposition to my views are not welcome, when my clear intention was to comment on Nkem’s post regarding the instance of Kwame Kwei-Armah, who at age 12, pledged that when he was older, would trace his roots and change his name?

In much of Africa, the colonial imprint is BARELY noticeable and the name is not the issue at this point in time but rather the concept of renaming Nigeria itself. The fact that you disagree is entirely welcome in so far as you appear to be able to support your perspective. You have not said how and why I am wrong in my view in order to enhance constructive debate. Far from being defensive, my suggestions are being interpreted as god given truths when in fact my intention was to stimulate a response to Nkem’s post by interested parties. I would not blush for it as though it were a crime.

The suggestion that Nigeria should alter its name, which may only be achieved by a return to the original structure of the country itself, is not something that cannot be supported empirically, obviously, but in airing this view invites concurring or conflicting opinions consistent with the nature of critical debate. As a firm critique of your view that it would cost over $1bn to implement a name change, I referred you to an article in the telegraph entitled "£220bn stolen by Nigeria's corrupt rulers
" questioning whatever good name you think you may have left.

In this light, when my clear intention was to comment on the issues raised by Nkem’s post, have you any explanation as to why my views have been met with such disdain from yourself?

Unknown said...

One thing that's always bothered me about slavery in general is that it isn't only a "White Man's Game." We Africans did for centuries before The White Man arrived on our shores. If we're to castigate the Whites for slavery, what then for those umpteen "native" numbers who bartered in slaves?

"Roots" is a superbly written piece of fiction and really, these reacting students should have been given the proper context in which to make reasoned decisions about the slave trade instead of the knee-jerk, reactionary "we white people are bad." It's simply not healthy or educational. It leads nowhere except the twin "feelings" of slavery = bad, white = evil.

Anonymous said...

You are right in stating "...slavery in general is that it isn't only a "White Man's Game." ...We Africans did for centuries before The White Man arrived on our shores..."

@Coming soon
You are correct in suggesting that Nigerians are being colonised by their own leaders - "the right of all peoples to chose their own government" has been deprived.

You are missing the point of this post.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

hi, woow the white girl from the radio that said slavery has put shame on white people was ME. i stumbled over this site and was like WOOW :P

Anonymous said...

Sorry but i forgot to mention this before but if anyone would like to discuss the Roots documentary further with me or what i said on the radio you can contact me via myspace :