Have you ever heard the Yoruba slang/term: Omo jo Ibo (which means the child looks Igbo)? Well whoever coined that term was referring to me. If you’re reading this you already know that I’m not Igbo, my blog is literally called Yoruba Chic so why do I feel the need to declare in shouty capitals that I’m not? Because people mostly assume that I am, they say I have the look (God knows what that means).
This post is dedicated to every time that I’ve had to correct people that my name is Oyin not Onyin. Every time I’ve been mistaken for an Igbo, Delta, Hausa, Edo, or Fulani girl. Yes, Fulani. In fact, I dedicate this post to everyone who has ever been mistaken for someone or something which they are not.
It all started back in my secondary school boarding house. When it was time for food, we would climb up on the dining hall stage where the kitchen staff with their big coolers of food waited for our empty stainless bowls. In those days, the biggest pieces of fish were the heads. There was even a special line for the privileged few to get fish heads and it was on a first come, first serve basis. There was this particular kitchen staff who used to be extra nice to me and I had no idea why. She always gave me extra spoons of rice and the biggest head of fish, chai, those good ol’ days.
Until one day she spoke Igbo to me and I was dumbfounded. “Nne” she said to me and started speaking Igbo to me while I stood there nodding and not understanding a word. Then it occurred to me that because she’s Igbo, she took one look at me and assumed I was Igbo too. I knew if she found out I wasn’t who she thought I was, it would be the end, no more head of fish.
So I made up a lie on the spot and told her I didn’t understand Igbo because I had never been to my village and my parents only spoke to me in English.
Then she asked, “What state are you from?”
And I blurted out, “Abia…state”.
She stared at me for what felt like an eternity but was probably just a few seconds.
During those moments, my heart beat slowly, the fate of my head of fish, which was perfectly balanced on her spoon, was literally in her hands.
Then she said “Ok, Greet your mummy for me” and dropped the fish in the bowl.
My sigh of relief was palpable, I felt immense relief that I wasn’t caught in the lie.
And ever since that day I noticed that the assumption that I am Igbo hasn’t stopped. I’ve had cases of people walking up to me and talking to me in Igbo. Being called “Nne” everywhere I go. And insulting statements like “You’re too fine to be Yoruba” when I finally declare that I am. The list goes on but one that sticks to my mind and remains hilarious even till date was when I was in final year and I was given a lift by one of my Supervisor’s friends.
She’s Igbo and married to a Yoruba man and she made the mistake of assuming I was Igbo too. She told me stories of how her husband’s ngbati ngbati (a derogative term for Yoruba) family are dirty and have no fashion sense. She carried on and on, as I smiled and nodded, insulting her husband’s family and Yoruba people till I got to my bus stop. As I was about to alight from the car, she asked me what my name was. The look on her face when I said Oyindamola was priceless, it still cracks me up every time I think about it.
I’ve had my fair share of experiences, and my conclusion is being mistaken for an Igbo girl is not all bad, in fact it’s fun and only slightly annoying sometimes. And I hate to admit but even I myself use the Igbo card when I go shopping in Yaba, throwing around Igbo phrases like ozigbo ozigbo and e go ne, while pricing goods. Sometimes, even some Yoruba people think I’m Igbo and say stuff about me thinking I don’t understand.
As to why people attribute certain features or good looks to particular tribes, I have no idea. A friend shared a theory that it’s what we have to deal with since we let go of tribal marks. Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba tribal marks are usually distinct and in the past, you could easily tell where a person is from by their tribal marks.
Chronicles of a Yoruba Chic continues next week! If you enjoyed this post, share it! And share your story in the comments below if you’ve had similar or same experience.