The UK is my home, but wearing Nigerian clothes keeps me connected to my culture



Even before I started my master’s degree, the graduation ceremony was on my mind. Starting a degree during the pandemic there was a lot of uncertainty, and with graduation ceremonies scheduled for summer 2020 postponed, I wasn’t sure I would be able to experience mine.

One thing I knew for sure was that, graduation ceremony or not, I would dress in traditional Nigerian attire to celebrate my graduation. And last Monday, that’s exactly what I was wearing as I walked across the Barbican Center stage to collect my certificate.

Although born and raised in the UK, I have always had a deep affinity with my Nigerian heritage and culture. Whether it was my family’s annual summer vacation at home where I spent six weeks with my whole family, or watching Nollywood movies growing up, being Nigerian has always been an essential part of who I am. .

One way I like to express my pride in my identity is through my choice of clothing. On many memorable occasions in my life, I have chosen to wear traditional clothing, or “trad” as we like to call it. During Eid celebrations, my family and I dressed in dresses made from African wax fabric called ankara, from which most Nigerian clothing is made.

For my sixth grade prom, I wore a western style dress made from ankara to stand out in the sea of ​​ASOS and Topshop dresses that many of my peers wore for the occasion. Call me attention seeking, but I wanted something different and memorable, and wearing trad did just that.

For my undergraduate degree, I told my whole family that they had to dress in something ankara. So I had my parents and aunts in traditional outfits, while my sisters and I wore ankara dresses, jumpsuits and skirts, all to add a bit of flavor to the day.

Usually, a parent traveling to the UK will bring our outfits with them, and we will silently pray that the tailor at home has followed our measurements and the style we have chosen to perfection.

My final MA project, which was a 5,000-word article, involved me interviewing other young British Black Africans who lived across the continent, trying out life in the countries of their ancestors. As a journalist and writer, my identities greatly influence my work and what I choose to write about, so it was only fitting that I celebrate the accomplishment of my graduation the way I would. have done.

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For Nigerians like me living in the Diaspora, wearing trad is just a way to connect with our culture and showcase the beauty of our identity. It’s a chance for us to represent our people and feel close to those back home, despite the very obvious differences in our environments.

My traditional dress is also very specific to my Hausa ethnicity in Nigeria, so much so that we were recognized by a hotel employee on my graduation day. She had studied Hausa as part of a university module in South Korea. She recognized my dad’s outfit known as “babban riga” and began to greet me and my family in Hausa.

This distinct recognition is important to me because of the diversity of Nigeria – we are not as homogeneous a population as some might think. We are a multi-ethnic society made up of more than 250 ethnic groups, and each has its own cultural dress.

Living in the UK, where the intricacies of my Nigerian identity are not always recognised, means the opportunities to showcase my Hausa personality are even greater for me. Without my legacy, I wouldn’t be the person I am today – I wouldn’t have the vision for life that I have. By writing and wearing symbols of my heritage, I am able to share it with the world.

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