Enduring heritage

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Making my way to a function yesterday, I found a quiet spot on the train and was settling into a meditative frame of mind when I was joined by group of noisy teenagers. It became clear that they were of a similar heritage to mine when they started a heated discussion about Jollof rice. They opened their Tupperware containers and started eating. One of them was slightly embarrassed on behalf of her peers and made some comments about inconveniencing fellow passengers, but the others were undeterred as they masticated their rice and fish on the train.

Not wanting to make a point about disapproving, I remained in my position for what felt like a long time. About two stops later, I moved away from the youngsters and their pop up picnic. The conversation about the food was revealing in several ways, as it became clear that the meal had been cooked by a male parent, that the youngsters felt he had made the Jollof too peppery, that they knew their antics could be regarded as unrefined and that one of them had been born in Italy.

Later at the function, a group of youngsters of the same heritage displayed their impressive skills as talking drummers, playing phrases that fused Yoruba with London street slang. Seeing sights like these might be related to the part of town I happened to be in, but there is no doubt that this subculture and several others are now thriving features of London life.

There was a time when it seemed like our traditions were likely to go extinct amongst second, third and fourth generation UK Africans. Nowadays, Grime artists go to Nigeria to be honoured as chiefs. Why does anyone have concerns about the resilience of our cultures?

Perhaps those who worry about identity issues are conflating their feelings of nostalgia for the way of life they once knew, with the possibility that emerging generations will lose a sense of where they’ve come from. Fela was correct when he sang “Water, e no get enemy”, linking that image to our cultures.