“If we don’t talk about and celebrate our culture, nobody else will!”
I came to the UK as a young child and as much as I missed home, I found settling in to the Western way of life a seamless experience. Growing up Sierra Leonean in the UK was culturally gratifying as my parents spoke to us (me, my siblings & cousins) in both Krio and English – that way we would not forget our mother tongue.
We were also fed a combination of mouth watering Sierra Leonean dishes. Saturdays were a delight as we would get to feast on one of the intricate plasas dishes. Accompanying family members to the Western Union to send money back home whilst buying ingredients was a big part of the routine. Later, my stomach would bounce with joy when the aroma of cassava leaves, okra, or sour-sour would hit my nose whilst watching television or playing with cousins. To this day, these are my favourite dishes.
Our parents used a mixture of old folklore tales and religion to instil traditional West African values in us such as putting God first, cherishing family, having good manners, being honest, respecting our elders, and the importance of education. We enjoyed parties and family gatherings with our extended families, and adored the aunties and uncles in their traditional wear. I longed to wear Gara again as I did back home — but our parents had opted for more western outfits. The sweet sound of Sierra Leone music, the banter, and the freedom to express ourselves as children and young adults was exhilarating. There was a great sense of community and every aunt and uncle looked out for you as if you were their own child.
Despite all of this, being of African descent as a whole, was not something Africans seemed to be enthused about. Sure enough, at secondary school, we all knew where we came from but it seemed that it was much cooler to have been of Caribbean or West Indian descent. Perhaps this was because every portrayal of Africa in the media had come with heavy negative connotations.
Throughout my teenage years, I became more and more captivated with the Caribbean community – Jamaican in particular – the music, the food and the people. Commercial radio heavily promoted Bashment and Dancehall music, and the annual Notting Hill Carnival was a major cultural festivity that you were proud of as it celebrated the best of the Caribbean, West Indies and united predominantly Black Brits. I loved every minute of reveling in the sun with friends, dancing to soca music and admiring the beautiful and unique body clad precession costumes.
The older I got, the more I embraced other cultures and forget to remember mine!
Then came the Afrobeats! During university, African music was starting to emerge into the mainstream, the Africa Rising movement had been gaining more popularity and we were seeing more coverage of young African entrepreneurs. African fashion was booming! Models, actors, and personalities of African descent were gracing our screens, publications and airwaves.
With this boom in unapologetic representation of Africa, many young people are now proud to claim and represent their African countries and heritage; there is a sense of African pride that those of my generation shied away from. Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to several of the world’s fastest growing economies, and more African nations are working hard to shift the narrative of a continent that is often portrayed as the epitome of poverty and problems.
Many Sierra Leoneans are bored of the retiring narrative of blood diamonds & civil war and so many of us are doing our bit to make a change.
Being a part of the Young Sierra Leonean has enabled me to connect with a growing team of committed individuals who share a common purpose to increase the visibility of Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans both at home and in the diaspora, and contribute to changing the narrative. It’s refreshing being part of a team that aims to showcase the best of Sierra Leone beyond Freetown and create a sense of global community.
I am inspired by the younger generation who are standing in their truth, representing the country & culture, and engaging in healthy discussions. From poets to musicians, to visual storytellers, activists and food caterers, there are people and groups telling stories which have remained untold to the masses for so long — especially in the diaspora.
Over the past few years, I have found that I am more open to learn and rediscover things about my culture which exceeded my childhood experiences. My last trip to Sierra Leone in 2017 ignited the spark to visit home a lot more frequently. I am also finding that I am connecting with Sierra Leoneans outside of my family regularly — something which was a rarity before. We are a friendly, ambitious and resilient people. Now is truly a great time to be a Young Sierra Leonean!
After all, if we don’t talk about and celebrate our culture, nobody else will!