Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Becoming other..

We have BBC Knowledge now on the local satellite tv service DSTV. Its not half bad and may even be good. I watched a fascinating family-tree programme last night - the distinguished actor John Hurt in trace of his ancestors. Who'd have thought he was from grim Grimsby? He'd grown up with the family story that his great-grandmother was the illegitimate child of an Irish noble, the Count of Sligo. After long research up and down dale, it turned out it was not true - his great grandfather had conjured up the origin story in the nineteenth century, most probably because of his own father's shameful fall from grace working for the Customs in London. There was a poignant moment right at the end when Hurt absorbed the news that he probably didn't have Irish ancestry. He was quite profoundly upset.

With my mother's side coming from Liverpool, I too had always nurtured the idea that there must be some Irish in the family. The fantasy of having Irish origins is an easy one to decipher: it is the dream of a lyrical origin myth, attuned with a celtic elementality. At some point two hundred years ago, my ancestor may have looked out to sea on a western Kerry cliff and sang a song of lament, while her swarthy lover sailed far away. He would return after months, and there would be dancing and stories of old at the ceilidh. Even the banshees outside would halt their screeching and silently smile.

In my case, it looks like there wasn't anyone from across the Irish sea: my mother's family name, Murgatroyd, is a Yorkshire name. No oirish at all at all.

I have a friend who was convinced she was Jewish from the time I knew her in her late teens. I think it was because her grandfather had lived in the East End of London. She eventually converted and now lives in Israel..

So many dream of becoming other through fantasising their family origins in this way, and of having another story to tell about themselves. Why do we do this? Why are we not happy as we are? Perhaps it is the imagination, dreaming of other histories as forms of freedom yet to be told. Or perhaps it is just that we can find it difficult to accept all that we are, fearing that we are locked into the sameness of our same...


Red Eyes of Fire 12:00 pm  

I am happy as I am although am convinced I have fulani blood going by the features of my paternal grandmother who strangely represented for me fulani tradition so much as one would have expected. Heavens to Murgatroyd!

Sandrine 1:31 pm  

Hi Jeremy,
My father told me when I was a teenager that our family had an ancestor from Mongolia.I always liked to believe it but I never tried to check it.What appealed to me was the idea of being different and also the country itself.
Take care

Cheetarah,  1:44 pm  

She now lives in Israel? It just goes to show eh, you can choose your own history. To each his own doe..
I look ethiopian-somalian, its is the strangest thing in the world, and I never realized it till I lived in england,and I had east africans smiling at me in recognition and to be honest i have met some who could pass for my family, it was kind of shocking because till then i just tot i looked like ur average Nigerian.I have asked my dad, and he seemed strangely annoyed by the notion of it, stated that if at all anything im from zamfara originally,lol!Bang goes my exoticness!

CodLiverOil 2:30 pm  

Well, I guess you could say one advantage of attending a boarding school in England and at
time being one of a handful of black students, who were surrounded by racism. One had no choice but to accept being black, because you were constantly reminded of it.

Nearly everyday day I was called Nigger this, Nigger that, coon this, coon that, wog this,
then they started to get imaginative, starting with one's surname followed by a one word description of one's build, in my case lanky followed by the final stinger nigger that, or whatever.

for example "Smith (not my surname) you lanky coon, come here"

So because of such toughening up, racial insults don't bother me in the slightest.

At the time, that helped to solidify one's feeling of isolation from one's surroundings and even one's country. Because one was so rejected wholeheartedly by 'society', the only logical consequence was to accept the idea of being black in England. Not that I ever thought I was white, but it never figured so prominently in my mind. So there was never any opportunity to entertain fanciful notions of belonging to some other identity, there black skin in Britain then, didn't provide room for that, not in my situation.

Even now, with the history of black people in Britain, what proud past could you dredge up? The history of the blackman in the Britain of yesteryear is nothing to shout about.

Sorry for the racial slant, I was just telling it as I saw it from my perspective. Others may have more leeway for inventing/or dreaming about grand/exotic origins.

I've no problem with being who I am, I know nobody is perfect, so I'll settle with that I have.

Waffarian 4:24 pm  

Yeah, its common in Europe...everybody wanting to believe that there's more to them than what actually is...

As for me...I am complicated enough as it is, no need adding more complications. Although, I am gonna leave enough clues for my great grand children. They will have the wonderful task of figuring out who the hell I was. Hhahahahahaha.

Jaycee 5:57 pm  

I get this question all the time, "Are you Ethiopian?" Apparently I look like an Ethiopian...

I've begun to think that I have Ethiopian ancestors...:)

Jaycee 5:58 pm  

It looks like I have something in common with Cheetarah then...(I also didn't realize it till I travelled

Sandrine 6:12 pm  

My eyes are slightly slanted and I have brown hair.I look like I could be from anywhere.I have been addressed in Chinese, Spanish, asked if I was Native American (the person thought my name was Sand Rain) and if I was from Tlemsen (not by the same person ; -)

Cheetarah,  7:01 pm  

Oh wow Codliveroil that was deep, I cant imagine what it must have felt like. I work in an organization that has ruffly 50 Africans and 2 Nigerians, so I pretty much stand out but I have never gone tru any direct racism. My colleague cracks black jokes with me, I allow her but I have a feeling some1else will view it as racism and I had to talk to her about it and i draw line, when she cracked one of these 'jokes' on my facebook page.. I reminded her that 70% of my 300 friends where Black, if i were her I wudnt, and explained how the jokes could easily construed as racist, she was mortified and has since stopped. When i lived in england yeah, but indirectly and no1 had the gall to refer to me with the N word.

Jaycee! Maybe were related!lol! R u from the north? that wud make it more interesting!

And Sandrine,lol! I can imagine, Sand Rain! becoz of course no1 would ever think to pronouce it as Sondrine.U must look very exotic!

Sorry Jeremy, I have taken over this page, its just sooo facinating!

Sandrine 7:37 pm  

Here in Miami, people say "pardon my French" naturally after they swear.I told a friend that it was hurtful to me and he stopped doing it.I do not understand why he didn't know it was offensive.And I can say that most people that have been saying discriminatory comments to me ,have done it casually without meaning to hurt, which for me is even worse.Saying to me in a joking manner "French are so promiscuous" is more offensive that "I can't stand French people".Most people don't get that.

Red Eyes 7:44 pm  

the Ethiopians are the most handsome/beautiful - their features

Red Eyes 7:44 pm  

the Ethiopians are the most handsome/beautiful - their features

Anonymous,  10:32 pm  

I remember that myth about the Yoruba's migrating from Egypt. For a while, i thought that explained my Pharaonic tendencies. Oh well...

Anonymous,  2:49 am  

sorry, i will go off on a tangent a bit. Did anyone see the premiere of the series "privileged" on the CW last night? (those in the US). One of the songs played on the show was our very own Asa's "no one knows", pretty cool!. It's also listed on the CW's website under music from the show but I noticed it was the only song that did not have a link to buy. that's not cool :-(

Kody 3:35 am  

My dream, especially in my twenties when I started to take a keen interest in Irish literature was that I somehow should have a family link to the Irish. Thoughts in Jeremy's post were familiar to me. The rugged yet romantic nature, lyrical prose, songs of lament, being part of a group yet doggedly individual are all things I imagine were a part of the lives of my non existent Irish ancestors!!

When it comes to outward appearance, I get asked all the time about my nationality. Funnily enough, it is Nigerians who usually do the asking, yet and I think I look Nigerian. People guess I am Ghanaian, Caribbean, African American, Brazilian all sorts. I don't identify with any of those places or people.

One of my two sons gets it all the time now as well. His is very specific, as everyone thinks he is a Fulani boy. He gets it everywhere he goes and at one time started asking me to tell him about the Fulanis. He's only 5yrs old.

Growing up in the UK then returning to Nigeria, naturally one identifies with both nationalities and I can often be found interchangeable describing myself as British or Nigerian but in my heart, I think it would be great to find a little bit of Irish..

Cheetarah,  8:49 am  

I lived in the Rhone region for quite a while and the first time i said 'excuse my french', no one got it, when I explained it, I had some french people mad at me,lol! 2guess who doesnt say it anymore? It turns out alotta of french people didnt even know such a phrase existed, or in greece, you cant say 'what is that greek?' lol, yes it actually is greek! With time doe, the world is becoming a global village and we will learn not to offend one another with stupid off hand remarks, like excuse my french because alot of the time its not intentional!
bonne journee x

CodLiverOil 9:29 am  

Cheetarah thank you for your reply. The period I described occurred between the age of 12 - 16, after that at school it declined dramatically as one was a little further up the pecking order , so to speak.

You will rarely find that in adult society in Britain these days, adults (at least superficially are more civilised than children).

At school anything goes, and when you are in the 12 - 16 age group separated from your home in an alien environment you are extremely vulnerable. My parents thought it was for the best, as they were spooked about the rumour, that school teachers under-rated black children in state schools, thereby encouraging them to under perform in school and drop out of school with no qualifications, which was the last thing my parents wanted.

The only other environment, I think where such behaviour is common would be prison. Just shows you how nasty school can be to children sometimes.

So it comes as no surprise that adults in general in public tend to behave in a more 'civil' manner.

@ Sandrine, not that my opinion makes the slightest difference to you. But I think the French and France are really cool, they hold their own in the world. Despite the ancient but now friendly rivalry between France and Britain (and their repeated attempts to dismantle Nigeria).

It's no wonder why so many people are wishing for an Irish connection, for a "small" nation, they have had a big impact on the world and they have advanced their country considerably despite being sidelined in Europe for so long. Good on them.

I wonder if there is an organisation run by the Irish government to project "soft power", much like the British Council and the Alliance Francaise etc? I think they would have many subscribers.

Mr C 2:54 pm  

There are fable that claim(I dont know the origin) we (the Ijebus) have the black Jews (children of Joseph and the Egyptian lady) as their ancestors.
We migrated and settled in the Western part of Nigeria. This made us, as a people, very entrepreneurial and stingy at the same time.
I personally don't have many Jews friends and I really dont think much of them than I do about people of other nations.
But I think this story evolved out of our desire to escape the reality we find ourselves; doing so required claiming some special linkage to the "chosen one" (as said by the Bible).
I have heard of the same claim by the Igbos. If I think about that it makes me wonder,what happened to the children of Abraham's peers at that time?

Kiibaati 7:06 pm  

I find it interesting that in Nigeria, but Yoruba and Ibo have myths indicating that they came from the "East". I once heard it being explained that before the western colonisation, there was a previous one that established existing ruling chieftain dynasties.

Chus 10:40 pm  

This is what I think: Heavens to Murgatroyd

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