Reclaiming myself: The power of a name
You cannot uplift yourself while bearing a name given by your oppressors. This was the rationale behind Malcolm Little becoming Malcolm X then El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. So thought Stokely Carmichael who later become Kwame Ture.
A name has so much meaning, it speaks of your origin and influences your future. And I refuse that my origin should start with the physical, cultural and mental rape of my people, let alone my future!! My people have a history, they have a glorious past. They didn’t fall from the sky or magically appear from the darkness when Europeans boarded our coasts for the first time.
It is for this reason that Thomas Sankara (my man, my hero, my inspiration, my guide) decided to change the name of his nation, formely known as as Haute Volta (the Republic of Upper Volta) to Burkina Faso on 4 August 1984. Burkina Faso means “the land of upright people” in Mòoré and Dioula, the major native languages of the country. Figuratively, “Burkina” may be translated, “men of integrity”, from the Mòoré language, and “Faso” means “fatherland” in Dioula. Sankara the Great knew that a name is the basis for an identity and with a name inherited from French colons, the future too would belong to French colons.
When I say that I am African and Cameroonian, I somehow proclaim that my history started with historian Leo Africanus and the first Portuguese explorators who boarded the coasts of Kribi or Douala in the 15th century, was amazed by the abundance in prawns so named the land ” Rio dos Camarões” which means “River of prawns”. This is what I was told as a kid like all little Cameroonian children as the beginning of our history! And it enrages me!
In order to freely and fully define ourselves, we must take agency on our history and a name is a crucial part of this, or else we will remain at the mercy of those same savages who have been plunging us in misery for centuries.
This is basically one of the many dimensions of the huge struggle of my life regarding my identity: How can I uplift and affranchise myself from my status of oppressed if almost every single dimension of my identity is a product of white supremacy? How?