The term Akata is a West African term for Black Americans. It is generally considered derogatory, a slur in fact. Okorafor uses the work in the titles of the books in the Insibidi Series: Akata Witch, Akata Warrior, and more recently Akata Woman. She was recently a guest on The New Yorker’s Radio Hour, a show hosted by Vinson Cunningham. During the interview, she talked at length about the term Akata, what it means, and why she chose to use it in her titles in spite of its negative connotations.
First, I want to address the word Akata. Akata is a terrible word. [chuckles] It’s a terrible word. It’s a horrible, horrible word.
The thing is, when you talk to some Nigerians, they will be like, “Oh, no, it’s a neutral word. It just describes Black Americans, and it’s fine.” Anyone who has been called that term and fits into the category of the definition knows that it is not a nice word. It’s not a nice word. It’s a derogatory term for Black Americans, but that also includes Nigerian Americans as well. This is a word that I have grown up hearing and being called and grappling with and yelling about.
When I wrote the first one, the Akata Witch, in the book itself, it wasn’t that she was called Akata witch, which it was originally Akata B-I-T-C-H. [laughs] That was a term because that’s the term that I actually knew. Then I was called an Akata by some man because he thought I was mouthing off and he’s like, “Oh, you American girls, you just have no respect for what,” and he called me that. I got angry, and I’m like, “I’m putting that in the title. I’m going to be the first person to put that word in a title of a book.” It was like a taking back and it was me being audacious, and so I’ve kept it.
Then in the United States, especially in my younger years in South Holland, Illinois, which is a south suburb of Chicago, which in the ’80s was all white. It’s like, we would hear the N-word everywhere, from teachers, yelled out of cars, from best friends, all kinds of thing, so we’ve got that going on. Then a few years later, we moved to a more diverse part of the suburbs and that’s where we encountered African Americans, who then would call us African booty scratcher and make fun of our names, so it’s like, all this cultural stuff.
My siblings and I, we would take it in. We have each other, so we’d always talk about it and be like, “This is confusing. What are we? Where do we fit? We don’t fit anywhere.” Then at some point, we just got comfortable not fitting in anywhere but still having that commonality, so that’s like a conversation we’ve been having forever, and we’re very secure in who we are, and so these are like things that I like to write about, and I like to play around with them, and Sunny definitely has those conversations and has them honestly.
Follow this link to listen to the rest of the interview, which also touches on her recently published NOOR and Akata Woman.
COMMENTS ( 9 ) -
Dee Dee March 14, 2023 21:00
"Akata" is definitely a derogatory term... NEVER trust the person that would try to convince you otherwise! It is primarily used by Nigerians in America who believe African Americans are beneath them when in fact many of those same Nigerians have close relatives living in less than ideal environments back in Nigeria. Not to mention Nigerians that live in Nigeria are far more accepting than their relatives that live in the states. Many of those that live in the states should be ashamed at how little they support those that helped them get to the US in the first place. As a Black American that has traveled to Nigeria on a few occasions, I can honestly say i love the place far more than most Nigerians that were born and raised there. It's tropical so it is a bit dusty and not the most aesthetically pleasing place in the world but what I've found is the people are far more warm hearted than some of their arrogant relatives that live in the states. How many times have you heard a Nigerian say, my father is the king/Oba or my family owns the hospital or local school blah blah blah? Let's just say, it's easy to say those things when most can't verify if it's fact or fiction. Those that use the term "Akata" are really just projecting the image of themselves onto others to make themselves feel better. African Americans have had a hard 400yrs and will Overcome! Not nearly as optimistic of those Nigerians that use the term "Akata" I feel sorry for them because they will learn the hard way!
um January 23, 2023 14:18
Akata means African American. It could be used in negative way but this is its meaning. It doesn't mean Black Panther like someone wrote. I'm saying this as a Yoruba person.
onesonofyah January 07, 2023 10:53
This poor write up sounds like a failed excuse to explain away your reason for using the demeaning word "akata". There are even some that are trying to make the word have different meanings. Face it, most Africans see so called black Americans as beneath them, even if they do use so called black Americans as their blue print.
Adegboyega Shamsideen Thompson August 28, 2022 15:16
ĀKÁTÁ DÚDÚ! ("BLACK PANTHER!") The Sacredness and Metaphysics of the "Black Panther" overwhelmed me appreciably, from its opening pronouncement of the word, "Bàbá" (Father) from the mouths of Afrikan children and appropriately so. It is exactly an introductory scene that connects me directly to my sons and daughter, who had independently seen the movie before me. They have, from the day they opened their mouths to speak and as I have raised them to call me, "Bàbá;" not "'Dad,'" and/or "'Pops'"/"'Popsi.'" My youngest son said, "Bàbá, I knew that movie was for me, just 5 seconds into the movie, when I heard those kids call the old man, "Bàbá," which made me identify with them, as such, and identify you, as always as my Bàbá"... In my head at the theater, the beats of Afrikan drums sounded off the rhythm and chants of "Talking Drums" Gbẹ̀dū, Bātā-Kótó, and Dùndún (Gọ́ngān) ensemble, with rising tempo, crescendo, echoes, and undulating body movement of Afrikan women and men, thus: "Mō kó'rógbó, mō k'óbì... Mō kó'rógbó, mō k'óbì... Mō fàrúgú... Mō fàrúgú... Mō dé'bẹ̀"... (Drum beats, on-and-on)... Then momentarily, scene-by-scene, I keep feeling the Sacred "Ẹ̀mí" (Spirit/Soul) of "Ākátá Dúdú" (Yoruba définition, meaning Black Panther). I see in it our "Ōjú Égún" (Sacred Eyes of our Great Ancestors) in the masks and carvings seen on display in European museums, and those that still remain on the Afrikan Continent--not yet desecrated by foreign uncouth invaders of our Sacred Groves and Shrines. The images on the screen are so powerfully Afrikan, as reflected in the lives, scenery and personalities of Continental and Diasporan Afrikan Race of people. In the middle of the theater, I was spiritually 'possessed,' in such a way that I was able to use my inner eyes, and my other senses (touch, smell, and taste)... I felt the attires, such as the Indigo Àdìrẹ, Yoruba Aṣọ-Òkè, Kèntē, Mud-clothe, and other Afrikan textiles that were woven into the beautiful and royal fashion donned by each and every actor, on the court-yards, and even on the battle fields, with the picturesque landscapes, with hills and valleys, mountainous ranges, water falls, rivers, lakes, seas, forests, gaping architectural designs of huts and towering Timbuktu edifices. The Spirits of our Great Ancestors spoke to me, reassuringly that all is not lost--that they have never given up on us and will never give up on us. All of a sudden, right there and then in the theater, as if by their power of "Àṣẹ," they 'triggered off' all my human senses, whereby I could smell the Red-Camwood paste and powder ("Ōsùn"), Black-Camwood ("Tìró"), Black Soap ("Ọṣẹ Dúdú," original Yoruba name in calabashes; not the adulterated commercial name, "'Dudu Osun'") and Afrikan hair/body ochre... I could touch and feel the fabrics, to authenticate that they are "Āṣọ Àdìrẹ ("Plant sapped and starched Indigo clothes"), Āṣō-Òkè (Yoruba top of the line traditional woven fabrics), Kèntē and Mud-clothe. I enjoyed the natural vanity-fair, as adorned on the bodies (tattoos, body piercing of Afrikan women, and even men--kings, queens and subjects alike), lip-plates, dangling golden earlobe earings, and crowns ("head gears") enjoyed in the majesty and pride of Afrikan culture and tradition before the encroachment of outside forces, with their so-called "'advanced civilization'" (science and technology). I invoked and applauded the Great Spirit of Fęla Anikulapo Kuti, when I saw the faces of Afrikan maidens decorated with different beautifying chalk designs and indigo pencils ("tìró") on their faces. I invoked the Great Spirit of Ọlagbegi Ọlọ́wọ̀ of Ọ̀wọ̀, when I saw a replica of his crown and throne, with a pair of mammoth ivories, guarding him to his left and right, while seated on his throne, with his beaded crown and horse whiskers power of "Àṣẹ." The Afrikan priests and priestesses are also able to demonstrate their metaphysical powers of disappearing and reappearing ("Ēgbé"/"Ọfẹ") and their healing power with Afrikan incantations, as in, for example, a Yoruba Bābāláwō and Ìyálóṣà commanding a sick and/or almost dead child/person to rise up and walk: ("Gb'ẹranlẹ k'ō dìdē")... Our Essence of Spirituality and Sacredness of our Great Ancestors did not fail us there, as the plot thickens in the battle for supremacy of "good" and "'evil'" forces. The dead legitimate king of "Wakanda" at the border between heaven and earth was sent back to earth to complete his accorded royal duty. He was revived by his mother's Afrikan incantation. How sweet the taste of revenge, and bitter it was with the "'dogs of war'"! I have often wondered when someone would come up with an epic movie of "Hannibal," riding an elephant to the war front. I can see that image in "Black Panther," with a "Wakanda War General" riding a rhinoceros, on the side of the villain, before he surrendered in the battle to regain the body politics and soul of Wakanda. It is great to see a majority "Black" (Continental Afrikan/Diasporan Afrikan) cast in the epic thriller of "Black Panther," which in all indication should be a source of pride to all and sundry of the Afrikan Race of people. It is high-time for a movie like that, with renewed hope among us all. I hope that our children would be able to define themselves with unparalleled Afrikan pride and confidence to answer, adequately with their sense of royalty, honor and high integrity, if perchance they were to be asked the question, "Who are you?" Yes, we derive from "Greatness" and the entire world revolves around us... We are at the center of the planet, "Earth"! We are the "Alpha and Omega"... The clinging of swords, daggers, armors and shield is of another dimension in the battle for Wakanda and mineral resources (e.g., "vibranium")... I could even smell the fresh breath of air of Tropical Continental Afrika, as in the fragrance of dawn... I, therefore, want to greet us in one of my Yoruba greetings, "Ẹ kú ìdájí o" (Good dawn to all of you") waking up as if half asleep; but conscious that it is a new day... It is a new day in Afrika--no more wranglings and vain disputation--no more inter-ethnic strifes and wars... O Great Afrika, no more slumber-Arise!
Vincent August 27, 2022 10:51
Did the interview end in the middle of something? I didn't get the point. So, West Africa has 15 countries and now then 200 ethnic groups and many more languages. "West African" does not carry any information. And how do you own something that's offensive to people and publicize it without contextualizing it for your readers to understand. What's the source and its meaning? Saying it's a horrible doesn't help me understand it and why you use it.
Ky August 19, 2022 08:45
African Americans were calling each other African booty scratchers before continental Africans were around in any numbers. It comes from the old black and white movies and shows like Tarzan (made by Hollywood) where they would show Africans scratching their behinds.
Cubio July 04, 2022 10:48
P.S Akata means Black Panther in Yoruba language
Cubio July 04, 2022 10:47
It didn't explain anything. You can't claim a word means something out of thing air without showing the origin or meaning of the word. 'A west African term' but over 130 languages are spoken in the region, and you can't pinpoint the particular language the word comes from. You're just an author capitalising on the negative publicity attached to the 'Akata' word, going as far as writing as much as 3 books using the word in the titles, without once explain explicitly what the word means...it's just "it's a horrible, horrible word."
Gavin Anderson-Mayo May 14, 2022 07:00
This didn’t explain shit