Universal African Expressions

Jewelry by Auntie Rose Marie, Mother of Nana Darkoa, Owner of MAKSI Clothing, Accra Ghana

I’m always pretty pissed off when Westerners put Africans in one big box labeled “African”. The notion that we are a ubiquitous people with a homogenous culture and language (i.e. we all speak African) is as accurate as calling a cow a chicken. Although they are both land animals, one is a fowl and the other a mammal. I believe this is the reason Beyonce had the audacity to put on her ridiculous cheetah coat and bone necklace(with mud face paint) as a reference to her roots as an “African queen”.


But then I got to thinking. To be fair, there are some things that all Africans have in common. For instance, corn is a heavy influence in our cuisine. From banku, to kenkey, to ugali, to corn beer, we rely on maize to feed us and have done for eons. We all have an affinity for flip flops. Many of our food were meant to be eaten with our hands. And then there is the way we express ourselves. There are some expressions that are just “African”.

For instance, my favorite one: Ei! Is it true?

Followed by: “Ehhh…so you won’t give it to me, eh?” Why do we tug at our eyes to emphasize the shock and disappointment in being denied our request?


When someone is lost and needs directions, we point the wayfarer in the direction he/she needs with a jerk of our heads and a point of our lower lip to indicate that “it’s just over there!”


In the Western world, this face resembles someone suffering from constipation. In Africa, it is the universal expression of This song is so jammin’ that it’s almost paining to dance.


This expression is almost always precluded by “Heeeyyyy! That’s my jam!”


Then there are the fraternal twin expressions of disdain and dismissal:


And that all African expression for mourning, the placing of ones hands on their head as they yelp bwei, bwei, bwei! or yei yei yei!

This final one I’ll leave for you to decipher. It makes no sense to anyone else but an African.