Africa in Nihon

Sam Nfor

The great influx of international students into Nihon is also matched by an internationalization of faculty. This includes greater representation from the African continent. On our campus we are extremely fortunate to have theater practitioner Mr. Sam Nfor. Here in the first of a three-part series, Mr. Nfor investigates what it means to be African in Nihon with the focus on educational and cultural implications.

Africa in Nihon

I am originally from Cameroon, and Japanese learners in my ESL classes have often approached me with misleading beliefs about the African continent. I have never felt right about students asking me if lions were domestic animals in Africa, if there were tall buildings where I came from, whether it was true that some Africans lived in trees, if the entire continent of Africa was one humongous jungle, if people still walked naked in Africa, if most Africans had tails and were not too different from monkeys, if Africans drank urine for medicine, and if Africans hunted and ate chimpanzees, among others.

I am intrigued, but I certainly never get offended when students tap dance around me with all these questions pregnant with racial and cultural innuendoes. I also never seek to verify or dispel the preceding perceptions because I actually never have seen a lion in Cameroon my whole life, though some people think fun and games in Africa involves fighting with lions. I saw a lion for the first time in my life at a zoo in Japan. Growing up, I only saw elephants in movies and on television until I visited Thailand in the summer of 2002.

However, I believe the first question to ask about Africa is about people and perception, not animals. Nigerian-born novelist Chinua Achebe poses this question astutely in his most famous work Things Fall Apart, which has been translated into more than 40 languages. The clash of cultural perception is wonderfully apparent in one famous scene when the main character’s village is inundated with a swarm of locusts. Counter to the New Testament interpretation of this event as divine punishment, the character and his comrades are joyous at the arrival in massive quantities of a crunchy oyatsu that goes perfect with palm wine.

I am not suggesting in any way that the African continent is the most idyllic place on the face of the earth. Crime, corruption, debilitating diseases, and insufficient medical care are massive road blocks on our path to greater achievement. However, I think that one of my many roles as an ESL instructor is to inspire and challenge students to revisit some of their not-so-impressive beliefs about the continent, which I shall explicate in my next essays.