Africa is a continent with a rich history and diverse cultures, yet many people around the world don’t know much about Africa's history and the contributions of its people. This was highlighted in a recent encounter that I had with two Italian ladies at a market in Los Angeles.
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I was selling Teni & Tayo products at a pop-up market when two Italian ladies stopped by to support my business. They were friendly and interested in learning about my background. When they found out that I was from Africa, they expressed their love for the continent, particularly Ethiopia. Then they told me that had a special connection to Ethiopia because it was an Italian colony.
Hold the phone. Wait a minute.
These women love Ethiopia so much but didn’t know that Ethiopia was never colonized by the Italians. In fact, it is the only African country to have never been colonized by the Europeans. Italy certainly tried to colonize Ethiopia many times but they were not successful. This just highlighted that there is so much misinformation about Africa floating around in non-African countries, and sometimes even in the African countries themselves.
The next part of the conversation shocked me even more. They told me that sometimes they use the Ethiopian word “Taytu” to describe someone who is stubborn. But they didn’t know who or what Taytu was. They did not know that Taytu was the name of an Ethiopian empress who fought against the Italians in the 19th century. She rejected their many attempts to claim the land and that is why she was considered stubborn.
So long story short, the Italians tried to take the country, but Empress Taytu said no, and so the Italians called her stubborn as though she was a toddler throwing a tantrum. And some Italians have been calling stubborn people Taytu ever since. But it didn’t stop there. Because the Italians were embarrassed that they couldn’t claim Ethiopia as theirs, they told people that Empress Taytu was a warrior queen who bathed in human blood. Her face was even plastered all over the newspapers!
The entire conversation took me on an emotional roller coaster, but it ended on a positive note.
I told the two ladies who Empress Taytu was, then I sold them a copy of my Legendary African Queens coloring books so that they could learn more about Empress Tatyu and other fierce African queens from history. I’m glad they were open and honest enough to share their understanding or lack of understanding with me, and I’m glad that I was able to enlighten them through our conversation.
This experience proved why we as Africans need to focus more on telling our own stories. Africans must take control of their narratives and tell their own stories to the world. When we do this, we can dispel myths and misconceptions about our history and culture. African storytelling can also help to promote cultural understanding and respect, both within the continent and globally.
As Africans take ownership of their narratives, it is also important for non-Africans to listen and learn from these stories. By doing so, we can gain a deeper appreciation of African culture and history, and build stronger relationships between Africa and the rest of the world.
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