56. Identity

My mother is Irish, and my father is Sierra Leonean. We lived in Sierra Leone when I was young and I have strong memories of that time.Memories of our home. Playing with the other children in the compound, dancing around the parlour, being chased by my grandmother, Mama Abbie – with my baby brother on my back, and my other brother and I laughing mischievously as we chanced our arms at outrunning her (that was never going to happen) Memories of going to school, where I would be terrified to get sums wrong in case I would have to join the unfortunate ones getting a smart rap of the ruler on the hand! Memories of walks to the waterfall and watching people wash their clothes in the running water, as others milled around selling oranges and mangoes from the large container balancing on their heads.

Many memories of belonging – of speaking Krio (Creole) as fluently as a child from the Krio tribe. Dad likes to recall a story where he found me sitting under his study table singing a Krio song about a daughter pleading for her independence, to ‘lef mi go me way’ (i.e. let me go and lead my own life). A very grown-up song for a little girl with a whole life yet to lead!

In 1995 we left due to the civil war and moved to Ireland. A change in culture, a change in lifestyle and a new sense of being from two very different places. Just this January past, I returned to Sierra Leone for 4 weeks with my husband, my toddler daughter, and my parents. I hadn’t been back in 15 years.

This is a story about identity, place and belonging.

During this deeply nostalgic and restorative trip, we made the physically gruelling two day journey to my Dad’s village Lalehun – Penguia. Lalehun lies on the Eastern border between Sierra Leone and Guinea, and is as remote as one can get. It was on this particular journey to the village, with my husband and daughter there to immerse in my history and my roots, that true restorative healing of identity took place.

God allowed me the opportunity to see my present collide and merge with my past. He allowed me to experience true acceptance – something that is a rare feeling when one is mixed race.

One evening, the people of the village all gathered outside our house to sing and dance for us. Christian songs in the Kissi language; the language of my Dad’s tribe or ethnic group. During this celebration, I had opportunity to stand up and introduce myself to the village.

“My name is Sia Abbie. I am half Irish and half Sierra Leonean”.

By using ‘Sia’, I was acknowledging and claiming my heritage of the Kissi tribe. ‘Sia’ is the Kissi name my father gave me, which means ‘first born daughter’. I was also able to introduce my daughter as ‘Sia…’ Professing that she also carries that rich heritage and that it is honoured through her. It felt incredible to publicly stand up and declare that. It felt so wonderful to see that joyfully accepted and celebrated, rather than ridiculed.

I am used to being labelled as ‘white’ in Sierra Leone, ‘black’ in Ireland, ‘not African enough’ or ‘not really Irish – where do you really come from?’ I am used to scepticism and plain disagreement from both sides at who I say I am. Others tend to assume they know who I am and where I come from, better than I do myself. I am often told who I am. Judgement is made based on my brown skin, or my accent, or where I grew up or didn’t grow up. It is tiresome at best, a whole host of other emotions at worst. It means you never belong anywhere.

At 33 years of age, I have finally been able to experience being genuinely accepted for who I AM from the majority, and not who other people decide I am.

Sia Abbie, half Irish, half Sierra Leonean, descending from the Kissi tribe, and a woman of two heritages, very much belonging to both.

The irony is, it has happened at a point where I am confident regardless in my own identity. God allowed me to experience this worldly acceptance, years after He worked within me to show me that my identity ultimately, is as HIS. What truly matters is knowing that He created me and my identity is in Christ.

Sia Abbie – a daughter of the Most High God. Sia Abbie – loved by the King of kings.

‘Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.’ John 1:12-13

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