The 'obroni' endearment is very wrong
I recently read Halifu Osumare’s book ‘The Hiplife in Ghana’. Early on in the book, the author, an African-american woman recounts her experience some years ago in Ghana. Osumare had been referred to as “obroni” and she chose to lecture whoever called her that, on why she was no “obroni”.Just imagine dreaming of the homeland and finally making the trip, only to be referenced by your family with the term for an outsider. Is there a better way to burst a bubble? I raised this issue with a friend and he told me the meaning of “obroni” may have evolved over time. I disagree. “Obroni” still remains the twi reference for a white person and “bibini” for African person (and ‘tuntum’ for black). As an African-American, Osumare is no obroni. It should not take an Ancestry DNA kit to prove this. However, if the word “obroni” may have actually seen some evolution, it is only of a ridiculous kind.
All you need to do is listen to Ghanaian music and the said ridiculousness will not be lost on you. Uncritically, obroni has become a term of endearment in Ghana. Whether we know it or not, the colonial dualism of white is good and black not so much seems to have stuck amongst us even after our political independence. Many Ghanaian musicians old school and new school alike have kept using this obroni reference in praise of their loved ones. Think about it this way: an African showering praises on his/her African lover ends up using my “obroni”. Long-time fans of highlife music will remember the line “me broni ee ɛyaa nyɛ me saa”.
Daddy Lumba, Amakye Dede, Randy Nunoo and before them, Alex Konadu have all drawn on this “obroni” endearment. Sarkodie’s “Mary” also has the word in there just as Obrafour’s “odo” — me broni ee ee e, mensu bio, odo”. The stranger part is when people combine obibini/tuntum and obroni into “tuntum broni” or “bibini broni” (my black/African white person). You also hear that in our songs a lot. For instance, in VIP’s “ahomka wom”, Promzy refers in his rap to “Cee-Koni, tuntum broni”. Promzy repeats “tuntum broni” in his verse on VIP’s “I think i like am”. Adina does same on “M’akoma” and Sarkodie too on both “Always on my mind” and Magnom’s “Sika”. In his hit song, my own, Samini croons “bibini broni ee” and adds more endearment “Goldn Tree Chocolate”. Cancel the first part but at least Samini shows in the second part, we can do without broni easily and still express endearment. Do the same thing with Kojo Antwi when in medofo pa, he says “tuntum broni, obibini mu obibini”. I don’t think i have seen a more awkward oxymoron as Kojo Antwi presents here.
Kwabena Kwabena in his song “bibini ba” (African child) does excellently in showing the way to go. Reggie Rockstone also on “Mensesa da” with Mensa used “bibini ba” and proudly added that he would not change. On ‘Keep your eyes on the road’, Rockstone pushes the narrative some more and says “Jesus Christ was a bibini and that is what I believe in’. It is strange that Rockstone’s awareness should come across as special. It should be commonplace.
Why is this clear self-deprecation still popular? Sarkodie, Samini, Obrafour and Kojo Antwi all come across as quite afrocentric, so what is happening? I think most of us have grown up on this obroni reference. It has become so normalized in our everyday-speak and popular culture that the conversations about how wrong it is, never took off. Our socialization nailed it into our subconscious such that when we use it, we do not mean to self-deprecate because we do not know it is doing just that. We treated it as another expression of endearment but it is not. Your beautiful African person is not to be qualified as “obroni”.
While at this, it is not only our musicians who have sustained the use of this awkward frame, we should think about the dolls our little girls play with. The twi for doll is “boduaba” – the wooden child – however, many people grew up on the other word, “broni ba” – the white child. But whether we say boduaba or broni ba, the dolls our girls play with are as white as … We can safely assume that little girls grow attached to their dolls. Their early conceptions of beauty has a lot to do with these dolls. Their early initiatives at tendering and grooming have these dolls at the centre. These white dolls are often made as unnaturally beautiful as possible. Connect the dots.
My friends, tell yourself not to use “broni” as endearment. It is not a bad word but it should be used as it must be used — reference for the white person. Try as hard as you can to also find the little African girl a black doll. When you see a Caribbean or African-American do not call him or her “obroni” for you share genotype.
Broni means white person. Broni is not an endearment term. If your precious person is not white, do not tag him/her as white. It is no praise. It is demeaning to us all.
If you want to see how wrong this obroni endearment is, say it in English or just allow your mind to imagine a situation in which a white person refers to his/her white lover as “my bibini”.
What I still cannot get out of my head is how Alex Konadu, the legendary highlife artiste in his song, “me broni” said “bibini s3 broni”… The African who looks like a white person”. How is this a praise? Seriously, it is time to unlearn.