Black History Month: “Children should be taught about their histories so that it becomes a normal thing, not something abnormal and unknown.”
We’re celebrating Black History Month #ProudToBe with stories from Black people across Wales on lessons Black history can teach us about the future.
Here, Margaret Ogunbanwo, 56, African Food Brand entrepreneur and author, talks about her African & Welsh fused food business, ‘Maggie’s African Twist’, why food is the language that can bring us all together, and discusses some of the nuances of Black History Month.
“When I look at my life it feels like I really take after my mother."
“My mother was always at home with us when we were growing up in Nigeria, and she always ran some sort of catering business. She was always making cakes from home, or she’d have a canteen/cafe where we’d spend time after school. We were with my mother most of the time growing up, and I think that impacts my life now. I started my business when my kids were young, part-time around them. My daughter was around five when she would come to fairs and events with me and help out.
We have quite a range of sauces and spices mixes at Maggie’s African Twist, because what I am ultimately trying to do is showcase the food of Africa.
I started with a chilli sauce, as it seemed to be the most acceptable thing really, because if I introduced something like an Egusi sauce, people would wonder what it was. So at first my focus was on getting me into the market through sauces and spice mixes and now we’re expanding that range to really showcase the offering that is African food.
Our sauces are natural, plant-based, and we get our produce from local suppliers. Some of our ingredients are not grown in enough quantities in Wales or the UK, like Scotch Bonnet chilli peppers. I use these a lot, so we get them through a local supplier who imports them from Africa, so I feel I am doing a bit to support African farmers.
I also have this desire that won’t leave me, and that is to ‘untie women’s hands.’
I think this stems from my upbringing. I had a good upbringing. I was born in the UK and brought up in Nigeria, in a society, however, where women had very clearly defined roles. I was very aware that I was being groomed to be a wife, and a mother, and so while my brothers would get to go out and have that bit of freedom, I would have to stay at home and do some housework or other things that defined my role, and that’s where I discovered my voice.
If I ever I felt an injustice was being done, or that the way of life was not in my favour, I would sing, and my voice would be heard. That’s the way I would express myself, and still do, to this day.
And so this desire – to untie women’s hands in order that they can see what they hold within them and forge their journeys in a more self-determined way, is deeply important to me.
It’s the thing that’s driving me now, through employing women, and making that employment flexible. Women generally are the primary caregivers of their children, and if there were more flexible employment opportunities for women around children’s schooling hours, allowing mothers to work two hours here, two hours there, it would enable them to earn some income, and also be there for their kids. It would do our communities the power of good to make life fairer for women.
That spirit is present in my first book, 100 Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me. The contents of the book had been in my head for 18 years. I wanted to tell my daughter so many things – I wanted to tell so many other girls so many things that I wish I had known that would have made growing up a bit easier to navigate. A bit less of a surprise and a shock, and a bit more of an adventure. I wrote the book, and on my daughter’s 13th birthday, I wrapped the printed paper copy in paper, tied it with string and gave it to her. And in 2018 I self-published 100 Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me.
It’s difficult for young people growing up, and I would say that the important thing is we support them and encourage them to find their own voices, and begin to listen to that voice. There are so many distractions now with social media, and it might feel very tempting to copy someone or try to reflect who they present through the screen, but we are all born with gifts, so I would say to young people, through these hard and lonely times, spend time with yourself and try to get to know yourself. Try to get to know your passions. Try to get to know the things you don’t like. Try to understand how you function.
Even out of these times where we have all experienced isolation, it’s a good time to explore what you love, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
My latest book is a cookery book called, The Melting Pot, and we were recently invited to Crickhowell Literary Festival where I had my first real book-signing, which was very exciting. The message I am trying to put across in this book is that we all speak a different language. I don’t mean whether you speak English, or I speak Welsh – we speak different languages, and food is one way to get together with people and to begin to understand their language.
I think we should all sit around and eat together – that is my solution to everybody – let’s have all these culturally mixed groups of people just sitting down together and eating in our different ways and talking. We’ll get to know each other better. We might disagree. There might be some, ‘Oh, so that’s why you do that,’ and ‘Oh no, we don’t do it like that,’ but that’s where the work begins. That’s where connections are made. You would get to know me. You’re not going to get to know me if you have just seen me in an article in October, for Black History Month.
When people approach me in October to ask me about me, and about what I do, I tend to think, ‘I am a Black person, and they want to speak to me, maybe just to fulfil the month.’ But I’m a Black person 24/7. I am around, my business is around, what I do is around, all the year round. And I’m part of a community. My story should be told as part of the community story, and not just at a certain time.
I’m old enough to remember when Black History Month was started. I didn’t fully understand it, and I was invited along to go and speak and provide some food, and years later, it’s still going on.
I understand that maybe there needed to be a starting point for it, because the history of Black people was not being effectively told or being communicated to the younger generations in the UK. Generations have grown up without understanding people in their own communities, and I don’t think that Black History Month deals with the issue. When I got to speak at one of these events, one of the things I suggested was that schools tackle this – that schools begin to talk about histories, so that it becomes embedded within the school curriculum, not just discussed because it’s October.
This is now going to be happening in schools in Wales from September 2022, and I hope that it will be taught in an affirming way, because children should be taught about their histories so that it becomes a part of their norm, not something abnormal, hidden and unknown.
People should see people, and be interested in people. Yes, we are different, let’s not deny that, but let’s not use the same old narrative. Let’s not ask the same old questions. In fact, find out from me what’s interesting about me, about being of Nigerian/Camerounian origin in my community.
We’re beginning to look at the histories now, so let’s look at us now, as people now, as Black people or people of colour in our shared communities.
Let’s really find out about each other.”
As told to Emma Evans.
We believe Black history should be celebrated all year round. Wales’ Well-being of Future Generations Act puts a legal obligation on Welsh Government and public bodies to take action to improve the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales and create a more equal Wales and a Wales that promotes and protects culture and heritage.