The term ‘Tani’ is popularly used by Asantes to refer to northerners. The term typically means ‘twin’. It usage is mostly derogatory, to refer to villagers or people not well acquainted with city life.
The context in which it is used is to express superiority. They presume that northerners have taken on menial jobs within their societies, are taking care of their farms, clean their houses and towns, are security men (but prefers to call them watchmen), are less educated and live in mud houses and have not held major positions in governance. According to them most northerners are strong as such hard works are meant for them. These are just few examples of the skewed mentality.
My hometown is Bawku in the Upper - East region. I was born there but grew up in Ashaiman - Accra. I am a proud young man of my town and traditions, I have the facial mark of the mamprusi tribe. I lived in Accra the whole of my life, that's where I acquired my education from kindergarten till I completed Junior High School. During those periods I have always heard of the Ashanti region as the ‘Garden City’ of Ghana. The culture and traditions of the people are very appealing. I have read most of them as part of our Social Studies and Religious and Moral Education subjects. And I have watched them display their rich traditions on television and in their movies.
I could not wait to start schooling in such a wonderful and a powerful kingdom. The capital of Ashanti region - Kumasi, is considered the second developed town after Accra. And I have interacted with so many Asantes in Accra, mostly petty traders, who hawks with herbal medicines and second hand clothing. Moreover my parents were already staying there. Hence, it will be like home.
I came to Kumasi right after writing my BECE, whiles waiting for my results and certificate to be out. Kumasi was very interesting to stay, the weather was very comfortable, and I loved the low cost of living, accommodation is moderate, food is very abundant, even the price of fish is less as compared to Accra. I really enjoyed that three months of staying at home and roaming around the Central Business District of Kumasi. We often went and bought second hand clothing ‘Obroni Waa wu’ or popularly called ‘Foos’. I could afford all these in Kumasi but I never dared ask the price of clothes whiles in Accra. I even visited the Manhyia Place and learnt more about the Asante traditions.
Finally, my BECE results were out and I was posted to Okomfo Anokye Senior High School. As someone who admires outskirts and very cool weather I was very happy with the school because of the location and it was also a category A school. I never hesitated to further my studies there. I loved it at first sight.
My first day of reporting to school was the day I first heard the term ‘tani’. A senior saw me and shouted "This one is indeed an original ‘tani’. The moment I stepped foot on that campus, my identity had automatically become an object of ridicule. No one bothered to ask for my name any longer, I was now referred to as ‘tani’. I had to ask another first year for the meaning, an Akan and he was surprised I never heard it and does not even know the meaning. But all he could tell me was, "aren't you from the north? I answered affirmatively. Then he laughed and said then you are a ‘tani’. I was okay. I thought it was their own way of referring to northerners until I went to the mosque to pray. That was when I first met people I could belong with, most of them northerners from Accra and few students who actually grew up in the north or Kumasi.
That was the moment I heard my other northern and Muslim colleagues displaying their disapproval of the term. Some were telling stories of seniors beating other students for calling them such names. Later on we heard stories of first year students fighting seniors for calling them such names or undermining them on such concepts.
At that particular moment, I realised that my educational experience was going to be different from what I perceived it to be. It won’t be the same as every other senior high student, I with numerous others were going to endure an educational experience complemented with tribal bigotry and ethnocentrism.
That was when it dawned on me, all those three months I enjoyed my stay in Kumasi was because I stayed at Asawase - a predominantly Muslim and northern inhabitants. I was staying with the people I had similar values and physical resemblance with. I could now recall many times I heard the term in town, market women insulting each other, men exchanging hard words. It just happened that I never paid attention to it.
Just imagine a tall young man with tribal and a facial mark on campus. I was now a ‘tani’, and with my colleagues we were called "entafu)". A derogatory term that actually had a singular and plural terms. Funny! This shows the depth at which it has been integrated into the language.
Even though the word has a positive meaning, which means "twin". This is like being called a nigger by a white person. In spite of black Americans normalising the 'nigger' between them, the term "tani" can never be normalised between northerners. We do not accept such a derogatory term and calling us such names is discriminatory and gross exhibition of ethnocentrism.
Some northerners might smile and take it cool, some won't even mind you calling them such. But others like me will punch you in the face and call on your bigotry.
To be continued......!
Can you please share your encounters with the term "tani" in the comments section? Or you can write us an article of your experience.