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Oborɔnyi is the Akan (or more specifically, the Fante) word for foreigner, literally meaning "those who come from over the horizon."[1] It is often colloquially translated into "white person."[2]

West Africa does not have an equivalent of the ubiquitous "mzungu", used throughout Eastern and Southern Africa, and even within Ghana, "oborɔnyi" predominates because it is common to the predominant local languages, those of Akan family, primarily Fante, Akuapem Twi and Asante twi. Other Akan languages employ variants on "oborɔnyi": For example, the Ashantes use the term "Broni" or "Abrɔfoɔ", and Northern Ghana uses a more complex pastiche of terms: "gbampielli", "pielli", "siliminga" (Dagbani and other Gur languages), "bature", "baturiya" (Hausa language), "nasaara" (Arabic loanword used by some Muslims literally meaning "Christian"), "toubab" (Mande languages), among other terms.[3]


"Oborɔnyi" is not a direct translation of "white." For most Ghanaians, an oborɔnyi refers to any person with lighter skin or straighter hair than a dark skinned Ghanaian. Asian, Middle Eastern, and African American people are all classified as oborɔnyi.[2] Americans of Ghanaian descent are still considered oborɔnyi because they come from abroad. Oborɔnyi are considered an amusing sight, especially in rural areas, where children might follow around a foreigner, chanting the word.[4] The term is not derogatory, but a way to identify someone who is not a native-born Ghanaian, or an "obibinyi."

Oborɔnyi has a few uncommon modifiers in colloquial Akan. "Oborɔnyi pete," meaning "vulture foreigner" refers to foreigners from Asian, North African, or Middle Eastern countries. "Oborɔnyi fitaa," meaning "pure foreigner" refers to white foreigners, especially those from Britain or America. "Obibini-oborɔnyi," meaning "black -foreigner" refers to a black person or an African. Though these modifiers are infrequently used, they point to how views of different races are written into the Akan language.[4]


The word oborɔnyi derives from the word bor (Fante), which means "from beyond the horizon," and nyi, which is a suffix that means "person". The plural form of oborɔnyi is aborɔfo (fo is the plural form of nyi), which is often used to refer to the English language or English people.[citation needed]

There is another theory that oborɔnyi is derived from the similarly sounding phrase aburo foɔ, which means "trickster", "one who frustrates" or "one who cannot be trusted."[citation needed]


In Central and West Africa among either Mandé, Wolof speakers, and Francophone Africans, the name for a person of European descent is Toubab or tubabu, this is also true of the pockets of Mande speakers in northern and northwestern Ghana.

Initially among the Yoruba, and subsequently in casual speech in a number of other languages in Nigeria, the word used for a "white" person is Oyinbo.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Holsey, Bayo (2008-06-01). Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226349756.
  2. ^ a b Lachlan Mackenzie, J.; González Álvarez, Elsa M. (2008-06-26). Languages and Cultures in Contrast and Comparison. p. 187. ISBN 9789027290526. Retrieved 2016-03-01. {{cite book}}: Missing |author1= (help)
  3. ^ Konadu, Kwasi (2010-04-14). The Akan Diaspora in the Americas - City University of New Kwasi Konadu Assistant Professor of History Center for Ethnic Studies. p. 237. ISBN 9780199745388. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  4. ^ a b Ann Reed (2014-08-27). Pilgrimage Tourism of Diaspora Africans to Ghana. ISBN 9781317674986. Retrieved 2016-03-01.