Oburoni (or Obroni) is the Akan (or more specifically, the Twi language) word typically directed at a white person, but sometimes used to refer to foreigners in general. The word is also often used by Ghanaians in the diaspora, when speaking amongst themselves, as a "code" word for "white man". Despite the (relatively) widespread and casual use of the word, its origins are not entirely benign. The word "obroni" derives from the phrase "Aburo foɔ", which means trickster, "one who frustrates" or "one who cannot be trusted" [this is not accurate - see Usage below].
It is possible that the word arose during initial contact between the Ashanti and Europeans. Coincidentally, the word for "white person" used by the Ga (another tribe in Ghana), is Blofonyo (or Blofo) for short. This word in the Ga language, similarly derives from "Ablo fɔ nyo", which again means "one who frustrates", or a trickster in the Ga language.
West Africa does not have an equivalent of the ubiquitous "mzungu", used throughout Eastern and Southern Africa, and even within Ghana, "oburoni" predominates because it is common to the predominant local languages, those of Akan family, primarily Ashanti Twi, Akuapem Twi and Fante. Other Akan languages employ variants on "oburoni": For example, Western Ghana, uses the term "Brofo" or "Brofwe".
As explained earlier, "Oburoni" is not a direct translation of "white". For most Ghanaians, an oburoni refers to any person with lighter skin or straighter hair than a dark skinned Ghanaian. Asian and Middle Eastern people are all classified as oburoni. Oburoni are considered an amusing sight, especially in rural areas, where children might follow around a foreigner, chanting the word. The term is not necessarily derogatory (though it is a form of "othering" - mostly based on skin colour). By comparison, the term used to identify someone of African heritage (both parents), would be "obibini."
The notion that "Aburo foɔ" originates from the word trickser or one who frustrates is not accurate. In the Akan language, the word for overseas is "Aburo Kyire" literally meaning beyond the seas (or behind the seas as in opposite side of this shore). This means persons who come from beyond the seas are Aburofo or "Aburo foɔ" with the "foɔ" or "fo" meaning people. So "Aburo foɔ" literally means people from beyond the seas. The suffix "ni" as in Christoni or OChristoni for a Christian or Ghanani for a person from Ghana is the singular form of "fo" in the Akan language. Thus Buroni (the "A" prefix dropped when singular and optionally replaced with "O" for Oburoni) means a person from beyond the seas. The language of such a foreigner, ostensibly white Europeans, is Burofo-kasa which means the language of the people from beyond the seas and often shorten to Burofo. Today Aburokyire is used to refer to other places overseas including Europe, Americas, Asia, and Australia. This means Oburoni could mean anyone from those places regardless of race or skin color. It is not pejorative when used to describe or address foreigners - it's often complimentary or neutral. However, when used to describe a native it could carry a negative connotation for someone who is attempting to flaunt cultural norms or acting elitist in a way similar to what white colonialist did. It can be used in complimentary way towards a native to describe their behavior as being organized, well to do, highly educated, very professional, etc.
Oburoni has a few uncommon modifiers in colloquial Akan. "Oburoni pete," meaning "vulture foreigner" refers to a white foreigner who doesn't fit some positive stereotypes (e.g. shabby appearance, poor, trying to pass as white base purely on skin color etc.) similar to the use of the expression "white trash" in America. "Oburoni fitaa," meaning "pure foreigner" refers to white foreigners, especially those from Britain or America. "Obibini-oburoni," meaning "black-foreigner" refers to a black person or an African in positive light as previous explained. Though these modifiers are infrequently used, they point to how views of different races are written into the Akan language.
- "The Akan Diaspora in the Americas - City University of New Kwasi Konadu Assistant Professor of History Center for Ethnic Studies". Books.google.co.uk. 2010-04-14. p. 237. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
- "Languages and Cultures in Contrast and Comparison". Books.google.co.uk. 2008-06-26. p. 187. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
- Ann Reed (2014-08-27). "Pilgrimage Tourism of Diaspora Africans to Ghana". Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
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