What is an ahshakasha?


Finding a name that encompasses the entire essence of something you are trying to create, i.e. something whose vibe you think you know, but really only as a concept in your mind; naming such a thing can be quite difficult. Some of the names that I toyed with include: Komorebi, which is Japanese for the light that flickers through the leaves of a tree, creating a shadow of dancing leaves >> how beautiful is that? I thought such a space would be the perfect place to gather in search of peace and rest, and as such would be the perfect symbolic name. But then I thought about how ridiculous, pretentious and ill-fitting it would be to have something focused on the lives, experiences, insights, observations of African women bearing a Japanese name! Then I found this Benue name that sounded beautiful, melodic and means Queen of Women >> it was perfect, the name even came to me by chance, such that I could come to the conclusion that it was pre-destined.

ahSHAkaSHA is a name that I have borne for the last 17 years; only one person calls me by this name and only one other person is called by this name (as far as I know). My aunty coined the name for me, I never asked her what it meant until a couple of weeks ago. As the name isn’t Igbo, I knew she must have come up with it. I  assumed that it represented what she thought about my essence, so I conveniently and probably with a pinch of vanity, projected what I thought she thought my essence was onto the name she formed. So for the last 17 years, this name to me has symbolized: the way I move, the way I smile, the way I care for everyone and the way I bring our family together. I know that these are the qualities that she appreciates the most in me.

I don’t clearly remember when ahSHAkaSHA entered the running for the name of this blog, but in the last week leading up to going public, I was already certain that it was the name I would go with, so I started discussing it by name with more people around me. My colleague, who is Yoruba upon hearing the word claimed it, “isn’t this a Yoruba word?” he asked, to which another colleague responded, “yes, it means bad behavior”. All the music and sound in my head came to a screeching stop, what were the odds? Could I still use this name? Like Google and Sony, the best names are names that have no prior association. How could an association with something negative be advantageous in any way, particularly in a country like Nigeria? I am writing from Lagos, a “metropolitan” city with Yoruba heritage and lasting influence, for all intents and purposes, a Yoruba city, as Yoruba as any other place in Nigeria. So it is sensible to assume that many of the early readers would know this meaning. But then I mentioned the name to another Yoruba person and she said it means, “an assortment of things”, (used in a sentence: she had an ahshakasha of pens on her table). Yet another friend told me, “bad habit” and there was “unacceptable behavior” (both of which I much prefer to bad behavior, for what is bad behavior and who decides?).

I spoke to a friend about abandoning ahshakasha and switching to the Queen of Women name, but she encouraged me to keep it: 1) as an action to reclaim the name; 2) because it never had that meaning to me or to the person who gave me the name; 3) because part of the essence was to challenge this assumption of a perfect prototype and question what constitutes bad behavior. If you look at it in this light >> as we should look at all things, from different lens >> the name becomes perfect, almost pre-destined.

In the midst of all of this uncertainty, I asked my aunty what she intended when she came up with the name and she said it’s because I do not abide “nonsense”.

Without intending to, this name does encompass all my hopes for this space, for it to be: fun, loving, caring, informative, no nonsense, not entertain society’s nonsense, allow you to determine and discuss what is unacceptable behavior (without infringing on other people’s rights, opinions and perspective) and to be your bad habit. Tehehe!