SEFAKOR AKU ZIKPI: Overcoming the expected Australian identity
Lawyer turned author Sefakor Aku Zikpi is just at the start of her writing career, and is already exploring topics many people of the African diaspora would connect with.
The 29 year-old lawyer is a lover of words, both written and spoken. She has performed spoken word-pieces and one day plans to publish a major body of work. As a contributor to new anthology Growing Up African in Australia, I’d say she is well on the way to success.
MEET SEFAKOR AKU ZIKPI.
THE PIN. What is your piece ‘Ant Bush’ about?
SEFAKOR AKU ZIKPI. Whether you relate to the author’s ethnicity or not, Ant Bush is a telling of an experience shared by many ethnic kids growing up in Sydney in the 90s: being different but painstakingly trying to fit in to the ‘Australian mould’.
From the outset you talk about the love-hate relationship many African women have with their hair. Was this the first topic that came to mind when you decided to submit to the anthology?
SAZ. The real-life story that unfolds in Ant Bush and the experience of hair is something I had always wanted to write about. When the call for submissions to the ‘Growing up African in Australia’ anthology was made - it seemed like the perfect opportunity to stop being lazy and finally put that experience on paper.
You’re a lawyer by trade, is creative writing and poetry a regular pursuit of yours?
SAZ. It was until I started practising law, so I have to say unfortunately no. I am however, determined to write a lot more this year.
How difficult was it getting into that creative head space?
SAZ. At times, quite! As a lawyer when it comes to written communication, one of your greatest assets is brevity, being succinct and getting to the point. As my career has progressed I’ve become a lot better at doing that. Going back into a head space where I am allowed to be more creative and ‘verbose’ was difficult.
Your piece is a very pointed experience, as opposed to an overarching conversation about hair, what was it like returning to your younger self and reflecting on the sometimes hurtful comments that people made?
SAZ. Funnily enough, I enjoyed it. At the time sure, it was a really painful experience but going back to that place and seeing it from a different perspective and as an adult, felt powerful.
I am telling a story that I think a lot of African girls would identify with. Although my hair is still something I get frustrated with, it is also something I have come to love and appreciate in a way that I couldn’t at the time of that experience.
Do you remember when you started to embrace your hair more, and what were the things that made you comfortable with it?
SAZ. Embracing my natural hair started as a way to regrow my hair and became a journey of loving it in a way I hadn’t before. In December 2012 I travelled back to Ghana. Usually when you go back you get your hair braided. It’s incredibly cheap in comparison to Australia, where you’re paying anything from $150 and upwards.
I don’t usually braid my hair and when I came back I realised it had damaged my edges, so I decided to stop perming my hair and let it grow back naturally. I had told myself I wouldn’t perm my hair again until my wedding, which I knew would have been in just a few years.
I didn’t know much about the natural hair movement at the time, I just wanted to regrow my hair but as it grew I noticed two very distinct textures. I’d run my fingers through my new growth and think, ‘wow so this is what my entire head is going to eventually feel like?’. Dealing with the two textures was difficult so I started to research online and found this entire community of women thriving with their natural, perm free hair. That’s when I started to transition to the idea of a full head of natural hair, permanently.
There’s a world of information out there about how to look after afro textured hair that if my mum had known about when she was bringing us up, I may not have had such a love-hate relationship with my hair and could have embraced it a lot more quickly. It felt like stumbling upon gold.
The transition from perm to natural...what was it like getting to the point where you could cut off the permed hair and just have natural?
SAZ. I waited a whole year from my last perm and it ended up being the 31st December when I cut all of the perm off. It felt quite symbolic, entering a new year with a whole head of natural hair. I cut it myself and it felt amazing. I had this Teeny Weeny Afro - or TWA as people call it - and it was all mine. Regardless of what anybody else thought, it felt beautiful.
I remember going to church that night and an older woman looked at me and laughed. I was offended but I knew I was entering a new year with a new sense of self and it was liberating so I ignored her reaction and told myself - mind over matter.
Something you touch on in ‘Ant Bush’ is the feeling of shame surrounding hair. As an adult in a professional space, have you found it challenging to have natural hair?
SAZ. At times, yes, but like I said - mind over matter. When I had permed hair the only thing I ever did was put it in a bun, similarly I always have my natural hair in milkmaid or goddess braids and tucked back. I’ve never gone to work with my natural hair out.
I’ve asked myself why and, I don’t know if it’s because of my experiences growing up, but my hair is something I like to keep as out of the way as possible. I was always the person who wanted to do as little as possible with their hair to not draw attention or the incessant questions, or the hands in your face trying to touch your hair, especially when braided. ‘Is that your real hair? How do you wash it? How long are you going to keep that in for? How do you do it? Doesn’t it smell? Is that dirty?’.
You’ve had the experience of someone from an older generation laughing at you, have had your own hair journey, and now you’re a mother. What are your hopes for your sons relationship with his hair?
SAZ. I think for African boys, black boys, their relationship with hair is so different to girls. I look at my husband and hair is nothing to him. He gets a cut every couple of weeks and that’s it.
In saying that though, I remember when growing up there were a handful of guys who permed their hair and got ‘white boy’ hairstyles. When I looked at those guys I felt they must have been really confused about their identity and perhaps trying to be something they were not. I really hope my son won’t ever feel the need to get a perm, jheri curls, or something drastic. I hope he is happy and comfortable with how his hair grows from his head.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
SEFAKOR AKU ZIKPI. Although it may not always feel like it, the skin you’re in is an asset, it makes you unique, but it doesn’t define you or limit the opportunities that you will one day experience.