How these Nigerian sisters brought their culture to mainstream television
Photo Credit: S & A
Opinion

How these Nigerian sisters brought their culture to mainstream television

Every now and again reality shows bring us contestants that are simply unforgettable. So when East London raised sisters Hannah and Deborah Agboola first set foot on the Big Brother stage in June, it was pretty obvious that this was going to be the case. Ready to enter the house adorned in traditional Nigerian wear, the sisters had all of Black British Twitter talking. You see, it wasn’t just the fact that the sisters proudly wore their geles on national TV, or that it was another sibling duo entering the house. What drew viewers to the pair was the fact that for their whole time inside, cameras fully rolling, they displayed their Nigerian morals with ease and pride.

The same Hannah and Deborah we saw bring comedy, humor, wit, honesty, flavor and—queue Hannah’s singing voice, “love, peace and harmony”—to the small screen, are exactly the same women outside. Hannah, who is the reigning Miss Nigeria UK and an aspiring actress, and Deborah, a YouTube Vlogger with an aim to inspire young mums, are the epitome of what it really means to do it for the culture.

“We were brought up knowing our culture,” Hannah says as we sit on a hotel rooftop. “We were taught about who we are as people before anything else, and that’s what we wanted to show the world—that it’s OK to be who you are, and we are proud Nigerian girls. That was the whole point of entering the house in our traditional outfits.”

“Wearing our geles on such a big platform was our way of making a statement. Before you talk, people see who you are,” Deborah adds. “We are British-born Nigerian girls and in our culture, geles are a traditional crown. We wanted to show that we are queens in our own right.”

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Cameras were rolling 24/7 and every single word spoken and move made in the house was documented. The girls sure did a brilliant job of freely bringing culture and black girl magic to the house, but did they ever feel like they had to water or tone down aspects of their culture?

“Never,” Hannah says. “In the house, there were people who had never come across people like me and Deborah before so we couldn’t fault them for not knowing about our culture. We were a brand new flavor, so we took it upon ourselves to educate them about our culture and let them understand what makes us, us.”

“We didn’t go onto a platform like that to conform and be something we’re not,” Deborah adds.

“But it was also crucial that we understood and respected that we were in a diverse place and people may not have been comfortable with us using our hands or raising our voice when we spoke. We just made sure that there was a difference in conforming and educating.”

And educate they did. Whether it was with their fun, catchy Nigerian style music chants, or being the voices of reason and realness during times of conflict, the girls’ infectious attitude rubbed off on the housemates.

“We were in the house 24 hours a day for approximately 54 days, so there’s so much you have to do with your time. So what best to do than to get people on our cultural level and show them how we get down?” Hannah says.

“As Africans, we’re known for our dancing, our food and our music. It’s a big part of who we are and it brings people together. Hannah said to me, ‘Let’s treat this place like our home’ and that’s what we did,” says Deborah.

Being raised by a strong Nigerian mother instilled strong family values in their lives.

“I’m the older sister and a mother, so that’s where my motherly instincts come from,” Deborah continues. “In the house, we had to remember the things our mother taught us and all that we stand for. We had to exercise patience and learn how to let go of certain issues.”

Though it was a reality TV show, the platform definitely acted as a springboard for the girls to highlight so many positive things about the black British community that the wider public wouldn’t necessarily know or understand. Hannah and Deborah encourage others to use their platforms, whatever they may be, to share with and encourage others.

“We learned that we couldn’t let the rules of the platform we were on change us. We changed the rules,” Hannah says. “We are British born Africans from East London and stereotypically, people that are from there aren’t seen to be “accepted”. Being on the show was a way of breaking stereotypes.”

“We’re an example to our generation,” Deborah adds. “We’ve been around the knife and gun crime and we weren’t oblivious to some of the negative things happening around us, but we had a choice, and we chose to use this platform and be an example.

“We’re by no means perfect, but we just want to be girls that are driven by their culture. We recognize that if we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything.

My mum always tells us, ‘Remember the mother of who you came from, remember your home. If I don’t condone this at home, don’t do it on TV, don’t disgrace me.’

Although we were using it as a platform to represent our generation, we still have to represent ourselves at the same time.”

Since coming out of the Big Brother House in July, the Agboola sisters have resumed working on their respective projects, all with a view to inspire and empower the younger generation.

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Before the show, as well as winning Miss Nigeria UK, Hannah was “going to different secondary schools and encouraging young children to stay off the roads, and the reasons why they should concentrate on their education.”

“I have a passion for young children because I know how it felt being in school. Being around so much gun and knife crime meant that being peer pressured to be involved and fit in was easy. My sister and I have always wanted to set up a youth club encouraging young people to craft their skills in different areas such as the arts and mathematics, as during the holidays it’s easy for kids to get into mischief if they feel like they’re doing nothing.”

We’ve realized that as the years have gone on, youth centers are closing down,” adds Deborah. ‘It’s sad because we grew up with so many community links and places where we could go in our idle time and exercise our crafts and skills. Now, the youth don’t have that so they’re resorting to being in groups and cliques because that’s all they know.”

So what’s next for this amazing sister duo?

“We are aspiring to be actors and presenters and to potentially have our own show and inspire adults and youth of today. We’re not going to limit ourselves,” says Hannah. “We are one team, with one dream.”

Deborah concludes, “The world is our oyster and we’re literally just making ourselves better than what we were yesterday.”

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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