Thursday, August 5, 2021

"Yevu" And "Obroni" (Ghanaian Referents For White People And For Foreigners, Including Black People Who Were Weren't Born & Raised In Ghana)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post presents several article excerpts and a portion of a YouTube discussion thread about Ghanaian referents for White people - the Ewe term "Yevu" and the Twi term "Obroni". These same terms are used as referents for people of Ghanaian descent and for other Black people who were born or raised outside of Ghana.  

The content of this post is presented for linguistics and socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
Click for a closely related pancocojams post entitled "Is The Nigerian Word "Oyinbo" ("Oyibo") An Insulting Referent?".

Also, click for the closely related pancocojams post entitled The West African Referent "Toubab" Doesn't Only Mean "White Person".

In addition, click 
for the closely related pancocojams article "Dead White Man's Clothing : Online Articles About Imported Second Hand Clothes ("Obroni Wawu") In Ghana, West Africa".


From Ahh!!! A White Person!!!

By: Lillie Marshall, Published: January 29, 2010 - Last updated: December 4, 2020 
" “We don’t mean it to be rude at all,” explained YCC teacher Derrick, smiling his luminous smile, “it’s just, you know, it’s unusual to see a pale person, and so the people get excited.”

YCC’s Director, John, laughingly explained at YCC orientation that volunteers will begin to think there is a national song in Ghana that goes something like this: “YEVUUUU!”

What does this strange howl mean? The answer is easy: “WHITE PERSON!”

My Brandt Guidebook claims that the literal translation of “Yevu” is “Trickish Dog,” though the author insists that the meaning is non-offensive.

Others claim that the term comes from a mangled interpretation of the Portuguese phrase for “Move along,” which was the main thing the Ghanaians heard the Portuguese imperialists say, back in the day.

Regardless, if you are a whitey like me, anywhere you walk in Ewe-speaking Ghana at any time of day, you will hear a child or adult holler: “YEVU!” every two minutes, minimum. If you are closer to Accra or in the Western region of Ghana where they speak Twi, the song will be switched to: “OBRONI!” and will mean exactly the same thing.

Sometimes I won’t hear it at first because it’s coming from so far away, but a chuckle from my Ghanaian walking partner will cause me to scan the horizon and see three tiny children waving wildly in the sun-baked distance yelling: “Yeeeeeeevuuuuu!”

Other times, the label is shouted right in your face, with swarms of children running right up to you, literally chanting in unison: “YEH-VU! YEH-VU! YEH-VU!” while trying to hold your hand or obtain some treats. The lead photo of this article was taken yesterday at just such a moment.

Among the Ghanaian yevu-yelling adults, there’s often a merry twinkle in the eye and a smile on the lips as they say, “Yevu! Eh Foa?”

“Eh Foa” is a test to see if you know how to answer the Ewe question for “Are you well?” If you correctly answer, “Ehhhh,” meaning “yes,” the speaker will often explode into happy laughter and applause.

At least once a day I hear a “Yevu!” holler followed by, “White man!” I am very much a woman, thank you very much, so I always kind of glare at that particular speaker, rapidly dropping my friendly wave until the speaker stutters, “White WOMAN! White WOMAN!”


Now here’s the hilarious cultural disconnect: every time the other volunteers and I try to explain to Ghanaian friends how UNHEARD OF it would be to do the equivalent “look at that unusual race!” thing in America, we are met with stares of utter confusion


Note: as thoughtful readers might point out, though race is rarely explicitly called out in America, the judgments made with body language or subtle remarks sometimes seem to scream more loudly than an actual shout!

So how offended should we feel, being called “Whitey” by a hundred strangers a day? In reality, as Derrick wisely pointed out, “Yevu” in Ewe-speaking Ghana is just a good-spirited term of excited observation. In Ghanaian culture, the idea that such a shout might be seen as rude (oooh how it offends some volunteers!) is utterly alien.

"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 common theory that "Oburoni" is derived from the similarly sounding phrase "Aburo foɔ", which means trickster, "one who frustrates" or "one who cannot be trusted."


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."

From "Obroni, a History"
by Wanlov The Kubolor*
"Most Ghanaians think "obroni" means "white person" or "foreigner", but it stems from the Akan phrase "abro nipa" meaning "wicked person."

 Most Ghanaian parents know the origin of the word “obroni,” but felt it wiser not to tell us. One day we will realise how stupid how parents were. It will be too late then. This relatively new Akan word is about a century old in a language that is about a thousand years old.

 If you are of a slightly fairer complexion than the average Ghanaian you may be called it quite often, with unmissable gain in frequency soon as your environment becomes more rural. You may also be called “obroni” if you are darker than the average Ghanaian, highlighting the sarcastic side of the Ghanaian.

We have come to accept “obroni” as meaning “white person” or “foreigner”, but the etymology of the word stems from the Akan phrase “abro nipa” meaning “wicked person” which is what our ancestors generally called Europeans based on their general behavior back then. For those sticking to the “abro akyi” theory (behind the corn) you are doing your own people a disservice assuming we did not already know what was behind the corn we had planted. Did we not know of the ocean? What didn’t “nsuo akyi” (behind the water) or “nsuo no so” (on the water) creating the name “nsuoni” (water person)? The Akan word for the colour white is “fitaa” so Europeans would have been called “fitaani” (white people) if our ancestors could bring themselves to naming invaders who disturbed us so deeply on as shallow a whim as just their external colour. Not to mention a colour which would accurately have been red most of the time from the heat, dodged mosquito self slaps and flustering from seeing “naked” people.

If you know much about the importance Africans attribute to naming, you will know we rarely name someone by their appearance as opposed to their character, ability, or trait. Most of our ancestors saw our people suffer at the hands of Europeans, so they named them according to their general behavior so that we would also be cautious of them. The Ewe call the european “Ayivu” which means “tricky dog” because they figured out the European’s plan, and were not as infiltrated as others like the coastal Ga who call Europeans “blofonyo” which means “executioner” because of the the number of rebellious Africans that were constantly being beheaded, shot, or hanged by Europeans along the Ga coast. Yes my Ga peers, “blofonyo” means executioner like “obrafuor” in Twi.”…

*Wanlov The Kubolor is a Ghanaian artist and performer.”

From “Black Obroni” Performed Live Aug 2019 Kumasi, Ghana
by Nikeeha Breeze, interdisciplinary artist
" “Black Obroni” in the ghanaian language Akan (twi), Obroni is literally translated as “those who come from across the horizon” but is colloquially understood as “white person” and is applied to all non-black people in Ghana. Traveling here as a African American person, Iwas surprised that this is what they also call me. I realized that I am considered a “white person” here.

The contradiction of being a Black in White America, and a White in Black Africa creates a tension and invisible distancing. At the same time the depth of connection on the ancestral level and spiritual level is rich and full of vulnerability and beauty. In this performance I created an interactive experience of this contradiction. Using fishing net cords, I created a series of slip knot lines, laid carefully on the ground, radiating from center, as an image of the Diaspora. The remaining cord i knotted into a layered skirt each cord representing a disconnected thread from the motherland. My hair tied by my nigerian sister Stacey Revero into Bantu knots, a traditional African tribal style. In the performance, I slowly painted my body black with my hands, to literalize my “blackness” in the face of the white “obroni” labeling. I proceeded to take each laid out cord and to hand them, one by one to each person watching. Making contact with each ones eyes, saying the local greeting, “akwaaba” (you are welcome here) i proceeded to the center, where each cord was lifted one at a time from the ground, the tension between myself and the audience member on the other side accentuated. Then each slip knot was placed strategically on my body, my waist, my chest, my arms, legs, hands, feet, my neck and tongue. At which point, fully connected to each person, i suspended my body. The audience holding my entire weight with the cords. After which i drew everyone in, binding myself to them as their Black sister."...
The remainder of this article consists of photographs.

"How the Year Of Return Affected The Ordinary Ghanaian On The Street" published by Nii Ayi, Jan 12, 2020

[Numbers added for referencing purposes only.]

Aset Kemet, 2020
"Would you stop calling us the foreigners we’re not foreigners we are brothers and sisters that was stolen from Africa!"

2. NAKMEEZY, 2020
"With all love and respect, I would like to tell my African Family that when you invite us to return home on one hand and then call us foreigners on the other, it can be painful or even disrespectful in our eyes. We did not choose to leave. We were sold into slavery to Europeans. When we go back "home" please understand that alot of us have pain and trauma. Choose your titles for us wisely. I can not be your brother when it comes to investment but an Obroni when it comes to integration.



Teoviel Nabewole, 2020

If it helps Africans who live abroad get treated the same when they visit their families.. their kids are called foreigners.. in their minds, it means you’re coming from abroad, it doesn’t mean they don’t recognize you as one of them..

My advice to you is: don’t wait for Africans on the continent to validate you as An African. You are African, and need no validation. As of trauma, the same applies to Africans on the continent, they know very little about themselves as well.. so don’t feel you need their validation.. it’s your journey of reconnecting with yourself, and you decide how you want to go about it.

I know for sure all Africans are happy about this plan, even though only Ghana is concerned by it, we’re all very happy to see Africans going back home.. it means as much to us, as it does to you.

4.  MrOu83, 2020
"NAKMEEZY, I was in Accra in January 2019 for two weeks. I returned on January 10, 2020, and plan to be here until April 15. I was referred to as white man (by American standards, I am dark skinned)on a couple occasions during my two visits home. The first time I thought it was funny, and I went on to explain to the person that use of such a term is problematic. Just a few hours ago, my Ghanaian friend referred to a brown-skinned woman as “not black.” I told him that she was black. He tends to refer to people who are not very dark in complexion as nonblack. I advised him that if he wants to refer to a black person’s complexion, he should say light skinned, brown skinned, etc. Saying they’re not black can be offensive."

5. Reply
r h, 2020
"I'm somali in the UK and the somalis back at home have a name which loosely translates to foreigner. They don't have any ill intent, but there's a cultural difference and our perspectives are different."

6.  Pesi Belau
"even ghanain who have lived abroad are called foreigners even when they can speak the local languages"

7. blackvolta, 2020
"Yawn. Shut it.. duh.. an Ethiopian in Ghana would be called a foreigner too. Especially when differentiating between local and non local consumers especially when they don’t speak good English. Some of y’all annoying."

8. King Kingitinstyle, 2020
"Jamaica likkle but tallawah, I’m Ghanaian living outside the country. If I should go back today they’ll call me a foreigner. You’ve understand that there are cultural differences and not every word means the same in every country. You’ve to take cultural differences into consideration. Foreigner in Ghana means a lot. It could mean not being able to speak any local language or not living there at all. It could also mean not being a natural born Ghanaian
"Jamaica likkle but tallawah" is a a commenter from Jamaica.

9. Mia Danielle, 2020
"Why would you be offended being called a foreigner in a foreign land? That's what you are."

10. OKES VLOGS, 2020
"Jamaica likkle Is normal  for you to be called foreigner,is very simple if Nigerians,togoles,gambians and all Africans in Ghana are foreigners then why should you be called Ghanaians whilst you are not,you can be called African but not Ghanaian,Germans are foreigners in France even though there are all Europeans right"

11. Jamaica likkle but tallawah, 2020
" @OKES VLOGS  African who address other African countries has foreign ers is normal! Ok!!🤔

I dont care about what name defines me In Africa. 👸🏾 It will be my experience and skills and abilities to help my brothers and sisters grow and develop -  has a business person. It was a reflection!! Not and Objection!!

I have travelled to NIGERIA and I was address has a Jamaican because they treated me like family.  I go to Europe and I am a Canadian.  Travelled to Carribean Islands and they  called me Jamaican.  Okes when I come home to my family in Ghana I will have name ceremony and get my new name so I can introduce myself.  I am NOT asking for preferential treatment - thanks for your input and I am now offering my INSIGHT regarding my observation about the video. 



Lioness ARISING!

A Lioness never looses sleep and worries about what a rabbit call her."

12. Edward Fosu, 2020
"Was born in Ghana but lived in UK for greater part of my life my parents still lives in Ghana and every time visit they see me as foreigner.Because that's what I am as don't leave gh permanent  so is  normal to be seen foreigner.If a Ghanaboi lands inda USA to he or she will be on a foreign land. That's my opinion by the way.Peace be with us all black , white, Asian etc .We all foreigners on the planet."

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  1. In Togo and Benin where Mina(some sort of creole language mainly derived from Ewe) is spoken, "Yevu" is pronounced "Yovo", and a common custom by kids in both countries is to say "Yovo, yovo bonsoir!"(White person, white person, good evening!" when they see a white person.

    Historically the full song was part of the colonial period. French missionaries arrived bearing gifts as means to attract and win over support of the communities

    1. Thanks, Anonymous for sharing that historical and contemporary information about the Creole language Mina in Togo and Benin/

      Also, thanks for sharing information about the Mima word "Yovo" as a referent for White person. Is "Yovo: also used to refer to Black people who aren't from Togo (or Benin) the way that "Obroni" has been used?

      Best wishes!

    2. I googled "Mina" (language) since I hadn't read about Mina before. Here are quotes from two online sources:
      "Gen (also called Gɛ̃, Gɛn gbe, Gebe, Guin, Mina, Mina-Gen, and Popo) is a Gbe language spoken in the southeast of Togo in the Maritime Region. Like the other Gbe languages, Gen is a tonal language.

      There were 200,000 Gen-speakers in Togo in 1991, and 130,000 in Benin in 2006.[1]"...

      ..."The Gen language is predominant in Southeast Togo and some Maritime regions. The neighboring countries call the Gen speakers “Mina.” ...

    3. Hi Azizi,
      There are a people in Togo, specifically the town of Aneho, called the "Guin". They come from Ghana but migrated in Togo centuries ago. Their ancestors were Ga and Fante. After a while, their ancestors mixed with local Aja & Ewe and adopted a lot of their culture. Pure Ga is still spoken by some Guin in Togo, and that's what we call "Guin-gbe", or language of the Guin.
      Mina is a language derived mainly from Ewe but that also got Aja, Ga, English, and French influences in it. That's why I said it's a creole, similar to how Lingala in Congo is a creole. It's called Mina because some of the ancestors of the "Guin", of Aneho people, were Fante traders from ElMINA in Ghana.
      Mina became a lingua-franca in Southern Togo and Benin, because it was mutually intelligible with Ewe/Aja and other "Gbe" languages, and easily learned. It was useful for trade in the region and still is.

      While Mina is derived mainly from Ewe, you can still find Ga words in Mina because of the Ga origins of the Guin. An example is "kakla", which means knife. It's not an Ewe word but people in Togo and Benin who speak Mina and are not Guin use it all the time.

      As for Yovo, yes Westernized blacks can sometimes be called "Yovo" if they have foreign mannerisms. Mixed people are also called Yovo.

    4. Anonymous, thank you very much for that explanation.

      As you probably are aware, there is very little information online about Togo's history and cultures.

      Although I googled info about Mina language, none of the online sources I found explained why that creole language is called "Mina". Your comment had so much more information than any that I found. I'd like to publish a post on it and would include any additional information you might share here or you might send to my email address azizip17 at yahoo dot com.

      Thanks again for helping the world know more about Togo history and culture.

    5. Hi,
      You're welcome madame. I sent you an email.

    6. I appreciate it.

      I wrote you back and will add a link here when I publish a pancocojams post about Mina people and language.

      Best wishes!

    7. Here's a link to the pancocojams post that was inspired by the exchange with Anonymous about the Guin/Mina language: Comments & Excerpts About The Guin/Mina People & Languages Of Togo And Benin, West Africa

      Thanks again Anonymous!

    8. Obroni Wawu (also given as Broni Wawu) is the title of a 2015 Ghanaian movie.

      Here's a quote about that movie from
      ..."The storyline for Broni Wawu:
      Kyeiwaa acted as the C.E.O of Yaakson group of companies and she had a lifetime ambition-that she get married to a white man. Her dream came to pass when she met Van Vicker, who was by then a wretched second hand clothes seller.

      Kyeiwaa lures Van Vicker with her money and finally marries him. Van Vicker’s, friend Kwaku Manu influenced Van to force the old woman (Kyeiwaa) to hand over her company and assets to him to manage.

      Eventually they legally take away her company and assets from the illiterate woman and after winning her possessions, they drove her away from her own house and bring in a much younger and educated lady.

      The big question is – Will Kyeiwaa sit unconcerned and watch the Obroni Wawu sellers take away her properties?"
      This description of that movie uses the actresses/actors names for their character. Notice that the storyline indicates that Kyeiaa always dreamed of marrying a white man and her dream comes true when she marries Van Vicker.

      I wonder if the Twi word "obroni" was originally used in that article instead of the referent "White man". "Obroni" doesn't only mean "White man" (or "White woman"). Ghanaians also refer to people who are mixed race (Black/White ancestry) as "obroni". That definition fits that movie better than "White man" since the actor portraying the seller of second hand clothes is mixed race.

      According to "Joseph van Vicker (born 1 August 1977),[2] better known as Van Vicker, is a Ghanaian actor,movie director and humanitarian.

      Vicker was born in Accra, Ghana on to a Ghanaian/ Liberian mother[5] and a Dutch father.[6][7][8] His father died when he was six years old.[7] He has often cited in interviews that he considers himself a global citizen as he was raised all over the world by his mother. Due to the early death of his father Vicker has stated that he is very close to his mother and considers her his hero."...

      Click for a short clip of that 2015 Obroni Wawu movie.