Being a sinistral in Nigeria, as told by left-handed Nigerians

"For starters, the reason I wasn't "changed" was because I refused to, because I feel there is nothing wrong with being left-handed"

All too familiar with the discrimination that comes with being a lefty,  freelance writer Bolaji Akinwande speaks to sinistral Nigerians about their experiences of left-handedness in the traditional society.

Research finds that an estimate of 10 percent of the world’s population is left handed, leaving the greater proportion of human beings right handed. Ambidextrous (people who use both the right and left hand equally) are only about 1 percent of the population, and in modern times, it’s believed that ambidexterity emerges when originally left handed people were trained or forced to get accustomed to using their right hand, resulting in no dominant hand, but an ability to use both to equal effect. 

Nigeria is deeply rooted in religious/traditional credence that houses certain fallacies, passed down through generations, and still on the verge of being taught to and adopted by future generations. With the help of social media, however, and most importantly thanks to the Millennials, efforts to re-shape our mentality and views have stirred up; from conversations centering around the erasure of rape culture, to sensitisation of mental health issues and the advocacy for women to be more respected society. Being a sinistral (left handed) has come with quite extraneous baggage, owing to traditional myths tied with your preference of hand, thereby encouraging discrimination.

Nigerian media personality, Kemi Smallz had her share of discrimination of handedness recently, tweeting that a delivery guy insisted she collect a package using her right hand, despite not knowing her dominant hand. What becomes clear from the context is that the delivery guy ascribes to the superstitious perspective that a certain hand is more felicitous than the other. While she might be and might not be left handed herself, the incident that transpired as Kemi Smallz collected her delivery is one that deeply resonated with myself and other individuals who are sinistrals, and have found themselves being similarly chastised for a preference with which they are simply born. So, to illustrate the difficulties of manoeuvring everyday life as a left-handed person in the conservative society of Nigeria, I reached out to some sinistrals to share their experiences of living in a country where the majority of its people are intertwined with orthodox beliefs concerning handedness.


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“Traumatic is the least, at some point I felt probably I was from the devil himself”.

The above quote came from Nkirukamma. From being told the left hand is of the devil to getting hurtful comments from her grandmother while eating, Nkirukamma shares the negative outpour that has come with being a ‘lefty’, in the Eastern part of Nigeria, Enugu.

“Using your left hand means you are not on the right hand of God. My grandmother wouldn’t let me eat from the same plate as her; ‘is this how you will be eating when you are in your in-laws house? You will be chased away and they won’t allow you [to] cook for them.'”

Though it was made very clear by her parents, from when she was still a child, that she had chosen to be identified as a sinistral and there would be no such circumstances that would make her become an ambidextrous or (right handed), the comments Nkirukamma received from others made her consider conforming in her teenage years. She remembers being scared of writing in public,

“Whenever I go to the bank, I would have to hide in a corner to write on my withdrawal or deposit slip, because when people saw me using my left hand they’d question why my parents allowed it – I was a girl and it wasn’t suppose to be allowed. Some bankers wouldn’t even take my slip from me unless I used my right hand, I felt like an alien in  this world. It made me withdrawn, scared and unwanted, my safe place was my home, that’s where I felt normal because my siblings didn’t see me [as] any different.”

Nkirukamma hated going out as a child, she couldn’t bring herself to believe the fact that she is/was a normal kid – society placed all sort of negative pressure on her. “Being left-handed was worse but also being a woman worsened things for me.” But finding acceptance in her later years nurtured her boldness and journeyed her to a place where she feels better as an individual.

I’m married now, got married to a man who is also a sinistral. Being one myself isn’t a problem because it totally feels normal, we have a child now and we don’t mind if all our kids are left-handed or not including our female children. Funny thing is, my in-laws haven’t chased me away because I’m left-handed, what my grandmother believed. I’m really [in] a better place because the people who matter accept me. I don’t care what other people have to say, they don’t get to me anymore.”

While Nkirukamma isn’t letting all the BS about being a sinistral get to her anymore, another individual recounts the most traumatic ordeal she has ever faced for being left-handed.

“It all started when I took a cab to class with my friend in school, I couldn’t reach for my bag/pocket because the cab was kinda tight, when I and my friend dropped I was able to sit up properly and pay the driver our fare only for the gesture to turn into him hurling abusive words in Yoruba Language [asking] why on Earth I would give him money with my left hand. He ranted about how my parent didn’t train me and all that. The whole scenario drew attention [from] passersby, [in the end] my friend pulled the money from me and handed it over to him with her right hand and dragged me away from the whole scene. I honestly felt numb throughout that day, I kept replaying the whole incident in my head. Though after some days I got over it, I’m not sure I will ever forget the whole ordeal.”

Prior to that incident happening, Bibiirekosefowora  doesn’t remember a previous experience more triggering than the above trauma. For her, there have been a good number of occasions where she has been ridiculed for using her left hand, though she remembers that none of these instances came from her parents, but from outsiders.

Faith, another sinistral I chatted with who had a lot to “get off her chest”.

“For starters, the reason I wasn’t “changed” was because I refused to, because I feel there is nothing wrong with being left-handed”

“Sorry i went off on a tangent,” she apologises after pouring out her mind to me. Faith wasn’t really frustrated when being beaten for using her left hand, getting shouted at for eating with it or being chased from a vendor in the market for using the “wrong hand”  to pick stuff because it is believed to “spoil one’s market”. All this wasn’t frustrating because she believed it was all being done to her face. “I knew what I was fighting against, external and internal superstitions and trash traditions. What pissed me off were the micro aggressions, the ones I couldn’t really get angry about but still frustrated me, the using of certain chairs and tables not designed with left-handed people in mind, the everyday appliance or object that makes life just a little pissy. There are downright offensive quips like, ‘you eat with the same hand you wipe your ass with’ and there are complimentary ones like, ‘that means you’re smarter than the average person’, both instances serve as an insult and as an expectation. Life is hard enough for a left-handed person, especially one growing up in a country like Nigeria, we don’t need more external baggage. For the most part, the culprits are superstition, tradition and religion.”

The belief that sinistrals are smarter than the average person is met with a skeptical stance by Faith. “My dominant hand being my left doesn’t make me smarter than someone that’s right-handed, I used to wear that false belief like a badge of honour ‘till I realised, if I want to denounce the negative stereotypes, I also have to denounce the positive stereotype – positive being subjective because that stereotype in particular puts an expectation on left-handed people in positions of power or intellect, not because they’re the majority but because they’re a minority. We don’t say all right-handed people are smarter than left handed people despite them being more in number in places of intellect and power. It all comes down to talent, hard work and a shit ton of luck.”

“Mostly, I was considered rude by people. Whenever I stretched out my left hand, I used to apologise though”

For Mejoke the most shocking myth she has ever heard associated with being left-handed would be from her grandmother, “she gave me a tough time while growing up because I was a lefty”. Mejoke’s grandmother disallowed her from serving herself from her cooking pot as she believed the food would “go sour” if she did. 

“It was embarrassing walking into a shop, and when you pay using your left hand, you’re told to pay with the right hand instead”

An anonymous sinistral told me. While this particular incident happened quite a long time ago, it left a consciousness in him to remain firm with his choice to identify as a lefty. He remembers having quiet an outburst and taunting back saying,  “if it was Barrack Obama who had chosen to pay using the left hand, would such gesture be met with a disapproval.” He recalls walking out of the shop. “People tried to make me change though, but it never happened,he added.

Speaking to Valarie E Ugboke, a psychologist based in Abuja on some of the psychological effects that comes with the discrimination against sinistrals, she shared with me: Discrimination against left handed persons can lead to a number of mental health related illness such as depression and anxiety, this is not a direct correlation but a number of factors in combination with such discrimination could result in these.

Another psychologist, Olivia Alabi of 360psyche – a Lagos-based psychological mental health practitioner – shares with me the ways by which some certain traditional/religious myths fueling handedness can be exterminated: Reorientation; people need to be reorientated just like in the days when the birthing of twins was an abomination and they were killed, people were reprimanded that their beliefs was barbaric, another way is through mental health education. Individuals needs to be aware that their stance may be detrimental to the mental health of others. Awareness should be encouraged and the need for why an unhealthy mind is toxic to to the society is also needed to be addressed

She also added,The government has an important role to play in the abolishing of traditional/religious beliefs tied with left-handed individuals. Lefties make up a significant amount of the society; there should be policies or technological innovations created to support and protect such a minority group. With this, it widens the room for the acceptance of sinistrals.”

While the world we live in is generally built to cater for the right-handed people, lefties should be allowed to express with the hand they prefer, they shouldn’t be subjected to conforming or discrimination. We as individuals need to unlearn myths associated with handedness and stop dwelling on fallacy. It all comes down to acceptance and respect for the choices people make. No trauma or discrimination should be associated with being left-handed. Normalising the left hand as the dominant manus is very essential for a better community. 

Featured Image Credits: CNN

Bolaji Akinwande is a freelance music/culture writer based in Lagos. A fashion enthusiast, Bolaji listens to music like his life depends on it. Tweet him your playlist @Rrrrrrrrboi