Coconut by Florence Ọlájídé is her story – a Black girl fostered by a white family in the 1960s and her search for belonging and identity.
‘By the time I was six years old, I knew my life was marked by difference. I was either too Black, too White, too young or too feisty…’Florence Ọlájídé
A generation of Nigerian children were born in Britain in the fifties and sixties, privately fostered by white families and then taken to Nigeria by their parents. Coconut is the true story of one of those children.
North London, 1963.
Nan fosters one-year-old Florence and names the little girl ‘Ann’. Florence adores her foster mother – but Nan, as she calls her, and her foster siblings, all have white skin and she can’t help but feel that something isn’t right.
Four years later, after a visit to her birth parents, Florence never returns to Nan. Sandwiched between her mother and father, along with her three real siblings, the little girl steps off a ship in Lagos to the fierce heat of the African sun.
Florence struggles to adjust to life in Nigeria. She’s keen to embrace her cultural heritage but doesn’t speak Yoruba, her parents’ mother-tongue, and knows nothing of the customs. Frequent clashes with her grandmother end in beatings. Torn between her early childhood experiences and the expectations placed upon her in Africa, Florence begins to question who she is and where she actually belongs. Is she Nigerian, British, or both?
Coconut is a gripping, tragic and ultimately inspiring tale of loss, loneliness, poverty and the unimaginable strength of the human spirit. Florence’s story is testament to the determination and fortitude it can take to have the opportunity for a basic education, a place to live and a future to look forward to. It is the story of finding a place to call home.
A very moving story of a young Nigerian girl being torn between two cultures. Initially, brought up by a white lady in the UK, this little girl is given a rude shock when her parents take her back with them to Nigeria.
There, exposed to a totally different culture, she feels like an alien and must get used to the hardships of life in Nigeria. She finds it really hard to adapt and to make matters worse is abused by her grandmother.
In all it’s a story of courage and survival and trying to establish an individual identity while being caught between two diverse cultures.
I liked the simple, matter of fact style of writing which made the story much more believable and moving!
About the author
Florence Ọlájídé is an educator and writer. Born in London, she spent her early childhood in a
white foster family. At the age of six, she moved with her birth family to Lagos, Nigeria where she
grew up surrounded by a large extended family.
Florence graduated from the University of Lagos, Nigeria, with a honours degree in Education. She
returned to the UK where she worked as a teacher, before gaining an MA in Further and Higher
Education from the Institute of Education, University of London. Florence became the headteacher
of a large London Primary school and in 2003 was appointed as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of
Schools in England – the only Black African to hold the post at the time.
Florence now runs her own consultancy providing school improvement guidance and support to a
range of educational establishments. She lives in Kent with her husband and has three adult children
and two grandchildren.
‘Who was I, really? Nigerian, British, both? The difficult years had hardened me in many ways, but
beneath the brusque, uncaring facade I presented to the world, I cared about life and the people
important to me. The image of a coconut floated through my head, with its tough, brown outer
shell and its fleshy, white, inner core. It was known as the tree of life, every part useful.
Years later, I heard that ‘coconut’ was a racial slur used to describe Black people who denied their
Black heritage in favour of a White one, but what did I care? I had chosen my own interpretation,
intent on having a meaningful life, one where I would be as useful to those around me as the
coconut is to the world. I would do my best to meet my culture’s expectations, but I would stay
true to myself’.