Emmanuela shares on the birth of ONUA
My name is Emmanuela Ohene Frimpong and I am the co-founder of ONUA, a luxury West African homeware company with my brother Phillip Frimpong.
Having been raised speaking my mother tongue fluently, being all too familiar with stories that start with “When I was in JSS” and with kenkey, fried yam and banku being my top three Ghanaian favourite dishes, I feel and am as Ghanaian as they come despite the fact that I’m actually part of the Ghanaian diaspora. I wasn’t born in Ghana and have actually only holidayed there a handful of times. I was born in the Netherlands, lived there for half of my life, and then moved to the UK where I currently reside. Now, whilst I cherish the opportunities and benefits I’ve gained from my nationality, and whilst I appreciate my European roots, upbringing and surroundings, my heritage is something that I believe defines me. With this Ghanaian love and pride so deeply rooted, I always knew that I wanted to share a slice of the rich culture I descend from with the world. With that in mind, I felt that it was important for the world to understand and experience my roots from my point of view. This led to the start of my homeware company with my younger brother.
Our company, ONUA, which translates to siblings in Twi, was born through various motivations. The first being a personal motivation and the second a need for re-education for those who are not familiar with the African continent.
Having been brought up speaking three very different languages, I for one can’t ever imagine losing any of these three treasures. This is especially so when it comes to my Ghanaian heritage. With the world cup around the corner, it is important to note that if Ghana and the Netherlands had qualified, I would support the teams in the following order; Ghana, Netherlands and then England! Now, even though I fly the Ghanaian flag high and proud (as you can tell from my order of support and my favourite cuisines), I will be the first to admit that I’m not a 100% well versed in its history. It is the discovery of Adinkra symbol’s that brought upon that revelation. I grew up, like many ‘Abrokyre’ born Ghanaians, well acquainted with the Gye Nyame sign, but did I know that there was a whole family of Adinkra symbols? I had no idea until a few years ago! With Google at hand and aunties and uncles readily available to educate me, I quickly grew to understand how these symbols were pillars and foundational nuggets of wisdom that added value, significance and guidance to my tribe, the Ashanti tribe. How did I not know that? How come no one told me? But more importantly, how can I ensure that these amazing pieces of my culture aren’t lost with time, lost with my generation and the generation to come? The solution for me was to make sure that they were at the forefront rather than the back of my mind. And one way to do so, was to incorporate it into everyday life. Homeware came to mind due to my love for interior design. I started my range with the piece that brought me the revelation; the Adinkra symbols with each simplified proverb on fine bone mugs. Drinking tea or coffee has never been the same since then!
Secondly, my brother and I wanted to use ONUA as a vehicle for educating those that aren’t familiar with the West African culture. If I was to play the word association game, gold, natural resources, development, Christianity and great music would be found in my vocabulary to describe the African content. However, the reality of these descriptions for someone who is proudly African versus someone who isn’t familiar with the continent can significantly vary. Often times, people hear the word Africa and associate it with bright coloured clothing, safari, wild life, mud huts and poverty due to what the media portrays. While I understand why some of these associations are made, they are by no means an accurate reflection of the state of Africa today. Many people assume that the African culture and story began and was built on slave trade. This is far from the truth. The existence of the Adinkra symbols, the meaning behind our Kente material and the amazing folklore of other coastal countries such as Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Sierra Leon prove otherwise. So, with that in mind, each of our products explore the meaning behind patterns and colours used. Through homeware, we can and will show the world the true and deeper meaning behind our colourful fabrics and the rich and wise saying’s which have shaped our society and morals.
Lastly, ONUA aims to bridge the gap of African homeware on the market. Depending on where you are in the world, you can walk into stores like IKEA or shop online on Wayfair and find many different homeware styles. Scandinavian, rustic, modern, contemporary are all ‘standard’ décor styles. But rarely do you see African interior as a category. Instead, stereotypical animal ornaments, obscure and scary artefacts and leopard print rugs are labelled African if you so happen to see “African homeware”. ONUA takes western day to day homeware such as lampshades, crockery and cushions and marries these with true West African flavours.
I’m thoroughly looking forward to making a significant difference in Africa one day like the team at ReTurn. With a massive desire to develop Africa’s infrastructure, mainly its transport channels and the economy, to helping remote villages live sustainable, healthy and lengthy lives, I believe that in due time, I will be able to do so. However, my first and current mission for my beloved continent is to change the perception of Africa, step by step and homeware item by item.
I get to experience first-hand how globalisation is taking root in the West. Having been exposed to the city life as well as rural living, one thing has become obvious. The steady state towards globalisation through the integration of cultures means that there are times where a culture you don’t encounter on a daily basis can get lost. Now, whilst I’m a big fan of learning other cultures and absolutely love travelling, I’m also well aware that the balance can be tipped sometimes. In the exploring, experiencing and curiosity of your current surrounding’s, one could forget or under appreciate their heritage at times. This works both ways. In the West and in developing countries.