Over the weekend, Harry Potter fans from across the world rallied around the hashtag #NigeriansAtHogwarts for a mashup that combined the best parts of Nigerian culture and the beloved book series.
Aside from, Bem, Hogwarts's sole Nigerian student, three African wizards at the Quidditch World Cup, and brief references to the sport being relatively popular in Ethiopia, Africa never really got much love from Harry Potter. Wale Lawal, a Potter fan in his own right, reasoned that there had to be more than one Nigerian student matriculating at the school for witchcraft and wizardry.
Lawal, a Nigerian now studying Economic History in London, could relate to the idea of being a foreign student plunged into a new culture that was both familiar and entirely alien. The idea for #NigeriansAtHogwarts, he told Fusion, popped into his head when he heard about that armadillo in Texas who inadvertently killed the man trying to shoot it.
"For some reason, the story made me think of my mother, who is Ijebu-woman-serious about prayer," he said. "Then it hit me: my mother prays for me all the time, she might as well be my patronus."
The premise behind the hashtag was simple enough: come up with a situation that only Nigerian Hogwarts student would be able to relate to. Soon after Lawal sent out the first few tweets from his own account, the hashtag took off.
"More than anything, I wanted to talk to Nigerians about Nigerians; about the spaces we occupy in the world, the folly of those spaces; and I wanted to do so without being flat," Lawal told Fusion. "So I thought of those questions a Young Nigerian Wizard Abroad would have had to face, the 'do you live with lions?' 'I heard your people eat people, is it true?'"
In the wake of #NigeriansAtHogwarts's success, similar hashtags like #IfHogwartsWasAnHBCU began to spring up in other niche Twitter communities, something that Lawal was delighted to see.
— Framellionaire (@ithinkmark) August 3, 2015
He was careful to point out, however, that there was a specificity to the hashtag he'd created that he wanted people on the outside to understand and respect.
"#NigeriansAtHogwarts allowed us – and if you check the hashtag you will see – to focus on ourselves, to speak to each other about each other, and to be both complex and specific," Lawal explained. "Most importantly, it made sure that we were the ones judging the quality of our writing or the ones whose judgment of our writing mattered."
Lawal says that at the end of the day, there isn't much that he'd actually want to change about J.K. Rowling's work in terms of intercultural representation. He's more interested in getting people thinking and inspired to bring their own fantasies into existence.
"If you do not like someone’s story, write your own," he said, quoting Chinua Achebe. "Now, being Nigerian, I’m not sure if he meant this as advice or as a dare."