Araba Ofori-Acquah is a healer, DJ, cultural curator and award-winning writer who practices and teaches an African-centred approach to wellness. Her journey to becoming a healer began with herself through experiencing first-hand the power of talking therapies, mind and body practices and meditation. Inspired to create safe spaces for other Black people, Araba studied different healing modalities, including a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training in India, an NHS-accredited Wellbeing Coach qualification and the study of Advanced Pranic Healing in Ghana. Her debut book 'Return to Source: Unlock the power of African-centred wellness' launches in April and is available to pre-order now at www.arabaoa.com/book
What was 12 year old Araba like? What did she want to be and did she ever imagine living on the continent?
12 year old Araba was living on the continent and hating it! I lived in Ghana between ages 10 and 14 and it was quite the culture shock having grown up in the UK. Add to that the fact I was separated from my mom, who stayed in the UK, and my brother who moved to Ghana with me but initially stayed with another family member, and it’s no wonder I didn’t love my first proper Ghana experience.
I remember journaling a lot, writing songs and listening to Walt Baby Love’s RnB radio show religiously! At various points in my childhood (and adulthood to be honest) I wanted to have every career under the sun. What’s remained consistent is wanting to write (as an author, a journalist, a song writer), wanting to help people (as a lawyer, a therapist, a news reader if that counts) and wanting to be in show business (as a theatre babe, a pop star, a model). I think 12 year old me just wanted to have a BIG life, regardless of what the details were.In 2017, you left your corporate job in the UK to find work that felt more purposeful to you. What was the pivotal moment that made you decide, “I had enough. I want and will make a change in my life”?
I wouldn’t say I had one pivotal moment but rather lots of mini moments. Being put on antidepressants and signed off from work was one of those. Another was, months later, feeling ‘better’ but being back to the same old - work 9-5, pub 5-9, same people, same conversations, same challenges, no solutions. I remember looking at my life and asking a few key questions:
Will I be happy if this is my life in 5 years time?
Do the people around me really care about me?
These things I’m chasing - a promotion, money, experiences - is it because I actually, truly want them or because it’s just what I’m supposed to want?
I think once you start asking yourself these questions you get frustrated when the answer is constantly the wrong one. And that forces change, eventually. Therapy was also a huge help for me to recognize that it was possible to make different choices.Tell us about your journey on the African continent…what was it like and what impacted you the most upon your travels and eventually your move to Ghana in the end?
I spent a month between the Gambia and Senegal, and then came to Ghana with the intention of being here for only 3 months. What struck me the most initially was that I had only envisioned a life on the continent based on my experience as a child. And actually there was a whole different world waiting for me. I had thought that being on the continent would automatically mean an overhaul of the life I lived in London but actually I could live basically the same life in Accra - which was both a good and bad thing. It meant I had to be more intentional than I expected about not falling into certain negative patterns that come along with city life.
The other thing that I felt straight away was the sense of community. Yes, Africa has her problems and each country has its own challenges. But the innate sense of community Africans have hasn’t gone away. Despite being called obronyi and having people laugh at my accent, I’ve felt more safety, belonging and care on the continent than I ever have in the UK.Your new book “Return to Source - Unlock the power of African-centered wellness” is an enlightening one, adding to the wellness landscape your own voice and journey as well as that of your ancestors. How is it different to other wellness guides that are already out there?
Firstly, most wellness guides are written for white women by white men and women. Secondly, they almost all repackage Eastern philosophy for a Western lens. Finally, I would say many of them focus on individual enlightenment. My book is unapologetically for Black people around the world. It is not just about wellness - it is about our shared history, our shared traditions and our way forward as a global community. This book centers African wisdom and Black experiences, without selling the promise of any kind of enlightenment - it’s simply the promise of belonging.
What impact do you hope this book has on the African community and its diaspora?
For a long time I felt there was a disconnect between my wellness journey and my desire to reconnect with my heritage. I hope that this book can help Black people find the link between the two. I also hope it can help to undo some of the demonisation of our traditions and practices - both within our own communities and to those outside. On a very practical level, the book shares ideas for rituals, community wellness activities and personal growth practices, and I truly hope that everyone who reads it finds at least one thing that can help them, their family and their community to find more peace, joy and clarity.
What has been the greatest challenge in completing this book? As well as your greatest joy in the process so far?
I’ve been asked this question a few times and I still don’t have an answer! Honestly, I feel that this book was really written by the Ancestors, and so it wasn’t that challenging to write. The main challenge for me was self-doubt and wondering if I’m really the right person to share this message. And I still have those moments occasionally but I think everyone does right?
As for joys, there have been many! I think a key highlight was winning a World of Books Impact Award from the Society of Authors. To be awarded on the impact of the book before it’s even been published is incredibly validating and makes me even more excited for its launch.
Araba is a part of the Bôhten community as she dons her Jade Tortoise frames daily!Who have been some of your greatest influences on your wellness journey?
I think the modern wellness world is filled with gurus and that’s always been a bit uncomfortable for me. Researching this book, I realized it’s because this is so at odds with the way our Ancestors did things. African wellness and spirituality doesn’t glorify gurus. There are teachers and healers and artists and farmers…and everyone plays a role in the collective healing of the community. Yes, there are priests but they connect you to your Ancestors and the Divine - they are not heralded as Divine themselves. All this to say that my influences have come from all over - from my friends, from conversations with elders, from the therapists and healers I’ve worked with and from working with my Ancestors.What piece of advice would you give to your 21 year old self?
I honestly wouldn’t want to give my 21 year old self any advice because everything that’s happened, everything I’ve gone through, all the mistakes I made, everything I had to learn has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t want that to change.
Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
Living in a clay house by the sea with my family, doing work that changes lives for the better, and having the most fun ever.
When do you most feel seen?
When friends or partners predict what I’m about to do or say. I hate it because it makes me feel predictable but I love it because it shows that they really know me.How can people connect with you to learn more about your work?
You can join my mailing list here and for socials, the best place to follow me is Instagram @araba.oa. You can also visit my website arabaoa.com and email me at email@example.com. Be sure to pre-order my book now! arabaoa.com/book
Join Araba in the celebration of “Return to Source - Unlock the power of African-centered wellness” at the launch on April 4th 2023 in Accra & online. Click this link to sign up for this free event that includes a storytelling session, book signing, African sound healing and more.
Thank you Araba, for sharing your story and for carving out a space for African Wellness for everyone around the world. The Bôhten community is cheering you on and we look forward to seeing what you get up to next.