Cape Town — Timbuktu Global, a British clothing brand retailer, has come under fire for trademarking the word Yoruba – a name of an ethnic group in West Africa – for their business, igniting a debate on cultural appropriation.
Yoruba is one of the largest ethnic groups in Western Africa, mainly in the countries of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.
The issue came to light when London-based Gbemisola Isimi, the founder of an African cultural center called CultureTree, to trademark Yoruba Stars – a programme striving to educate and enlighten children across the globe on the rich tradition of Yoruba language. Isimi says that she faced a opposition from Timbuktu due to its similarity to the phrase the company had registered.
Isimi took to social media to vent her anger. “Did you know that @TimbuktuGlobal a retail company owned by two WHITE-BRITISH people from Lancashire who have no affiliation with Yoruba language or tribe have trademarked the word ‘YORUBA’ and are opposing anyone else from using it?”
“I thought it was really strange that a company would be allowed to trademark the word ‘Yoruba’, a tribe and language of millions of people,” Isimi wrote, adding that Timbuktu had opposed her attempts to register her own phrase. “I feel this is the height of cultural appropriation,” she wrote.
Her posts went viral with the hashtag #YorubaIsNotForSale and generated a heated debate and backlash from Nigerians who felt that it was an insult to the Yoruba culture.
According to records from the UK’s Intellectual Property Office show, Timbuktu filed to trademark the word in 2015. T he UK’s Intellectual Property Office also said their decisions are based on existing laws and that the public can challenge the validity of a trademark.
Since the outrage around their decision, Timbuktu Global closed down its Twitter and Instagram accounts, and shut its website. However, the company tendered an apology and promised to release the name from the trademark clause.