About Maneno Matamu

Maneno Matamu is a platform for African poets/writers to showcase their work in the rich and beautiful languages this continent is blessed with. It is a collective breath expressing our linguistic peculiarities, discoveries and oddities.

This blog welcomes all lovers of words, African or otherwise, to share their passion. You can get in touch with us on Facebook or on Twitter. Also, feel free to check out the latest pictures on Flickr!

Words of the week: Maneno Matamu

Language: Kiswahili

Meaning: Sweet words

Global Voices - The world is talking, are you listening?
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Yoruba keyboard layout for Mac

I wanted to share with you a keyboard layout I designed to type Yoruba on Mac computers. I tried to keep it as close as possible to the regular keyboard layout I use for English so as to avoid having to constantly switch keyboards – which I already do enough of between English and French…
Here is how it works:

  • All the keys remain the same as on the regular U.S. keyboard
  • To add a dot under e, s, and o:  ALT + letter (eg ALT + o to type ọ).
  • Capital s, e or o with dot: SHIFT + ALT + letter
  • High tone (mi): ALT + h
  • Low tone (do): ALT + l

Tone marks are inserted after the letter.

You can download the keyboard layout here. All you need to do is to drop it into Library > Keyboard Layouts and select it in your language & text preference window.

I used Ukelele which was developed by John Brownie (SIL). If you’re looking to create a keyboard layout, I definitely recommend this software. It’s easy to use and comes with a comprehensive user’s manual, not to mention the fantastic support provided by the users’ community. I was a bit sad not to have another upcoming keyboard layout project ;)

Let me know what you think! I hope you’ll have as much fun typing as I did designing this keyboard layout.

It’s also worth mentioning that Tom Gewecke made a combined layout that allows one to type both Yoruba and Hausa on the same keyboard. More on his blog!

On African “dialects” as opposed to languages

If you want to know what someone thinks about Africa, ask them about African languages. You’ll find that the word “dialect” comes up a lot more than you would have imagined. Why the stubbornness to refuse to use the term language ?

After looking up the definition of dialect, you’ll find the following alternatives to solve your conundrum:

  1. The person you’re talking to believes that across Africa, people speak varieties of the same language (presumably African?).
  2. They don’t know what a dialect is but you certainly can’t compare their superior language to those ‘dialects’, can you? They use dialect in a derogatory way, if you will.

Let’s be honest. When you live in south-east Asia, French people don’t come and ask you whether you’ve condescended to learn any of the local ‘dialects’. They admire you for putting in the effort to grind through hours of repeating tones and learning the Thai alphabet.

I don’t think the various people I’ve talked to on this topic consciously look down on African cultures but they certainly have internalized a degree of contempt. I don’t blame them for it. Which languages people speak in Africa is probably something they have never given serious thought to.

To be fair, there’s also the widespread perception that all African languages have very few speakers and are therefore negligible. A man I spoke with was shocked to hear that there are several languages he had never heard of, that were spoken by millions of people on the African continent.

In any case, a small European language (in terms of number of speakers) is still regarded as a full-blown language, so why make it a dialect when it happens to be spoken in Africa?


Translation of Tiken Jah Fakoly’s new single ‘An Ka Willi’ by Bruce Whitehouse + explanations on the political context. #Mali

Originally posted on Bridges from Bamako:

Tiken Jah Fakoly, a well-known reggae artist who’s been based in Bamako’s Niamakoro neighborhood for the past several years, just released a single entitled “An ka wili” or “Let us rise up,” urging Malians to unite against the Islamists who have taken over the north of their country.

True to form, Tiken Jah grounds his call to action in Mali’s precolonial history. Below is my own translation of the lyrics to “An ka wili”:

Mali will slip away from us [Mali bè na taa k’an to] / Kidal will slip away from us / Timbuktu will slip away from us

Chorus: Let us rise up, let us rise up, if we don’t rise up, Mali will slip away from us

Where have the descendants of Tieba gone? / Where have the descendants of Samory gone?

Where have the descendants of Sunjata gone? Where have the descendants of Da…

View original 1,021 more words

Blogger Christian Bwaya: “Swahili is a sign of my africanness”

We speak with our guest, blogger Christian Bwaya  (@BwayaCN)!

Christian Bwaya

Christian Bwaya : ‘I don’t only inform people by the way I think; I also learn from my readers’

Christian has been a blogger since 2005, running the Swahili blog Jielewe. He is also a volunteer translator and editor for the Swahili edition of Global Voices.

He teaches Social Studies and Biology in Moshi while still pursuing his higher education. He is married with one child.

This interview was originally published on this blog in Swahili.

You started blogging in 2005. How did you decide to get involved with online writing?

I remember that, as a student, I was a keen follower of Ndesanjo Macha‘s, a famous writer who is now editor of Global Voices for Sub-Saharan Africa.

He was the first Swahili-language blogger [I knew]. And, to say the truth, I was very impressed by his style of writing, the debates he was engaging in on his blog as well as his mastery of the language. Thus, my motivation to blog stemmed from Ndesanjo Macha’s blog.

I viewed my blog as a good opportunity to easily debate on issues I understood well: cognitive science and science in general. There, I thought it would be easy to get a platform to exchange ideas with people without any sort of hindrance and without having to meet them in person.

I do not only inform people by the way I think, I also learn from my readers. This interaction is hard to find through newspapers and other mainstream media. So this freedom to say what I think was an important motivation for me to start a blog in 2005, while I was a student.

Even now [that I work], I still make an effort to plan my schedule well so as to be able to be a more prolific blogger.

You like to say that you are a ‘Swahili lover’. What does this language mean to you?

Kiswahili is my language. I consider it as a gift from God to me and my community. I respect it as a mark of my culture.

You know, we Africans are very unlucky in that we do not care for what is ours. As far as I am concerned, Kiswahili is a sign of my africanness. It is the vehicle through which I can easily express my ideas to my community. It is my measure of understanding; what I mean is that if I cannot explain a given concept in Kiswahili, then I consider that I haven’t understood it yet.

Kiswahili is a safeguard of education. It is a legacy. This is the reason why I am among those who believe that the decision to use foreign languages as a medium of instruction for our pupils is one of the biggest issues facing our education system, here in Tanzania.

Despite its imperfections, Kiswahili can still be of great assistance in improving understanding by our students, from the early stages of schooling up to university. This is possible, unless we are people who do not love their own culture but instead admire that of others, who themselves might not love ours.

Do you speak other languages, apart from Kiswahili?

Yes. I speak Kinyaturu fluently. This is my mother’s language and she made every effort to ensure that we communicate in Kinyaturu. It belongs to our small community, the Wanyaturu, whose traditional homelands are in central Tanzania. I hold it in high esteem.

I speak English as well, since I know it is the dominant language of education and I really love to read. But it is not close to my heart nor is it a source of pride for me.

As a blogger, what is your take on the importance of using African languages?

Internet has become the library of information. If we use Kiswahili, we will help preserve our language and give it an opportunity to be a medium of information for the Swahili-speaking community.

It is very important for those who are able to use the Internet, to share information online in Kiswahili. In so doing, we will help increase access to technology amongst our communities since our people won’t be forced to know foreign languages to learn and get information on the Web.

The world is changing. It would be a shame if our language, which has millions of speakers, failed to take its rightful place online and one day came to be among the endangered languages.

Let each of us do his or her part. This is why I decided to participate in the Swahili Lingua project. I am proud to contribute to the online knowledge bank in my own language. I know that by providing content in Swahili, I facilitate access to knowledge and information for people who do not speak foreign languages.


Have you got a message you’d like to pass on to our readers?

There is no greater dignity than knowing where you came from. I call upon fellow Africans to get to know and value their own culture. One of the manifestations of this self-knowledge is the way we value and develop our native languages.

This interview was originally published on this blog in Swahili.

Translation by Marie-Laure Le Guen.

Mwanablogu Christian Bwaya: “Kiswahili ni alama ya Uafrika wangu.”

Tunazungumza na mgeni wetu, mwanablogu Christian Bwaya (@BwayaCN)!

Christian Bwaya.

Christian Bwaya : ‘Si tu ninaelimisha kama ninavyofikiri, lakini ninaelimishwa na wasomaji wangu.’

Christian ni mwanablogu wa Kiswahili ambaye ameendesha blogu itwayo Jielewe kwanzia mwaka 2005. Pia ni mfasiri na mhariri wa kujitolea katika ukurasa wa Kiswahili wa Global Voices.

Anafanya kazi Moshi kama mwalimu wa Saikologia na Elimu ya Viumbe (Biolojia) wakati mwenyewe anaendelea na masomo yake. Ameoa na ana mtoto mmoja.

Ulianza kuandika blogu mwaka 2005. Uliamuaje kushiriki katika mtandao wa Internet namna hii?

Nakumbuka nikiwa mwanafunzi nilikuwa mfuatialiaji mzuri wa makala za mwandishi maarufu, Ndesanjo Macha (ambaye sasa ni Mhariri wa Global Voices eneo la Kusini mwa Jangwa la Sahara).

Yeye ni mwanablogu wa kwanza wa Kiswahili. Na kwa kweli niilivutiwa sana na aina yake ya uandishi, mijadala aliyokuwa akiiendesha kwenye blogu yake pamoja na matumizi mazuri ya lugha. Kwa hiyo hamasa ya kublogu ilitokana na blogu yake.

Blogu kwangu niliiona kama fursa nzuri na rahisi ya kujadili masuala ninayoyaelewa vizuri ya kiutambuzi na sayansi. Mule niliona ingekuwa rahisi kupata jukwaa la kubadilishana mawazo na watu bila kikwazo chochote na pia pasipo kulazimika kuonana nao.

Si tu ninaelimisha kama ninavyofikiri, lakini ninaelimishwa na wasomaji wangu. Jambo hili ni gumu kupitia magazeti na vyombo vingine vikuu vya habari. Kwa hiyo uhuru wa kusema ninachokifikiri ulikuwa ni hamasa muhimu ya kuanza kublogu mwaka 2005, nikiwa mwanafunzi.

Kwa sasa bado nafanya juhudi za kupangilia ratiba yangu vizuri ili niweze kublogu kwa ufanisi zaidi.

Unapenda kusema kwamba wewe ni mpenzi wa Kiswahili. Hii lugha, ina maana gani kwako?

Kiswahili ni lugha yangu. Naichukulia kama zawadi ya Mungu kwangu na jamii yangu. Nakiheshimu kama utambulisho wa utamaduni wangu.

Unajua tuna bahati mbaya sana sisi Waafrika hatujali vitu vyetu wenyewe. Kwangu mimi Kiswahili ni alama ya Uafrika wangu. Ni nyenzo ya kuwasilisha kwa urahisi sana mawazo yangu kwa jamii yangu. Ni kipimo cha uelewa wangu kwa maana kwamba kama siwezi kueleza dhana fulani kwa Kiswahili, basi najichukulia kama sijaielewa bado.

Kiswahili ni hifadhi ya elimu. Ni urithi. Na ndio maana mimi ni kati watu wanaoamini kwamba kati ya matatizo makubwa yanayoukabili mfumo wa elimu nchini mwangu [Tanzania] ni uamuzi wa kutumia lugha za kigeni kuwafundishia wanafunzi wetu.

Pamoja na mapungufu yake, bado Kiswahili kinaweza kusaidia sana kuongeza uelewa wa wanafunzi wetu kuanzia ngazi za chini mpaka Chuo Kikuu. Inawezekana isipokuwa tu kama sisi ni aina ya watu wasiopenda vya kwao  tunaong’ang’ania vya watu ambao nao hatuna hakika kama wanapenda vyetu.

Je, unaongea lugha zingine, isipokuwa Kiswahili?

Ndio. Naongea Kinyaturu kwa ufasaha. Hii ni lugha ya mama yangu na amekuwa na jitihada za kuhakikisha tunawasiliana kwa lugha hii. Ni utambulisho wa jamii yetu ndogo ya wanyaturu, wenyeji wa eneo la katikati ya nchi. Nakiheshimu.

Vilevile naongea Kiingereza kwa kuwa tu najua kimetawala ustaarabu wa vitabu na mimi ni mpenzi mkubwa wa kusoma. Ila sikipendi na wala sijivunii nacho.

Kama mwanablogu, unaonaje kuhusu umuhimu wa kutumia lugha za kiafrika?

Mtandao wa intaneti umekuwa ni maktaba ya maarifa. Tukitumia Kiswahili tutakuwa tumesaidia kuhifadhi lugha yetu na kuipa nafasi ya kuwa nyenzo ya maarifa kwa jamii ya wasemao Kiswahili.

Ni muhimu sana sisi wenye fursa ya kutumia mtandao tukachangia maarifa haya mtandaoni kwa Kiswahili. Kufanya hivyo kutasaidia kuongeza matumizi ya teknolojia katika jamii zetu maana watu wetu hawatalazimika kujua lugha za kigeni ili kujifunza na kuhabarishwa mtandaoni.

Dunia inabadilika. Itakuwa ni aibu kwa lugha yetu yenye mamilioni ya wasemaji kukosa nafasi inayostahili mtandaoni na siku moja tukajikuta tumo kwenye kundi la lugha zinazopotea.

Kila mmoja wetu achangie. Na hii ndiyo sababu niliamua kushiriki mradi wa Swahili Lingua. Ninajivunia kuchangia benki ya maarifa na habari mtandaoni kwa kutumia lugha yangu mwenyewe. Najua ninawarahisisha wasiojua lugha za kigeni kupata maarifa na habari hizo kwa lugha yao wenyewe.


Je, una ujumbe wa kutuma kwa wasomaji wetu?

Hakuna heshima kubwa kama kutambua asili yako. Natoa wito kwa sisi Waafrika kujielewa na kuthamini utamaduni wetu. Kati ya vielelezo vya kujielewa ni namna tunavyothamini na kukuza lugha zetu tulizozaliwa nazo.

Maneno Matamu’s official FB page!

Welcome to Maneno Matamu’s official FB page!

Join us to receive post updates, comment, share thoughts, suggest topics and simply get to know the world of African languages…

Colloquial French in Africa: between popular appeal and literary exclusion

In Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, standard French is still used in school, in the media and in official contexts. But on the streets of Abidjan and Ouagadougou, other varieties of French have flourished. How much of an influence have these colloquial forms had on the arts?

Street signs at a crossroads in Abidjan - Photo by Flickr user abdallahh under CC-BY 2.0 license

Street signs at a crossroads in Abidjan – Photo by Flickr user abdallahh under CC-BY 2.0 license

Formerly the preserve of the lower classes and informal neighbourhoods, colloquial French (français populaire) has overstepped its old boundaries to penetrate the more educated classes who adopt it in certain communication situations. The language grew out of a multilingual urban environment at the crossroads between standard French introduced by the colonisers, especially through schooling, and national languages.

According to Amadou Bissiri, it is no longer a marginal phenomenon:

Regardless of the name used to designate it – whether pidgin, colloquial French of Abidjan (FPA in the French acronym), colloquial French of Ouagadougou (FPO), etc. – colloquial French, this hybrid language born of the encounter between European languages and African national languages, is no longer a language for the ‘non-educated’ or the social misfits. It is now a full-fledged language which carries a certain perspective of the world, that of a community which identifies with it and uses it to express its representations and its preoccupations; this language is the expression of a certain culture resulting from social and historical transformations, if not evolutions, specific to a given context.

Lexical and grammatical creativity

Colloquial French is characterized by its lexical creativity, borrowing from African languages where French fails to account for local realities but also appropriating French words to give them an African colour.

In Usages du français en Afrique noire :  l’exemple du Burkina Faso, Gisèle Prignitz introduces us to features of Burkinabe colloquial French or what she calls ‘burkinabisms’ :

(reprendre) la craie [lit. (to pick up) the chalk], synecdoche meaning “to return to the teaching profession”. Part of a series; tenir la craie [to hold the chalk], laisser la craie [to leave the chalk]. See crève-la-craie


dawa, borrowed from the mooré word for “man”, term that has become eponymous with immigrants coming to Abidjan from High Volta.

Grammatically, colloquial French systematically omits articles and has a simplified conjugation system.

A language struggling to make it into literature

Studies show that in Côte d’Ivoire, colloquial French enjoys widespread popular support. It is seen as a communication tool to iron out social boundaries and facilitate understanding between speakers of different languages. Conversely, Gisèle Prignitz notes the rather negative perception among Burkinabes who refer to colloquial French as ‘beaten up French’.

Though present in music (in zouglou songs for example) as well as newspaper columns such as Soliloque de Nobila Cabaret  and Moi Goama, this vibrant language hasn’t been embraced quite as much by novelists. This is mainly due to a lack of recognition of colloquial French amongst literary circles – including critics in France – and the strong attachment to standard French as a language of wider communication.

One famous exception is of course Amadou Kourouma with ‘Allah is not obliged’. Through the narrator, Brahima, speaks a voice whose racy texture convincingly portrays the experiences of the child soldier. This literary device transforms a text that could otherwise have been a gruesome and inexpressive account of life as a child soldier into a living, humane tale.

Colloquial French, by its composite nature, allows for a more flexible turn of phrase and brings along an openness to creative word use. Like Amadou Bissiri, I see it as a beautiful, fertile space where stories can blossom. For those who love words, there is always room for more variety!

Photo credit: Attribution abdallahh

Excerpts translated by Marie-Laure Le Guen.

Note: All the sources cited are – understandably – in French. I apologise in advance to all the readers who are not proficient in this language. I made a conscious decision to write this post in English and translate relevant excerpts so as to make the information accessible to a greater number of people, especially non-French speakers.

Tuesday update #3: ‘Oral literature in Africa’ available for free download

Ruth Finnegan, anthropologist and emeritus professor of sociology at England’s Open University, agreed to digitalise her seminal book ‘Oral Literature in Africa’ under a CC-BY license. This allows students of African studies, academics and interested readers, to download the e-book for free, thus broadening access to this remarkable piece of scholarship.

Oral Literature in Africa

First published in 1970, ‘Oral Literature in Africa’ had since gone out of print and was only available at some selected libraries. Even when ordering a physical copy was still an option, the price was so prohibitive that Ruth Finnegan’s book hardly made it into the hands of scholars on the African continent.

Crowdfunding campaign

Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign led by the start-up unglue.it, the book was not only saved from oblivion but propelled to near universal accessibility. It is now downloadable for free in mobi, epub and pdf format, thus enabling anyone with an Internet connexion to enjoy its content.

Under the CC-BY Creative Commons license, Finnegan’s work can be shared, reproduced, translated, quoted – the only condition being to give the author due attribution. She is convinced that this choice is completely in line with her mission as an academic…of the modern age:

Yet it seems to me that open access represents the future for academic publication. It is a form of free knowledge-dissemination, using the new opportunities afforded by the web, and is very much in keeping with the open and democratising spirit of The Open University.

And the e-book version is not without its perks – besides being free and accessible to all online. This new edition of ‘Oral Literature in Africa’, which is also the first title of the World Oral Literature Series, has been livened up by a new introduction as well as extra media, including photographs and original recordings collected in Sierra Leone in the 1960s. These precious appendices could not have been part of the book in 1970 due to obvious technical limitations at the time, and had thus far remained unpublished.

An ode to literary creativity

In ‘Oral Literature in Africa’, Ruth Finnegan explores themes common to anthropology, linguistics and sociology, debunking commonly held conceptions of the time and reestablishing the relevance of studying the oral arts of Africa with as much rigour as any other form of artistic expression. The author certainly was and remains committed to doing so.

Even though it is not per se part of the central argument, literary creation is placed against the particular linguistic background of Africa. In the introductory section of the book, Finnegan outlines the range of literary devices afforded by African languages, taking the Bantu group as an example.

For anyone who has ever juggled with multiple noun classes and verbal derivatives, it is illuminating to see these language parts coming together to aid literary creation. We enter a world where personification is only a prefix away, where verb gymnastics transform the mood of a scene, and where a whole story hides in a name.

But the scope for creative expression does not end there. One of the most striking features of Bantu languages is their generous use of ideophones in story-telling. Ideophones are words – most often interjections – whose sound brings to life an idea. Used to add texture and intensity to the tale, they can portray sounds but also, more surprinsingly, the rhythm of an action, colour, smell, character etc.

Here are my favourite examples of ideophones from the Shona language, as presented p. 66-67:

k’we—sound of striking a match.

nyiri nyiri nyiri nyiri—flickering of light on a cinema screen.

go, go, go, ngondo ngondo ngondo, pxaka pxaka pxaka pxaka pxaka—the chopping down of a tree, its fall, and the splintering of the branches. (Fortune, 1962)

…and some Zulu ideophones:

khwi—turning around suddenly.

dwi—dawning, coming consciousness, returning sobriety, easing of pain, relief.

ntrr—birds flying high with upward sweep; aeroplane or missile flying.

bekebe—flickering faintly and disappearing.

khwibishi—sudden recoil, forceful springing back.

fafalazi—doing a thing, carelessly or superficially.

ya—perfection, completion            (Fivaz 1963)

The poetic potential of Bantu languages is exposed with such delicate eloquence that the thought kept me awake at night, murmuring bits of poems I had memorised from the book.

Beyond orality

Forty years after the book that essentially pioneered the field of ethnography of language, Ruth Finnegan published ‘The oral and beyond: doing things with words in Africa’. She looks back at almost half a century of research on orality, reviewing the intellectual debates taking place since the 1960s and opening up new perspectives for the study of orality, notably by questioning the long-held perception of Africa as the ‘oral continent’.

If you want to help unglue more books, have a look at the active campaigns and consider supporting the digitalization of a book under Creative Commons.

Photo credit: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Raymond Yee

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