640px-Aminata_Sow_Fall

The Francophonia Chronicles: 2 writers to watch

As literature lovers interested in contemporary writing from Africa, it’s already hard enough keeping up with all the exciting content coming out every month in English. What of the francophone scene? Here is a selection of news items you may have missed recently.

Benin’s 8th Plume Dorées Prize

Eva Natacha Fanou is the winner of the 2015 Plumes Dorées prize for her short story ‘La Tranchée’ (the trench). She is the first woman to receive this prize, which is awarded every year to a Beninois writer.

As part of Plumes Dorées, a short story anthology is being published, bearing the name of the winning story ‘La Tranchée’. It will also include the 9 shortlisted stories by Yves Biaou, Annette Bonou, Mylène Flicka, Mireille Gandebagni, Michel Henri Hlihe, Fiacre Kakpo, Jordy Hounhoui, Jovencio Kpehounsi, and Djamile Mama Gao.

Next year’s prize will be awarded to a novelist.

Aminata Sow Fall wins the Francophonie Prize

640px-Aminata_Sow_Fall

In June 2015, Aminata Sow Fall received the Grand Prix de la Francophonie for her literary work in French. With 10 novels to her name, the Senegalese author is no newcomer to the literary world. Her most famous novel “La grève des battu” (1979) was translated into English by Dorothy S. Blair as The beggars’ strike”.

Francophone Manuscript Day coming up

On 24th October, UNESCO will host the 3rd edition of francophone manuscript day (#JDMF2015), during which hundreds of new writers will have their books published for free. 30 shortlisted manuscripts will be distributed commercially in partner bookshops.

Manuscript submissions are open until 30th September.


Photo Credits:

Aminata Sow Fall” by may! from New York City – IMG_1159. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Reading in translation: Swahili literature in French

Growing up a monolingual reader, I was obviously exposed to a lot of dubbed films and books in translation. At some point, I was such a fan of Dostoevsky and Chekhov that I pledged to learn Russian so that I would one day be able to read the original text. That didn’t happen and up to this day I still read Russian authors in translation.

I do read other languages though, including Swahili. A glance at my makeshift bookshelf got me wondering: which Swahili authors would I have access to if I had to read them in French as my 12-year-old self would? The short answer is: few, very few of them.

And when I speak of access, it is in a very loose sense of “the text existing in a language I can read”, without taking into account the price barrier, the availability of the book at a library, or the possibility of ordering it. Out of the books listed below, only one can be purchased in ebook format (Kindle), which means that readers outside Europe and north America will have to pay dearly for shipping or wait for a friend to bring it in their suitcase.

The Swahili > French language pair is rare enough to make any new translation an event. To be fair, French is not doing too badly in this department, maybe because Swahili is taught at university level and has been made an examinable language for the Foreign Service entrance examination.

For someone who’s interested in Swahili literature, there is really no shortcut: go learn the language!

Swahili literature available in French

Euphrase Kezilahabi, “Nagona” (1990) and “Mzingile” (1991) translated by Xavier Garnier as “Nagona suivi de Mzingile” (2010).

Aniceti Kitereza, “Bwana Myombekere na Bibi Bugonoka, Ntulanalwo na Bulihwali(1981) translated by Simon Bwaguma Mweze and Olivier Barlet as “Les enfants du faiseur de pluie” (1996) and “Le tueur de serpents” (1999)

It worth noting that this family saga was initially written in Kerewe, though the author had to resort to undertaking a Swahili translation on his own in order to find a publisher. Bwana Myombekere na Bibi Bugonoka, Ntulanalwo na Bulihwali was completed in 1945 but it was published for the first time in 1981 in Swahili translation.

Robert Shaaban, “Maisha yangu” (1960) translated by François Devenne as “Autobiographie d’un écrivain swahili, Tanzanie” (2010).

Adam Shafi, “Kasri ya Mwinyi Fuad” (1978) translated by Jean-Pierre Richard as “Les girofliers de Zanzibar” (1986)

Carl Velten, “Safari za Wasuaheli” (1901) translated by Nathalie Carré as “De la côte aux confins: récits de voyageurs swahili” (2014)

Further reading:

  • In Kiswahili

Tafsiri ya fasihi kama mbinu halisi ya kujikomboa kutoka katika mtego wa utandawazi ? Blog post by Pascal Bacuez

  • In French

Alain Ricard. La publication de la littérature africaine en traduction. IFAS Working Paper Series / Les Cahiers de l’ IFAS, 2005, 6, p. 58-62.

Xavier Garnier. “Traduire le swahili en français. À propos de Nagona et Mzingile d’Euphrase Kezilahabi“, Études littéraires africaines, n° 34, 2012, p. 19-27.

storymoja

Saraba Magazine: special issue on literary festivals in Africa

Saraba’s latest issue is a special feature exploring literary festivals through the eyes of writers Magunga Willams, Tolu Daniel, Ciku Kimeria, Nyana Kakoma and Julie Muriuki.

Each contributor reflects on the festivals they have attended and the impact these events have had on their writing life.

Once again, I am excited to hear that the issue of language is being addressed in these forums. Moses Kilolo (Jalada) was quoted on his commitment towards connecting anglophone and francophone literary scenes in Africa:

“Networks also grow very fast during festivals. In the 2015 Writivism Festival for instance, we were able to further conversations regarding bridging the gap between Anglo and Francophone literature scenes in Africa. From that we have been able to reach out to writers, translators and other interested parties who are participating in the Jalada Language anthology. Next year we hope to have a Francophone anthology as well. We had been having such dialogues, but not until we met with Edwidge Dro at Writivism did it become so powerfully possible.”

Moses Kilolo

To get a vicarious taste of Ake Festival, Storymoja Festival, Writivism and  Hargeisa International Book Fair, you can download the magazine here.

Brush up on your French at literary events in Africa!

If you’re following the African literary scene closely enough, you’ll definitely have heard of a number of book fairs and festivals being held across the continent, from Ake (Nigeria) to Cape Town to Nairobi.

But have you thought of looking up some off-the-beaten-path literary destinations where, on top of promoting your book, you can also brush up on your French? 2015 has been a year of rising interest in linking up the “anglophone” and “francophone” literary scenes and the time seems ripe to expand our horizons as readers and writers.

Here is a selection of festivals set to happen before the end of the year:

Algeria

Salon international du livre d’Algers (SILA), 20th edition
October 27 – November 7, 2015
Algiers, Palais des expositions, Pins Maritimes
Website: http://www.sila-dz.com/

Burkina Faso

Foire internationale du livre à Ouagadougou (#FILO2015), 13th edition
November 26-29, 2015
Ouagadougou
FB : https://www.facebook.com/filo.burkina/timeline

Congo

Salon du livre de Brazzaville, 3rd edition
December 4-8, 2015
Brazzaville
FB : https://www.facebook.com/events/415971891898041

Senegal

Foire internationale du livre et du matériel didactique de Dakar (FILDAK), 15th edition
November 11-16, 2015
Dakar, Centre International du Commerce Extérieur in Yoff.

There are many more book fairs coming up in 2016, stay tuned ;)

Thank you to Ciku Kimeria for nudging me to write this post.

Any important events missing from the list? Feel free to add them in the comments.

Valentine’s Day multilingual anthology by Ankara Press: a real treat!

I generally don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day but an anthology released yesterday by Ankara Press gave me a reason to change my ways.

Being the literature fan that I am, I was overjoyed to hear of seven African writers putting together short stories about love on Valentine’s day. I already knew of Ankara Press for their daring romance collection, so this sounded very much within their scope but the supreme treat for me was that each story was translated into a langage other than English spoken by the author.

We thus end up with this collection, that can be downloaded for free here:

  • Fish – by Chuma Nwokolo, translated into Nigerian Pidgin English by Victor Ehikhamenor
  • Candy Girl – by Hawa Jande Golakai, translated into Kpelle by Yarkpai Keller
  • The Idea is to be sealed in – by Binyavanga Wainaina, translated into Kiswahili by Elieshi Lema
  • Woman in the orange dress – by Sarah Ladipo-Manyika, translated into Yoruba by Kola Tubosun
  • Cotyledons – by Toni Kan, translated into Igbo by Chikodili Emelumadu
  • Solitaire – by Edwige-Renée Dro, translated into French by the author herself
  • Painted love – by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, translated into Hausa by the author himself

I may have pored over Arábìnrin inú aṣọ ọlọ́sàn for longer than I care to say. As a learner of Yoruba, it was a fantastic opportunity for some self-study, since I could go back and forth between the English and the Yoruba texts. I must salute Kola Tubosun‘s effort here, for coming up with such beautifully worded sentences (with tonal marks, a rather rare occurrence):

Títí tí wọn fi jẹun tán, ó sá n rẹrìín, ó sì n f’ojú nlá rẹ tó dúdú mininjọ sọrọ, bíi pé inú rẹ n dùn fún nkan àsírí ìkọkọ kan tó lárinrin.

[Yes, I am totally smitten. Valentine’s day magic in action!]

Each story is available online in audio format as well. I highly recommend Edwige Renée-Dro’s French reading of Solitaire : her characters’voices just don’t sound the same in my head as they do when the dialogues are read out loud.

Out of the seven translations, I could only read Kiswahili, Yoruba and French but I hope many other readers will be able to appreciate the stories in Hausa, Igbo, Kpelle and Nigerian Pidgin translation.

4364455

(South) African languages in Ekow Duker’s novel ‘White wahala’

The title of Ekow Duker‘s novel grabbed my attention : the plot is set in South Africa, but could there be a link to Nigeria somehow ? On Zukiswa Wanner’s recommendation, I read the book and found several other points of interest related to African langages in White wahala.

Wahala : the word that travelled

My curiosity wasn’t really satisfied as to the origin of the title. Or rather, I was left to my own imaginary devices to find out how the term got to Constance’s lips. Wahala is a word meaning ‘trouble’ or ‘problem’ in Yoruba – and I was told by my lecturer that it’s a loan word from Hausa. I’ve heard it used in Pidgin Nigerian English as well so one could safely say it’s a nigerian word.

The first occurrence of the word in ‘White wahala’ – other than in the title – is found in chapter 26 :

‘I am going now, madam,’ said Constance nervously. She edged towards the door. This was white-man wahala and had nothing to do with her. The Zambian gardener, Elisha, had taught her that word. She rolled it on her tongue, relishing the way it stumbled about in her mouth like a half-sucked sweet. She even said it out loud, ‘White wahala‘.

‘What did you say?’ Agatha gave Constance a sharp look. ‘I told you never to mutter in Zulu when you’re in this house’

‘I’m sorry,’ Constance said, with not quite enough deference. (emphasis mine)

And how did the Zambian gardener Elisha come across this word then? The answer isn’t provided in the novel but I’ll offer some hypotheses : Elisha watches a staple of Nollywood movies and ended up adopting the word. Or maybe he used to have Nigerian neighbours, whether in Johannesburg or in his hometown in Zambia. Who knows, what if Elisha were very well-travelled and multilingual ? He might have been to Nigeria before moving to South Africa.
Well, I probably need to ask Ekow Duker himself…

Edit: I did ask and here is what the author had to say:

Zulu and Sesotho, familiarity and struggle

Ekow Duker’s writing is nothing like the weaved bilingual prose of Junot Diaz, but langage issues are ever lurking in the background, as you can tell from the quoted passage above.

In the few instances where it is mentioned, Zulu is charged with emotional undertones: it is the langage people use to get close to someone, to express familiarity. When the plumber (chap 32) comes to beg Cash Tshabalala to lend him money, it is Zulu he uses to appeal to the loan shark to respect his privacy and to not have him expose his money woes in front of Cash’s white girlfriend. It’s interesting to note that in two instances where a character does not understand an utterance and feels left out, they wrongly assume the langage to be Zulu (Agatha in chapter 26 and a prison guard in chapter 27 who mistakes Sesotho for Zulu).

Yet, despite the language being mentioned in several places, there is only one sentence in Zulu in the dialogues (Uya ngidinisa :she annoys me, she makes me tired). It is pronounced by Solly, Agatha Nicholson’s lawyer, to complain about his rich client’s attitude and create an atmosphere of familiarity with the hospital receptionist. But Agatha knows enough Zulu to get offended by this !

Hawu ! A ubiquitous interjections

I was bit quick in saying there was only one Zulu sentence in the whole novel. As a matter of fact, the Zulu interjection Hawu ! Is used so frequently that I had to look it up.

Isizulu.net translates it as ‘oh my, eish, wow, good heavens’. According to White Zulu, depending on the tone pattern (falling or rising, to put it simply), hawu! can express pained surprise/strong disapproval or joyful surprise.

I found examples of both types in the novel, which you have to understand from context :

Joyful surprise :

‘Comrades !’ roared Elvis. ‘Your oppressor is on his knees!’

‘Hawu! Hawu! Hawu!’ chorused the crowd. (chap 22)

Strong disapproval :

Elisha snorted in disgust. ‘Hawu! That one? She is like a snake that suns itself on top of a wall at midday’ (chap 35)

Anyone familliar with the linguistic landscape of South Africa? Drop your insights below!

P.S. I read the novel in Kindle format so I can’t provide page numbers but each chapter is not very long. You should be able to find the relevant passages easily on your own copy.

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?