About Maneno Matamu

Maneno Matamu was originally a platform for African poets/writers to showcase their work in various languages spoken on the continent.

It turned into something a bit different over time, focusing more on topics of interest at the interesection between African languages and literature.

This blog welcomes all lovers of words, African or otherwise, to share their passion. You can get in touch with me on Facebook or on Twitter.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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.


(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?


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 1,002 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.