Language

Code-switching

I was about four and a half years old when my family moved down from the dunes to the shores of Gaaway – the name for the Niger River from Gao to Niamey. The distance itself happened to be very short, but it marked a shift in my life. It was the moment I stopped speaking Tamashek (Tuareg language) and picked up Songhay. Thus I changed landscape, language and worldview. Years later I would be reminded that I used the words for the wild plants of the grazing plains for the riverside crops.

Surinamese Children's Songs Are a Reminder of Slavery

Faya Siton, meaning hot stone, is an old song from Suriname that is sung during a specific children’s game. Children sit in a circle and pass on a stone – in reality often a pit – and rub it on the ground so that it turns hot. While cheerful the song is about Master Jan from Holland who brands people and kills children. The lyrics go “Faya siton, no bron miso, no bron miso. Agen masra Jantji e kir sma pikin”, which means “Hot stone, do not burn me so, do not burn me so. Master Jan has killed someone’s child again.”

The Introduction of African Rice in Suriname

Genetic research into rice from the inlands of Suriname draws attention to the history of West Africans who were deported as slaves to this former Dutch colony. While there are many grains of Asian rice, Surinamese black rice, ‘Blaka aleisi’, turned out to be almost identical to rice farmed by Mande-speaking farmers in West Ivory Coast according to research by Tinde van Andel. This rice was rarely eaten but instead was sacrificed to ancestors and used in spiritual herbal baths.

Orality

Nagaland is home to nearly two million people consisting of 16 constituent major tribes that speak over 89 dialects (mostly mutually unintelligible between two tribes) and are without a common language and script.

According to the most famous legend regarding the Naga script, it was given to the people on animal skin which, when nobody was looking, was eaten by a dog leading to the script being lost forever. Certain variations to the legend also claim that the Assamese script was given on stone for which it endured as against the Naga script on animal hide which perished.

The History of Tea Leaf

Image depicts a statue erected on Mt. Loi Saing (Paddamyar Taung in Burmese), near Taung Pė Village, situated within Namsam Township, northern Shan State. The statue goes that when the Burmese king Alaungsithu travelled across his new kingdom around the 5th -6th century, he found Palaung people at Loi San Mountain in Southern Shan State. When he found them to be poor and struggling, he gave them laphet seeds believing it would help them find money for their family.

Unusual terms used to refer rice under BSPP

There existed unusual terms used to refer certain types of rice during the BSPP government. Here are three examples. U Myo Win Than is a 55 years old Burmese man who used to live in Myittha, Kyaukse district, Mandalay.

He explained that “Yar Kyaw Sa Par” refers to the variety which exceeds a hundred tinns (Burmese unit of volume measurement that equals to 40.9148 L) per acre when harvested.

Names of rice mainly grown in Rakhine under Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) from 1962-1988

Ma Mya Than, 58 years old, is a middle class Rakhine (Arakanese) lady who lives in Buthidaung, a town in northern Rakhine. She used to sell various varieties of rice. Rakhine, situated on the western coast of Myanmar, is rich with natural resources including fish, timber, oil and gas. According to her, although Rakhine exported many acres of rice under Burmese Socialist Programme Party for years, there were around five types of rice that farmers in Rakhine mainly grew.

Songhay Cowhide Patterns (2)

The terminology for cowhide patterns remedies this imprecision. One can say that it is a photographic – chromatic thumbnail – index to the expanded spectrum of combinations.  The best way to gauge its efficiency is to compare standard patterns. Our main informant, an experienced herdsman, estimates that he can recognize up to 120 patterns, but the full count may come close to 150. For the most part, these names are originally borrowed from Fulfulde, the language of the traditionally herding Fulbe (Fula).

Songhay Cowhide Patterns (1)

In Gao and vicinity, it is common to hear announcements of lost cattle on local radio. To be useful, the message must contain fairly precise descriptions. For example, let’s take a red cow – in Songhay, haw (cow), ciray (red). To be sure, the phrase haw ciray is correct, as it literally means “red cow”. Then, why does such a description amuse some villagers just a few kilometres away from town?

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