Blog post

Mother tongues: four languages of the African diaspora

Poetry, writing and music in Guadeloupe Creole, Twi, Ewe and Xhosa

by
Marijke Everts (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Languages evolve and change over time. Their beauty lies in the countless similarities and differences that tell our stories and make cultures rich. History shows that ruling powers, through laws and educational systems, dictated what languages, dialects and accents should be seen as favourable or mandatory.

When you come from a place where your country's official language has been imposed through colonisation and your mother tongue is seen as secondary or even tertiary, a mixed feeling towards preservation and pride or even inferiority can manifest in different ways.

This blog takes a looks at languages from Guadeloupe, Ghana and South Africa - places with a history of European colonisation - through poetry, literature and music in an effort to show appreciation and take a glimpse through different eyes.


A poem Creole from Guadeloupe

Kréyòl

Kréyòl ki lang an mwen
Pou ki yo vlé palé-w yen ki pou di mo sal?
Pou ki sa ou konsidéré kon lang san klas?
....

Kréyòl ki lang an mwen
San jété fwansé, an vlé ou ni plas a-wPas an pli a lez évé-w
Kréyòl ki lang an mwen

Creole

Creole is my language
Why do they want to practice you just to say dirty words?
Why are you considered as a language which has no class?
....

Creole is my language
Without rejecting French, I want you to have your place
Because I am more comfortable with you
Creole is my language

This is an extract from Kréyòl by Éric Amiens written in 1985, addressing societal attitudes at the time towards speaking Creole.

To hear what Guadeloupe Creole sounds like, listen to the tale of Totor on Europeana.


Literature in Twi and poetry in Ewe from Ghana

ASƐM BƐN NI?

...Mo yɛ a meremma. Yie, obi se hwɛ ne ti, ma me nwane. Ah! Meome rete oo obi rentwa mu ha? Afei deɛ mɛba. Ɔtwe bɛbrɛ na ɔbɔmɔfoɔ nso bɛbrɛ yie. Biribi awɔ m’atikɔ. Ɛdeɛn na awɔ m'atikɔ ama mapue yi? Ɛyɛ me ahi nti mɛsu.

Yei ne asɛm a ɛsii wɔ afe mpem,ɔha-nkron aduonum, Yawoada premtobrɛwɔ Maame Ayensua dankora a wasiesie no soronko...

WHAT'S ALL THIS?

...I can decide not to come. Look at his head, said one of them, let me run. Ah, no one passes by here? I have to come this time around. Just as the antelope will be tired, so will the hunter also get very tired. Something has hit my occipital region.

What at all could hit the back of my head for me to pop out like this? It hurts so I’ll cry.

This is an incident that occurred one Thursday in 1950 at Maame Ayensua’s single room which she had been refurbishing beautifully...

This is an extract from ASƐM BƐN NI? in Twi by Bilobi Delphina Jentina Asaaseyaa, published in 2015 - a narration of a baby in her mother's womb in a home made labour room with a local nurse and a man present.

To hear what Twi sounds like, listen to a song called Ode adure aye me on Europeana.

Ewe can be heard in a spoken word performance called Mↄkpↄkpↄ (Hope) by Ghanaian artist Fafanyo The Pryme.

Fafanyo The Pryme reveals that the poem starts calling out evil spirits, acknowledging their existence and how we decide if they affects our lives since we have stronger spirits within us. One of the things or the spirits we have in us is hope, which keeps us even if we are in darkness or in the midst of these evil spirit or whatever challenges we find ourselves in.

'I didn't literally mean evil spirits but I used that as a metaphor for the things that wear us out and put us at the verge of giving up.

The idea is to make Hope a spiritual thing, which I think it is because within us is the very capability to overcome anything at all and the key to that is Hope. Only if we do not sleep and slip into death, we can fight on and get to our desired destination and expectations if we are strong enough.'


A song in Xhosa from South Africa

Qongqothwane

Igqirha lendlela
Nguqongqothwane,
Igqirha lendlela
nguqongqothwane
Igqirha lendlela,
nguqongqothwane \

Sebeqabele egqith' apha
Nguqongqothwane
Sebeqabele egqith' apha
Nguqongqothwane
Sebeqabele egqith' apha
Nguqongqothwane \

Knock-knock Beetle

The witch doctor of the road
He's the knock-knock beetle,
The witch doctor of the road
He's the knock-knock beetle,
The witch doctor of the road
He's the knock-knock beetle. \

He passed by here
He's the knock-knock beetle,
He passed by here
He's the knock-knock beetle,
He passed by here
He's the knock-knock beetle. \

Qongqothwane is a traditional wedding song of the Xhosa people of South Africa. It is sung for good fortune.

The witch doctor gives Xhosa's newly-weds good blessings and advice for the future. Children play with knocking beetles, and they are said to lead them home. The witch doctor is like the beetle, he leads the newlyweds to a new future together in a similar way as the beetle leads children home to where they belong.

The song has been made internationally famous by Xhosa singer Miriam Makeba and is widely known as 'The Click Song'.

Literature Music Africa