By Stephen Twinoburyo, Pretoria.
Last week, South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper carried an interesting debate on the meaning of the Tswana word kgoa, and its various references. Some people argued that it means a tick while others said it is a derogative reference to a white person. This sprung to my mind the interesting inter-linkages in language used by Africans.
In western Uganda where I come from, in Runyankole language, a tick is called ngoha. The pronunciation is not much different from the kgoa above and I suspect that their origin is the same. A white person is called a mzungu, almost similar to a mlungu as refered to by some tribes in South Africa.
My daughter has part ancestry in Venda, a small tribe in northern South Africa. During my numerous visits to the Venda area and from interactions with the people there, I was surprised by the many similarities between Tshivenda and Runyankole. While the Venda refer to a drum as goma, in Runyankole it is engoma. Other similarities respectively are mukekulu and mukeikuru for old lady, mawe and maawe for mother, marume and maruumi for uncle, iwe and iwe for you, mlilo and muriro for fire, ndu and nju for house, kanga and enkanga for a certain type of bird (rare) and very surprisingly eki kitu and eki ekintu (or reversibly kitu eki and ekintu eki) for ‘this thing’. Of course I won’t omit the predominant existence of ‘jjje and shhh’ in the pronunciations.
Despite the fact that I live in Pretoria, Tshivenda is the South African language I have picked up most. I find it surprising that a tribe in western Uganda and another one in northern South Africa have words in common, some of which are non-contemporary. This means that these two tribes were at one time one and if one were to go into research, more similarities would be established. In fact a lot in the behaviours of the two tribes is similar and needless to say, I’ve found much comfort in many Venda homes.
When my daughter is old enough to put together the two languages, she will find surprising links that bind her parents’ tribes thousands of kilometres apart.