Thursday, January 14, 2016

Pregnant words

As part of my effort to grasp hold of my life here once more and not to waste a moment of these precious and perhaps last years here,  I have started Bambara lessons again. This time with my Brazilian friend and only hotel guest Andrea. I know more than she does (I should hope so! I have been here for nearly ten years and it is of course a scandal that I speak Bambara so badly) but I have decided to rehearse all I know from the beginning- it can’t do me any harm after all. We have enlisted ‘Historien’ one of the Djenné guides and  also a professional teacher who has a pretty good grasp of language structure- and it is impossible for me to study a language without getting to grips with the nuts and bolts as it were.
The lessons are proving very interesting: Historien is a good teacher and his two pupils are demanding which I think he quite enjoys. Bambara is a language rich in proverbs. Even the word ‘proverb’ in Bambara is charming: kuma konoma: “pregnant saying”. Some proverbs are homely and fairly universal such as: Doni doni Konow b’a ka so jo: ‘The bird constructs his nest little by little.’  They are all, like all good proverbs, tied to the geographical and other local circumstances. N’i ma tu bugo it’a konoma fenw don- ‘if you don’t beat the bush (forest) you will not know what is found deep inside it.’ (This reminds me of my hotel staff beating the bushes energetically when they think they have seen a snake.)
My favourite so far is Jiri Kuru ma na men chogo chogo Jila a te Jeleme ka ke Bamai:  “A piece of wood lying in the water will never transform itself into a crocodile however long it lies there” .
More to follow over the next few weeks...


Blogger Susan Scheid said...

I love these proverbs, even the homeliest. "The bird constructs his nest little by little" is something I must remember when I falter (again) in my 2016 project to cull, little by little, from cabinets and drawers things that have been there for years I haven't used and in fact don't even remember are there.

8:32 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

There will be more proverbs Susan! And I am doing the same as you, having finally decided to get a decent sized wardrobe,proper book shelves and some more drawers- and not any old things are allowed to fill up these new spaces so there is plenty of clearing out of things that have been lurking in the back unnoticed for years- it feels great.

10:38 PM  
Blogger David said...

Yes, these proverbs tell us a lot about the culture in question. Very few are shared by different languages (though I was surprised to find that 'water off a duck's back' pertains to Russian, too). A favourite here (forgive guessed spelling) is (from France, obv): 'la barbe du crapaud n'atteint pas la blanche colombe', rather more elegant than 'sticks and stones...'

I made a resolve to learn Arabic this year but so far not followed it up. What's the script for Bambara?

11:08 AM  
Blogger David said...

Sorry, that should be 'bave' - spit, not beard (I was thinking of aiming a barb).

11:29 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

I love the one about the dove too: the toad's barb does not reach the white dove? Bambara is written in Roman script- it only became written with colonial times, and even now it is not really used for writing: people who can read normally write in French. Earlier it was sometimes written down with Arabic script and we have some examples in the Djenné Manuscript Library.

4:06 PM  
Blogger David said...

That's what I was curious about - whether Arabic script was used for Bambara in m/s.

SPIT, spit. Much more colourful than beard or barb...

6:13 PM  

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