Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lessons in Language

There is a reason why I am always curious about other people's languages and it is not (only) because I read Linguistics at the University, but because my curiosities have always been pleasantly rewarded. Perhaps I will one day get my biggest wish: to know which language was first spoken by man and how precisely it came to disperse with the rest of humanity. Forget the biblical tale of Babel. Even there, it did not say precisely which language it was. Now take the following amazing similarities I discovered in Swahili and Yoruba, my own mother tongue, sometimes last year during my stay at the Eldoret campus of the Univerisity. Note, Swahili is an East African language while Yoruba is spoken in West Africa. Therefore, if scientific "theories" are to be believed, any similarities found in the two languages must only be explained as either a borrowing, or a movement from the East to the West. i.e. The Yoruba people, and indeed everyone in this side of the continent were once settled close to East Africa and had moved westwards over time. Of course, my pride won't allow me take this. I have numerous myths of Oduduwa decending with a chain in Ile Ife to support my insistence that, if anything, Swahili it was that developed over time from the people who had migrated Eastwards from here due to wars, discrimination etc. Anyway, the similarities are amazing, and there are many more i did not find. Look below.


Lala (sleep)/Lala (dream)

Kufa (die)/Ku (die)

Nyama (meat)/ Nama (meat). What we call Suya, they call Nyama choma (roasted/smoked meat)

Ni (is) /Ni (is). So, to say Seun is my friend would be Seun ni rafiki yangu, like Seun ni ore mi in Yoruba. Same structure.

Pole (sorry) /Pele (sorry). The word pele in Yoruba is actually quite ambiguous, but it can be used to expressed apology, or care for someone who's just been hurt. But it doesn't mean the same as "I'm sorry". This is expressed as (E) ma binu.

Pole pole (gently or carefully) /Pele pele (gently or carefully). Perfect correlation.

Nini (what) /Kini (what)

Nani (who) /Tani (who). Linguists would find ways of explaining how N became T or the other way round, or K as above. But it won't remove the mystery.

Kwani (what is it)/ Kiwani (what now is it)

Jana (yesterday) / Ana (yesterday)

Kiboko (whip) / Koboko (whip). Koboko, in Yoruba, is actually borrowed though now, the source may be lost. But in Swahili, the meaning is Buffalo. That's where the whip is derived from.

I found these in a collection of over four hundred words of the Kiswahili language, and I am convinced that there are several others bound to amaze still. And such exist in other languages around the world, even those so farther apart than Swahili and Yoruba.

Some wonder!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

MON C'est Quoi?

I think it was Aluwe, that famous comedian in Nigerian home video who quipped, on being asked what he thought of his award as the Member of the Order of Niger (MON, a high honour in Nigeria), rather wittingly, that what he got was only the "MON" without the accompanying "-EY". I thought and laughed about it again last week when a poem I (re-)wrote lately, borne out of some love/career distress was said to have won an online monthly "Challenge"1. A sort of competition.

Look at it from this side, poems are often agonising expressions of some present reality. They may be enjoyed, praised, adored by others, but they are oftentimes foremost a private self-bleeding and aggresive paring of the author's soul. This was why when I saw the notice, I was not much surprised/ecstastic. I myself, in private sanity, had heaped praises on the author for such craft. (I do that sometimes). But instantly the headline, "K...T... wins October Challenge", brought back those deja vu reveries of some sweet vanity in the midst of pain.

It reads in part:

Oh what to give to move the bridge, even Christ spoke alike.
A human bond which though we feel we cannot reach beyond.
Once false, once real. It stretches through a burning filial bond,
just like a mile of rage sewn thin astride a path of spikes.

Poetry never saved anybody! And this is what Omo-Alagbede said:

"Wanting to meet a writer because you like their books is like wanting to meet a pig because you like pork".

I think he was right.

The work will be published in December at Sentinel Poetry Online Magazine, and I will now get, as gift, a book, "Of Man", by Thomas Hobbes, and now, I can disagree that MON always come without an "-ey"!?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Drunken Poets/Drunken Posts II


Even these lines dance with my drunken trot.
In stupor,
In loud consonance with agreeable
belligerent voice right beside me,
Within known Chrises, I trot in staggering gait.

Morals leave me now

Windy dive into drunken throes moves us all,
delinquents, across frail life planks.

Written in Stupor: March 2005

Monday, November 20, 2006


I made the following pranks calls on my friends yesterday in the night.

1. Call up two unrelated people and link them in a phone conference.


TGO: Hello, who's this?
SS: Hello
TGO: Who is this?
SS: You called me. Who are you?
TGO: No, that can't be possible. I have not used this line to call for the past one and a half months. So it could not have been me who called.
SS: [Sleepy]
TGO: Who is this, please?
SS: [Click]
TGO: [Click]

2. Call up two former NYSC lovers using a hidden number, and link them up in a phone conference.


LMD: Helloo. Tani (Who's it)
AM: Iwo ko lo pe mi ni (Wasn't it you who called me?)
LMD: Emi ko o. (It aint me). It appears to be a conference, and the convener's number is hidden.
AM: Hello?
LMD: Can I call you back? I will. Promise.
AM: O daa (If you will).

Note: I was really really bored, and all the interlocutors are friends. And calls are free now at night for local calls. And... I may not likely do it again. Except I can get the phone numbers of Governor Ladoja and Governor Alao-Akala - and I really wish this to happen - or I'm that bored again.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What Milosz Really Said

"I have read many books, but to place all those volumes on top of one another and stand on them would not add a cubit to my stature. Their learned terms are of little use when I attempt to seize naked experience, which eludes all accepted ideas. To borrow their language can be helpful in many ways, but it also leads imperceptibly into a self-contained labyrinth, leaving us in alien corridors which allow no exit. And so I must offer resistance, check every moment to be sure I am not departing from what I have actually experienced on my own, what I myself have touched. I cannot invent a new language and I use the one I was first taught, but I can distinguish, I hope, between what is mine and what is merely fashionable. I cannot expel from memory the books I have read, their contending theories and philosophies, but I am free to be suspicious and to ask naïve questions instead of joining the chorus which affirms and denies."


Czeslaw Miłosz won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. The above extract is from his book of essays "Vision from San Francisco Bay."

Drunken Poets/Drunken Post


The poem

"What white flood jolts the supposed adept swimmer?"
And what wavering froth founders the ark, the son, on its bubbling fluid?
None. Only vile men can trot on borrowed snow-white horses
When drowsy wind blows others on striving quests.
Ogun's child, I have lounged in mistier drowning for days
And long hours when hope moved like wallowing mill. Long awake
I have held long-standing iron poles at ancient smith sheds
When, like goats, we ask of strange laws in lands of lust.
Blackboy, do not run from me to hide behind faded lines
While dry leaves break upon your back in dusty swipe.
You were quite drunk and so were we all too, abi,
And you would have fought back, if only you could.

The Story

March 2005. Chris had always boasted that he could drink better/more than everyone else. He was a masters student in my faculty in UI at the time, so when the opportunity came to dare, we couldn't wait to get it over. The nearest joint for good palm wine was just 20 naira bus away, at NISER, a shed of good cold palmie and hot pepper soup.

Well, I enjoyed the evening, until, on our way back, Chris was going to get us into trouble with some hubris plus the drunken edge that eventually defied rationality. What he got as punishment was to be wacked with dry leaves by equally drunk but offended pedestrians whom we had prodded offensively with our running mouth when we passed them by on the way in. You can call it a stupor gone wrong. Well, almost cos we escaped being lynched. We did not even know that those other guys were equally "high" when Kris (another friend) and I gestured rudely at a couple, member of another group that we passed on our way in. We all drank too much that evening though I still managed to write later as I got to my room.

I still remember the scuffle vividly: Chris pushing wildly through a crowd of hostile yet drunk fellas, without any caution, urging us too to "do something". To "not be slack", he "had seen more crises in LASU" and is "not afraid to fight on UI soil" etc, even in the eye of the futility of it all: we were just four. They were like seven, and they were hitting back. He easily found a formidable opponent in one of the guys who promptly brought out a stick with dry leaves and started wacking him. The problem was, we really didn't have to fight. We were in the wrong. They had been offended by our slighting of a female member of their group with a rude gesture. And that was my fault. And that of Kris.

I still picture Chris right now prancing, "This are students" I remember him say, referring to us. "My students. You guys are nothing. Go and ask of me in the department of English" etc. I had looked at Kris, lost at what I was hearing as I tried to ensure calm. Chris my teacher!? No way. It was funny nevertheless. Demola Dasylva, his only "student" there had quickly found his way far away from the heating spot as soon as it all started.

In my room later in the night, thinking about it all, Kris decided that Chris deserved the beatings for not keeping his mouth shut. I didn't think so, but it still makes me laugh, how an evening out with pals could have gone too badly for lack of cooler heads.

In Vino Veritas

Do so now then and do not wait. For more days call
And we do not yet have the world safe within bodied grip.
Come around muse into strange recess of shadowed world.
The heart is game only when the will is strong. Odd?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Roam was not built in a day!

The guy who wrote this where I copied it from obviously did not know the difference in the spellings. But I did, and yet have not found it negatively impacting on my appreciation of the witticism in the slip. "Roam" indeed. A verb that means "to wander" is now nominalized to endow an otherwise common statement with some wisdom. Think about it.

Today, the second petition created to kick Borishade out of Government got Funmi Iyanda's signature. (I'm guessing it's her cos the person signed as "Funmilola Iyanda"). Her name was only next to mine, which, by the devilry of the erratic internet server had been displayed three times. No other name yet. As at today. This is not too discouraging. My sparse publicity since last week had only been directed at helping the first petition, which initially sought only to remove Professor Borishade from the ministry of Aviation.

Anyway, anyway. We're gonna step up the publicity. I'm gonna write to all of my activist friends from the University. We'll get there. After all, roam was not built in a day. What does that mean, anyway?

Thanks Funmi.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

My Spell Checker

Spell checkers, I have found, are the most fascinating indicators in computer technologies that machines would always be machines. They have never failed to fascinate and amuse, especially in their responses to African names and expressions: you type in "Seun", a Nigeian name, and what you get as suggestions for correction are English words, "seen, "sewn", "sawn", "sean", "spun" etc to your own very amusement. (I've been somewhat lucky though. My name has never been subjected to such electronic scrutiny since it seems to have aready equivalent in the language of the machine: Kola for kola nut). But I ask myself, is there any good in the computer therefore for the African man who has come to embrace globalisation and technology as the answer to the primitiveness he has often been tagged along with? Because, as we have sadly found out, technology doesn't speak in our tongue nor tolerates the structures and nature of our names!

Anyway, I got this poem and I want to share it with you. It's one other result of the perfectionistic insistence of the English spellchecker. I hope it inspires you to deeper thinking on the absolute dependence on computer and technology.

Titled: Eye Halve a Spelling Chequer

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rarely ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect in it's weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

-- Sauce unknown

End Notes: I have written a more detailed article on my chance enounters with the humour and mischief of language in technology, like above, upcoming soon in Farafina Magazine.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

So who am I?

I have been giving some thoughts to this question lately. When I make poetry submissions to journals, they ask me for a bio, a short description of myself, and I wonder what to say. I am me, a human, I always want to say, believing that all I have acquired or done do not really say who I am beyond circumstances. Instead, I rack my brain and fill in details of some recent occupations, and hope it satisfies the curiosity. I know however that nothing in those words could describe what I think I am.

The following was published at Subjective Substance in March 2005.

A Fool As Old As I

Looking around alone
while others strive
marks me out
from this human race
as a swollen face.

Contacts made and doggedly kept
through thick and thin
stands tall in made truths
of my still, staring stance.
with sparse naira chance

Regular looks of piercing blur
and charming gleaning dents
or hands promptly stretched
are doors closing yet
as I look between this net.

I wave a lone flag
at a long, flowing crowd.

"The secret of genius lies in the clear and impartial perception of the objective, the essential and the universal. By seeing so far, he doesn't see what is near he is imprudent and queer; and while his vision is hitched to a star, he falls into a well" - Arthur Schopenhauer

Source: Subjective Substance. All rights reserved.