Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Friday, 28 November 2014

Letter from Butiama: The origin of language

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 11th February 2007.
There is a Biblical passage about the tower of Babel (Genesis11: 1-9) which reports that humans once had a single language, and that we agreed to build a tower to reach heaven. The Almighty God was monitoring the scheme, and stepped in to intervene after deciding we had gone too far.

God created languages, making it impossible for those at the construction site to understand and cooperate with each other. Unable to continue, humans dispersed around the earth to indulge in other mischief.
In the scientific study of languages, experts group those languages with similar characteristics in groups. Genetic or typological characteristics are used for the classifications. Genetic classification, in lines similar to the story of Babel, looks for evidence of linkages to a common language, while typological classifications look for similarities in structure.

The study of language assumes that the groups of languages and the families they belong to are derived from a “parent” or “proto-“ language, the mother of  all languages. Bantu is one such group from which most of the languages spoken in the eastern, central, and southern African region originate, while the Germanic subfamily is known to have spawned several European languages including English, German, Swedish, Dutch, and Norwegian.

Science has not and will not be able to determine whether all languages originated from one particular language because the available written records are not consistent across all languages and, even when they are available, cover only a fraction of the estimated thousands of years in which human speech has existed.
However, it is instructive to note that, in some languages, there seems to be some trace of the Biblical account on the tower of Babel.

I believe that Swahili and Italian speakers can make a strong religious claim to being one of the first two language offshoots from Babel, and a scientific claim for being two of the world’s earlier proto-languages.
Take the example of the Italian word giu’ whose pronunciation closely resembles that of the Swahili word juu. Giu’ means “down”, juu is “up.” Imagine the confusion created each time the Swahili speaking bricklayer asked the Italian stores clerk for additional bricks to be sent up.

Although these two words have opposite meanings, if you look at them as representing one of two extremes they are strongly connected on a scale of height, and would give some credence to the Biblical account of the Divine intervention to curtail the effectiveness of communication, at least between Italian and Swahili speakers.

To the northern Chinese ma can have three meanings depending on the intonation you use when pronouncing those two letters. On a flat tone it means “mother”, on a falling tone “to curse.” In Italian the same word means “but” and several other meanings associated with that word.

There are several examples of words that has one decent meaning in one language and a different and obscene unprintable meaning in another. Again, a few Italian words that can be used in normal conversation share the reputation of having obscene Swahili meanings.

While some religions preach that we shared a common language in the past, and scientific study points to a shared common origin of languages in language groups, there is a great likelihood that the advances in human knowledge existing today would have changed the story in the Bible.

I have had the chance to observe Chinese technicians working on a Tanzanian construction site. They could not speak a word of neither English nor Swahili. In comparison, the only Chinese word that their coordinator knew was the word for “beer”, which was of little help even if they were constructing a brewery.

In little time a communications system was developed and used. To order more nails, they showed a nail to the coordinator, and wrote down the size and quantity using the number system familiar to any literate Tanzanian. It worked well for most situations. Thanks to easier communication nowadays, when communication completely broke down, they would place a call to an interpreter in China to resolve the matter.

Human knowledge today would have probably changed the story of Babel. Construction would have continued until the tower would have collapsed from its own height, but while construction lasted, religion and science would have found common ground.

Monday, 24 November 2014

This is the best misprint yet

After publishing this post, I found out that the article with the misprint that I reported was edited and the error was rectified. I choose to leave the original post because it was accurate when I posted it.


I have just come across what I consider to be the best misprint yet.

The Daily News (Tanzania) has a news report in which President Jakaya Kikwete has sent a message of condolence to Minister of Information, Youth, Culture, and Sports Fenella Mukangara following the death of two journalists: Innocent Munyuku and Baraka Karashani.

The minister was referred to as “the minter of information….” As far as misprints go, this one is a gem. Considering that the Daily News is a government newspaper and falling under the direct responsibility of the minister, one wonders whether it was a genuine mistake or whether it was a sick joke being perpetrated against Minister Mukangara.
Screen shot of the Google News alert containing the initial error.
In either case, I suspect heads will roll.

Here’s the link to the story: JK mourns Munyuku, Baraka.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

2013 in review: 25 March

In Belgium I visited the Grand B├ęguinage of Leuven a UNESCO World Heritage site that consists of buildings built in the 13th century.
My hosts informed me that the area is sometimes used as a setting for film production.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

New monkey species discovered in Butiama

The only primates I have seen in Butiama are baboons and velvet monkeys. A few years ago, I caught a glimpse of a monkey I had never seen in Butiama which disappeared into the nearby forest as soon as it saw me.

A few days ago I saw the monkey again and managed to photograph it.

It has side burns and has a thick fur and a long tail. I do not recall seeing this species anywhere except perhaps in the forest area on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro where a similar species is found.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Visitors to Butiama: Egumba Dance Group

Members of the Egumba Dance Group visit Butiama regularly to provide entertainment to other visitors from Butiama and to Butiama's residents.
They have a repertoire of traditional dances from around Mara region and from other parts of Tanzania.They have performed in foreign cultural festivals including one in South Korea.

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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Le's travels: Japan

I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with Le Huynh in August 2008. He travels the world, and shares images and experiences of the places he visits. This post is from his 2012 visit to Japan.

Dear friends, 

A well known consequence of our fast and connected modern world is the equally fast and furious rise of stress levels.  Back in the early 90’s, people began to notice an increasing number of incidents where someone has literally “dropped dead” from overwork!

Shuzenji Temple in autumn.

Suddenly, the last decade has seen a proliferation of 'urban' spas, all promising the ideal relaxation in response to the strong demand of near burnout customers.

Sumptuous meals with local fresh catch
These days, for city folks who are used to effective methodology towards clearly defined goals, ‘result-oriented’ spas have become popular in cities where people are forever pressed for time:  to get the maximum result with minimal effort... and may as well stave off ageing while at it!

Shuzenji Temple in autumn.
The antithesis of the modern-day spa is the traditional centuries old practice of the Japanese Bath also known as “Onsen” (meaning Hot springs).  Being a volcanic island, Japan has an abundant supply of natural hot water from volcanic springs. Since ancient times, these hot springs have been known to have healing power depending on their mineral composition.

During the Nara era (from 710 AD), many rest houses have been constructed by Buddhist monks in order to provide shelter for pilgrims. They have chosen wisely those locations near hot springs for bathing purposes

Onsen in front of the Ocean (and the stars at night)

and also for their healing power to the weary travelers. Overtime, these traditional Onsen inn (or Ryokan) have refined the experience with beautifully manicured surrounding garden, comfortable sleeping quarters, soothing massage, and exquisitely prepared meals using local fresh ingredients. 
The colours of autumn.
Like all finer things in life, going to a Japanese Onsen has become something of an artistic ritual. It is a conscious act of taking time out to breath and to leave behind the daily grind of hectic life. Only after thoroughly cleansing one’s body may one slowly enter the hot bath where the purification of one’s mind begins…  The contemplation of nature at an Onsen’s outdoor bath is the result of a Zen like meditative approach to bathing. It gives us a spiritual dimension to this most intimate act and a connection to the ancient mysticism of the East. It is truly a quintessential experience touching the very core of Japanese culture and tradition.

Japan 2012

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