REFLECTIONS: We demand respect for communities and their languages!

I don’t always agree with the perennial journalist of Kenya, much as I must confess my admiration for his strict diction, but I have to admit that he had a point in the piece he posted two weeks ago.

I don’t always agree with the perennial journalist of Kenya, much as I must confess my admiration for his strict diction, but I have to admit that he had a point in the piece he posted two weeks ago.

In the unlikely event that you are not aware of whom I refer to, I am talking about Philip Ochieng, that grand old Kenyan journalist who has been in the East African newspapers for practically as long as the borders of the countries have been in existence!

In the said piece, Ochieng was protesting the unseemly utterances of President Yoweri K. Museveni, when the latter roundly pronounced Joluo as “wajinga” (fools).

Of course, I wouldn’t hazard an opinion on what drives a man of perfect upbringing and seasoned political disposition to make such a sweeping contention, but I can only express the hope that it was made in jest. Whether anybody found it mirthful, or not, is another matter.

My concern, as was Ochieng’s, is the abuse we subject to our local languages. As Ochieng explained, when you say “Hawa Jaluo wajinga”, you are not only abusing a people but also their language and, even worse, betraying your ignorance of the language.

‘Jaluo’ means a ‘Luo man’, which means it is singular, if I got Ochieng’s extensive explanation correct. Yet ‘hawa’ is plural and means ‘these’, just as ‘wajinga’ is an adjective qualifying many people, even if I’ve heard instances where it referred to animals.

I can aver that I’ve heard it in the very birthplace of Kaswahili, Tanzania, where people said “Hawa mbwa wajinga” (these foolish dogs) just as I’ve heard them say “Hawa vijana wajinga” (these foolish youths). (Needless to say, only an example and no insult meant for the youth!)

Anyway, my point is that we owe it to our people to refer to their ethnic or tribal groups and their languages correctly.

The author of the disparaging remark about the Luo people should therefore have taken care to know that the plural for ‘Jaluo’ is ‘Joluo’.

And, come to think of it, who has borne abuse to their name and language more than a Munyarwanda? How many times have you been assaulted with the hated “Eh, Bwana, kumbe we Nyarwanda?”

I don’t know about you but, personally, I’ve never answered such a question.

Nor have I answered the question about me being ‘Tutu’, which always comes first (!), or ‘Hutsi’. We must wage a war against these nasty appendages and make it known to whoever cares that we are Abanyarwanda, failing which we can only accept to be called Banyarwanda or, at least, Rwandans.

In fact, we should even reject the French-influenced appellation of ‘Rwandese’, if only to ease the problem of those who think it is singular and its plural form is ‘Rwandeses’! I’ve also heard people who talked about ‘Sudaneses’ and ‘Togoleses’.

However, coming back to ‘Abanyarwanda’, it is our onus to wage a protracted struggle against wrong nomenclature. If anyone wants to talk about us, let them take the trouble to research their subject.

It is a shame that we ourselves have fallen into this trap, and we don’t think twice about calling ourselves ‘Hutus’. ‘Twas’ or ‘Tutsis’.

Apart from the problem of unnecessarily ‘tearing ourselves into pieces’ of Banyarwanda, there is the problem of our offspring asking themselves if they are ‘Hatas’ or not, which would rightly be the English pronunciation!

So, let whoever is interested in ethnicity know that in Rwanda there are ‘Abatwa’, ‘Abatusi’ and ‘Abahutu’. If we are to forgive any laziness, then we can accept ‘Batwa’, ‘Batutsi’ and ‘Bahutu’ but nothing shorter like ‘Twa’, ‘Tutsi’ or ‘Hutu’.

How many times have you encountered ‘Tutsi genocide’, even in this very newspaper, when a journalist is referring to the 1994 genocide against Abatutsi? Can it not mean the opposite, that Abatutsi perpetrated that genocide? 

In trying to anglicise our language, let us avoid abusing it by shortening it into incomprehensible nonsense.

Fortunately, we have some amongst us whose conduct and actions serve to redeem the name of our people and country. For instance, the sudden death last week of the American musical legend, Michael Jackson, shocked everybody. The happy twist to the sad news was that in Jackson’s mysterious life, there was Grace Rwaramba.

Grace Rwaramba gave solace not only to the reclusive musical icon but also to ‘his’ three children, who are crying because they want their ‘mother’ by their side.

If the children can have their way, then we know that they have someone they cherish to look after them, and we are confident that they will be in caring hands.

The good news is that Grace has her roots firmly in Rwanda, even if Uganda is scrambling to claim her for having been born there! To her credit, though, she knows who she is. High fives for Grace!