Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Archibald Lyall: Black and White Make Brown, 1938 (excerpt 3)
Soon the republication of Archibald Lyall's visit to the Cape Verde Islands and 'Portuguese Guinea' of 1936 - published as Black and White Make Brown in 1938 - is finished. As a teaser, I will pre-publish some excerpts here. [About the Creole ("Kriolo") language] "Creole is to Portuguese much what the Afro-American English of Alabama is to English. Its basis is the fifteenth-century dialect of the Algarve spoken by the early colonists of Cape Verde and imperfectly assimilated by African ears. Since none of the slaves and almost none of the colonists could read or write, the language naturally underwent a strange sea-change in the process of being learnt by frightened black captives from uneducated Portuguese. The grammar was greatly simplified (‘he,’ ‘she’ and ‘it’ are alike simply el), the pronunciation was corrupted (vocé—’you’—has come down to bo), and many African words were incorporated into the language, such as ‘n meaning ‘I’ and ca meaning ‘not’; the latter is found in several of the languages of West Africa, although Capverdians anxious to emphasise the Latin element in Creole at the expense of the Bantu will derive it from nunquam by way of the Portuguese nunca. Papiar, meaning ‘to speak’ (e.g. Bo ca papia Crioulo?—’Don’t you speak Creole?’) is interesting because the Portuguese-based ‘speech’ of Curacão in the West Indies is called the Papiamento—the same word on both sides of the Atlantic. Three of the chief points where the pronunciation of Creole differs from that of Portuguese are that v becomes b, ch becomes tch, and lh becomes dj. All these pronunciations are archaic and were common in Southern Portugal at the time of the colonisation. ‘Eye,’ for example, is olho in Portuguese, ojo in Spanish (j like ch in ‘loch’) and odjo in Creole. This attracted my notice particularly because I have talked with Jews in the Balkans, who still speak fifteenth-century South Spanish, and their pronunciation is almost the same as that of the Capverdians, whose language is based on fifteenth-century South Portuguese. Where the Creole says odjo, the Spanyol of Salonika or Skoplje says ojo—the j as in French, very close to the Creole dj. Many difficult words early disappeared or, more probably, were from the outset avoided by the colonists in speaking to their slaves. Thus its similarity to vir, ‘to come,’ caused the replacement of the verb ver, ‘to see,’ by olhar (Creole odjâ), literally ‘to eye,’ just as in the pidgin English of the West Coast words like ‘over’ and ‘done’ are replaced by the unambiguous ‘finish,’ and ‘later on’ and ‘afterwards’ by the equally unmistakable ‘by’m bye.’ On the other hand, the elimination of genders, cases and tenses, and the reduction of several Portuguese words to a single Creole equivalent, are responsible for what is perhaps the greatest difficulty confronting the student of Creole, who finds that its excessive simplification results in a number of ambiguities only resolvable by means of the context. Thus bedjo may be either a ‘kiss’ (Portuguese beijo) or an ‘old man’ (Portuguese velho) and nha may mean ‘my,’ or ‘lady’ or ‘you,’ being a corruption both of minha and of senhora. In Tavares’ Lua Noba (New Moon) the word nha occurs twenty-one times; nine times it is certainly senhora or a senhora, three times minha, and nine times it may equally well be either. I quote it in full, partly to illustrate this philological point and partly as an example of Tavares’ verse in the original. O nha Madrinha Lua, Nha Madrinha de Ceu, Nha botam quel bençom; Nha Madrinha de meu! O nha Madrinha branca, Ca nha esquicê de mi! Nha dixam ta tchorâ, Ai, pa nha atcham ta arri! O nha Madrinha Santa, Nha pegam na nha mom, Nha lumiam na nha passo, Ai, nha botam bençom! Nha espiam la de Ceu, Nha djudam co nha cruz! Nha Madrinha, nha Mai, Nha Madrinha, nha Luz! O my Godmother Moon, My Godmother in Heaven, Give me your blessing, Godmother of mine! O my white Godmother, Do not ever forget me! When you leave me I weep for you And when you return I laugh. O my holy Godmother, Take me by the hand, Light me in my steps, Ah, give me your blessing! Look down on me from Heaven, Help me with my cross! My Godmother, my Mother, My Godmother, my Light! In the course of centuries other elements entered Creole besides Portuguese and Bantu. Many Brazilian words came in owing to the constant coming and going in the days when first Ribeira Grande and then Praia were ports of call between Portugal and South America. Sailors and others introduced French and Spanish elements. (Santo Antão received an influx of Canarian immigrants at the beginning of the last century when a certain Don Mariano Stinga tried to establish a slave depot on the island.) Many English words entered the language by three main channels. The first was by way of the English who exploited the salt-pans of Boa Vista and Maio in the eighteenth century. In Boa Vista and São Nicolau a sweetheart is a sicate, which is said to be derived from ‘sick-at-heart.’ A common interjection in São Nicolau is tarote! from the English ‘my troth.’ In Boa Vista the castor-oil plant is castrai instead of ricino. Senhor José Lopes even derives the word morna itself from the English ‘mourner’ and incorporates this theory in his sonnet on the morna: Do ‘mourn’ inglês vem morna, e é lamentar; e tanto Que é o coração chorando . . . E que outra prova exigem? ‘Mourner’ é quem a canta, é ‘mourner’ quem a dança. The only evidence for this seems to be the fact that the morna originated, or at least is first known to have appeared, in the English-influenced island of Boa Vista. On the other hand, similar nostalgic little songs are called mornes by the French métis of Martinique and, since morne (‘sad’) appears a more appropriate description of them than morna (‘tepid’), it seems more probable that the name was first bestowed by French sailors who observed the similarity between the songs of Boa Vista and those of Martinique. The second channel of entry was St. Vincent, where the English sowed among the natives such words as ovacôte, ovataime (‘overtime’) and grog. Allright and chin-chin are common expressions of amity all through the Islands. The national dish of maize, veal and pork is catchupa, a word said to be derived from the English ‘ketchup.’ A more extensive English element is to be found in the dialects of the Sotavento, where the returned Americanos brought back many expressions with them. A Brava man will call his friend a sanababitche for taking off his trôsas in the quitchen; when he sees a ship he cries Selo! (“Sail Off!’) and when he means ‘let go’ or ‘O.K.’ he says Goahed! or Alrai! When he wants to land he says he will gotchôr (‘go ashore’). Brava in one sense was a great disappointment to me. Eugénio Tavares wrote in Brava Creole and I hoped to get valuable help in my translation from the many Americanos there who speak fluent English. I found, however, that this was not possible. They did their best but they were not educated men, and their minds entirely lacked the precision and subtlety necessary for accurate translation. Thus an Americano would peruse a stanza carefully and at the end would translate it thus: ‘Dat mean dat guy wishes he was back home,’ or ‘Dat mean dat feller ain’t got nobody to love him,’ or ‘He say he like-a nice-a-lookin’ lady, eh?’—all of which I had already been able to deduce for myself. The mornas of Tavares deal for the most part with love and with the many things which contribute to form the melancholy of his countrymen. One of the chief among them is sodade, a typically Capverdian state of mind which doubtless dates from the far-away days of the colonisation, when white and black alike felt themselves to be exiles in an inhospitable land. Sodade is a state of heartsick-ness, a nostalgia, a memory of something missing or lost. A lover feels sodade for his lost mistress, an old man for his youth, an exile for his native land. In Andorinhas de Bolta Tavares calls his island ‘the land of Sodade.’ Swallows of the wide seas, What wind of loyalty Brings you on this bitter journey To our land of Sodade?"