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Ngwenyama Etymology and Meat


>>> Item number 1070, dated 96/01/22 09:25:13 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 22 Jan 1996 09:25:13 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Query: "Ngwenyama" etymology

Date:           21 Jan 96
From:           Chris Lowe
                <Chris.Lowe@directory.Reed.EDU>

I would like to pose a question about the etymology, or perhaps it's the literal translation, of the si Swati title "Ngwenyama," usually translated into English as "King."

However, a linguist friend of mine has pointed out that "king" is a term with a history and a role with historical cultural attributes in English, and might be misleading in seeking to understand the historical development of the role of tiNgwenyama in siSwati.

The other common translation is "lion," but Rycroft offers "libhubesi" as the translation of lion in his siSwati dictionary.

Now, I have been inclined to see the root as coming from i-ngwe = "leopard" and to see -nyama as referring either to "black" or "dark" or referring to meat, i.e., Ngwenyama meaning something like Black Leopard, Dark Leopard or Meat Leopard.

For black, I have in mind an analogy to the title of Magema Fuze's book, *Abantu Abamnyama*, translated as *The Black People* by H.C. Lugg, and to an organization in Natal in the early 1900s called "Iliso Lesizwe Esimnyama" - Eye of the Black Nation - organized by Cleopas Kunene and others mainly among Swazi-descended communities in northern Natal. But in both cases the -mremains in front on -nyama, unlike Ngwenyama. Rycroft offers for um-nyama "darkness, bad omen" (a noun of class 3), while giving for black "mnyama" (an adjective).

Rycroft also translates i-nyama (a noun) as "meat." An archaeologist once suggested to me that this was really the proper connection, since both leopards and meat are high-status items associated with rulers in many central and southern (and east?) African cultures. Jan Vansina discusses the leopard association a bit in *Paths in the Rainforest*.

Can anyone shed light on this question? Or on why the cognate Zulu term is usually rendered "Ngonyama"? (Vansina says the reconstructed proto-bantu root for leopard is *goyi [the 'o' is actually open like a backward 'c' in his text]).

Many thanks,
Chris Lowe
<chris.lowe@reed.edu>

>>> Item number 1081, dated 96/01/23 08:57:05 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 23 Jan 1996 08:57:05 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama" etymology (fwd)

Date:           Tue, 23 Jan 1996
From:           Keith Tankard
                <KTANKARD@lark.ru.ac.za>

Chris Lowe asks of the etymology of "Ngwenyama" and suggests several possibilities. He says that a common translation is "lion," but Rycroft offers "libhubesi" as the translation of lion in his siSwati dictionary.

This is an interesting prospect because, although Zulu uses the term "ibhubesi" for lion, Xhosa (probably as closely related to Zulu as Swati is) uses the term "Ngonyama", meaning the "eater of meat". In Xhosa custom, a big eater of meat is something to be admired, hence the entitling of lion as "ngonyama". I wonder therefore whether the meat aspect, or therefore the lion aspect, is more closely related to the term "Ngwenyama"?

Keith Tankard
History Department
Rhodes University
Eastern Cape
South Africa

>>> Item number 1082, dated 96/01/24 08:50:50 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 24 Jan 1996 08:50:50 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama" etymology

Date:           Tue, 23 Jan 1996
From:           Steven Feierman
                <feierman@sas.upenn.edu>

There is a set of ideas, related to meat eating, which connect to Shambaa kingship and might be relevant in other kingdoms. Animals are taken as tribute, and people say clearly that the king is the "owner" of all the animals in the land, and so is only taking what is his when he takes tribute. People understand, of course, that if he takes too much, his subjects will resist, so the "ownership" is conditional context-specific. The lion is related to this because the king descends upon cattle in much the way that a lion descends upon a cow, and "owns" it in much the same way. The set of associations makes clear, also, the relationship between force (lion-like) and the capacity to take tribute.

>>> Item number 1085, dated 96/01/24 09:49:13 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 24 Jan 1996 09:49:13 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama"

Date:           Wed, 24 Jan 1996
From:           Colin Darch
                <COLIN@lib.uwc.ac.za>

I showed the recent postings on Siswati terminology to a Swazi colleague here at UWC, Mrs Mathokoza Nhlapo (mathokoza@lib.uwc.ac.za), and she commented as follows:

        SiSwati culture uses a lot of animal symbolism. Whilst a lion
        is known as "libhubesi" like the Zulu "ibhubesi",and a leopard
        "ingwe" in SiSwati, ingwenyama (ingwe=leopard and -nyama=meat)
        specifically refers to lion in SiSwati but only in reference
        to the Swazi king. Lion and leopard have similar qualities and
        habits in many respects.

        I find J.S.Malan's contribution quite useful in his book *Swazi
        Culture* (1985:11-12) when he says "the lion (Ingwenyama) and
        the elephant (indlovu) appear together in Swazi cosmology as
        most powerful and dominant animals...the king is titled and
        addressed as "Ngwenyama" and his mother as "Ndlovukazi" (the
        she-elephant). The lion is "characterised by bravery, strength
        and cleverness but is also generous and aware of other's
        needs.It is a great meat-eater but only kills for food...The
        Ngwenyama as king has qualities of the lion, king of
        animals,and the Ndovukazi as his mother, has the qualities of
        the great she-elephant. The elephant is the largest of all the
        animals, it is also the strongest, but no one has ever seen a
        lion and an elephant fight. They are both strong and
        fearless, but do not attack without reason"

Regards

Colin Darch


Colin Darch                                 Tel. (+2721) 959-2209
University Librarian                        Fax: (+2721) 951-3627
University of the Western Cape             Home: (+2721) 761-7229
-----------------------------------------------------------------
                             E-mail: colin@lib.uwc.ac.za (UNINET)
-----------------------------------------------------------------
                    Private Bag X17, Bellville 7535, South Africa

>>> Item number 1088, dated 96/01/25 11:44:36 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 25 Jan 1996 11:44:36 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama" etymology

Date:           Thu, 25 Jan 1996
From:           Peter Limb
                <plimb@library.uwa.edu.au>

One of the things that has not been emphasised in the discussion on "lions and tigers" in Swaziland is that many, especially rural, Swazis, regard themselves as virtually the "property" of the king. So I think more is involved in these symbols and terms. Having spoken recently to Swazis and Zulus returning from Swaziland, I gained the distinct impression that a major social force retarding social and political change is this feeling by rural peoples of being owned by the monarch - of, one might say, being the "meat" in the sandwich of royal politics.

>>> Item number 1164, dated 96/02/03 14:53:21 -- ALL

Date:         Sat, 3 Feb 1996 14:53:21 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama"

Date:           Sat, 3 Feb 1996
From:           RMATHERON@aol.com

I have noticed that several persons have commented on the "meat eating" meaning of "Ngwenyama" and its relationship to power. I hope this question is not too naive, but is there any other words or phrases in siSwati or other Bantu languages which associate "eating" and "power?" I believe the name of the King's clan, "Dlamini," means Noon-time Eaters. I wish I had asked the meaning and importance of this and other clan names while living in Swaziland.

Richard Matheron, former U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland.

>>> Item number 1175, dated 96/02/05 13:40:21 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 5 Feb 1996 13:40:21 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply:

Date:           Mon, 5 Feb 96
From:           Claire Dehon
                <DEHONCL@KSUVM.KSU.EDU>

Dear Colleagues

If you can stand one more note on "ngwenyama"! The word "nyama" in swahili means also "meat". Yet I heard the word used in a very interesting context. Around 1957, the Belgian government erected in the town of Albertville, now Kalemie, Zaire, a monument to the Belgian king Albert I, a beautiful bronze of him on his horse. At that time, people were heard to ask whose "nyama" that statue was. The word "nyama" then must have meant: person, or soul, but not simply "meat", unless people were making fun of the ignorance of the colonial administration.

>>> Item number 1183, dated 96/02/06 16:02:17 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 6 Feb 1996 16:02:17 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power

In Liberia in the early 1980s, when an official embezzled money it was always described that s/he had "eaten" it. This, I believe, was reflected in other parts of West Africa, but I'm open to being corrected. Is Liberian English similar to other Anglophone cases?

Gordon C. Thomasson
World History Faculty
THOMASSON_G@SUNYBROOME.EDU

>>> Item number 1187, dated 96/02/07 09:21:23 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 7 Feb 1996 09:21:23 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power

Date:           Tue, 6 Feb 1996
From:           nblyden@utdallas.edu

In Sierra Leone, in the Krio language the same term "to eat" is used in the context Mr. Thomasson cites for the case of liberia. It is also used generally to mean spending money. For example, if I give you some money and later ask what you have done with that money, you might say "I have eaten or (ah don eat am)." I am not a linguist and don't know the particular origin of the term, but to me it merely seems to reflect consumption of some sort. It seems rather logical, if one really thinks about it. I also remember the term "nyam" being used to mean eat, and it was also used in connection with spending money, though not so often. In the context in which it was used, it seemed to have a stronger connotation than eat but, again, I don't know the origin of the word.

>>> Item number 1189, dated 96/02/07 09:37:22 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 7 Feb 1996 09:37:22 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power (fwd)

"Eating" is also used to express embezzlement in Amharic, but power is not necessarily implied in such referring to corrupt behaviour; avarice is. Human beings are said to "eat" other human beings in the context of beliefs in the "evil eye." In that instance flesh is not the implication although people with such esoteric powers are "derogatorily" (not with sincerity) accused of digging up graves to consume dead bodies. The association of power with "eating" (anything from human beings to food) does not carry a secular meaning. Perhaps it evokes moral values as in the case of embezzlement; but not that associated with power.

Tsehai BS

>>> Item number 1197, dated 96/02/07 13:21:47 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 7 Feb 1996 13:21:47 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power

Date:           Wed, 7 Feb 1996
From:           brad laurence weiss
                <blweis@facstaff.wm.edu>

This is yet another response to the multiplicity of eating/power connectivites in a wide range of African contexts- as well as a shameless plug for my own take on this question. In *The Making and Unmaking of the Haya Lived World*, I look extensively at local food-related practices and discourses as a means of assessing cultural constructions of value, power, and meaning. In particular, the chapter "Food is Our Wealth: A Moral Gastronomy" explores both eating and feeding as dialectically related practices that characterize a range of experiences and relations-from land tenure to sexuality to state political office. Essentially I take a phenomenological perspective that emphasizes the ways in which eating is both a form of appropriation, virility and vitality that is very publically registered (i.e., in the size, heft, presence of those who have eaten well) but simultaneously a very intimate, "private" bodily practice (especially, I must add, in the context of rural Haya consumption practices)- and this set of resonant meanings allows eating to express both social standing and subterfuge, secure and stable authority, as well as illegitimate duplicity. Again, the ethnography is pretty "local" but certainly embodies connections with the pervasive constructions of power and appropriation that have been discussed here.

>>> Item number 1198, dated 96/02/07 13:24:10 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 7 Feb 1996 13:24:10 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power (fwd)

Date:           Wed, 07 Feb 1996
From:           Misty Bastian
                <M_Bastian@ACAD.FANDM.EDU>

While we are discussing this material on "eating" and power, I would like to recommend that people take a look at Brad Weiss's new monograph (just out from Duke UP) called *The Making and Unmaking of the Haya Lived World*. Chapter 5, "A Moral Gastronomy: Value and Action in the Experience of Food," takes on some of these issues in an interesting and challenging way. H-Africa folk might find the brief discussion of "Eating as 'Finishing'" in Tanzania (pp. 135-37) particularly apt.

>>> Item number 1206, dated 96/02/08 14:45:30 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 8 Feb 1996 14:45:30 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power

Date:           Thu, 8 Feb 1996
From:           RICHARDS BRADSHAW
                <BRADSHAW@centre.edu>

Just thought that I would add that "nyama" means "meat" or "flesh" in Sango, the national language of the Central African Republic, and that for a person to "eat" someone else often describes killing someone by means of sorcery. The Gbaya languages of the western part of the CAR also express the same idea of "eating" someone in the same way .

>>> Item number 1208, dated 96/02/08 15:01:37 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 8 Feb 1996 15:01:37 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power

Date:           Thu, 8 Feb 96
From:           Stephen Belcher
                <SPB3@PSUVM.PSU.EDU>

Since West Africa has been introduced in previous postings, it seems relevant to add that in Francophone West Africa the verb bouffer (to eat, to munch) is generally used to describe embezzlement of project funds, or any corrupt appropriation. And there is the grand tradition of fat kings like the Mogho Naba, who clearly embody some sort of appetite.

>>> Item number 1210, dated 96/02/09 11:31:13 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 9 Feb 1996 11:31:13 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power

Date:           Thu, 08 Feb 96
From:           david lee schoenbrun
                <DSCHOENB@uga.cc.uga.edu>

Both *nyama "meat, flesh" and *-da "eat" (transitive) are Proto Bantu roots. I cannot check just now, but would be utterly unsurprised to learn that Tiv, Ijoid, and Cross River tongues have cognate attestations which would push the roots back to an even earlier protoperiod. This, of course, says nothing about the contexts in which a sentence with both words might have been uttered in these distant times. Of course, the eating and power elision is common here in USA: it is a dog eat dog world (abbreviated in a wonderfully naive way by an old friend to: its a doggy dog world).
Happy chewing, david

>>> Item number 1212, dated 96/02/09 11:56:12 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 9 Feb 1996 11:56:12 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power

Date:           Thu, 8 Feb 1996
From:           Paul S. Landau
                <plandau@minerva.cis.yale.edu>

Isn't Nyama or Nama (the word is Nama in Tswana) "meat" also even in HAUSA?

>>> Item number 1213, dated 96/02/09 12:20:19 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 9 Feb 1996 12:20:19 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power

                ******************************
                        Editor's Note

                This topic is starting to give
                me indigestion.

                            HGM
                ******************************
Date:           Thu, 8 Feb 1996
From:           David A. Samper
                <dsamper@sas.upenn.edu>

Johannes Fabian in *Power and Performance. Ethnographic Explorations through Proverbial Wisdom and Theater in Shaba, Zaire* Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990, refers to the proverb "power is eaten whole."

>>> Item number 1225, dated 96/02/10 12:19:17 -- ALL

Date:         Sat, 10 Feb 1996 12:19:17 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power

Date:           Sat, 10 Feb 96
From:           John Edward Philips
                <philips@Air.akita-u.ac.jp>

On Thursday, February 8, Paul S. Landau wrote:

>Isn't Nyama or Nama (the word is Nama in Tswana) "meat" also even in >HAUSA?

The answer is YES, "nama" is "meat" in Hausa. It is one of several Benue-Congo loanwords in basic vocabulary ("biyu" for "two" is another) that seem to be rather ancient.

Since I think it was the question of "eat" that brought this up, let me also point out that "eat" has many other extended meanings in Hausa, such as "to defeat or conquer." "Eating the front" is also the standard way to express the western notion of "progress."

The semantics of "eat" are a matter of the general African culture area, rather than the genetic affinities of the particular languages.

>>> Item number 1234, dated 96/02/12 14:57:56 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 12 Feb 1996 14:57:56 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: "Ngwenyama": Meat and Power

Date:           12 Feb 96
From:           Peter A Rogers
                <Peter.A.Rogers@Dartmouth.EDU>

Nama is "meat" in Hausa and (something similar) in several other Chadic languages. I seem to recall (from linguistic research I undertook a few years ago, not from personal experience) that the regional/historical distribution of the root among Chadic languages suggests that this is part of a contact/borrowing process between speakers of early Chadic or a proto-subgroup (West? Plateau?) and those of adjacent proto-groups within Benue-Congo (or whatever it's called now), perhaps pre-dating the "Bantu migrations."

By the way, the verb "to eat" in Hausa has many of the aforementioned applications to the exercise of authority, the spending of money, etc.

>>> Item number 1235, dated 96/02/12 14:59:33 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 12 Feb 1996 14:59:33 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: Ngwenyama: Meat and Power

Date:           12 Feb 96
From:           Leland C. BARROWS
                <LELAND@CEPES.RO>

To eat as a synonym of wasting or of squandering is certainly not a peculiarly African phenomenon. In French "manger" or the slang, "bouffer" has the same meaning, as in "Monsieur Gaspard a vite fait de bouffer (ou de manger) l'heritage de sa femme". The same set of words apply to automobiles that use too much fuel: "Le defaut des voitures americaines c'est qu'elles bouffent trop d'essence".

Cheers!


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