|Ernest Hemingway, Serengeti Plain, January 1934 (JFK Library)|
Heritage, tourism, and slavery at Shimoni) brought me back to Hemingway, and a month ago I picked up a copy of Christopher Ondaatje's Hemingway in Africa (2003). Ondaatje's own mistranscribed Swahili ("Jumbo, habari, poleya safari") reminded me of Hemingway's, and I then bought new copies of the books that I'd left behind in Mombasa so that I could have another look. There certainly is some bad Swahili in Green Hills of Africa. Here are some of the misspelled words and phrases (all converted to lower case and italicised), with correct forms and glosses shown in parenthesis: b'wana (bwana, master), b'wana m'kumba (bwana mkubwa, big boss), doumi (dume, male), faro (faru, rhinoceros), manamouki (mwanamke, woman), m'uzuri (mzuri, good), n'dio (ndiyo, yes, it is), tarahalla (palahala, sable antelope), tendalla (tandala, kudu). Hemingway refers a number of times to his use of a dictionary when trying to communicate with Africans (2004a: 96, 115, 122, 129, 155, 156, 163, 165). This was probably A. C. Madan's English-Swahili Dictionary (first published in 1884), which is known to have been in Hemingway's library in 1941. Indeed the library list suggests that he may have owned two copies of it, or perhaps both the English-Swahili and Swahili-English volumes, the latter published in 1903 (Brasch and Sigman 2000: 238, No. 4147). Madan was a reliable source, and his work provided the foundation for Frederick Johnson's A Standard Swahili-English Dictionary (1939), which Hemingway obtained later, together with other works on Swahili. If Hemingway had used Madan then he shouldn't have made so many mistakes. But on his own account he couldn't always find the words that he was looking for, and he may well have misheard some of the terms that his hunting companions used, including the place names and other proper nouns that he also gets wrong. The insertion of an apostrophe to denote syllabic nasals in word-initial position (m'- and n'-) was once a relatively common practice, and Hemingway may well have picked this up from other sources. In his later story 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' (2004b) it's notable that he (or his editor) gets the transcription of Bwana right.
|Hemingway's hunting party, February 1934 (JFK Library)|
Mutonya and Parsons 2004). The first of many editions of F. H. Le Breton's Up-Country Swahili Exercises for the Soldier, Settler, Miner, Merchant, and their Wives was published in 1936. Although it didn't pretend to describe Kisetla, it did reproduce many of its best-known features, including those mentioned above and others, such as the the generalised use of mingi to mean 'many'. This was no doubt the kind of Swahili spoken between the Kenya-based Europeans and Africans in the Hemingways' party, as well as the up-country Tanganyikans that they came across who were also able to converse in the pidginised lingua franca. Snatches of it embellish films made in East Africa from this time onwards, including the Hollywood movies inspired by Hemingway's own work (Carrier 2010). And despite the inroads made by modern education and the media, something like it can still be heard in up-country Kenya and in particular settings elsewhere in East Africa. It is used, for example, by some Asian shop-keepers when addressing their African staff and customers, and is frequently caricatured. Even Christopher Ondaatje slips into pidgin practice when he reports saying "Pole kusumbua, wewe", translated as "Sorry for causing you trouble" (2003: 108). The meagre literature on Swahili pidgins refers to different varieties, including Kihindi, Kishamba, and others already mentioned above. But these remain largely unresearched, and it may be that they are best thought of as a continuum of forms with a common core. And I haven't touched on Hemingway's second trip and later writings about Africa. Hii ni kazi mingi sana, mimi hapana taka fanya sasa.
* In his family history, written in 1956, Hans Cory referred to his encounter with the Hemingways and his appearance in Green Hills of Africa: "I am Kandinsky [sic], and though the conversation did not take place exactly as quoted, the events happened as described, and the breakdown of my lorry, etc. is true. Hemingway and his wife were very kind to me. I was their guest for three days, and we had many amusing and interesting conversations."
My thanks to Helle Goldman and Ray Abrahams for sharing their own thoughts and experiences of bad and pidgin Swahili with me, and to Neil Carrier for the additional inspiration provided by his recent workshop paper and presentation on the use and abuse of Swahili in Hollywood movies. The usual disclaimer applies.
Brasch, James D. and Joseph Sigman 2000 . Hemingway's Library: A Composite Record (electronic edition). Boston: John F. Kennedy Library.
Carrier, Neil 2010. Kiswahili Hollywood style: linguistic use and abuse in the movies. Paper presented to
the VIII European Swahili Workshop, Contemporary Issues in Swahili Ethnography, University of Oxford, 19-21 September 2010.
Cory [Koritschoner], Hans 1956. Our Family Chronicles. Online in the archive of The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University.
Hemingway, Ernest 2004a . Green Hills of Africa. London: Arrow Books.
Hemingway, Ernest 2004b . The Snows of Kilimanjaro. In Hemingway, E. The Snows of Kilimanjaro. London: Arrow Books.
Le Breton, F. H. 1951 . Up-Country Swahili Exercises for the Soldier, Settler, Miner, Merchant, and their Wives and for all who deal with up-country natives without interpreters (11th edition). Richmond, Surrey: R. W. Simpson and Co.
Madan, Arthur Cornwallis 1884. English-Swahili Dictionary. Oxford.
Madan, Arthur Cornwallis 1903. Swahili-English Dictionary. Oxford.
Mutonya, Mungai and Timothy H. Parsons 2004. KiKAR: a Swahili variety in Kenya's colonial army. Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 25: 111-125.
Newell, H. W. 1933. Notes on Ki-Swahili as Spoken by the K.A.R.. Manuscript in the Kenya National Archives, Nairobi. [cited in Mutonya and Parsons 2004: 125]
Ondaatje, Christopher 2003. Hemingway in Africa: The Last Safari. Toronto: HarperCollins.
Vitale, Anthony J. 1980. Kisetla: linguistic and sociolinguistic aspects of a pidgin Swahili of Kenya. Anthropological Linguistics 22 (2): 47-65.
Wilkes, Hamilton Paget (translator) 1931. Habari Njema: kama aliandikwa kwa mkona [sic] ya Mariko. London: British and Foreign Bible Society.
W., J. Undated [1932.] Kisettla. (Pamphlet.) [Nairobi:] The East African Standard. [some sources give the reference as The Kenya Weekly News, 23 December 1955, 24-25.]