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The Click Song (Qonqothwane)

13 May 2010

Miriam Makeba is something of a legend in South Africa – or was, while she was alive, and she lived to be quite old. There are a number of recordings of her music on Youtube, but I had to share this classic song that is quite popular, as well as traditional, in South Africa. In the recording linked to below, I think she is speaking French. Actually, she’s flipping between French and Xhosa, but based on her other performances of this song, I’m guessing that she’s saying something like this, “One of the things people find so fascinating about our language is the clicks, and wherever I go, people ask me to speak in the ‘click’ language, so I say stuff like, (speaks a few Xhosa sentences). In fact, there is a song that we like to sing when a young girl gets married that the white people call, ‘the Click Song” because they don’t know how to say, Qonqothwane.”

Then she sings it.

This is a fun song. I even learned to sing it while I was there, and I still remember it, but I promise my clicks aren’t nearly as impressive as hers.

I tried to embed it, but its disabled for this song. Oh, well. Still go to the link. It’s worth seeing!

In another version of this song, there’s a little space between verses where she says, “helele, helele,” (hay-lay-lay). I didn’t draw the connection until later, but when a girl gets married, it’s traditional for the mother of the bride to shout out “lelelelelelelele!” Picture a native American warcry, falsetto high pitched, and that’s about what it sounds like. The shout “Haya!” in between the verses and chorus are a similar tradition, but it’s shouted by everyone.


Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes! …In Setswana?

10 May 2010

While I was serving in Botswana, we had a lot of little African neighbor kids that were constantly coming to our house. One day, there was quite a crowd visiting, and they were getting a little bit rambunctious.  I was beginning to worry that someone might either get hurt or break something, so I ran and grabbed a pen and paper, then came outside and said, “Hey!  Do you guys want to learn a new song?”
Of course they all responded enthusiastically.
“Ok, but you’re going to have to help me learn the words so we can sing it in Setswana, too!”  Then I got out my paper and pen and asked, “How do you say ‘Head’ in Setswana?”
“Tlhogo!” they all shouted.
“And how do you say, ‘shoulders’?”
“What about ‘toes’?”

In English, none of the words to the song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” are more than two syllables.  In Setswana, none of them were less than two syllables.  In fact, Setswana doubled the total number of syllables in the whole song.  Man, I thought to myself, how on earth am I going to make these fit the rhythm?
Then we went through the remaining words – eyes, ears, mouth, and nose.  I decided before trying it in Setswana, I’d teach them the English version of “Head, shoulders, Knees and Toes.”  They got a big kick out of the song.
Then the real show began.
“Now let’s sing it in Setswana!” I said.
Getting out my piece of paper, we began to sing:

“Tlhogo, magetla, lengole, menwana, lengole, menwana, lengole menwana!  Tlogo, magetla, lengole, menwana, Matlo, Tsebe, Molomo, Nko!”

Before we could get through the song for the first time, we were rolling all over the porch with laughter.  They thought it was the funniest thing in the world to hear a Magua singing in Setswana, and I thought it was the funniest thing to sing such a simple song with so many syllables.  After singing it a number of times over, I had it memorized, and sang it many times thereafter to the kids, and they laughed hysterically every time.
I later discovered that the words they gave me were all singular form – shoulder, knee, toe.  But making them plural would add more syllables, so I kept it as it was.

Apples and Bananas

4 May 2010

Image owned by The Suss-Man (Mike) on Flickr

One of the common challenges in South Africa is trying to teach people who really struggle with the English language. Most people speak it, but it is a second or third language, and for those who haven’t yet fully learned it, missionary discussions can be a struggle. They can also be a little humorous.

Wilson and his family were one of those families who barely knew English at all. Lessons took quite a while, since we’d have to explain most concepts 2 or 3 times in order for them to understand.

On one particular visit, we were reading 3 Nephi chapter 11, where Jesus Christ comes to visit the Nephites. After reading verses 1-8, and then explaining who’s voice they had heard from heaven, and that God was introducing His Son, Elder Adolphe asked them, of verse 8, “Who was this man?”

After a few moments pause, Wilson’s wife responded, “Moses!” Then Wilson, thinking he knew far more than his wife, said, “No, it’s Joseph.”

By now we were having a hard time keeping a straight face, and one of the kids shouted out, “Abraham!”

We finally pointed them to verse 10.

Later we got to verse 21, where we read, “And the Lord said unto him [Nephi]: I give unto you power that ye shall baptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven.” After reading it, we asked the family, “In this verse, the Lord gives something very important to Nephi. What did Jesus give Nephi?”

There was another long pause with mumbles of “important… important…”, and then quietly but confidently, Wilson said, “Apples and oranges.”

I almost burst into laughter. Then I realized that he may have been talking about something totally different, so I asked him again, “What did Christ give to Nephi?”

Then, after the family mumbled a few things back and forth to each other in Sotho, Wilson turned back to us with another try. “Apples and bananas?” His answer was given with such seriousness that I couldn’t keep from laughing. I turned my head downward to avoid letting them see me, but that didn’t help, because Elder Adolphe was already shaking with laughter. Wilson and the rest of the family laughed too, since we were laughing, but it was clear that they had no idea why we were laughing.

Elder Adolphe had to explain all the rest of the verses, because I was using every ounce of capacity I possessed to maintain my composure – and I wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

3 May 2010

Here’s a video of my favorite South African music group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They are singing in Zulu, and the clicks you hear are part of the language. I love the other sounds they make with their mouths in their music.

I think my favorite part of Zulu is the clicks. In Zulu, they not only have clicks in their language, but that there are three different kinds of clicks, represented by three different letters of the alphabet – C, Q, and X. Those were the click letters. As people spoke, they could clearly tell which click was being used. It was fascinating.

The most common click is the Q, which is (I think) the sound you hear most in their music – basically it’s the sound of your tongue popping. The X click is the sound you make when you click the back of your tongue to call a horse or dog. The C click is the “tisk, tisk” sound you make with the front of your tongue when you’re telling a child they’re in trouble. That’s the best way I know of to describe the different clicks.

The kissy sound they make in the second video – well, that’s just a kiss! Gotta love that song! 😀

By the way, listen carefully to the third one. See if you recognize it. Let’s just say it’s the original song of the Americanized version you’ve probably heard before. 10 Sharpzinto points for the first to identify what Americanized song I’m talking about!

Teaching in Africa

28 April 2010

I loved African sunsets, because they always had that celebrated red-orange – almost gold color, and the closer the sun got to the horizon, the bolder the glow became.  Soon the color of the atmosphere resembled the bronze redness of the soil, and it was as if dust was rising into the sky, giving the sun its deep impressive hue.  As light faded into evening each day, people would put away their chores, and twilight initiated the social time for the community.

People of all ages could be seen moving about, and the town became alive with activity.  This was prime teaching time, as well as the best time to contact people on the streets.  I had Elder Horrocks teach me some basic Setswana words, and we would walk or ride our bikes up and down the streets saying, “Dumela, ra!” or “Dumela ma!”  We even used some of the street language for the young men we’d pass.  “Eta, majita!” which might be comparable in our language to something like, “Sup, dude?”
I tried to learn as much of the basic conversational language as possible, and it was fun to have a short chat with people in their own language, though neither of us knew much more than a few phrases.

Since there was no time for deep language study, I made sure to keep a notebook with the words I learned.  I made sure especially to learn phrases that would surprise people to hear me say.  Since it was so uncommon for a white person to speak an African language, their reaction often included shock and laughter.
Here are some samples of conversations that were fairly typical on the streets:

We are walking down the street and encounter a couple of older ladies.

Us: “Dumelang bo me!” (Hello, ma’am -in plural form)

Ladies: “Ijo!  O bua Setswana?” (Wow!  You speak Setswana?)

Us: “E! Re bua Setswana Tata!” (Yes! We speak Setswana a lot!)

Ladies: “O ruta keng Setswana?” (Who taught you Setswana?)

Us: “Botlhe batho” (All people)

Ladies: “What are you doing here?”

Us: “Re barumua ba Modimo” (We’re messengers from God)

And then in English we would explain the message.


We are walking down the street, and some young people walk by.

Us: “Dumelang!”

Them: “Dumelang!”

Us: “Lakai?” (How are you?)

Them: “Reteng!  Lakai?” (We’re fine, how are you?)

Us: “Reteng!” (We’re fine)

They laugh.

Us: “O tsegang?” (What are you laughing at?”)

More laughter.

Them: “Ga o itsi Setswana?” (You know Setswana?)

Us: “E!” (Yes!)

Them “How!” (As an exclamation of surprise, not a question)

Us: “Sala Sinhle!” (stay well)

Them: “Sala gahle!” (go well)

Another example:

Riding our bikes, we pass a group of little kids.

Them: “Magua, magua!” (White people, white people!)

Us: “O se compitsa magua!  Re Motswana!” (Don’t call us magua!  We’re natives of Botswana!)
Street contacting in Botswana usually proved to be a fairly effective way to find more people to teach, and a good part of our teaching took place in the evening.  It got dark early in Botswana at this time of year, since they had no daylight savings time, and many homes were without electricity.  When this was the case, we would teach either by candle-light or paraffin lamp.
There’s a unique feeling that comes of sharing the gospel by fire-light.  Perhaps it is because throughout history this was how the gospel was taught.  Electric lighting is a new invention.  In Christ’s time, and even in Joseph Smith’s time, the gospel would have been taught by fire or lamp.

I remember being filled with a sense of wonder while teaching in those circumstances.  Here I was, in one of the most remote areas of the world, speaking to complete strangers, teaching the most important message in the whole world by the light of a single candle; without electricity, without the conveniences we have in America, and in some cases to people without formal education.  Yet these beautiful people were receiving the most important lesson in the history of the world – the message of Jesus Christ.
Stricken by such poverty that they couldn’t even afford to send their children to school, yet those who accepted the gospel had more than the richest and most schooled people in the world who don’t accept it.  These people were a testimony to the fact that if you have the gospel and live by it, you have all you need.

Mission Moms

23 April 2010

It doesn’t take long for any missionary to learn that the members of the church are the key to missionary work. I remember reading a pamphlet that the church put out called “Only an Elder,” which mentioned that members are not tools that missionaries use to do missionary work, but that missionaries are tools for the members to teach the gospel to their friends, neighbors, and family. I discovered that to be true.

In all of my areas, there were good strong members of the church who seemed constantly determined to help and bless the missionaries – whether by providing people for us to teach, or by feeding us a good meal. Some even seemed so determined to bless the missionaries that they would pray daily for us by name. Often it seemed that the members of the church were the closest thing to family on the mission. One such person was Sister Marj. Sister Marj was from England, and had moved many years earlier, and due to some unfortunate events, was unable to return. She was in her sixties, but she related well to the missionaries, and was quite generous. I don’t remember ever leaving her home without being given food.

Sister Marj worked in the Temple two days a week, and always put our names on the temple prayer roll. We loved to hear the wonderful experiences she would have there. When the ward would have a temple day, or we’d have time before a mission conference, we’d go and do a session, baptisms, or sealings at the temple. It seemed that she was always there, and delighted in introducing us to the other temple workers.

One time Sister Marj asked us to come to her home, and when we arrived, she asked Elder Heward to consecrate her apartment. Her own husband had long-since passed away, so the missionaries were the primary source of priesthood in her home. Neither of us knew exactly how to consecrate a home, but Elder Heward did his best. He addressed Heavenly Father, stated his priesthood authority, pronounced a blessing, and then ended in the name of Jesus Christ. I remember learning later that this was the correct procedure, and I was grateful that Elder Heward had been in tune with the Spirit to know what to say.

Once the ward had a talent show with a great big pot-luck dinner. I think I estimated a count of forty different foods available. I stood in line, waiting to get to the food. It was a bit crowded, and some of the food was hard to reach. Sister Marj hadn’t even had a chance to see my difficulty in getting to it before beginning to scoop up food for me, and beginning to pile food on, saying, “Oh, you must try this one,” or “This is a fabulous one that Sister Deon made and you must try it!”

Since there were so many foods, and she was taking some from each pot, I wondered what she would do when my plate was filled up.

When she got the last possible scoop on my plate, she grabbed another plate and said, “You can take some of this home in a doggy bag if you need to!” Then she began piling the rest of the foods onto that plate. She helped me carry my mountains of food to the chairs that she had reserved for me and Elder Heward.

Though I filled my stomach to it’s capacity, we did take quite a bit of food home.

We considered Sister Marj to be the missionary mom for Germiston. She cared for us as a mother would, and did all in her power to help us in whatever way she could. She even supplied us with a number of referrals, which included one of the only people of those I helped teach that eventually got baptized in Germiston.

The Gumboot Dance

21 April 2010

This was a really popular dance among native Africans. I was determined that when I got home I’d find a way to learn it… now ten years later I’ve still never learned it. But here’s a video of a dance group that does it well! The interesting thing about this dance is the story of how it came to be, which they tell in the video.