Archive for the ‘Batwa’ Category

Africa: The Problems of Translation

April 12, 2011

One of the things I’m working on while I’m here at Vermont Studios is getting down all the stories I gathered in Uganda. I’ve already been working on this, but it’s a tedious project (someone recently told me I should have gotten a foot pedal for transcribing, something I hadn’t even thought of, but after many long hours working on this I see the value in not having to use one hand to keep turning the machine on and off so that you can just keep typing).

I have never done any translation. And in some ways I wouldn’t say I’m translating these stories either–someone else translated and I am just transcribing. But this, too, poses its own challenges. I have three different people who translated, and they speak English to different degrees and with different styles. As I go through the stories, then, I need to decide several things: what is merely erroneous wording that is the result of the translator searching for the right word or phrase in English vs. what is a kind of repetition of language that is true to the speech patterns of the speaker? What is a speaking style that is perhaps true to an “African” speaker but not inherently Batwa? (the translators were African but not Batwa, so they may be translating in a way that represents the Batwa speech pattern or they may be translating in a way that highlights a different speech pattern that is not Batwa). And what material is perhaps stylistically true to the speaker’s speech patterns but not essential for the story in written English form? For instance, I can’t see rendering all of these stories exactly as told because there would be a great deal of repetition, so I am making decisions about shaping the stories anyway. I am weeding through and finding the unique elements from each speaker’s story so that the whole adds up to an interesting and true representation of their stories, but so, for instance, we don’t have five different versions of the method of Batwa making fire (of all the fascinating elements of Batwa life in the forest, I’m not sure why this one is so essential–it’s clearly a cultural tidbit that has been reinforced over the years, but I’d hate to break it to them that a Boy Scout in the U.S. also knows how to do this, certainly not the most essential aspect of Batwa culture to convey to an American audience. But then too am I making judgements on how to portray another’s culture? Or is such post-colonial angst self-defeating in a project like this). It’s a fascinating project for me, but it’s also quite alien to the way I work. Some great material, but it’s much slower going to get at that material than I would have expected with many challenging questions I don’t really have the answers to. But onward…

Africa, Part III

March 14, 2011

I’m having trouble learning the software to edit some of my Africa video footage. I have several videos which I partially took sideways to get the full image of dancers. I am trying to edit it to rotate the footage, but I’ve yet to figure out a way to do this (if anyone has suggestions, feel free to leave me a comment!). I thought I’d wait till I get it all figured out to put on the blog, but some of this footage is too cool. So here’s a video of a Batwa community wishing us farewell with song and dance. As Henry, our guide and translator, said, “They want to sing you one more song. What can I do?”

Sure, it goes sideways, but still pretty cool. Enjoy:


Africa, Part II

March 11, 2011

Here is a brief video of a Batwa Community welcoming us. Notice the slope of the hillside that they are living on. It’s hard to fathom how people live on these hillsides, let alone farm them.

Africa, Part I

March 10, 2011

Well, we’ve returned from Uganda. It was an overwhelming experience I’m still trying to sort through. Earlier, I said I’d probably give a day-by-day account after the fact (since I really couldn’t blog while I was there) but I don’t think that’s what I’ll do. I’m sifting through all my notes trying to pull out the relevant material, but it’s difficult to do. It’s such a different world.

The first thing I want to do, though, is post a few photos of the Batwa. I was struck meeting these people at how open and generous they were in the face of lives that would simply grind most of us down. I was simultaneously depressed and uplifted by their experiences, living in utter poverty but persevering and still able to sing. Here are a few photos of the Batwa in their communities:

My friend Kurt who went along as photographer will have many more, and much better, shots than I have that we’ll share when ready. I’ve also got video I will share in due time, but I need to figure out how to edit first. I’m also slowly working through transcribing the stories I recorded while I was there and I’ll share as I work on them, so plenty of material I’ll be posting here about our adventures. Stay tuned. In the meantime, be sure to check out Act and Empower to see the work they’re doing with the Batwa.

Africa Preparations

February 21, 2011

It is the middle of the night and I’d really love to be sleeping. But my mind is racing with the idea of my upcoming trip to Africa and of the many little things I need to remember before I go. So, rather than lie in bed awake for the rest of the night thought I’d get up and do at least a few of those things, and apparently jot a few thoughts down here on the blog as well.

I will be spending time gathering stories from Twa villages in Uganda, so I’d love to say that I’m spending my sleepless nights doing something really productive like learning Kinyarwanda so that I can speak with the Batwa  (Kinyarwanda is actually a Bantu language that most of the Batwa have taken on with their own twists, their original language all but gone. My understanding is they also make use of a good dose of Swahili). But a new language is certainly not going to happen before I go. I’ve at least got a list of some phrases:

Good morning: MwahRahMootZAY (Mwaramutse)
Good afternoon: MweeReeWay (Mwiriwe)
Hello (anytime): MooRahHoh (Muraho)
How are you?: AhMahKooRoo (Amakuru)
How are you? (reciprocated): AhMahKooRoo Yah Way (Amakuru yawe)
I’m fine: Nee MAYza (Ni meza)
Thank you: MooRahKohZay (Murakoze)
Thank you very much(Swahili): AhSANtee SAHna (Ahsante Sana)
Goodbye (afternoon): MeeReeGway (Mwirirwe)
Goodbye (evening): MooRahMooKeyAy (Muramuke)
Goodbye (general): MooRahBAYho (Murabeho)
Yes: YAYgo (Yego)
No: Oya (Oya)
What’s your name?: WitWAHNday? (Witwa nde)
My name is _.: NEETwah _. (Nitwa)
Nice to meet you (one person): NdahBeeSheemYay (Ndabishimiye)
Nice to meet you (plural, polite form): NeeSheemYay KooBah MenYah (Nishimiye kuba menya)
Good: MAYza (Meza)
Bad: BeeBee (Bibi)
Welcome: MooRahKahZah NayZa (Murakaza neza)
Water: AhMahZee (Amazi)
Beer: EeBeeYehRee (Ibyeri)
Tea: EeKEYAhYee (Icyayi)
Coffee: EeKAHwah (Ikawa)
Food: EeBeeReebGah (Ibiribwa)
Meat: EenYahMah (Inyama)
Plantains: IGeeToeGee (Igitoke)
Bread: OomooKAHtee (Umukati)
Potatoes: EeBeeRAIYee (Ibirayi)
Rice: OoMooChelEe (Umuceli)
Money: AhMaFahRanGah (Amafaranga)
How much does this cost? :NahnGahHay? (Nangahe)
White person: OoMooZoonGoo (Umuzungu)
White people: AhBahZoonGoo (Abazungu)
What?: EeKey (Iki)
Why?: KooKee? (Kuki)
How?: BeeTay (Bite)
Who? (singular): Nday (Nde)
Who? (plural): BahnDay (Bande)
When?: ReeAhDee? (Ryali)

So, other than learning a language I’m doing those little things like making sure I have enough batteries for the recorder, plenty of notebooks and pens, my malaria medicine etc. Much of my preparation consists of things I wouldn’t normally think of, but I need to remember that out in the villages there won’t be a corner store I can go to.

I, of course, will write more, but now I suppose I’ll put my sleepless night to better use than blogging. I imagine I will keep a kind of diary and post it as blog entries when I get back. Not even sure if I’ll bother to take my computer as it could be more of a hassle than useful once I get to Uganda (but, then again, old habits die hard and  I still might find my computer with me–I use the passive since of course it would be the computer choosing to join me, not me deciding to take it. But in any case, I won’t have wireless in Kisoro so my blog entries still wouldn’t be posted until later).

For now, Murabeho.

Act and Empower

January 7, 2011

I’m happy to say we’ve just confirmed travel plans for me to travel to Uganda with the non-profit Act and Empower. This non-profit is working to improve the lives of the marginalized and impoverished Batwa pygmies. I’m not sure where my work will lead me, but my plan is to collect stories from Batwa villages, folktales and contemporary experiences. My good friend Kurt Koefod is coming too to document the Batwa in photographs. Together we hope that we can put together a collection of stories and images to help bring their plight to greater awareness. It’s a very exciting adventure and I hope we can do at least a little good. I am sure over the next months I will blog about this experience a good bit. In the meantime, please take a look at the website here. They’re doing good, important work.  With little education, no land, no social or political power, and a nearly 50% mortality rate for children under 5, the situation for the Batwa is critical,  so please give if you can–a little bit can go a long way.