Re-Thinking Swahili For Kwanzaa


On AOL’s The Root, John McWhorter posted a provocative essay on “Speaking Swahili for Kwanzaa.” His thesis is that Swahili is an East African language that would not have been spoken by the enslaved ancestors of most African Americans. He’s correct given that the Atlantic Slave Trade involved the trafficking of enslaved West African people. Mr. McWhorter instead suggests that African Americans learn Twi, a common West African language that is spoken among Ghanaians. Besides honoring our ancestors, McWhorter says that the tonal inflections required of Twi speakers prepares African Americans to tackle Mandarin Chinese which may become this century’s language of commerce. (I believe Fordham University in the Bronx has a Twi language course.)

My heart breaks as I read about the election violence in Cote de Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, and other parts of the homeland. My blood boils when I read about Communist China’s efforts to secure control of the strategic minerals found in West Africa by building hospitals, roads and other badly needed infrastructure. Marcus Garvey was right when he urged Africans in the Americas to forge commercial ties with Africa. Learning Twi may heal our hearts and strengthen those blood ties.

What say you? Should American Americans learn Twi and thereby reclaim our West African heritage? I look forward to your comments. Don’t forget to answer the poll question.

About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, FoxNews.com LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email MBenjamin9@optimum.net.
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2 Responses to Re-Thinking Swahili For Kwanzaa

  1. PastorA says:

    Thank God! It is abut time someone finally had the guts to speak the truth! Phew! From Kwanzaa’s inception, I could never figure out why we celebrate a “holiday” in a language where few if any of our ancestors spoke; celebrating something our ancestors would not have had ANY knowledge of because it does not exist on the continent! It is bad enough that those of us who adopt an “African” name are often disrespectful of the culture of language and ethnicity. We choose names of mixed languages. We speak of tribe rather than ethnic group (complete language, culture, religion, family structure, etc). We need to learn more than a language.
    1. There were slave castles extending along the ENTIRE West Coast of the African Continent as far south as Angola. Not just Ghana-they have simply become the experts in marketing our circumstance; playing on our heart strings through lucrative tourism.
    2. Few of the people of the African Continent speak only 1 language. So we must learn more than 1 other traditional language.
    3. The largest Ethnic group reflected in the North American slave trade has been said to be Yoruba. Given the practices of many who work to maintain West African religious practices Yoruba seems to win over Twi.
    It really does not matter what language we learn at the end of the day. Just learn any language. The world is small. Opportunities broaden when you are able to communicate in more than one tongue.

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  2. This is African matter, with all respect to twi language wish is north Ghanaians/African language, twi is only spoken in Ghana. When you travel to west African countries, most likely Haousa has been spoken by the majority of the people. To my personal experience, Haousa is the language that we should be focus to learn and teach amoung each other and to others. Haousa has been spoken in Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Cameroun, Benin, Togo and much more. Since 1970’s (BBC) radio has been using Haousa to communicate with W/Africans. When we go back to history, before slavery Haousa and Fulla was the most popular in west Africa. The good news is Haousa is very academic and easy to learn. I’m not Haousa and not defending haousa, we must do the right things to better our continent and his people.

    Djounedou Titikpina

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