[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

7372: Re: African-derived words in Haitian Creole (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

There's a fascinating book by Pierre Anglade on the etymological inventory
of creole words with African origins.  The book's title is: _Inventaire
Etymologique des Termes Creoles des Caraibes d'Origine Africaine (published
by L'Harmattan in 1998).  Given the interests of readers of this list, this
book would probably come in handy in order to elucidate the origins of
various Creole words (e.g., those used in Vodou) while staying clear of
wild speculations.

Anglade (partially) answers some of the questions asked by Mambo Racine
Sant Bout [sic]:

> <<The boat of Agwe-ta-oyo is called IMAMOU. >>
> Now this interests me.  "Imamou" sounds like "imam", maybe that means
> something.  On the other hand, "Imamou" may be a word from some language
> in which it means "big boat" for all we know.

According to Anglade, Imamou, as (originally) part of a longer phrase, is
derived from the West-African language Fongbe, which also gave us the word
"Vodou".  (Fongbe is now spoken in Benin

> The word is written in Roman characters, not Arabic script.  It's
> important not to jump to conclusions.

The actual spelling would not mean much with respect to its etymology.  Not
surprisingly, no Haitian Creole is written in Arabic script.  Yet, there
may be words ("Salanm alaykoum" in Vodou rituals) that, notwithstanding
their spelling, are derived from Arabic (perhaps via African Islam).

> More intriguing to me, the name of the lwa is Met Agwe Tawoyo, and I have
> been told that Awoyo is a place in Nigeria, not to be confused with old
> Oyo, where the male principle of the sea is served, so there isn't much
> mystery about that.  I also speculate people from Awoyo newly arrived in
> Haiti might have been notable enough to bring the word "awoyo" into the
> Creole language, just as "Hausa" or "owsa" has come to mean "pickpocket".

"Awoyo" too is derived from the Fongbe where "awoyo" refers to the
"immensity of the sea"; in Fongbe "Ahoyo" also serves a patronym (Anglade
1998:49).  Anglade also mentions a possible, but less likely, Yoruba
etymology from a phrase "aro` yo" that means "the funnel is filled".

> I'm also interested in the origin of the word "Agwe" - is it derived from
> the Spanish "agua", for example, or from a Fon word ("gwe"?  "gweto"?) or
> from some other source?

Per Anglade, "agwe" too is related to the Fongbe---again to words making
reference to (entitied related to) the sea.

More generally, given the well-documented cultural connections between 
Haiti and Dahomey (now Benin) it's not surprising that a large stock of
Vodou-related words are etymologically connected to Fongbe.

I hope this helps.

MIT Linguistics & Philosophy, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 02139-4307
degraff@MIT.EDU        http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/www/degraff.home.html