Historical truth on Shona, Semitic dialects

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By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

The article published by The Patriot about some lexicological relationship between Shona and some Semitic dialects confirmed an unusually recognised common origin of a group of some African languages with those of western Asia and southern Europe.
The group of African languages, some of whose words have similar origins, forms and meanings as some Semitic dialects are those of the eastern Bantu.
That could be because the Bantu, whose original place of abode is the African geographical region stretching eastwards from the Great Lakes towards the Red Sea-Indian Ocean as well as northwards across what the Arabs called ‘Bilad as Sudan’ (the land of the black people) and southwards across what was known as Tanganyika (now mainland Tanzania).
‘Tanganyika’ is Shona for ‘where the land or earth begins’. To the north, the black race was found in what was later called Egypt and in all the Maghrib countries (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.)
Archaeologists have established that the Sahara Desert was once a thick forest.
They have also discovered that human beings lived in the Olduval Valley in Tanzania some centuries before the biblical Adam and Eve inhabited the then green valley known as the Garden of Eden.
They have established that the human race existed before the Biblical creation dates, and that in ancient Babylonian literature, there are passages about the origin of mankind, about Paradise and the flood.
Archaeologists found an inscription of a Babylonia King Nabonidus that were dated about 550 years BC. The inscription stated that Nabonidus restored a temple built by a Babylonian king called Naram-Sin.
The inscription said the temple was constructed some 3 200 years earlier. That meant that Naram-Sin built the temple in about 3400 BC.
That discovery was acknowledged by prominent students of the social and cultural history of that region who had earlier found inscriptions of Sargon the First, the father of Naram-Sin.
They had also found historical inscriptions of predecessors of Sargon the First who had ruled Assyria some 500 years before Sargon the First.
That simply means they ruled that land in about 4250 BC.
That means we cannot rule out the existence of people in Africa and elsewhere even earlier than those dates, an obvious possibility that may include the existence of people of Shona origin in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the Book of Genesis names generations to the creation of the first man to 4219 BC.
If we adopt the Greek cultural version that held that patriarchs fathered their children in a more advanced age than was the practice among the Hebrews, we will get a much earlier date for Sargon the First and other rulers of that region; a much earlier date than the 4219 BC we get by using the Book of Genesis.
We now come to the story about the Tower of Babel.
The word ‘Babel’ is derived from two Hebrew words ‘bab ili’ which mean the gate of god. The writer of this article visited the site of the ill-fated Tower of Babel in Iraq in 1977 as one of the guests of Iraqi journalists.
Biblical legend has it that after the tower had been built to a quite lofty height, Jehovah confused the builders’ speech, leading to their abandonment of the project. The structure collapsed sooner rather than later.
It is said that various languages came into existence from that time. However, some social scientists say that the project was undertaken by a large number of slaves from various parts of North Africa, the Middle East, the Adriatic and Balkan region and also from the Slavic countries such as modern Bulgaria, Romania (the former Yugoslavia) and the Mediterranean islands of Malta, Cyprus, Sicily and Rhodes.
They suspect that the slaves revolted and the project was abandoned. Since they used ordinary mortar and not cement, the tower was bound to fall, as it did.
Each group of slaves had walked away in revolt and spoke its own language or dialect.
A word of Shona origin features prominently in the story about the Flood.
That word is ‘Anu’, the name of the god which Babylonians say caused the disaster. ‘Anu’ is clearly the word ‘nhu’ with the prefix ‘a’ denoting respect, and later being replaced by ‘mu’ and the word becoming ‘munhu’ (singular) or ‘vanhu’ (plural), meaning a person or people.
In TjiKalanga, which is the oldest of the Shona language cluster, that word has not changed.
It is still ‘nu’ and still means person. So, the Babylonian god was apparently regarded as some person in control of the weather and most likely some other natural phenomena.
It is most interesting that in Shona, the word ‘aiwa’ means ‘no’, but in Arabic the same word means ‘yes’.
Another word that occurs in both Hebrew and TjiKalanga is ‘hosanna’ (the ‘ho’ is pronounced as in ‘holy’). In TjiKalanga it means a person who dances at Mwali’s (Mwari’s) shrine, or elsewhere on occasions that are associated with the worshipping of that deity.
In Hebrew, ‘hosanna’ literally and originally means ‘save now’ and is derived from the phrase ‘hosi a’nna’.
It is, however, pronounced ‘hozanna’, and is used in the New Testament. (Matthew Chapter 21 verses 9-15) as a shout of adoration.
It is of much interest that that word occurs in both those languages, and is associated with adoration, one (in TjiKalanga) by sacred actors while in the other, during verbal worship.
There is a very little known TjiKalanga legend that some of the Jews who escaped a bloody, massive massacre by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, eventually ended up in an African region occupied by a Bantu group that later became known as BaKalanga.
That legend seems to be supported by facial features of some Jewish people, particularly their fleshy bulbous noses very much similar to those of many Bantu, especially those of the BaKalanga, the Tonga and the Venda.
It is important to bear in mind that some anthropologists maintain that some tribal and clan myths and oral legends have, in fact, some historical truth.
They might have been distorted by exaggeration or whatever else, by the passage of time, but most of them have a substance or truth.
The Jews were dispersed by wars, slavery, adventure, droughts and even by trade.
Some went eastwards and were referred to as the Ashkenazi, others went to the west and were called Sephandi. History did not give a name to those who went south and sought refuge in Sudan, Libya, Egypt and in other North African countries.
Meanwhile, black people were violently pushed southwards along the Nile River, and also along the Indian and the Atlantic coastal regions by Greek slave hunters who took large numbers of them from as far south as modern Somalia centuries before Christ’s birth.
There are people of Shona cultural origin in the southern region of Somalia today. Their totem is the zebra (Mbizi, Dube).
The author of this account met a few of them in Mogadishu in 1974.
They said they were Bantu and that they had their own hereditary chief.
They said their ancestors originally lived in Somalia’s northern region but were pushed southwards by Arab slave traders circa 17th Century.
While some of their ancestors migrated to the south, others were taken to the north. Some descendants of those former slaves are now found on the Socotra island where a few of them have hazy memories of their African origin.
The island is in the Arabian Sea and is directly east of the horn of Africa. Most of its inhabitants are black, speak an Arabic dialect replete with African words.
It would be most beneficial to the advancement of the knowledge of the world’s social science to carry out a formal socio-cultural research in that community to establish whether or not it has had an impact on that region’s linguistic landscape.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. sgwakuba@gmail.com

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