BETWEEN 2007 and 2011, I was in Shanghai, China, studying.
My major was Chinese language and my minor Japanese.
Our class was the least populated with 10 students; seven of them Japanese, two Koreans and myself as the only black student.
Every other day I would hear Japanese words that sounded Shona and would be compelled to ask what they mean.
Because my name is Simbarashe, when the Japanese said words like ‘shibarashi’, meaning ‘awesome’, I would mistakenly think someone was calling my name.
The same goes with Japanese words like ‘gozen’ which sounded to me like ‘kuseni’ and upon further inquiry did turn out to mean ‘morning time’.
Being exposed to three oriental languages at the same time via my curriculum and classmates, I quickly noticed that Japanese was more similar to Shona than Chinese and Korean.
As shown in the first part of this series, similarities between the Japanese and the Shona in terms of language are many.
There have not been enough studies made to unearth possible historical links between the two lands and peoples because the difference in distance is too wide.
Many thus find it far-fetched to imagine the two as having been one afore time.
However, genetic similarities between the two groups, regardless of racial variety, tells a story of common origins.
The Japanese originated from the area around Tibet and headed far east long after the Han and other groups.
The Japanese have a paternal or ‘Y’ DNA marker known as ‘D’. This varies from other Eastern groups that have the ‘C’ and/or ‘O’ DNA marker in Mongolia and China respectively.
The ‘D’ marker predates the ‘E’ marker to which sub-Saharan (sub-Saharid E1b1a) and Mediterranean (Meditid E1b1b1) blacks belong to.
Many of these test positive to ‘DE’ (yap) which further draws a connection between the ‘D’ and ‘E’ haplotypes which follow each other in the human family tree.
This basically means that according to genetics, the ancestors of the majority of Shona people once lived in Tibet and they left kinsmen there who migrated far east to make up the majority of the Japanese population.
Seeing that there have been thousands of years since the split between the would-be Shona and would-be Japanese, climatic adaptation on both sides may have led to or increased racial variations among the two groups.
The Shona are black and contain eu melanin. Thus, it is safer to assume the Japanese lost some skin colour after they headed and settled north-east.
Black groups and individuals can still be found in their history, in artefacts and sculptures.
Ethnic groups in Japan, such as the Ainu, also have black-skinned and wooly-haired people who resemble Africans.
Besides Japan, China has many linguistic connections to Bantu groups like the Shona.
For example, the Chinese word ‘long’ which means ‘lord’ or ‘emperor’ is similar to ‘lungu’ in ‘mulungu’ which also means ‘lord’ (not whiteman).
The lord is symbolised by a dragon which is also called ‘long’.
The dragon is a fictitious creature which represents heavenly powers and resembles a serpent which is known as ‘she’ in Chinese.
This mighty serpent has tiger teeth, a lion’s mane, a man’s beard, fish scales, eagle’s claws and so on.
She thus also means or symbolises lord and is thus similar to the Shona word ‘she’ or ‘ishe’ which means ‘lord’.
The Chinese also had a title called ‘son of heaven’ used from the time of the Zhou Dynasty onwards.
It was used to refer to Chinese emperors even after the rise of the Han under Qinshihuang.
The title is known as ‘tianzi’ and means ‘one with a heavenly mandate to rule on earth’.
This is identical to the Shona word ‘tenzi’ which meant the same thing and is used to refer to messianic figures.
This is far from just a coincidence.
Chinese and Shona similarities go beyond language and can be found in traditional philosophies such as hunhu/ubuntu or humanness.
Yes, the Chinese know, observe and value hunhu/ubuntu just as much as Zimbabweans and other Africans.
Although their word for hunhu/ubuntu called ‘ren’ does not sound similar to ours in the way ‘untu’ or ‘ubuntu’ do, the way in which the word is formed is exactly the same.
The Chinese word for human is ‘ren’.
From it, they named the word equivalent to humanness ‘ren’ just as we derived ‘hunhu’ from ‘munhu’ (human).
Even phrases such as ‘munhu, munhu, nehunhu’, meaning ‘a person is only considered human through his or her humanness’ are commonly used in China as ‘Ren jiushi youren’.
Even the Chinese character for ‘hunhu’ is a combination of the character of a man and that of the Chinese numeral for two, showing humanness is what is most valued in a human being.
Chinese is also similar to Shona in that the two languages contain tones that, if altered, may change the meaning of the word.
For example, the word ‘mhara’ may either mean a type of antelope or to land depending on the tone used.
Similarly, in Chinese, if one says ‘dabian’, it may either mean to defend a thesis (dissertation) or to defecate, depending on the tones applied.
The two words even have different characters.
Chinese also sounds Shona in terms of how they express their vowels. However, because their words do not all end with vowels like Shona and Japanese, this is hard to notice.
They end many of their words with ‘in, un, ing ian’ and so on, but the rest is read out like Shona not English.
For example, the Chinese word for ‘us’ is ‘women’.
If read like English, it would be incorrect as it will sound as if it is referring to mature female human beings.
Instead, it should be read out as ‘wo + men’ with the ‘o’ and ‘e’ read like it is Shona.
However, in comparison, Japanese sounds more similar to Shona than Chinese.
Korean is also very similar to Japanese and thus sounds more Shona than Chinese, but not as much as Japanese.
The Korean alphabet contains word components like ‘ga, na, da, ra, ma, ba and sa’, among others.
These are combined with vowel word ends like ‘a, ya, e, ye’ and so on.
The only words that end without a vowel in Japanese and Korean contain the letter ‘n’.
For example, the word ‘riben’ from whence the name Japan was derived and literally means ‘sun’s source’ as it is the most eastbound nation on earth.
The effect that these similarities between the languages of the orient and Shona have is a relative ease in learning experienced by Zimbabweans and other Bantu-speaking groups.
It also hints to a past of close inter-connectivity and common origins between Asians and Africans.
BETWEEN 2007 and 2011, I was in Shanghai, China, studying.