Tag Archives: Africa

selections from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“She’ll come back and be a serious Americanah like Bisi,” Ranyinudo said.

They roared with laughter, at that word “Americanah,” wreathed in glee, the fourth syllable extended, and at the thought of Bisi, a girl in the form below them, who had come back from a short trip to America with odd affectations, pretending she no longer understood Yoruba, adding a slurred r to every English word she spoke. (78) Continue reading

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vocabulary from Aimé Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land

mendacious (adj.)
not telling the truth; lying.
an aged life mendaciously smiling, its lips opened by vacated agonies. (35)

pustule (Medicine, n.)
a small blister or pimple on the skin containing pus.
raison d’être (n.)
the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence.
an aged silence bursting with tepid pustules, the awful futility of our raison d’être. (35)

fumarole (n.)
an opening in or near a volcano, through which hot sulfurous gases emerge.
At the end of the wee hours, this inert town and its beyond of lepers, of consumption, of famines, of fears squatting in the ravines, fears perched in the trees, fears dug in the ground, fears adrift in the sky, piles of fears and their fumaroles of anguish. (37)

lubricious (adj.)
1. offensively displaying or intending to arouse sexual desire.
2. smooth and slippery with oil or a similar substance.
sahib (Indian, n.)
a polite title or form of address for a man.
At the end of the wee hours, the disparate stranding, the exacerbated stench of corruption, the monstrous sodomies of the host and the sacrificing priest, the impassable beakhead frames of prejudice and stupidity, the prostitutions, the hypocrisies, the lubricities, the treasons, the lies, the frauds, the concussions—the panting of a deficient cowardice, the heave-holess enthusiasm of supernumerary sahibs, the greeds, the hysterias, the perversions, the clownings of poverty, the cripplings, the itchings, the hives, the tepid hammocks of degeneracy. (37-39)

scrofula (chiefly historical, n.)
a disease with glandular swellings, probably a form of tuberculosis. Also formerly called “King’s Evil.”
bubo (n.)
a swollen, inflamed lymph node in the armpit or groin.
putrescible (adj.)
liable to decay; subject to putrefaction.
Right here the parade of laughable and scrofulous buboes, the forced feedings of very strange microbes, the poisons without known alexins, the sanies of really ancient sores, the unforeseeable fermentations of putrescible species. (39)

balafon (n.)
a large xylophone having hollow gourds as resonators, used in West African music.
terato- (combining form)
relating to monsters or abnormal forms.
At the end of the wee hours, the great motionless night, the stars deader than a caved-in balafo, the teratical bulb of night, sprouted from our vilenesses and our renunciations. (39)

coiffure (n.)
a person’s hairstyle, typically an elaborate one.
an indefatigable road charging at full speed a morne at the top of which it brutally quicksands into a pool of clumsy houses, a road foolishly climbing, recklessly descending, and the carcass of wood, which I call “our house,” comically perched on minute cement paws, its coiffure of corrugated iron in the sun like a skin laid out to dry, the main room, the rough floor where the nail heads gleam, the beams of pine and shadow across the ceiling, the spectral straw chairs, the grey lamp light the glossy flash of cockroaches in a maddening buzz . . . (39)

sisal (n.)
a Mexican agave with large fleshy leaves, cultivated for fiber production. (or, the fiber made from this plant, used esp. for ropes or matting.)
And you ghosts rise blue from alchemy from a forest of hunted beasts of twisted machines of a jujube tree of rotten flesh of a basket of oysters of eyes of a network of straps in the beautiful sisal of human skin I would have words vast enough to contain you earth taut earth drunk (45)

proscenium (n.)
the part of the stage in front of the curtain. (or, the stage of an ancient theater.)
And on the way I would say to myself:
“And above all, my body as well as my soul, beware of assuming the sterile attitude of a spectator, for life is not a spectacle,
a sea of miseries is not a proscenium, a man screaming is not a dancing bear . . .” (45)

noctiluca (n.)
a roughly spherical marine dinoflagellate that is strongly phosphorescent, esp. when disturbed.
these shovelfuls of petty flunkies over the great savage, these shovelfuls of petty souls over the three-souled Carib,
and all these deaths futile
absurdities under the splashing of my open conscience
tragic futilities lit up by this single noctiluca
and I alone, sudden stage of these wee hours when the apocalypse of monsters cavorts then, capsized, hushes
warm elections of cinders, of ruins and collapses

calcaneus (Anatomy, n.)
the large bone forming the heel. It articulates with the cuboid bone of the foot and the talus bone of the ankle, and the Achilles tendon is attached to it.
not an inch of this world devoid of my fingerprint
and my calcaneum on the spines of skyscrapers and my filth in the glitter of gems!
Who can boast of being better off than I? Virginia.
Tennessee. Georgia. Alabama
monstrous putrefactions of stymied
marshes of putrid blood
trumpets absurdly muted
land red, sanguineous, consanguineous land.

miaow (n. & v.)
variant spelling of “meow.”
That 2 and 2 are 5
that the forest miaows
that the tree plucks the maroons from the fire
that the sky strokes its beard
etc. etc. . . .

datura (n.)
a shrubby annual plant with large trumpet-shaped flowers, native to southern North America. Daturas contain toxic or narcotic alkaloids and are used as hallucinogens by some American Indian peoples.
—me on a road, a child, chewing
sugar cane root
—a dragged man on a bloodspattered road
a rope around his neck
—standing in the center of a huge circus,
on my black forehead a crown of
voum rooh
to fly off
higher than quivering higher
than the sorceresses toward other stars
ferocious exultation of forests and
mountains uprooted at the hour
when no one expects it
the islands linked for a thousand years!

erysipelas (n.)
an acute, sometimes recurrent disease caused by a bacterial infection. It is characterized by large, raised red patches on the skin, esp. that of the face and legs, with fever and severe general illness.
Words? while we handle
quarters of earth, while we wed
delirious continents, while
we force steaming gates,
words, ah yes, words! but
words of fresh blood, words that are
tidal waves and erysipelas
malarias and lava and brush
fires, and blazes of flesh,
and blazes of cities . . .

vitelline membrane (n.)
a transparent membrane surrounding and secreted by the fertilized ovum, preventing the entry of further spermatozoa.
I am forcing the vitelline membrane that separates
me from myself,
I am forcing the great waters which girdle me with blood

provender (often humorous, n.)
And now a last boo:
to the sun (not strong enough to inebriate
my very tough head)
to the mealy night with its golden
hatchings of erratic fireflies
to the head of hair trembling at the very
top of the cliff
where the wind leaps in bursts of salty
I clearly read in my pulse that for me
exoticism is no provender (59)

cutwater (n.)
1. the forward edge of a ship’s prow.
2. a wedge-shaped projection on the pier of a bridge, which divides the flow of water and prevents debris from becoming trapped against the pier.
Leaving Europe utterly twisted with screams
the silent currents of despair
leaving timid Europe which
collects and proudly overrates itself
I summon this egotism beautiful
and bold
and my ploughing reminds me of an implacable cutwater. (59)

filly (n.)
a young female horse, esp. one less than four years old. (or, a lively girl or young woman [dated].)
quirt (n.)
a short-handled riding whip with a braided leather lash.
(niggers-are-all-alike, I-tell-you vices-all-the-vices-believe-you-me
nigger-smell, that’s-what-makes-cane-grow
beat-a-nigger, and you feed him)
among “rocking chairs” contemplating the voluptuousness of quirts
I circle about, an unappeased
filly (59)

cartouche (n.)
a carved tablet or drawing representing a scroll with rolled-up ends, used ornamentally or bearing an inscription.
Or rather, it was a tireless worker, Poverty was, working on some hideous cartouche. (63)

chalaza (Zoology, n.)
(in a bird’s egg) each of the two twisted membranous strips joining the yolk to the ends of the shell.
My back will victoriously exploit the chalaza of fibers. (65)

postillion (n.)
a person who rides the leading left-hand horse of a team or pair drawing a coach or carriage, esp. when there is no coachman.
And the silver-braided bullshit of the postillion of Havana, lyrical baboon pimp for the glamour of slavery, will be more than a match for my enthusiasm. (65)

tabes (Medicine, n.)
And these tadpoles hatched in me by my prodigious ancestry!
Those who invented neither powder nor compass
those who could harness neither steam nor electricity
those who explored neither the seas nor the sky but who know
in its most minute corners the land of suffering
those who have known voyages only through uprootings
those who have been lulled to sleep by so much kneeling
those whom they domesticated and Christianized
those whom they inoculated with degeneracy
tom-toms of empty hands
inane tom-toms of resounding sores
burlesque tom-toms of tabetic treason

bezel (n.)
a grooved ring holding the glass or plastic cover of a watch face or other instrument in position (or, a groove holding the crystal of a watch or the stone of a gem in its setting.)
zinnia (n.)
an American plant of the daisy family that is widely cultivated for its bright showy flowers.
Calm and lull oh my voice the child who does not know that the map of spring is always to be drawn again
the tall grass will sway gentle ship of hope for the cattle
the long alcoholic sweep of the swell
the stars with the bezels of their rings never in sight will cut the pipes of the glass organ of evening zinnias
will then pour into the rich extremity of my fatigue
and you star please from your luminous foundation draw lemurian being—of man’s unfathomable sperm the yet undared form

pirogue (n.)
a long narrow canoe made from a single tree trunk, esp. in Central America and the Caribbean.
But before stepping on the shores of future orchards
grant that I deserve those on their belt of sea
grant me my heart while awaiting the earth
grant me on the ocean sterile
but somewhere caressed by the promise of the clew-line
grant me on this diverse ocean
the obstinacy of the fierce pirogue
and its marine vigor.

vertiginous (adj.)
causing vertigo, esp. by being extremely high or steep. (or, relating to or affected by vertigo.)
See it advance rising and falling on the pulverized wave
see it dance the sacred dance before the greyness of the village
see it trumpet from a vertiginous conch

chloasma (n.)
a temporary condition, typically caused by hormonal changes, in which large brown patches form on the skin, mainly on the face.
I accept . . . I accept . . . totally, without reservation . . .
my race that no ablution of hyssop mixed with lilies could purify
my race pitted with blemishes
my race a ripe grape for drunken feet
my queen of spittle and leprosy
my queen of whips and scrofula
my queen of squasma and chloasma (oh those queens I once loved in the remote gardens of spring against the illumination of all the candles of the chestnut trees!)

suppurate (v.)
undergo the formation of pus; fester.
and far from the palatial sea that foams beneath the suppurating syzygy of blisters, miraculously lying in the despair of my arms the body of my country, its bones shocked and, in its veins, the blood hesitating like a drop of vegetal milk at the injured point of the bulb . . . (77)

haft (n.)
the handle of a knife, ax, or spear.
It shrivels and its point desperately retreats toward the haft when it is sprinkled with chicken blood and it says that its nature requires the blood of man, his fat, his liver, his heart, not chicken blood. (77)

askari (n.)
(in East Africa) a soldier or police officer.
And there is the nigger pimp, the nigger askari, and all the zebras shaking themselves in various ways to get rid of their stripes in a dew of fresh milk. (79)

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