Origins of Kwaaman
ramblings of a desktop researcher.
Akwaaba has always been one of my favourite Kwa type sayings. Hailing as “welcome” from some of the Akan speaking people, it includes a root ‘kwa’ prefix that is found in many of their words. The Akan dialects falls within the Niger-Congo parent group of languages, specifically the New Kwa set that are spoken in the parts of Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Ghana, and Togo.
It has been suggested that what binds these languages together, is the common meaning of the word ‘kwa’ to mean ‘human being’ across these grouped dialects. This maybe so, however currently in Twi (an Akan dialect), ‘kwa’ said alone in a sentence loosely translates as ‘free’ or ‘for nothing’.
Languages evolve with time and changes in culture. So to and adept linguist, the significance of this may be nothing. Still the word ‘kwa’ to me, presents itself as an oddity, as it is used as a prefix for names of places or people on continents other than Africa. For example,
- ‘To Kwa Wan’ is a bay area in Hong Kong, China, ‘Kwan’ is a Chinese surname or martial arts term meaning building or hall.
- The ‘River Kwai’ in Thailand.
- ‘Kwan Im’ or ‘Dewi Kwan Im’ is a Buddhist god found in Indonesia.
- The ‘Kwantlen’ are an indigenous people found on the Coast Salish area in Canada. Other indigenous tribes include, ‘Kwakwala’ and ‘Kwakiutl’.
- ‘Kwale’ is a language spoken by indigenous people in Papa New Guinea.
Within the ‘Niger-Congo’ language areas of Africa, such ‘kwa’ type words are abundant. Its occurrence spans from places and names, to some verbs as well. Below are just a few.
Kwa ¦ Free / for nothing ¦ Ghana
Kwacha ¦ It dawns ¦ Malawi
Kwanza ¦ Fruit of the harvest ¦ Swahili
Kwadu ¦ Noun for banana ¦ Ghana
Kwan ¦ Noun for road ¦ Ghana
Kwae ¦ Forest ¦ Ghana
Kwapa ¦ A road name ¦ Uganda
Sisi Kwa Sisi ¦ us of us (together as one) ¦ Kenya
Kwa Na Kwa ¦ Work, only Work ¦ Central African Republic
Kwa Ibo River ¦ A river name ¦ Nigeria
Kwa ¦ Part of the Kasai River after it is joined by the Kwango ¦ Angola/Congo
Kwale ¦ An area name ¦ Kenya
There is an abundance of references that maps ‘kwa’ to rivers, including references to fruits, animals, roads, etc. Archaeological research has taught us that early migratory people settled and formed colonies in areas where there was water and vegetation, natural ingredients for survival. Hence the expression ‘kwa’ could have been used to connect to the aspects of living within such colonies. For example using Akan words, ‘kwan’ = ‘road’, ‘kwa + du’ = ‘banana’ (‘du’ = ‘to reach’/’to arrive at’).
Kwaaman, an ancient pre Ashanti state in Ghana, was a place where early migratory Akan clans settled. Naturally the name for this early state would have been an endonym. So taking into consideration a heavy abundance of water related ‘kwa’ words, ‘Kwa + aman’ could mean water/free nation (‘aman’ = ‘nation’).
The word ‘kwa’ may have its own ambiguous forms, probably arising from that fact that to pronounce it requires a nasal vowel. As such, its written appearance may possibly be equal to forms found as ‘kua’, ‘kuwa’, ‘gua’,’gwa’, ‘cua’ and ‘qua’.
Below are some occurrences of such variants found with similar Kwa colony related meaning.
- Cuan-do: a river from Angola to the Zambezi River.
- Guangdong: a province in South China, "Guang" = "expanse" or "vast".
- Guam: an island where the indigenous Chamorros settled, to them ‘guam’= ‘what we have’.
- Guadacanal: a Solomon Island.
- Castle Qua: remains of a medieval structure in Scotland.
- Quapaw: a tribe of Native Americans who in the past resided on the Mississippi river, it is also an extinct language.
- Kuwait: in Arabic ‘al-kuwayt’ = ‘a fortress surrounded by a settlement and protected by water’
- Kuomingtang: founding and ruling political party in China. ‘kuo’ + ‘min’ + ‘tang’ = ‘nation’ + ‘people’ + ‘party’.
Once again to skilled linguists, all of what I have illustrated above is probably not a new event. Still it is curious how the endonyms for a people, their communities or their signifying words can tell us more of their history. Going back to the group meaning for ‘kwa’ to be ‘human being’, may not be far from wrong. Nonetheless, this would imply that perhaps the Chinese or other nationalities with a like nasal ‘kwa’ noun, to have a similar meaning, would make them Kwa speaking too. That may never happen, but it is telling how what was once classified as ‘Kwa Languages’ is now known as ‘New Kwa Languages’.
For me, directly belonging to those who once called themselves Kwaaman, there is a romance that I still need to uncover. In terms of a language family that would point to the origins of the modern speaking man/woman, it would seem natural to seek an older language that shared similar meanings.
Next stop is to try and find such meanings, with the aim to shed some light to the etymology of some words whose origins are uncertain to my native tongue. So I welcome you to come and join me next time on my layman ramble into the Origins of Kwaaman.
After all, to me, you are Kwaaman too.