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Hey Magic Boy!

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Hey Magic Boy!
Submitted by capdog on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 - 19:55

So would you believe it, in the last month I've been racially abused - not once, but twice, on two separate occasions! At least, I think I have.

Walking along a busy street in Westville, someone passed me, then after a few steps turned and shouted back:

"YA UMLUNGU!"

... much to the amusement of everyone around, as they openly snickered and laughed at me. What the hell was so funny, I'll never know. Maybe the crowd just loved the man's open disrespect, or at least, what I perceived would be disrespect. Having never been yelled at as an "Umlungu" before, it was difficult to know how to react.

The next time it happened, it was quite friendly - I was on the back of a bakkie on the way back from the beach, and a bunch of guys hollered "YEBO UMLUNGU!" from the road; but they had a cheerful look to them, and were giving me thumbs-up signs and waving.

That time I returned the cheerfulness, but the contrast of the incidents led me to think about the meaning of the word, and how different SA cultures interpret reference to race.

For instance, I would never call to a stranger by referencing their skin color. Imagine:

"Hey you, black guy!"

"Yes you, Indian woman, I'm talking to you!"

It's disrespectful.

But maybe the word "Umlungu" doesn't mean disrespect. After all, the direct translation means "men who practice magic", or depending on who you ask, it can mean "the white foam on the waves". Both are references to the early European settlers who came sailing in to African shores, carrying mirrors and other 'magical' devices that earned them the nickname of being magicians.

I don't mind being called a magician, or a foamie. I can't really see how these meanings are offensive, the same as I don't find soutpiel (the Afrikaans derogatory term for English South Africans) really offensive. I know I probably should, for some reason, but it just doesn't bother me.

Then again, being called a non-believer wouldn't offend me either, although I understand why black people are offended by the term 'kaffir', due to it's use in the history of oppression.

So what is this "Umlungu" then? Is it hate speech? Or is it as harmless as one African-American calling another a nigger, or a Durban Indian guy referring to himself and his friends as charos?

Should I be offended?


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Subject:  umfan' mhlophe
kliktrak's picture
Author:  kliktrak
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 06:53

hmmm very interesting observations there capdog
whenever I am randomly addressed in similar fashion I find responding with a generally convivial greeting in Zulu illicits and even better reaction

San'bonani nonke ! Ninjani ? uyabiza mina ?

[Howzit there everyone, and how are you all ? are you calling me ?]

the historical use of the term is very key, especially during the darkest days of apartheid etc , to denote the racist subservient
realatonship that the system tried to instill.

However the term in my opinion is less offensive than the "baas" or
"klein baas" that I have been addressed as, that I find totally reprehensible , I am not your boss, I am just a guy like you trying to make my way in this world

I lived for about 5yrs in rural KZN up in a small "hamlet" called Bergville in the foothills of the Drakensberg, it was an incredibly rich experience, learnt so much about aspects of the "real" South African cultural world, as opposed to the more "artificial " suburbian one , and I feel I grew out of the experience and put alot of demons to rest and acheived a better understanding of the complexities of inter-cultural communication and interaction.

I ended coining the term which alot of the mates I made [ie partying it up in the Bergville Prison...er the prison warders section ;-) or picking up quarts at 2am at some shebeen in a location ]

The term "Mfan' mhlophe" - basically translated "white boy"

Also the significance of the use of umfana /umfaan - ie boy, is quite
important, all familial relationship terms, ie baba=father, mama=mother, dadewethu=sister, or boy /girl/man=indoda - are imbued with very strong cultural meaning, in the sense that one can refer to and address a total stranger as mother/aunt/sister/brother, in african culture there is a very strong sense of belonging, this is also is the essence of what is referred to as "ubuntu", which basically means and siginifies "the people"

Anyhow I dont want to waffle on too long

I also think that as society changes, terms that were used negatively or in derogatory sense get re-absorbed and take on new meaning, just like certain african-american sub-cultures have subverted the n-word, into their language and interactions to take on +ve and affirming connotations

culture is a crazy whirlpool of a juggernaut that morphs in amazing and unexpected ways, ride the chaos wave and remember being in surf city and close to the foaming waves, feels like home for most mlungu's !

Peace, shaap shaap

KLIKTRAK
http://kliktrak.partychief.com


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Subject:  Umlungu- BE offended!
Author:  SteveTuna
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 07:17

I dont think it means 'the white foam on the waves'... i always understood it to mean (look closely next time) the white 'froth' that collects on the shoreline.

I suppose this would be a derogatory reference to the way we washed up on their beaches many years ago. If you look carefully the 'foam' from the wave RETURNS to the ocean but the 'froth' REMAINS on the shore (much like we did invading their country) you see?

Now this 'froth' sometimes has yellow stuff on it and looks pretty ugly. The 'froth' also spends its day hanging out with bluebottles, plastic, condoms and driftwood. NOT cool...

So for the record.. when someone calls me 'UMLUNGU' I turn around and kick his ass!


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Subject:  goddamn honky-ass white mofo's, stop yapping and learn some!
Author:  hedmekanik
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 08:11

Umlungu (noun) - derived from lunga (verb) - and prefix um-

lunga (verb) -
1. get in order, fit, be correct
2. get ready, prepared
3. be morally good, righteous.

as in lungile (goodness/good)
- Doke, Malcolm and Sikakana's Zulu-Cracker Dictionary (Wits University Press)

But really, it's all about context. Credo Mutwa considers it a positive term, with roots in mystical terminology. Others say it has origins in Pondoland (which after all had earlier contact with white sailors) and this is associated with the 'white scum from the sea' story. Still others insist that the term is a version of lungu (to look, to peep)...which was probably an important part of trying to avoid becoming an espetada when you're poking around someone else's hood.

Whatever. It's in the best interest of all who live in this country to be aware of both the language and customs of those with whom we share this country. Or else you won't be able tell if umlungu means goddamn honky-ass mofo or just 'white guy'. Which could be called intentional ignorance.

If you lived in Italy, you'd be speaking Italian by now.


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Subject:  Yep, I lament the fact that
capdog's picture
Author:  capdog
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 08:41

Yep, I lament the fact that I don't speak fluent Zulu, but we learnt Afrikaans at school. It would have been nice to do all 11 official languages, but it's a bit unrealistic!

It's actually very difficult to practice speaking European languages in Europe, or so I found while working there. As soon as a German person hears that you are English, they immediately switch so they can practice their foreign language!


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Subject:  I tried to find a definition
capdog's picture
Author:  capdog
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 08:58

I tried to find a definition on the internet, but only found the magician and sea-foam one.

Still, I highly doubt the connotations of the word are "good and righteous"! ;)


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Subject:  whats in a name ? some divine defintions
kliktrak's picture
Author:  kliktrak
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 09:24

crazy stuff man, check this

Yeah battling to find good solid online sources, checked a few online dictionaries and get the following:

1. Short and sweet :

http://isizulu.net :
umlungu/abelungu [umˈlu:ŋu] [aɓeˈlu:ŋu] (-lungu) n. 1/2
white person

2. And if you thought it wasnt a +ve term, take consolation in the following:

http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/translation/zulu/mlungu

English Translation: Mlungu

Language_____Expression______English Translation or Definition
Dawida _______Mlungu__________God.
Pogolo _______Mlungu _________God.
Ruguru _______mlungu, Mlungu _evil spirit, God.

and that about sums up the crazy world of cuture and languages ! one persons offense is another's reverance !

KLIKTRAK
http://kliktrak.partychief.com


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Subject:  Of course it was racist
Author:  harry
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 11:42

(edited - please tone it down harry - no fueling tension with racist comments)


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Subject:  nice and safe
kliktrak's picture
Author:  kliktrak
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 11:43

nice on safe on the island...


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Subject:  Street walking
Author:  harry
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 11:48

Not getting sworn at on the streets if thats what you mean


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Subject:  using the tube i guess, head underground ?
kliktrak's picture
Author:  kliktrak
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 11:50

guess you havent run into any chavs then...


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Subject:  I got a car
Author:  harry
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 11:55

I have a car and a bike to get into work so no need to take public transport. I can spot a chav from a mile away and avoid the situation completely. (Living in a good area also sorts those kinds of problems out) Was a bit silly to bring that up though, living in the murder capital of the world!


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Subject:  what, no chavs?
Author:  hedmekanik
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 11:57

have they thrown them all into Wormwood Scrubbs?
For crying out loud, you obviously can't let random skebengas tune you in the street but you equally should be able to decipher what they say after having spent how ever many years in their country.


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Subject:  Have not been tuned by a chav yet!
Author:  harry
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 12:02

You obviousley stayed in some low budget housing areas in your time in London. Let me guess East London?


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Subject:  Too right, Prince Regent was
Author:  hedmekanik
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 12:06

Too right, Prince Regent was the stop on the DLR.
You're obviously loving it norh of the river, no scruffs round there, eh?
Must be boring.


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Subject:  Not boring at all
Author:  harry
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 12:10

Walking the streets ad 2 in the morning in a drunken haze not worrying about getting mugged. Yawn really boring


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Subject:  The point of the article is
capdog's picture
Author:  capdog
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 12:18

The point of the article is not to try incite racial hatred, it's meant to be about the two situations where a relatively controversial word can take opposite meanings depending on how it's used.


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Subject:  not being racist
Author:  harry
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 12:26

just having a laugh


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Subject:  Pretty Sad
DeanRichards's picture
Author:  DeanRichards
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 12:53

If it is meant to be insulting, where's the bravado in shouting it at someone who you assume doesn't understand it? "Ha ha! We called him froth! Ha ha! To his face! And he didn't even know! HA HA!"

You've got to be pretty insular...


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Subject:  Chances are the o's were
Author:  hedmekanik
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 13:09

Chances are the o's were just dronk and having a laugh, to borrow a phrase...
But ekshaulley, Cap'n TopDawg, why not learn one simple word which may lay to rest your taunting woes (some of them at least..)
The world-famous UTHINI (oo-tea-knee) - thieved famously by George Lucas for the Jawas that sell C3PO and R2D2 to Skywalker's uncle. Those short little bastards with hoodies and bright eyes.
It means 'What you say?' which could flummox the o's a little. Maybe even turn the laughter on them some. Works for me.


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Subject:  venting vernacular verbage
kliktrak's picture
Author:  kliktrak
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 13:18

some other one word phrases I find also illicit some cool counter reactions are:

unamanga ! [you lie! / you're lying]

and

kululekha [be free/feel free/be at ease]

ie "kululeka mfowethu " would have been a cool response, basically I would have used it in the sense of:

"dude go right ahead, whatever bakes your noodle !"

KLIKTRAK
http://kliktrak.partychief.com


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Subject:  no more shall we be huddled
Author:  hedmekanik
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 13:22

no more shall we be huddled honkies blundering through the forest of flippancy, no sir!


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Subject:  star wars venacular
kliktrak's picture
Author:  kliktrak
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 13:23

funny you should mention it, it always struck me as bizarre in the middle of Star Wars to here isizulu being thrown in the mix

The other words that I recall the Jawas use are:

phinda [pee-ndah] = repeat [ie repeat yourself/do what you did again]

futhi [foo-tee] = also/once more/as well as

Also the term used in Jabba the Hutt's circles in both episode 6 and 1 [ie at the pod races] was:

you be Bantha pudhu [trans = Bantha [an alien monster] fodder/food] i like the word pudhu that sounds like puthu ie pap, that they used for "food"/fodder - so next time you braai, make some lukka stuiwe bantha puthu/pap...ek se...;-)

KLIKTRAK
http://kliktrak.partychief.com


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Subject:  yoh, yoh, yoh
Author:  hedmekanik
Date:  11 January, 2007 - 13:32

and there was i thinking I was the only lurker who heard Zulu in it...unbecredible...


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