Dash me more palaver: Portuguese words in Ghana


A Brazilian in Ghana – IX

SCHAUMLOEFFEL, Marco Aurelio. Dash me more palaver: Portuguese words in Ghana. Daily Graphic, Accra, v. 149393, p. 16 – 16, 02 abr. 2005.

“Dash me more palaver”: Portuguese words in Ghana.

It’s amazing to see, how many words from the Portuguese were borrowed to various Ghanaian languages. Last year, I wrote a short article in the Graphic about some words used in Ghana that come from Portuguese. But deeper research has shown a large number of borrowed words, so that I decided to “dash you more palaver” on it, to be very clear in good Ghanaian Pidgin English.

As we already know, the influence of the Portuguese language in Ghana is related to the arrival of the Portuguese as first Europeans on the Gold Coast in 1471, to the close links between West Africa and Brazil during the terrible time of slave traffic and to the Afro-Brazilians who decided to come back to Africa after they were freed or bought their freedom in Brazil. In Ghana these returnees are called “Tabom People”, they arrived here in 1836 under the leadership of the Nelsons, still a well known family in Accra.

Apart from words and expressions like “dash me”, “palaver” (Pidgin), “sabola” (Ewe) and “paano” (Fanti) that I explained last time, plenty of other words are of Portuguese origin. Especially the words related to food are productive. So, when you refer to “abolo” (Ewe and Ga), you are using a word that comes from the Portuguese “bolo” (cake), or “ayo” (Ewe, Ga) means in Portuguese “alho” (garlic), “komidzi” (Fanti) for “comida” (food), “keesuu” (Akan) from “queijo” (cheese). The Names of some fishes come straight from the Portuguese: “barracuda”, “tilapia” and “grouper”. This last one is called a bit different in Portuguese (garoupa). Even “kafe” (Ewe, Ga, Akan) probably comes from our “cafe” and not from the English word “coffee”.

The same happens with words that designate a tool or an object. The Portuguese word “tabua” (board, wood) appears in Ghana as “tabo/tabu” (Ewe, Fanti) or as “tabua” (Twi). The Ewe “vele” (candle) is our “vela”, the Akan “safe” (key) comes from “chave”, the Fanti and Ga words “fononoo” and “flonoo” from “forno” (oven), while the words “akooble” (Ga), “kobere” (Akan) and “akobli” (Ewe) come from “cobre” (copper). The word “prego” (nail) was integrated into Fanti (“pregow”), Ga (“plekoo”) and Akan (“prekoo”). The Ga fishermen use a specific word for their needle with which they sew their nets, called “agulia”. It comes from “agulha” (needle).

The word “agua” (water) generated the Akan words “aguaree” (bath, wash – noun), “aguare” (bathe) and “guare” (wash – verb). Besides, I was told that in Ewe, Ga and Twi you ask for the bill in the restaurant or refer to a calculation with the word “akontaa”. The same happens in Brazil, where we request “a conta”.

It is also interesting to note that words used for some cutlery and kitchen objects are also from the Portuguese. It happened probably because the Portuguese brought these objects with them along to West Africa. In Ga we have “gafolo/gafojii” and in Ewe “gaflo”, which comes from “garfo” (fork). It is funny for me to see that “faka” in Fanti and Ewe can also mean “fork”, even though it comes from “faca” (knife), certainly caused by a confusion between the correct meaning of the words. Finally, a Fanti eats his meal from a “pretse”, which comes from “prato” (plate) and the Gas and the Akans drink from a “koopoo/kopoo”, from the Portuguese “copo” (glass, cup).

Also the clothing suffered influence from the Portuguese language. A Ga man can buy a “kamisaa” made of “seda” and a pair of “aspaatere”. “Kamisaa” comes from “camisa” (shirt), “seda” (term also common in Ewe) from “seda” (silk) and “aspaatere”, also used as “asopaatsee” (Fanti) or “asapatere” (Akan) from “sapato” (shoe).

When the Portuguese left by ship for the discoveries around the world, they normally had at least one Catholic priest along with them, because it was the official religion of the state. This is reflected nowadays in the Ghanaian languages. Some of the Ewes are “catolico” (Catholic, in Portuguese “catolico”), go to the “misa” (mass, in Portuguese “missa”), they read the “biblia” (bible, in Portuguese “biblia”, also used by the Gas) and believe in “Kristo” (Christ, in Portuguese “Cristo”, also common in Ga and Akan).

The story of the name of famous Tudu market area in Accra is also marked by Portuguese influence. In the 40’s the Portuguese established there some shops and started to rival with the traders of the Makola Market, explaining to people that only in their shops the costumers were able to find “tudo” (it means “everything” in Portuguese). Later the area was abandoned by the Portuguese, giving over to Syrians and to Lebanese traders. Nowadays the Ghanaians and the Chinese traders are dominating the area. Even though, the heritage of the Portuguese name of the place still lives on.

These are only a few examples of the words that I’m still collecting and it shows how precious the treasure of language can be. Some conservatives and purists might say, that the phenomenon of borrowing words from other languages corrupts the own culture, with which I cannot agree. All the languages pass through this process. In Portuguese e.g. we had and we still have influences of several African and Indian languages, Arabic, German, English, Spanish etc. The language stage shows a whole culture, its influences, its changes, its enrichment and improvement through the contact with other peoples and cultures.

Marco Aurelio Schaumloeffel
Brazilian Lecturer in Ghana