Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Kinyarwanda-English Bird Dictionary

Kids that followed us on a birdwatching hike imitate our use of binoculars.
South of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda.


Bird = inyoni. Whenever someone eyes us suspiciously or gawks at us as we are out staring at a bird, all we have to say is “inyoni.” Hahaha, uproar and laughter! Inyoni, imagine that!


Kinyarwanda: Sarufuna, English: hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) at Lake
Kivu, Rwanda


Many of the bird names in Kinyarwanda are not specific to the species of bird, but represent a group of similar birds. For example, although there are seven types of turacos in Rwanda, some as strikingly different as Ross’s Turaco and the Great Blue Turaco, the name is the same for them all (inganji). 


Kinyarwanda: sakabaka, English: black kite (Milvus migrans) at Lake Kivu,
Rwanda


“Kinyarwanda is poor,” explains Narcisse Ndayambaje, one of Rwanda’s top bird guides, based in Nyungwe Forest National Park. It is accurate that this Bantu language does not have an extensive vocabulary or much written literature historically. However, I think his explanation only partially explains the lack of more specific names. After all, despite a rich English language with all North American species having common names, most Americans probably don’t know a Northern Flicker from a Hairy Woodpecker (quite different looking woodpeckers).



Kinyarwanda: rushozera, English: square-tailed nightjar (Caprimulgus fossii)
near Lake Mugesera, Rwanda


There is not much of a bird watching hobby or ornithological discipline in Rwanda. I am not aware of any Rwandese bird scientists although there are bird guides and programs for training more park guides in bird identification. 


Kinyarwanda: intashya, English: white-rumped swift (Apus caffer) over
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda. Although its white rump is
not visible in the picture, swifts are very easy to distinguish from swallows
if you know about their body structure. They are quite different birds, but
swifts and swallows are referred  by the same name.


Plus, most people here are subsistence farmers; the duties of growing most of their food take up significant amounts of time. Farming does keep them in contact with the outdoors and birds. Plenty of people know the common Kinyarwanda names for more common birds, especially the kites (sakabaka) because they will snatch their chickens or the famous grey-crowned crane (umusambi). 


Kinyarwanda: umusure, English: speckled mousebird (Colius striatus) at
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda.


However, nobody has binoculars. The finer details of small birds, even as noticeably different as a scarlet-chestedsunbird and a variable sunbird, are perhaps observed with the naked eye, but not represented in the language. There are German, French, English, and Latin names for nearly all the birds in Rwanda. If Rwandese people had as much time to study their birds as other visitors over the last 150 years, I would bet their birds would have Kinyarwandan common names too.


Kinyarwanda: ibijwangajwanga, English: arrow-marked babbler (Turdoides
plebejus
) at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda


I hope to add to this list as I learn more names. Many thanks to Narcisse for supplying me with most of the translations. 


Kinyarwanda: igishwi, English: grey-headed sparrow (Passer griseus) at
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda

Kinyarwanda
English
ikiyongoyongo
herons
sarufuna
hamerkop
nyirabarazana
ibis
karori
storks
igishuhe
geese (wild water geese, not domestic ones)
imbata
ducks (wild water ducks)
sakabaka
kites
icyruzi
African harrier hawk
icyanira
augur buzzard
samusure
long-crested eagle
kagoma
eagles
agaca
small birds of prey
ingagari
spurfowls
inkware
francolin
umusambi
grey crowned crane
inuma
pigeons, doves
intunguru
small doves (wood-doves)
kasuku
parrots
inganji
turacos
ikibiribiri
coucals
igihunyria
owls
rushozera
nightjars
intashya
swallows, swifts
umusure
mousebird
nyiramurobyi
kingfishers
imisamanzuki
bee-eaters
indonzi
woodpecker
inyamanza
wagtails
ikiyoni
crows
igikona
raven
ibijwangajwanga
babblers
ikirogoryo
bulbuls
inyomba
robin-chats
muhenera
sooty chat
imiryasazi
flycatchers
rubamba
fiscals, shrikes
umununi
sunbirds
igishwi 
sparrows
isawdi
weavers
ifundi
estrilids and other small birds
nyamwitenengezi
whydahs


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