Thursday, June 10, 2010


I took an anthropology class in high school, and we had to do a project about a certain tribe or culture from somewhere in the world. There was a list, and "!Kung San" just stuck out amongst the others, and I asked for it without knowing anything about the culture. It was that exclamation point.

Turns out, the exclamation point is a click, and to say their name properly, you have to click at the same time as saying the 'k' in their name. It's tricky, but I taught myself to do it. Hey, a name is a name. Plus, it's way better than the more prosaic 'Bushmen of the Kalahari'.

Their awesome click languages, of which there are many, are a wonder to behold. They've always struck me as sounding like two people at once: one who is speaking and one who is just making different clicking noises at the same time. Human speech is so cool. I love that in Chinese, tone affects meaning. I love that Arabic uses sounds deep in the throat. And I love languages that use clicks. Just their names are brilliant: here are some Namibian 'Khoisan' languages: Gǁana, ǂHõã, Juǀʼhoan, ǃXũũ, ǂKxʼauǁʼein, Nǀu, ǁXegwi. No clue how to pronounce them, but they just look to enticingly alien.

Ah, and N!xau? He's the star of The Gods Must be Crazy, an awesome movie with a cool title. It's obviously Namibia's most successful movie, and N!xau, otherwise a farmer, Namibia's most famous actor. You might know that they made a sequal nine years after the original, adventurously titled The Gods Must be Crazy II. What you might not know is that N!xau went to Hong Kong after that to make a few more episodes in the franchise, Hong Kong-made movies entirely steeped in Chinese culture and with next to nothing to do with Namibia, except the 'fish out of water' aspect of a Namibian in Hong Kong. They have great names too, and lots of a/k/a's as well.
  • While the first Cantonese movie is called The Gods Must be Crazy III, its main English name is Crazy Safari. It's also traded as Vampires Must be Crazy, and the direct translation of its Cantonese original, An African Buddhist Monk.
  • The Gods Must be Crazy IV is also called Crazy Hong Kong. There's another movie called The Gods Must be Crazy IV, but it doesn't feature N!xau and has nothing to do with the other movies.
  • The Gods Must be Crazy V also has the highly silly name The Gods Must be Funny, the way superior The Gods Must be Funny in China, or best of all, An African Superman.
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1 comment:

  1. I watched a documetary the other evenig about walking part of the coast road in South Africa and the guide demonstrated his native language. was the oddest thing i have ever heard and must be phonetically impossible for an outsider to learn,. Of course sitting at home, I had to have a go. Husband in next room thought I was about to lay an egg - he said my clicking was more akin to clucking. Humpf!