Some words are a pretty curious thing. If I had time I would write about a few I know. Take for instance tafula. It is a musical word meaning table and used in most of the local languages. It’s not an original African word. It was imported from the English word “table” and the way I see it that story is quite interesting.


If you visit a common Mozambican house you’ll discover that people don’t have furniture as we know it. Tough this is not entirely true in the cities, in the countryside is still the norm. The most precious possessions for an average Mozambican family are: 1) Straw mats used for sleeping, eating, sitting, talking, receiving friends… 2) A pestle and at least two pans. 3) Jerry cans used as water containers. 4) Clothing. 5) Radio.


As you can see, no tables at all. Now the strangeness of this story is that throughout almost five centuries of Portuguese colonization the word “mesa” wasn’t absorbed by any of the local languages. Why? In my opinion, for two main reasons: a) Just a small percentage worked inside Portuguese households and had contact with tables. 2) Tables were something belonging to the Portuguese, not used by them. Why transport to their daily language a word referring to something they didn’t have or use?


A century ago, when the emigration flow to the mines started, the circumstances changed: A) A great number of magaiças (name given to Mozambicans working in the South African mines) went to South Africa where they had contact with tables. B) Eventually they had to use them and as consequence tables became part of their lives.


How table was transformed into tafula, that’s another story. A lot of tongue twisting? Whatever the process, tafula is now a word spread out across Mozambique.