The dram of evil doth all the noble substance often doubt
December 1, 2003 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Frowning brow to brow, ourselves will hear the accuser and accused freely speak. In the west, before it was HIV/AIDS, it was GRID, for Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease, or Kaposi Sarcoma-Opportunistic Infection, or simply "gay cancer." But there are other names for it now, where it hits hardest, but no less euphemistic or obscuring. More inside...
posted by Mo Nickels (4 comments total)
In Tanzania, AIDS is called ukosefu wa kinga mwilii, "lack of guard in the body." In Swahili, more briefly, umeme, "electricity," and mdudu, "worm." In that country's Luhaya language, it is lumara bantu, "the exterminator of all human beings," lwaka abazail, "the disease that deprives children of their parents," and endwala ya bil'ebi, the "modern-day disease."

In Kenya, it is "slim" or the "slim disease" after the heavy weight loss of its victims, or "lung disease" or "cold" to those who are afraid to put the true name to their enemy. In Zambia, the wilting of life it brings on makes it the "slow puncture" disease, but it is also "purge" because of the way it strips lives and bodies alike of their content, or the "shun" disease because the victims are ostracized by fear and anger. In Botswana it is the radio disease, named for the media by which it was first reported, and by which Botswanans hear public service messages educating them on AIDS prevention. There it is also phamo kate, or "the disease with a short name."

In Zimbabwe it is shuramatongo, which can be translated as, "a disaster never witnessed before, even in several generations," or more simply means "ghost home," alluding to the depopulation of country, parish, and hearth: an abandoned homestead, a place that has been cursed, the scene of a catastrophe. There it is also mkondombera, which means "a stubborn disease that once it gets a hold will never let go" or "a sickness that everyone suffers from," which in the past was a Shona name for a deadly illness, now mistakenly transferred onto AIDS. As gukurahundi it refers to "heavy rains" which can wipe away all. In the guise of bumbiro rezvirwere it is the corrupted bounty of a "basketful of a variety of seeds, all germinating at once," describing how AIDS weakens the body, permitting other opportunistic ailments to take hold, and so is like the Shona ingulamakhwa, in that it describes a mix of sexually transmitted diseases which attack at the same time. The Shona also call it chakauya or, "that which came, " and when someone dies, of it, akafa nechakau—"he died from something brought from the outside."Chirwere chepfambi, it is, too, the "disease of prostitutes."

In Luganda, a language of Uganda, one who is infected is y hwa mubatemu or "falling into the clutches of thugs." The virus is mukenenya, or "a thing that sucks life out." And now that they know one can be sick but look healthy there is obulwadde, "somebody who is sick, but is not showing signs.

In the Kamba language of Kenya muthelo means "a disease that finishes." Kenya's Luo people call it kute magayaki, or "the worm that causes AIDS," and ayaki, meaning "grabbing." In the Kenyan dialect of Swahili it is the "new fever disease," or homa ya kisasa.

Nigerian Tiv language-speakers call HIV simply ku, or "death," and AIDS is wan ikyaden or "something that dries one up."

In the local ChiChewa dialect of Zambia, AIDS is called matenda a-kaliondeonde or "the disease of losing weight."

In South African SeSotho language, HIV is kwatsi ya bosolla tihapi, or the "disease of loose fishes." In that country's Zulu language HIV is isandulela ngculazi unashya 'bhuge, or "something that kills all people." And in Ghana's Akans language it's "bad germs," mbwoawa bjne.

In Nigeria, because the word sounds like the number "eight," so it is sometimes known, and in turn, as a euphemism for a euphemism, it is known as 7+1, 10-2, 4+4, 6+2, 3+5 and 9-1. Some called it “positive disease,” “monkey disease,” ciwon takwas, disease of eight—gi gi gigobe da nisa, "tomorrow is too far"—haça raminka, "dig your own grave," and naçandare disease, "skinny disease." In Hausa, it is çanjamau, ciwon çanjamau, and ciwon zamani, where, like in Tanzania, it is also the "modern disease," as if to say: The complexities of the present have brought us this pain, and if we would, we would return to simpler lives, just to be rid of it.


AIDS Uttered in Lexicon of Fear / Names for disease reflect despair
AIDS is Real and It’s in Our Church, PDF 1.1MB.
Words from Two Worlds, a review of Far and Beyon', an excellent book by Unity Dow.
Twilight Zone in Africa, PDF 844KB.
'The Radio Disease' Drives MPs to Uganda for Lessons.
IEA - AIDS/HIV Education Resources.
Forlorn deaths.
When it comes to AIDS, Zimbabwe is avoiding the subject - at its peril.
STDs and AIDS in Africa.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:40 PM on December 1, 2003

Good post Mo. Although, to me, scientific names like Acquired Immunodeficiency Virus also obscure rather than reveal the truth of the disease. Some of those tribal names were pretty evocative, even.
posted by Hildago at 5:55 PM on December 1, 2003

Extremely cool.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:23 PM on December 1, 2003

Thanks for this well researched and fascinating post, Mo Nickels. This is excellent stuff demonstrating both the power and the inadequacy of words.

I found this quite sad:
This ‘culture’ makes marriage a major risk activity for women in Zimbabwe - over three quarters of women with HIV have been infected by their husbands or stable partners.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:05 PM on December 1, 2003

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