Friday, May 25, 2018


Languages like English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa are kitchen languages. They are combinations of various inputs. That is why they are so colourful. The (Sweet) Orange is a hybrid fruit. It is a combination of a Pomelo and a Mandarin.

Sweet Oranges were first mentioned in Chinese literature in around 314 BC. How they came to be cultivated around the world has hints in the names they are called in various languages. The word 'Orange' comes from the Sanskrit word... Naranja. The Indo-European languages stretched all the way to Europe. When Alexander conquered the world... he didn't head west, he headed east. If he had been someone who grew up in Apartheid South Africa (like me), Alexander would have been unlikely to make it into a 'white school'. The language spread though... and Oranges are called Naranja in Spanish, and Orange in German/French/English (i.e. Apartheid White). They were brought to Spain by the North African Moors, who had become Muslims through their connections to the lands just south of Alexander.

What is funny, is that Oranges were introduced to the areas Alexander came from, from the west. So in Greek, an Orange is Portokali, Turkish it is Portokal, Arabic it is Boutouqal, and Persian it is Portegal. Like the Spanish, the Portuguese had the Sanskrit name... Laranja. Thanks to the Portuguese traders who 'brought' them this delight.

The traveling cultures had named it differently. They saw it earlier. The Northern Germans call the orange an Apfelsine, Dutch Appelsine, Swedish Apelsin, and Norwegians Appelsin. An apple from China. Even though the Chinese call it Chéngzi. The Russians call it something similar to the Spanish (Oranzhevyy) but the Mongolians (who now use Russian script) show the link between Russia and China (via them) and call them jürj.

The Mongol leader Genghis ruled an Empire that stretched from Poland and Hungary to the eastern edge of modern Russia. The Turks led the Ottoman Empire. Al-Andulus streched Muslim rule from Northern Africa into Spain. The Norman French colonised England and basically never left, but rather melted into the upper classes. The richest man ever to live was from Timbuktu in Mali - Mansa Musa. He too traveled west to look for culture, and famously caused huge inflation in Egypt on route to Mecca because of his generosity.

If we define 'we' by group identities, then we have all had our turn on top and underneath. But lest that give you an air of superiority or inferiority - our tongues betray us. There is only one us, and ideas spread even if they take on different local forms.

Orange Stand in Morroco

No comments: