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Cawyaŋ Zarma Sanni

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Lesson 12. Marcanda


  1. Intro
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Practical idiomatic winks
  4. Grammar
  5. Exercises (workbook, lesson 12)
  6. Answers (answer book, lesson 12)

12.A. Intro

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The Marcanda - a marital ritual for newly-wed women

At nightfall, just before the newly-wed couple arrives, all the women form a half-circle: those who were taken as first wives start to insult those who were taken as second wives and vice-versa:

Wande beeri ya haw hangeri no,
kanandi beeri go kaani si

   The big wife (i.e. the first wife) is cow dung,
    It is a large heap which is not good.

The Marcanda ritual consists of fictive insults which aim to channel the conflicts so that they are socially acceptable.

Half circel of women singing insults during Marcanda ritual
view video

The insults of the Marcanda thus have an outlet function; a function limited by a elucidatory framework which appears in the style and the rhythm of the insults. At the end of these dispute, collective morals intervenes again by advices given by the married women to she who must receive a concubine. The disputes thus make it possible for the women to mourn over their situation (they lose their status of sole wife) by expressing their aggressiveness.

In the Zarma region of Niger, a woman whose husband gets married organizes a ceremony in which she asks married women of the village to come and spend the day at her home. The public of the Marcanda only consists of married women and is characterized by the absence of the husband and his new wife, and the silence of the woman of which the husband marries. The husband spends the day with a friend, while the new wife is still with her parents where another ceremony proceeds.

Listen to the sound recordings by Sandra Bornand

Copyrights recordings Sandra Bornand, Switzerland.

Sandra Bornand recorded the insults of a Marcanda that took place in the Zarma village of Boko Tchilli (Niger) in February 1999. She published an article concerning this ritual in Ethnographiques.org (no.7) in April 2005. Full text of the article by Sandra Bornand in English is available here, while transcription and translation of injuries are available here. A video can be viewed here.

3.B. Vocabulary

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Learn these words by heart.

Move the mouse to one of the underlined words and a sentence in which the word is used will appear. Click the left mouse button and a photo will appear in a popup. When you move the pointer on the screen with your mouse over the photo the translation of the Zarma sentence will show.

Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
cabu to shave, to cut hair ca bu $
cina to built ci na
gar / garu to find, to come upon, to happen across by appointment gar / ga ru
gaaray to chase, to chase away gaa ray
hanse to fix, to repair, to arrange han se $
haray to be hungry ha ray $
jaw to be thirsty jaw
kubanda to encounter, to meet by chance ku ban da
mun to pour out, to spill mun
sambu to pick up, to take up; to take sam bu


$ $ indicaties that accent and/or tone may be different, perhaps related to region and/or dialect. For 'cabu', 'hanse' and 'haray' there is no consistency between sources regarding tone :
cabu : ca bu (4, 13); ca bu (1)
hanse : han se (1); sam ba (4); han se (13)
haray : ha ray (1); ha ray (4, 13)


$ indicaties that accent and/or tone may be different, perhaps related to region and/or dialect

Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
botogo, botoga mud, clay for building or pottery bo to go $
buutal, buutalo bottle (substance, not vessel) buu tal, buu tal o$
fereeje, fereejo brick fe ree je$
gooro, goora koal nut goo ro
haray, hara hunger, famine ha ray $
jaw, jawo thirst, drought jaw, jaw o
jeeri, jeero antelope; gazelle (dorcas / Thomson's) jee ri $
kataagu, kataaga board, plank ka taa ku
siini, siino razor sii ni $
wanzam, wanzamo native barber wan zam, wan zam o
zaama, zaamaa knife, dagger zaa ma


$ $ indicaties that accent and/or tone may be different, perhaps related to region and/or dialect For 'botogo', 'buutal', 'fareeji', 'haray', 'jeeri' and 'siine' there is no consistency between sources regarding tone :
botogo :bo to go, bo to ga (1, 4); bo to go, bo to ga (13)
buutal :buu tal, buu tal o (1); bu tal, bu tal o (4); buu tel, buu tel o (13)
fareeje : fe ree je, fe ree ja (1, 4); fe ree ji, fe ree ja (13)
haray : ha ray, ha ra (1, 4); he rey, he ra (13)
jeeri : jee ri, jee ro (1); jee ri, jee ro (4); jee ri , jee ro (13)
siine: sii ni , sii no (1, 4); sii ni, sii no (13)
Adverbs, adjectives, etc.
Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
afa (definitive of afo) the one, the other à fa
afolloŋ only one, just one, a single a fol loŋ
kaan, kaano, kaana * sharp kaan, kaan o
meeri, meeri, meera * ugly mee ri
nodin there in that place no din
sorro times sor ro
   sorro fo    once, one time sor ro fo
   sorro hinka (ce hinka)    twice sor ro hin ka (ce hin ka)
yaahare that away, toward that direction yaa ha re
Notes :  
* Three forms are given for the adjectives; the predicate adjective, the indefinite singular attributive adjective, and the definite singular adjective also. The first two forms are frequently identical, see 5.D.2.

[1]  Legend for pronunciation (see Pronunciation guide for details)
italic tone is high
  under score tone is low
  vowel with ^ long vowel, e.g., ê
  vowel with ` short vowel, e.g. è
  bold syllable on which the principle emphasis falls

12.C. Practical idiomatic winks

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Kaŋ (Lesson 7.D.4: when; which, that, who)

The word 'kaŋ' has different forms both longer (waato kaŋ, waati kaŋ) and shorter (k', g'). The word in the meaning of 'when' is used for actions in the past (completed action) as well as for habitual actions; both past and present. If 'kaŋ' precedes a word beginning with a vowel it contracts to "k' ".

Zarma English
Kaŋ Boubacar kaa Ɲamay, a zumbu inga coro do. When Boubacar came to Niamey, he stayed with his friend.
K' iri koy Parc W iri di ce beeri boobo. When we went to Park W, we saw many elephants. 
K' i du  nooru, i ma kaani. When they obtained money, they were happy.
Kaŋ Mariama go lokkol, a si salaŋ gumo, amma d' a go fu a ga salaŋ nda boro kulu. When Mariama is at school she doesn't speak very much, but if she is at home she speaks with everybody.
The word 'waati kaŋ' is generally used for present or habitual actions while 'waato kaŋ' is used for completed actions in the past.
Zarma English
Waati kaŋ ay tun jirbi susubo, ay boŋ'o ga dooru. Whenever I wake up in the morning, I have a headache.
[ .,. my head hurts.]
Waati kaŋ iri go saajo ra, iri ga doonu boobo haŋ. Whenever we arre in the bush, we drink a lot of 'donou'.
[ doonu or donou is a drink of millet and goat milk or sometimes water ]
Waato kaŋ, ay go zanka, ay si goro isa jerga. The time when I was a child, I didn't dwell alongside the river.

Nda (Lesson 2.C.5: and, with; Lesson 7.D.8: when, if)

The word 'nda' is different forms as well: nd', da, d'. The word in the meaning of 'if, when' is used for future action, something that has not finished happening. If 'nda' or 'da' precedes a word beginning with a vowel it contracts to respectively nd' and d'.

Zarma English
Nd' ay du  nooru boobo, ay ga koy Makka. If I obtain a lot of money, I will go to Mecca.
D' iri mana du mooto, iri ga koy ce ga. If we don't find a car, we will go on foot.
Nd' a ni na baaji haŋ kwaara ra, ni ga dala waranza bana. If you drink alcoholic liquor in the village, you pay 150 francs.
Nd' a ni na goyo ban Niger laabu, ifo no ni ga te? When you finished your work [contract] in Niger, what will you do?
Da boro ga me haw, a si taba haŋ. When one fast, one doesn't smoke.

Using kaŋ and nda

Restating briefly, if you want to use the idea of 'when' in the past (or a completed action) context, you use the conjunction 'kaŋ'. However, if your context is present or future, something that has not finished happening, then use 'nda'.


12.D. Grammar

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Subjects in this lesson:

  1. Cardinal numbers to thousands
  2. The suffix 'yaŋ' on nouns
  3. Uses of 'hala' and 'kala'
  4. Uses of 'kulu'

12.D.1. The cardinal numbers to thousands

The cardinal numbers from 1 to 10 have been introduced in Lesson 3.D.1. In Lesson 6.D.4 you have learned how to count from 11 to 20. Counting in Zarma is relatively simple. The cardinal numbers above 10 are formed by adding to the tens (10, 20, 30, etc.) 'cindi' (remains, left over) then the unit. For example, 14 is 'iway cindi taaci', literally ten and four left over. These numbers contract according to the rule established in Lesson 3.D.1.

The tens are more or less based on a junction of 'ten' (iway) and the numbers one to nine. Hundred and thousand have their own name, but two hundred and three thousand are formed similar to English.

Zarma English Pronunciation
iway ten î way
waranka (not wayhinka) twenty war an ka
waranza (not wayhinza) thirty war an za
waytaaci forty way taa ci
waygu fifty way gu
waydu sixty way du
wayye seventy way ye
wahakku (not wayahaku) eighty wa hak ku
wayyegga / wayga ninety way yeg ga; way ga
zangu hundred zan gu
zangu hinka two hundred zan gu  hin ka
zambar thousand zam bar
waydu cindi iyye sixty seven  

As you may notice in the tens is the only instance where 'iddu' and 'iyye' are shortened.

When the unit lack one or two 'subunits' an idiom can be formed, not only for the number below hundred as we have discussed in Lesson 6.D.4 .

Zarma English number
waranka ihinka si twenty without two 18
waranka afo si twenty without one 19
zangu iway si one hundred without ten 90
zangu afo si one hundred without one 99

In counting over 100 'nda' unites the tens to the hundreds, and the hundreds to the thousands. In counting under two thousand, one may count by hundreds all the way.

Zarma English number
zangu da waygu cindi iddu hundred and fifty remains six 156
zambar hinka da zangu hinza da wayye cindi hinka thousand two and hundred three and seventy remains two 2372
zangu way cindi taci hundred ten remains four 1400
zambar fo da zangu taaci thousand one and hundred four 1400

Counting money

When counting money in the hundreds and thousands, one often does not specify if it is 'dala' when the context is clear. On the other hand, in the higher numbers, if it is people or other things, this must be specified, as the hearer may think you mean so much money's worth. In areas with Hausa influence, you will hear 'zika fo' for a thousand franc bill.


12.D.2. The suffix 'yaŋ' on nouns

The suffix 'yaŋ' is added to the singular indefinite of nouns, or their qualifying adjectives, to give an indefinite plural meaning. that is, not plural individuals specifically, but the plural of that sort or kind.

Zarma English
Hincin yaŋ no kan a day. It was goats that he bought.
Ay koy habu; ay day albasan yaŋ da leemu beeri yaŋ da kwaay yaŋ. I went to the market; I bought onions and oranges and shirts.

Thus, that is, those are the kind of things I bought.

The suffix 'yaŋ' added to the numerical one gives a meaning of 'some' (numerically, not quantity), 'a few' or 'several'. 'Afooyaŋ' used alone means 'some' (numerically, that can be counted), or 'few' or 'several'

Zarma English
Ay koy habu; ay day albasan foyaŋ da leemu beeri foyaŋ da kway foyaŋ. I went to market; I bought some onions, and some oranges and some shirts.
Gunguri go no wala? Afooyaŋ go no. Are there eggs? There are some.

At this point we have studied both singular and plural definite and indefinite forms.

  Zarma English
indefinite singular hansi dog
indefinite plural hansi yaŋ dogs
definite singular hanso the dog
definite plural hansey the dogs

For those who have studied Greek, it is similar to the anarthrous and the articular usages for substantives.


12.D.3. Uses of 'hala' and 'kala'

The meaning of 'hala' and 'kala' depends of the context. In relation to time they both may be translated as "until". In other contexts then time 'kala' means 'unless' or "except", and rarely 'up to the point that'. Other uses of 'kala' will be explained in Lesson 24. In relation to distance 'hala' means 'as far as' or 'all the way to'. With the subjunctive 'hala' is used to mean 'so that' or 'for the purpose of', as we have seen in Lesson 10.D.1. In other sentences 'hala' also may mean 'so that' or 'with the result that', as well as 'whether' (if). In the latter it may be used to asked a question.

As mentioned, in relation to time both "hala" and "kala" may be translated as 'until'. It is hard to analyse the usages of these words in this connection:

  • 'kala' seems to be used in exclusive relations; that is, action will not take place until a certain time, or will take place during certain time up until a specified point, after which there will be some other action.
  • 'hala' seems to be used in inclusive relations; that is, the action will take place during a certain period, or while other action is being accomplished. This explanation will probably be not enough.

The following examples are correct, so you may be able to figure it out; at least it should help you.

Zarma English
A si du a kala suba. He won't get it until tomorrow.
Oho, ni ga di a, amma kala suba. Yes, you'll see him, but not until tomorrow.
Iri go no ga adduwa, kala iri maa kaati yaŋ. We were praying, and then we heard shouting (yelling).
Iri go no ga ŋwari ŋwa kala Abdu kaa. We were eating until Abdu came.
A ma goro ne hala ay ma koy kaa.*1 He is to stay here until I go and come.
Irikoy gomni si ban hala abada. The grace of God never ends.
Ay ga goy hala alula. I shall work until afternoon.
A ma si kaa ne hala ay m'a ce.*1 He is not to come here until I shall call him.

      1 note that 'ma' indicates here the imperative mood and not the subjunctive

As stated, in other contexts then time 'kala' means 'unless' or 'except', and rarely 'up to the point that'. In Lesson 24 the use of 'kala' as a conjunction is discussed. 

Zarma English
A ma si kaa ne kala nd' ay g' a. He is not to come here unless I shall call him.
Boro kulu ga wodin bay kala ay hinne. Everyone knows that except only me.
A na wa daŋ kala a mun. He put milk in until (= up to the point that) it spilled
Iri jaw kala iri ga ba ga bu. We were so thirsty we about died.

Examples of use of 'hala' not in relation to time are given in the next table.

Zarma English
in relation to to distances (as far as; all the way to)
Boro bi ga dira hala Filinque. Africans walk all the way to Filingue.
Ni ma zuru ka koy hala isa me. Run as far as the river's edge.
Ay ga koy ce ga hala Téra. I will go on foot all the way to Tera
Ni ma zuru ga koy hala Seyni kwaara. Run as far as Seyni's compound.
subjunctive (so that; for the purpose of)
Ay ga  nooru ceeci hal' ay ma day ŋwari. I will seek money in order that I may buy food.
Iri ga fu meyo fiti hala a ma fatta. We will open the (house) door in order that he may go out.
other uses (whether [if]; with the result that, so that)
Boro si bay hala a ga funa suba. A person doesn't know whether he will be alive tomorrow.
Araŋ maa hal' a kaa, wala? Did you hear whether he had come?
Ma ci ay se hala ay ma kaa ni do, wala ni ga kaa ay do. Tell me whether I should come to you, or you're coming to me.
Ay si bay hal' ay ga dira suba. I don't know whether I leave tomorrow.
Ay mana maa hal' ay kaa. I don't know if he is there.
(literally: I didn't hear whether he came.)
A n'a gaaray hal' a kaŋ. He chased it with the result it fell.


12.D.4. Uses of 'kulu'

The word 'kulu' (introduced in Lesson 7.B) may be used with personal pronouns and with nouns. 'Kulu' with personal pronouns has the meaning of 'all' or 'the whole' with third person singular, and all the individuals addressed or indicated in the plural.
Zarma English
Ma kand' ay se hamo din, a kulu. Bring me that meat, all of it.
Ma no ay se tasey wo, i kulu. Give me these dishes, all of them.
Iri kulu koy Ɲamay. We all went to Niamey.
I boro fo kulu zuru. Every single one of them ran.

With a singular noun, every individual or the whole of the thing is in view. With a plural noun, all those indicated by the context are envisaged.

Zarma English
Irikoy ga ba boro kulu ma du faaba. God wants everyone to get salvation.
Ay n' ay  nooru kulu no a se. I gave him all my money.
Borey kulu kaŋ maa, i ma kaa. All those who heard, let them come.

So, in the affirmative sentences 'kulu' means each, every, all. In the negative 'kulu' means the opposite as we have seen briefly in Lesson 9.D.3. This can be illustrated with three combinations of nouns with 'kulu', that sometimes are written as one word:

  1. boro kulu: everyone, everybody / no one, nobody, anybody 
  2. nangu kulu (or nankulu): everywhere / nowhere, anywhere
  3. hay kulu. everything / nothing, anything
Zarma English
Boro kulu kaa. Everyone came.
Hay kulu go Ɲamay. All sorts of things are in Niamey.
Iri ceeci nankulu, iri mana di Ali. We looked everywhere, we didn't find (see) Ali.
Hincin ga hay kulu ŋwa. A goat eats everything.
Boro kulu ga hin ga yo kaaru. Everyone can ride a camel.
Iri mana day hay kulu. We didn't buy anything. / We bought nothing
Boro kulu si fuwo ra. Nobody is in the house. 
I mana koy nangu kulu. They didn't go anywhere. / They went nowhere.
Hay kulu s' ay ziiba ra. Nothing is in my pocket.
Iri mana kubay da boro kulu. We haven't met anybody / We have met nobody.

Another example of the use of 'kulu' sometimes written as one word is 'waati kulu' meaning every time.

In closing, in Lesson 7.D.5 we saw that 'kulu' in certain expressions means 'the same'. 

Zarma English
In da Jean kulu kuuyaŋ fo. (*) Jean and I have the same waist-size
Nin da Mariama kulu tinyaŋ fo no. (*) Mariama and you have the same weight.


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Last updated: 20 Januari, 2016