Sunday, January 31, 2010

Barbarians and Kaffirs – Origin of the Terms

In this posting I will briefly explore the origin of these terms, because I get the impression that some people feel deeply offended when any one of these terms pop up in a posting. Ironically, these same people lack the ability to express themselves in a courteous civilized manner while debating the issue. I’ll rather not repeat the vulgar language they use, or the names they call me.


The word “Barbarian” originates in the ancient Greek civilization, meaning "anyone who is not Greek". The word is onomatopoeic, in other words, the term is derived from one or more words that imitate or suggest the source of the sound they are describing. Common occurrences in English include animal noises, such as "oink-oink" or "meow-meow". Bar-bar(ians) --- similar to blah-blah, thus represents the impression of random hubbub produced by hearing a spoken language that one cannot understand. See Wikipedia for a full explanation.

It is in this context that the Holy Scriptures of the Greek new testament uses the term, first in the book of Acts – 28:2, which describes an incident when the Apostle Paul and his crew was shipwrecked on the Island of Meli’ta (modern day Malta). “And the barbarous people (meaning non-Greek, or people speaking in an unknown tongue) showed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.” Secondly, in Romans 1:14 where Paul states, “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians (non-Greeks); both to the wise, and to the unwise.”

The term is also historically used to describe the Vikings and Goths; it is a common label for the "Normans" during their invasion of England and for the Goths during the Gothic revolt that put an end to the (Western) Roman Empire in 470 A.D. and began the so-called Dark Ages.

The term has no racial connotation whatsoever in the scriptures, but yet newer translations of the Bible have changed the term “Barbarous” to “Natives” and some versions even use the term “Islanders”.

In South Africa, where we are slowly degenerating back into the ‘Dark Ages’, I’ve often heard Black police officers using this term publicly on National Television when referring to the actions of criminals. Then there are several sport teams that also call themselves ‘Barbarians’, but apparently this has nothing to do with the atrocious behaviour of some of their team members.


It is not clear whether the Portuguese name cafrinha was derived from English "Kaffir" after the English took over Sri Lanka, or came directly from the Arabic kafir in the 16th century, when the Portuguese were buying slaves from the Arab traders. During the 1500s, the Portuguese did indeed call the peoples of Southern Africa "Cafres" - "cafrinha" is a diminutive of "Cafre".

Most sources state that the original meaning of the word is 'heathen', 'unbeliever' or 'infidel', from the Arabic 'kafir'. It is still being used today by Muslims when referring to non-Muslims.

Portuguese explorers used the term generally to describe tribes they encountered in southern Africa, probably having misunderstood its etymology from Muslim traders along the coast. European colonists subsequently continued its use.

The Wikipedia article concerning the Sri Lankan Kaffirs is quite interesting.

Readers may also find the contents of the website: informative. The direct link to their page discussing Kaffir (Xhosa) Folk-Lore, dated from 1886 is here.


Laager said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

How did the word Kafir arrive in what is today South Africa?
So far my reading has revealed that the famous liberal English missionary and explorer David Livingston freely uses the word in his diaries (available on the www)
As Britain expanded their territories eastwards from Cape Town they created the province of British Kaffraria. This territory between Port Elizabeth and East London existed for a few years before being returned to the Xhosa. In later years we came to know it as Border.
The British also created a regiment known as The Kaffrarian Rifles.
The spelling Kaffir changed to Kaffer when used by the Boere.
The question is: Did the Brits pass the word on to the Boere, or was it vice versa?

Andrea Muhrrteyn said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

According to a few muslim scholars, prior to the term kaffir having meant infidel...

The word kaafir comes from the root verb, kafara, which means ‘cover’. It was originally
used before Islam, in the Arabic language, to describe farmers, when they bury a seed in
the ground and cover it with soil in their planting process. Therefore, we may say that the
word kaafir implies from its root meaning ‘a person who hides or covers the truth’' 'someone who knows the truth, but deliberately conceals it'

It is my preferential defintion for 'kaffir' because frankly I hate a liar, or deceiver, and find the word kaffir, to express how much i do eloquently...

However, the magistrate in my crimen injuria case was not remotely interested... in fact aforemetnoned kaffir defintion could have applied to his behaviour.. ;-)


Eurika Mogane said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Having also found such an overwhelming desire to find out what this word truly means aided me. I used to feel so offended when I'd hear about how someone called another black person kaffer, it didn't make any sense to me as to how ruthless someone could be.
Only to actually find out that this term meant " non believer or someone who didn't believe Allah." The term came to our Southern parts and when they found how we ( well I wasn't there hehehe) aren't muslims they would declare us " ALL / irrespective of skin color" Kaffirs.
But sadly we find how my people " black people" took a greater ownership of the name as it was thot to describe them. Looking especially at how tick and tough our hairs are made sense for us to assume that surely those oppressing us are to call us that.

Really grateful though that as born frees we can actually look deeper into things and not just point fingers and play the blame game. I've seen how some of my people also use the "black card" for pity. Well I hope oneday we will look back and consider the true meaning of this term and not be offended at all. If you not muslim then you kaffir, and that's not a crime, its who you have chosen to be right?
* also watch Trevor Noahs ' That's so Racist' for a laugh about this term! *

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