Moon Belize (Moon Handbooks) - Lebawit Lily Girma (2015)
I was once told that you’re only a true Belizean if you speak Kriol. It’s the first thing you’ll hear when you arrive in Belize—the accent, the intonation, and the sentences that chop away at articles and verbs. Creole, or Kriol, is the lingua franca here. Like most patois tongues in the Caribbean, it has its roots in the days of slavery, when the enslaved workers in mahogany camps were exposed to English and mixed it with their own West African dialects, hence the choppy grammar and the borrowed English words. Over time, efforts were made to ensure that Kriol was properly studied, written, and recorded as a language, thanks to the National Kriol Council, created in 1995 to promote all aspects of the Creole culture. Keeping this language going has been their goal, as a way of instilling a sense of identity and cultural pride in its people. It’s now spoken and understood by almost all Belizeans, even non-Creoles, and knowing a couple of phrases is a great way to immerse and break the ice.
Maanin! Good morning!
Weh gaan an? What’s up?
Aarite. All right.
Cho! What on earth!
Weh yuh naym? What’s your name?
You da Belize? Are you from Belize?
Weh gaan ahn gyal? What’s up, girl?
Da weh time? What time is it?
Mi naym da … My name is …
Lata! See you later.
Ah tayad/mi tayad. I’m tired.
Weh/weh-paat … Where is … ?
Evryting gud/aarite. Everything’s fine.
Haul your rass! Get the hell out of here!
Fu Chroo? Really? (Is that right?)
Mi love Bileez! I love Belize!
Wahnti wahnti kyah geti an geti geti nuh wahnti. You always want what you can’t have.
If dah no so, dah naily so. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Wait bruk down bridge. Don’t make me wait too long.
Sleep wit’ yo’ own eye. Only rely on what you know, not what others tell you.
One one craboo fill barrel. Every little bit counts (craboo is a Belizean fruit).
Ah wah know who seh Kriol noh gat no kulcha? Who said the Creole don’t have any culture? (A phrase coined by renown Belizean Creole artist and performer, Leela Vernon).
A mix of Arawak, Carib, traces of West African dialects, French, and Spanish, the Garífuna language is being spoken less and less by the younger generation, and isn’t taught in Belize’s school system. But it’s hard to believe that this is a dying tongue after spending time in the south, and hearing Garinagu addressing each other in their language every day. When I took the bus from Hopkins to Dangriga, and even walking around the village and town, there was no Creole and no English exchanged, just Garífuna. If you’re feeling brave, you too can practice and use these phrases to break the ice.
Buiti binafi. Good morning.
Buiti rabounweyu. Good afternoon.
Buiti guñoun. Good night.
Ida bian? How are you?
Magadientina. I’m fine.
Seremein. Thank you.
Ka biri? What is your name?
… niri bai My name is …
Uwati megeiti. You are welcome.
Ka fidu ínwirúbei? What’s up?
Most of southern Belize’s people of indigenous descent speak Q’eqchi’ Mayan—though some communities speak the Mopan language instead, which is more closely related to Yucatec Mayan or Itzá Mayan.
In Belize, you may see the word Q’eqchi’ spelled different ways. “Kekchi” is how Protestant missionaries labeled the Maya of southern Belize, and British colonial officials wrote “Ketchi.” Today, in neighboring Guatemala, the indigenous leaders of the Guatemalan Academy of Maya Languages (ALMG) have developed a standard Mayan transliteration that the Q’eqchi’ leaders in Belize have begun to use as well.
Making even a small attempt to speak and learn the language of your Mayan hosts will deepen your experience. Never mind the laughs your funny accent will attract—your noble attempts are an amusing novelty, and no one means any harm. Persist, and you will be rewarded in ways you would never have expected—indeed, learning another language in such an immersive setting is one of the most humbling and empowering experiences a traveler can have.
Should you want to learn more than the few words presented here, track down the grammar book and cassette tapes by Q’eqchi’ linguist Rigoberto Baq, available in Guatemala City at the Academia de Lenguas Mayas (www.almg.org.gt) or at their regional offices in Coban, Alta Verapaz (in the municipal palace), or Poptán, Petén.
All Q’eqchi’ words are stressed on the last syllable. One of the first things you will probably be asked is, “B’ar xat chalk chaq?” (bar shaht chalk chok), to which you can respond, “Xin chalk chaq sa’ New York” (sheen chalk chok sah New York, or wherever you are from).
In Q’eqchi’, there are no words for “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” You simply use the standard greeting, “Ma sa sa’ laa ch’ool” (mah sah sah lah ch’ohl), literally, “Is there happiness in your heart?” (In Q’eqchi’, however, you wouldn’t use a question mark because the “Ma” indicates a question.) A proper response would be “Sa in ch’ool” (sah een ch’ohl), “Yes, my heart is happy.”
Although it is falling out of custom with the younger generation, if you are speaking with an older woman or man, she or he would be delighted to be greeted with the terms of respect for the elderly: Nachin (nah cheen) for an elder woman, and Wachin (kwah cheen) for an elder man.
If you decide to go swimming in one of Toledo’s beautiful rivers, you might want to ask first Ma wan li ahin sa’ li nima (mah kwan lee aheen sa le neemah), which means “Are there crocodiles in the river?”
“Ani laa kab’a?” (anee lah kabah) means “What’s your name?” You can respond: “Ix [woman’s name] in kab’a” (eesh … een kabah) or “Laj [man’s name] in kab’a” (lahj … een kabah).
Chan xaawil? (chan shaa kwil) What’s up?
Jo xaqa’in (hoe shakaeen) Not much; just fine.
B’an usilal (ban ooseelal) Please.
B’antiox (ban teeosh) or T’ho-kre (ta HOH cree) Thank you.
Us (oos) Good.
Yib’ i ru (yeeb ee rue) Bad; ugly.
Hehe (eheh) Yes.
Ink’a (eenk’ah) No.
K’aru? (kaieeroo) What?
B’ar? (bar) Where?
Joq’e? (hoekay) When?
Jarub?’ (hahrueb) How many?
Jonimal tzaq? (hoeneemahl ssahq) How much does it cost?
Chaawil aawib (chah kwil aakweeb) Take care of yourself [a good way to say good-bye].
Jowan chik (hoek wan cheek) See you later.
wi chik (kwee cheek) again
wa (kwah) tortilla
kenq (kenk) beans
molb’ (mohlb) eggs
kaxlan wa (kashlan kwah) bread
tib’ (cheeb) meat
tzilan (sseeelan) chicken
kuy (kue-ee) pork, pig
kar (car) fish
chin (cheen) orange
kakaw (cacao) chocolate
ha’ (hah) water
woqxinb’il ha’ (kwohk sheen bill hah) boiled water
cape (kahpay) coffee
sulul (suelul) mud
ab’ (ahb) hammock
chaat (chaht) bed
nima’ (neemah) river
kokal (kohkahl) children
chaab’il (chahbill) good
kaw (kauw) hard
najt (nahjt) far
nach (nahch) close
Special thanks to Clark University anthropologist Liza Grandia, who spent four years among the Maya.