At Savage Minds, anthropologist Asmeret Ghebreigziabiher Mehari writes about the writing process for her, a multilingual person working in at least two very different cultural realms.
As a non-native learner and speaker of Amharic, English, and Swahili, I have taken several journeys between these languages and my mother tongue, Tigrinya. Considering geopolitical domination and subordination, the passages between Amharic and Tigrinya or Swahili and Tigrinya are fewer than between English and Tigrinya. However, all crossings have similar purposes: to improve my comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing skills of these languages. In writing this post, I have taken a journey that merges Tigrinya and English in the service of two critical questions: 1) what role would a journey between two languages play in the process of thinking and writing about decolonizing archaeology? 2) What would the traveler feel and experience?
This journey took a few days to begin answering these two questions, but the first two days make the foundation of this and any future journeys.
Day one: On a notebook using a mechanical pencil I wrote the title “ናጽነት ናይ ስነጥንቲ መጽናእቲ” in ትግርኛ (Tigrinya), a Semitic language spoken by around 7 million people from the central region of Eritrea and from the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. The literal translation of the title in English is: “liberating the study of ancient times”. Then I switched into English, and typed on the computer the tittle: “decolonizing archaeology”.
I continued in English. I wrote:
I am invited to write about decolonizing archaeology. I can write something; I have lived experience of becoming an African archaeologist. But my body feels stiff, and my mind refuses to think anything about archaeology. My inner voice is interrogating me: why should I write about something that is not even going to help most ordinary African people? Why should I write about decolonizing archaeology when the entire process of archaeology continues to be colonial? And why should I write about decolonizing archaeology in a lingua franca that still exhibits imperialism? For whom do I write it anyway? As my inner voice interrogates me, I feel numbed and frustrated. I also feel fear of judgement by my colleagues and probably jeopardizing my career. I feel lack of energy because I feel the systemic trap. I feel worthless. I have no source of income. If I can’t afford my basic daily needs, why should I care about archaeology? My passion for African Archaeology and my doctoral degree in Anthropology could mean nothing if I cannot earn a living from them.