There has been an uproar in the Taino community recently with regards to the word “tau” being used as a greeting. Apparently this word has not been found in any of the resources we have for Taino language, nor has it been found in any of our cousin languages… those that have been looked through, anyway. Added to this, is the growing trend in alarmist conspiracy theories that are weaseling their way into the heart of our people. I find this trend somewhat sad since herd mentality will encourage people who are scared to follow most anyone who’s calm under pressure and speaks authoritatively. Spook a herd of buffalo and they will stampede following the herd who in turn, is led by a buffalo that’s just as lost, but looks like he’s got a plan- even if it’s one that takes them all over a cliff. As if that weren’t enough, it seems that the personal choice to use the word “Tau” as a greeting has been made into yet another reason for hostility and disunity- a political controversy. Now it’s use has been made into a political statement that identifies a person as being with one faction of the Taino Movement or another. As if these flimsy organizational labels were of great importance!
Personally, I welcome healthy debate. I am open for anyone to poke holes into what I offer as supportive arguments; I expect it- I welcome it, even! I am not seeking to convince anyone, or to be convinced. I like exploring alternative views; the more one questions, the more our personal “truths”, and those of others, reveal themselves. I believe that disagreement is not disrespect nor should it be a cause for division and fractioning. These discussions gives us the opportunity to patch up holes in our arguments, eliminate vagueness and solidify our positions; this is the purpose of great debate. It may lead to further learning and growth for all involved. However, the maturity required to maintain the detachment from issues that are close to our hearts and for which we are passionate about, is a tall order for many of us. I’ll admit that I can’t live up to my best expectations sometimes, but we need to try, and be patient with each other as we do so. These exchanges are vital to our growth as a people. I have shared my views on this topic before and I believe that these themes will come up every time a new person discovers and internalizes their Caribbean Indigenous heritage. Our Nation will be confronted by the different “worlds” from which most of us come from and our differences will need to be acknowledged as each new indigenous person is absorbed into the fold, if we are to be a unified people. These issues are important to anyone who self identifies as Taino and crucial to any Taino who is in a leadership position.
Getting back to the “Tau” debate…
I am no linguist and my languages are limited to fluency in 2 verbal languages and semi-fluency in one visual language (PSL- I was a sign language interpreter, but I am a little rusty now). My understanding of language is that it is a living, breathing thing that will grow and change according to the lifestyle and understanding of the population using that language. This growth is much like the growth of people or plants, it can be manipulated only so far, and no more. Through time, words will change, some will disappear and others will be created as people and their world view go changing and adapting to any influences: internal or external, natural or created. Anything living and touched by the human spirit, will take off on it’s own regardless of anyone’s personal preferences. These are the basis of my opinions regarding this topic.
My first suggestion was that the word “Tau” was slang, a possible neologism, a word that is either newly created or that exists already and is used in a new way. Neologisms come up when changes happen at an accelerated rate and with technology being what it is, life today moves faster than ever. The words “cyberspace”, “channel surfing” and “spam” are all neologisms that came up with the advances of technology. We have all used, or have heard others, use these words at one time or another yet these words, and their new meanings, were adapted to our present use from their previous definitions. Spam is the name brand of a food product, surfing is a sport done in the ocean, not your couch, and cyberspace was invented for a sci fi book and had a totally different definition. Today our kids are growing up with these words as part of their daily vocabulary, and they are using them with the meanings ascribed to them now. Few even know what these words meant originally!
Consider the word “robot”. When I think of the word robot I think of the movies I, Robot, The Matrix, The Terminator, Star Wars and Star Trek and yet the word robot didn’t come into existence until the 1920’s, when it was invented for a science fiction play. What is interesting is that these robots were nothing like what we envision a robot to be today, they were more like “replicants” (as in Blade Runner) or androids; they were organic- more like “Data” than “Sonny“. By the way, “replicant” is also a neologism invented by David Peoples (or his daughter) for the Blade Runner screenplay.
So, why couldn’t “Tau” be a neologism?
The many responses I’ve received didn’t quite answer the question. Mostly, they were reasons supporting the suppression of the use of “tau” as a greeting.
It was suggested that neologisms were a symptom of thought disorder (indicative of a psychotic mental illness, such as schizophrenia) in adults; which it is- but only when used in the context of mental health. It was also stated that their use is irresponsible and break away from traditional world views; that new words should be created (more like protologisms) by people who are academics on the subject, have studied the language and can maintain it’s spiritual and cultural integrity- and can remain accountable. That we should follow the example of the Maori, with whom we share historical similarities, who base their word creation, responsibly, on words and ideas that exist in the language already. That we have plenty of suitable words and do not need to invent a new one to greet someone. There were comments on western thought models and christian religious manipulations attempting to taint the Taino language. The president of the UCTP, Mukaro, said that the word “Tau”, has “clear political implications”, and I even understood him to invalidate and diminish any efforts other groups have put forth in the revival of the Taino language, not only because of their use of the word “tau”, but because they choose to not share their methodology with his group.
Needless to say these views and topics are not only varied but can become somewhat challenging to discuss. The conversation can rage on pretty much like those regarding the origin of man, religion or politics. And just as in those conversations, some folks appoint themselves the final word on the matter and happily dismiss you as having nothing of value to contribute, label your arguments as heresy or your person as quarrelsome and contentious. In a recent discussion, debate has become impossible since the space for dialogue was gradually limited the more I reflected on their positions against adoption of the word- ultimately, to the point of censorship!
Well, I can understand the frustration that arises when one is met with points that may have some weight and for which we cannot provide answers to. However, I am also aware that anything having to do with culture is peppered with details and influences from different sources and contact with any other element ends up being an influence, as well as being influenced in turn. Because of this, these details (influences) may require more than just a little consideration, not a brush off.
So, I will endeavor to present my thoughts on the matter in separate blog posts, each addressing a particular view or topic with regards to the word and it’s influences, as I see them, not allowing the non-conforming voice to be silenced.
(c) Anita “Nanu” Pagan, April 2009