That’s what my English teacher said to me in Junior Secondary School in Accra, Ghana when I had reported lost money to the teachers’ office. See, pupils were not to bring money to school. But that was besides the point. What did she mean it was my own palaver?! Palaver?! Isn’t she supposed to be the English teacher I pondered.
I had probably been in Ghana about a year or two at this point. Though I was familiar with the palaver word I doubted its authenticity in the English vocabulary. I had already gotten burnt by insisting “chale wote” was an English synonym for slippers (the American flip-flops). Boy, did those kids laugh at me. Now if you know any Ghanaian people, you have probably heard the term “Chale” pronounced something like “cha-lay”. It means a million things depending on its intonation, who is saying it and to whom it is being said. “Oh Chale, somebody stole my wallet” = disappointment. “Chale, what’s up?” = a friendly greeting. So, I should probably say, “Chale, the way my classmates laughed at me eh, e no be small”.
Turns out “wote” is Ga for “let’s go” hence “chale wote” now means something like “my friend lets go” as you turn around and flip-flop away in your slippers!
See my shame?
So this palaver business. I wasn’t about to stick my nose out there again. I understood what my teacher meant. It was my own fault, my own trouble, to bring money to school. Who asked me? And now I’m reporting it missing. Tcheew!
But I think that day I went home and asked one of my parents what palaver meant and whether it was an English word or not. It wasn’t in the Oxford Dictionary after all yet Nkontomire stew (spinach stew but not really spinach rather leaves of the cocoyam also known as taro root) was also called Palaver sauce as if that was the English name. And as much as I didn’t really care for Nkontomire stew back then (the dried fish, the palm oil, the dry boiled yam I had to eat it with) I couldn’t understand what “trouble” it had caused.
Well now I know we owe it to the Portuguese for introducing that term not only to Ghana but all along the western seaboard of Africa. Palavra (word/speech) which probably became bastardized by those who came after the Portuguese represented whatever “discussions” the Europeans had with the Africans when they arrived. I totally see now, where the connotation for “trouble” comes from.