Academics Discuss History: Ignorance is Bliss?

Submitted by Jim Mauch
>> You were right about the Kikuyu tribe being the main instigators of
>> the Mau Mau Rebellion in the 1950’s in Kenya. Now, I remember
>> kidding Harry Saterfield about it when he returned from Kenya.
>> I was thinking of another rebellion way back in history in South 
Thanks for the confirmation, Dick.
>  You see I was pretty sure of it, for I had a terrifying experience
>there in the ’50s, one that belies Alexander Pope’s truism, "a little
>learning is a dangerous thing." Ignorance saved my life. I was to learn
>later that,in the Kikuyu Language, each low open-vowel syllable is
>terminated with an audible glottal click (sounding thusly: "ch"). On my
>first night in Nairobi I was out strolling the main shopping street,
>taking in the somewhat cooler air, when suddenly people began running and
>shouting "Mau[ch] Mau[ch] coming, Mau[ch] Mau[ch] coming!" so I
>thought–to my great surprise, since I was not the American Ambassador, 
>any such person–for some unaccountable reason, at least to my western
>mind, they were announcing my arrival, to which, in order to be polite 
>not embarrass these barely civilized denizens of the Dark Continent, I
>responded (as I often had seen dignitaries do in the newsreels) by waving
>my arms and nodding to the crowd, who for some reason just kept running 
>me. Suddenly a group of angry men emerged from the dark and returned my
>waving, but with rifles in their hands, then surrounded me and a much-
>painted and ornamented one, obviously their leader, stepped up to me and
>in broken English said what I understood as "Mauch, Mauch, welcome!" 
>I didn’t know at the time was that each high-open vowel syllable in their primitive language is
>terminated with a voiced aveolar lateral sound not unlike the English 
>so what he was really saying was "Mau Mau–we come.") In response, with
>great relief, I took his hand and shook it vigorously, saying "Yes, Yes,
>Mauch, Mauch, USA, friend," which later I realized he must have 
>as "Mau Mau, you is a friend." He seemed bewildered for an instant, but
>then gave one of those big all-ivory smiles we’ve gotten to know so 
>yelled something to his underlings, who quickly produced a bottle of
>whiskey–Dewars, I believe. I hate to guess how they came by 
>we had swigs all around.
I’ve often thought back to that night and wondered what would have
>happened had he said "Kikuyu, Kikuyu!" I would have heard "Kick you, 
>you" and, fearing a dreadful beating, might have tried to run and thus
>would have been shot down just like one of those African coyote-type
>beasts you see over there. The incident just goes to show you that
>sometimes lack of communication and linguistic skills can result in a
>positive outcome.