View Full Version : African Language in post apocolyptic sci-fi

05-13-2008, 05:52 AM
In a sci-fi story I'm working on, every continent and major country has been sealed off to prevent outside interference and stop the spread of a disastrous plague. This specifically to Africa. It was one of the least affected areas on the planet making it very valuable. The scenario is that after a century or so of no foreign interference, the chaos of the plague has cased Africa to become engulfed in a continent-wide civil war.

Two major sides emerge, one is a group led by a warlord who want to unite the diverse continent under one language, one culture, believing that it is Africa's diversity that has been responsible for it being land that has been long dominated by foreigners. He was unpopular at first because this meant that his followers would have to give up their unique cultural identity, but now he has become popular do to the wealth he has brought many people which has given him a great military power. Because of this many have chosen follow (or forced) to follow his will. Along with this he preaches a message of paranoia believing that when the borders open, foreign groups will once again come to control Africa's vast resources, made even more valuable because of its untainted land.

The other side is a group nationalists that compose of the remnants of major African countries that don't want to abandon their culture. They are weaker because the diversity they are fighting to keep leads to much inner conflict.
The story involves a group of Americans who investigate the continent and find themselves in the middle of the war. It seems that the warlords ramblings of paranoia are coming true..

My question what language and culture should the first would this warlord attempt make dominant? I don't want to seem like I'm generalizing the thousands of different ethnic groups and languages of the continent and I want the scenario to resemble reality with a slightly exaggerated circumstance. I'm wondering where exactly what place in Africa it should be set in. I had the of the Arabic population being the most vocal against this warlord. I'd just like to hear any comment on what I can do to make this more authentic.

05-13-2008, 06:09 AM
Swahili was the longtime international trade language of East Africa, so that seems like a logical choice.

05-13-2008, 06:20 AM
I know it's the second most common language next to Arabic but I'm still not sure of the perfect location the warlord would choose as a kind of capital city. In the story I was hoping most of the action would be in the jungle with peppered with small villages and the climax in the ruins of a modern urban city.

05-13-2008, 07:03 AM
Why not locate it in Ethiopia, the very early site of a pure Christianity and home of the fabled Prester John. The war lord can claim descent from that early spiritual leader. It is not hard these days to imagine a Christian/Muslim conflict if the other side is Arabic.

On the other hand there are other fabulous towns like Timbuktu or the gold-carving tribes of Nigeria. There are the older and more interesting pyramids of Sudan. Nobody writes about them so you could invent anything with impunity - a lost wadi etc.

Sounds interesting. Good luck.

05-13-2008, 08:51 AM
You know, I was considering Ethiopia ever since reading about Menelik II. The character was inspired by him but it was something I played with in the back of my mind. I really like the spiritual decedent idea, actually that fits into another idea I have for his younger brother (who is the person the Americans are searching for). And considering the problems Ethiopia has at the moment, he could use its history as justification for his militant actions.
Now I just have to figure out how long it would take travel by submarine from America to Ethiopia..

05-13-2008, 01:24 PM
Swahili would be the most logical one; it was designed for ease of communication, and it's also the most widespread. For culture, combine Zulu society with a Masai-style priesthood; you would have an interesting society, if nothing else, but also a practical difference between the two. Ethiopia would be the most logical place.

If you are looking for the Arabic to be the difference, Egypt would be the obvious choice. If you wanted the cliche, however, then South America would be the logical choice...


05-13-2008, 01:36 PM

I can't even begin to answer this because Africa is big and complicated. Swahili does seem to be your safest bet, but my god you've got as lot of research to do to get stuff right about Africa. Have fun.

Another point - many African people speak not only several African languages, but also a European language, not necessarily English, depending on who colonised whom. You've got French, German and Portuguese to choose from, among others.

Your best bet is probably to choose a powerful country with a strong military and economic background, and the telecommunications infrastructure to run a continent. I'm biased and gonna say South Africa, in which case the ruling powers are going to speak Xhosa. Zulu may have more speakers according to stats, but their political power is nowhere near as great as Xhosa-speaking tribes.

05-14-2008, 12:46 AM
Exactly, it was years ago when I came up with the idea but as I got older I realized just the complexity of Africa has now. Add that to the fiction that I have and it's a lot to deal with. I didn't want to oversimplify it but I know it would be too much to go into every little detail. And I don't want a too powerful country, because most telecommunications technology was rendered obsolete from a global wide network crash.

Another thing is that mistrust of foreigners and the desire to maintain his form of cultural purity, many will not know European based languages, other than the generals and people of importance and probably the warlord himself (Just because you want purity doesn't stop YOU from being educated) And all major population centers have been effected by this plague and although Africa is one of the least effected areas, major capitals are still affected. I'd imagine this would mean a large portion of South Africa.

It also takes place in America too and creating a post apocalyptic political system for them was much easier in comparison.
No one really has the means to have a traditional infrastructure the US has been divided into smaller City-states resembling a confederacy, because so much land is tainted by the plague and fuel is a disappearing resource the government is just coming back into power but can't micromanage every city/state, and thus, they all have their own miniature government that answers to the central government. But they have their own currency and have similar but unique laws. As for Africa, they don't have that problem, but civil war is preventing them from having a more modern infrastructure.

05-14-2008, 09:38 AM
Hiya Calgrave

Well there is definite feeling of hatred towards colonialism that you could play on. As far as the language thing goes though one thing I've found is that many black people in Africa speak three or more languages, simply because they have to.

One guy who works for my mom speaks five languages - three African, and English and Afrikaans. He was able to communicate with a Mozambican refugee who lived with us before she learnt to speak English because they had at least one common African language. She was also able to speak Portuguese, and her husband French. These are not well-educated people - many of them never ecven went to high school, so don't assume that only the university educated will be capable of speaking many languages.

A friend of mine recently lived in Tanzania, so i can ask her about languages if you want me to.

One thing you could also consider is that it won't be so much civil wars as tribal wars which can cross borders. Think Rwanda and the genocide there.

Anyway, glad you realised that Africa is not some simple "dark continent" and is actually a very complex place politically. :D If you have any questions feel free to pm me and I'll do my best to help.

05-16-2008, 04:18 AM
I guess I'm sticking with Ethiopia.
A tribal wars are another justification, a unified country could end tribal warfare. I read a article on CNN about some survivors of the Rwandan geniocide and one statement from their president caught my attention, he stated how they try to no longer think in terms of Hutu's and Tutsis and have now think of themselves as just "Rwandan" and it is the warlord wants to accomplish that on a massive scale. It's somewhat justified although it would force thousands to assimilated into a culture they don't belong to.
As long as we're on the topic could anyone describe the atmosphere and geography of Ethiopia? I've been looking at pictures but it would help if someone could put a description into words.

05-16-2008, 09:28 AM
... a unified country could end tribal warfare. I read a article on CNN about some survivors of the Rwandan geniocide and one statement from their president caught my attention, he stated how they try to no longer think in terms of Hutu's and Tutsis and have now think of themselves as just "Rwandan" ....

Uh...If that's what you want to believe. ;)

It's a wonderful theory, I'm afraid in practice it doesn't seem to work. Tribal identification in Africa is a huge thing.

05-16-2008, 10:21 AM
Eh..fiction I knew it'd be far-fetched going in. And it's not something I believe but something that he felt they were doing. The news story focused on how the wife who's entire family was killed in the genocide came to forgive her family's killer, and now her and the killers wife are good friends who are currently making baskets together for a special event at Macy's in America as apart of a peace celebration making much more money than they ever could back home.
While my fiction may be far-fetched theory, truth can be stranger than fiction.

05-16-2008, 10:56 AM
Hmmm a bit of a fluff story then, that CNN thing. And obviously designed to make the world think that everything is now hunky-dory.

Individuals may forgive, entire nations tend not to.

As you say, truth stranger than fiction.

05-17-2008, 03:09 AM
You're right of course and that is the problem the warlord faces, he underestimates the connection people have to their history and culture. And it creates a fierce resistance to his movement, his views aren't ideal, he is the antagonist after all. It is what he promises to give people, that drives certain individuals to abandon their culture and join him. Many of his traits are comparable with Hitler's. The state of the continent could be comparable to post WWI Germany. The promise of prosperity and the hardship of poverty will could cause many people tolerate the loss their ideals and hand their cultural identity to a madman.

05-17-2008, 05:25 AM
So why not take the tribes, stereotype them a bit, and fit them into a larger group? Masai for the priestly caste, Zulus for shock troops, etc...


05-17-2008, 08:37 AM
Tribes being refitted into military specialists?
Elite Zulu Shock Corps...
Masai Religious order
Well as you know I don't know enough about the various cultures to really describe them, but I definitely like the idea. Thanks!

05-17-2008, 09:10 AM
...Stereotyping is a great way to get people angry with you. It's also a great way to waste the richness of the area. Personally I find stereotyped treatments of culture... amazingly boring at the very best.
How about researching the hell out of them and not stereotyping? :)

As for the language, if it's at least a generation in the future, and there's been a great deal of turbulence, you might have a creole. You might get (for example) a Xhosa/Swahili/Afrikaans creole, and that would say something about who's in charge now.

The vocabulary in that case would probably come from the ruling class, and the "matrix", the grammar, from the people at the bottom.

You can imply a lot of historical/cultural complexity with something like that, without dragging the story down with history lessons.

Also, if the problem is a plague, what on earth is this about tainted/untainted land? Annnd what's happened to the continent-wide AIDS crisis in Africa by that point, speaking of plagues?

05-17-2008, 11:52 AM
It's a supernatural plague that effects the earth and people. It effected mostly highly populated cities. AIDS of course won't disappear but compared to the rest of the world Africa's pretty well off, other than the wars and all. And I'd be the last person to stereotype. I can't considering I compared by antagonist to Hitler, doesn't mean he's going to be a typical power hungry dictator (all of the time). I want to get inside his head and want him to have a believable motivation and might even come to like his charisma.
I guess what he meant by stereotypes was give them motivations based on their history
but without boring everyone with details.

Anyway it's a lot to deal with, the best way I can deal with it is researching my ass off..I've researched a decent amount of Ethiopian history and culture, but I know that won't scratch the surface of what I'll need.

05-17-2008, 12:25 PM
It's certainly hugely ambitious! Good luck with it :)

05-18-2008, 04:11 AM
Well I guess the best thing to do is start with what's simple.

Does anyone anyone know a good, specific region that the story could take place? It's a search and rescue of sorts that starts with the protagonists arriving in the country via miniature submarines. Next, they have to avoid as much contact as possible while finding exactly where the their target is. The entire thing would last about a week and most of the travel would be on foot other than a few times where they "borrow" a vehicle. They'll mostly go to occupied villages and eventually a major city or two, then they have to get back to their entry point and take their submarines out of the country. Any information such as geography and landmarks would be very appreciated.

05-18-2008, 08:52 AM
I thought you had decided to set in Ethiopia?

Have you changed your mind. I'm afraid i can't be of much help, since I've never been to Ethiopia.

05-19-2008, 12:52 AM
It's still Ethiopia. I've figured that I need to make a plan. It is a lot to cover but I don't need to make it a history lesson or geography lesson which means I need to stick start with what's absolutely necessary. Where do they enter the country and how far do they travel? How long does it take them? What's the weather like? Geography? I know you can't help me with the specifics but just basic information would be helpful.

05-19-2008, 09:14 AM

05-19-2008, 09:44 AM
Already had it bookmarked ;)