The spectre of colonialism hangs over every interaction between Malawians and white people. Direct rule is long over, but the cultural institutions and power dynamic are still there, even 48 years after the British left. I’m always aware of this, but usually it’s just a tiny nagging at the back of my mind.

One thing that brings it immediately to the forefront is trying to get someone’s attention. The only sure way to let them know you want them is to shout “Aise!” (or, equivalently, “Ayise!”).* That is, a Chichewa-ified version of “I say!” Every time I hear it I imagine a sunburnt Englishman with a mustache and a safari hat yelling for a servant to bring him a cocktail made with gin. So I pretty uniformly refuse to say it. This commonly prompts any Malawians near me at, for example, the bar, to shout it for me. Which is fine by me – it seems much more uncomfortable and colonial coming from a white guy.

*I have attempted to use “Yo” with limited success.

8 thoughts on “"Aise!"”

    1. That’s an interesting point. I find it hard even to do that, though – isn’t yelling at bartenders and waitstaff is frowned upon in the US? I always get the feeling they hate it.

      1. I’m not sure, I’m not in the US. Somestimes its the only way to be heard above the din.
        Could be used as a general attention grabber, for friends as well maybe?

  1. Maybe you’re going a bit to far, with your colonial-history-sensitivity.

    Ayise is not Chichewarized “I say”, it’s just Chichewa for “friend” (which, as opposed to “Yo”, is a rather benign and kind way of getting one’s attention).

    1. Daniel, both the online and hard-copy versions of Paas’s Chichewa/Chinyanja dictionary list “I say” as the first definition of “aise”. I can’t hard-link to the online results but you can check yourself at http://translate.chichewadictionary.org/. It’s possible that that’s not the etymology, and that it’s just a cognate, but Paas also indicates that it is “Chingerezi” – i.e. that it comes from English.

      “Friend”, is “mnza-” pre-pended to the possesive suffix for the person in question, e.g. “mnzanga”, “my friend”, or “anzanu”, “your friends”. Maybe someone you asked guessed at the appropriate translation to English? That happens to me a lot here, people don’t always know.

      That said, I have become a bit more inured to using the term of late – I will fall back on it when pressed.

      1. It was explained to me by my Malawian colleagues (who were fluent in English).

        The second definition is not visible (since I don’t have a license) but it starts with the letter “f”…

    2. Ah, you’re right – that is indeed the second listed definition: “2.friend; ndapeza layini yotentha, ayise = I’ve found a good line of business, my friend” That’s a colloquial sense, equivalent to “yo” – e.g. “these are some killer french fries, yo”. I didn’t see this when I double-checked initially because “aise” is not listed as a translation under the “friend” entry. “Mnzanga”, etc. is definitely the typical translation. Regardless of the appropriate translation of the interjection today, the colonial origin seems clear from the primary (first-entry) definition.

      If you’re learning Chichewa I strongly recommend both the hard-cover and online versions of Paas, they’re great.

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