Something that has always intrigued me as I traveled in various countries is the meaning of the name of towns, cities, rivers and areas. Often we don’t bother to understand their meaning. For example, over several years I have lived in Connecticut – which is a word in the Algonquin language for “place of the long river.”
|Piroque on the Tsiribihina River.
Apparently is river is actually crossable!
Bishop Donald Pelletier sent me some reflections on the names of various places in Madagascar:
“To give a word a negative meaning in the Malagasy language, the word “tsi” is used. A number of towns, villages, rivers and locations are given a negative name using this “tsi.”
“At times it is easy to understand why a negative connotation would be given, while at other times the exact reason for doing so isn’t really clear. The largest river in this area is the Tsiribihina – meaning “not crossable” – probably because of the large number of crocodiles inhabiting its river and banks.
“The town of Tsimaloto – “Not-dirty” – really lives up to its name, for there is crystal clear water that gushes from a dark cave. We can understand why the town is named “Not-dirty” because of the water that flows there.
But the town of Tsimafana – meaning “Not-hot” – is an example that challenges one’s understanding. In reality it is just as hot in Tsimafana (Not-hot) as in any other town of the area! It is certainly not cold!
|In the background is Bongolava Mountain which
– with reason – meant “old-people-cannot-climb-it.”
Years ago we actually changed the name of the place called Tsiafakantitra – meaning “Old-people-cannot-climb-here” – because on one August day I climbed there to prove that an old person can make it to the top! This high hill – where we will make the Shrine to Our Lady of La Salette on the western slopes of the Bongolava Mountain – is accessible for even the elderly to climb, albeit at a slower pace than the youngsters. So it is now called Afakantitra –“Old-people-can-climb-it.” However, we are not thinking of changing the names of all the towns.
In Ankavandra, there is a town called Tsiafapapango – “a-hawk-cannot-reach-this-high.” Every time I fly out of Anfavandra, I hold my breath until the plane climbs over that summit! No, I’m not about to compete with the hawks!”
The town of Tsiafapapango, meaning