Iko! Iko! Listen! Listen!

(I borrow this picture from this site)

I forget most trivia things carry important messages. Like this song: IKO IKO. IKO IKO written by James Crawford (1953) hides long history of marginalized ethnic groups in New Orleans, US – and how they survived using their own ways *awesome*

From the lyrics, a linguist: Geoffrey D. Kimball suggests that IKO IKO shows a language used to facilitate trade around the time of European settlement. This language was used between different (native American) ethnic groups and the European settlers. There was no similarities between their languages. Then they developed simplified language as their second language and used it only for trading. This kind of language called: pidgin/mobilian jargon.

Referring to Kimball, we can find bits of resemblance of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creole French, Alabama, colonial languages including Spanish, French, and English, and perhaps Algonquian and/or other languages. This kind of mobilian jargon in IKO IKO lyric was spoken by Southeastern Indians, African-Americans, and European settlers and their descendants in the Gulf Coast Region.

Another version of interpretation came in 2009 from the Ghanaian social linguist Dr. Evershed Amuzu. Amuzu the chorus sound “definitely West African. It reflects West African tonal patterns. The phrase ayeko — often doubled as ayeko, ayeko — is a popular chant meaning ‘well done, or congratulations’ among the Akan and Ewe people in modern-day Togo, Ghana, and Benin. Both groups were heavily traded during the slave trade, often to Haiti, which served as a way station for Louisiana-Ewes in particular are credited with bringing West African cultural influences like Voudou rites from West Africa to Haiti and on to New Orleans.

Similar opinion came from a musicologist Ned Sublette, who argues the chorus might have roots in Haitian slave culture. He suggests the rhythms of Mardis Gras Indians are nearly indistinguishable from the Haitian Kata rhythm. Yaquimo, he has also noted, was a common name among Taino people, who inhabited Haiti in the early years of the slave trade.

(I borrow this picture from this site)

Anyway which opinion is correct does not matter. Still Iko Iko spurred me to look at these strange mix (language as the indicator). Then I found what history calls black Indians. Under almost similar marginalization, the African and Indian established a rare kind of relationship: they were enslaved by Europeans. The relationship had been established as new dimension to the issue of slave resistance. Sacred legends explained: “The Indians escaped first and then, since they knew the forest, they came back and liberated the Africans.” This relationship, the history tells, growing into intermarriage between Indians and Negros. That was how the maroon colonies first established. And, perhaps – how this strange mix reflected in Iko Iko exists.

It is amazing, isn’t it – how easy listening song such as Iko Iko relates to a chronicle. Funny that it’s such a serendipity really, that Iko Iko means Listen! Listen! Listening to what a song says to us. It recites oppression, dehumanisation, struggle, and resistance. Amazing how a song gives people their sound, their voice. Even though today we cannot meet the people of Choctaw and Chickasaw, or the people of Akan and Ewe, and there is no more slavery or settlement (really?) – the echoes of those who extinct (and were marginalized) we can still be traced in Iko Iko.

To listen Iko Iko, please visit my tumblr, Digscavenger.


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