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WordPlay

Nomohoni

WORDS. As writers, we value them. We have to. They are, after all, the building blocks with which we construct our books. Not to enjoy them would be like the sailor who hates the sea, the scaffolder who fears heights.

     The words writers use are all contained within a dictionary, so on one level the only difference between one book and another is the selection of words the author made and the order in which he/she decided to put them. (If you want to read all the books that have been published, read a dictionary.)

     Not all words are equal, of course. Some are utilitarian and not that interesting. But others are rich in tone and meaning. And a rare few can provide insight into an entire culture.

     For example – nomohoni.

     You won't know this word, because it is used by the Yanomami, a so-called primitive tribe of Stone-Age Indians who live in the jungles of Venezuela and Brazil. We came across this word when we visited a Yanomami village while researching our book Along the River that Flows Uphill, which describes a river-boat journey we took from the Orinoco to the Amazon.

     There's no English equivalent, but nomohoni roughly means 'to employ trickery to set a trap for your enemies so they feel sufficiently secure that you can safely massacre them.'

     This is a complex concept to incorporate into a single word, and most societies (fortunately) don't need it. The fact that the Yanomami do gives you a peek into their culture.

     

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