A Course in Rawàng Ata: 2.3


The Simple Passive

There are three broadly ‘passive’ constructions in Rawàng Ata, but for now we need only worry about one: the simple passive.

A sentence in the simple passive has the object as its control, and agrees with it through suffixes, not through prefixes. Aside from first and second person suffixes, which will be dealt with later, there are only two such suffixes: -ar- to agree with animate objects, and -as- to agree with inanimate objects. The final letter of the verb is actually an affix itself (which will be discussed later), so these suffixes come before the final vowel. There are no suffixes for concertive or pluractive action, nor for feminine objects or subjects.

The object is not marked for case. The subject is placed into the ergative case.

datta wohola kòmana

the sailor strikes the young woman

dattaya woholara kòma

the young woman is struck by the sailor

kòma kuruaya runtama

the young woman wipes clean the floor

kòmaya ruayara runta

the floor is wiped clean by the young woman

The passive is often used to help link clauses with those around them, but it may also have the connotation of change of control or animacy – the passive suggests that the object is responsible for, encourages or invites the action. Additionally, the passive is automatically intransitive, so has no connotation of completion, success, or lasting effect upon the object. The passive also has various modal connotations which will be discussed later.

It is important to note that the simple passive does not promote the object into the subject, but merely promotes it into the control. This will be an important point later on.


Native Passives

The most common use of the simple passive, however, is as the default state for certain verbs, called native passives. These verbs are usually verbs of perception, evaluation, or continuing state. It is vital to note that for most of these verbs, the ‘object’ would be the ‘subject’ in English, and vice versa.

lutàya tìara kòma

the ball is seen by the young woman

doyaya nūngara kòma

the child is loved by the young woman

tòkaya mayajdara kòma

the walls surround the young woman

hiukongya faràkkara kòma

the young woman is painted blue

In all four sentences, kòma is the object of the sentence: it is the woman who undergoes some sort of change, or who is in a state that has some effect upon her – the ball being seen does not affect the ball, the child being loved need not affect the child, the walls are not changed by being around her (though being surrounded by walls is important for her), and blueness itself is not affected if the woman changes colour.


Binative Verbs

In addition to native actives and native passives, there are some verbs that are binative. This means that the same verb may natively occur in either the passive or the active – and this can be distinguished from normal changes in voice by the fact that the two versions have distinct meanings.

kòma kuduànga dattama

the young woman fells the sailor

kòmaya duàngara datta

the sailor is killed by the young woman

In the active form, the verb duang refers to a strong blow or attack that drops the victim to the ground or renders them incapacitated – but in the passive form, it refers to violent killing.

doya kulutawa tòkama

the child draws on/decorates the walls

kòdalamya lutawara datta

the sailor is depicted by the carving

doyaya lutawara datta

the sailor has his paternity evident in the features of the child

The verb lutaw is more distinct in its two meanings: in the active voice, the subject literally draws ON the object, or by extension decorates them in some other way; in the passive voice, the subject is a drawing OF, or some other depiction of, the object.




lūba = pipe, pool, cistern, tank, plumbing

The lūba are an essential part of an upper-class home, denoting essentially any part of the system of plumbing that deals with rainwater collection. By itself, it usually refers to the gutters that run through most rooms of the house, providing fresh water, and just as importantly the sound of fresh water. However, the word can be modified in several ways to specify other types of lūba (see next chapter for explanations of the processes): the kuturnù lūba is the roof-guttering; the lūba daòy is the ‘upper tank’, where rainwater is stored before use; the halù lūba is an artificial pond created at near ground level; the lūba moyòy, or ‘lower tank’ is an underground cistern. The cistern’s reserve of cold water serves not only as an emergency store of water, and as a cold place for preserving food, but also as part of the ventillation system of the house; air heated in the house rises through chimneys in the walls, pulling up cooler air from the cistern to prevent the house overheating. In this way, one problem posed by the climate (excess rainwater) acts to ameliorate a second problem (excess heat). The plumbing system as a whole is lūba osa.

yutào = noodles

Noodles are the basic form of food for the Lày people. They can be made from many different things: different grains, turtle jelly, seaweed; and they can come in several shapes – mostly thread-like for grain noodles, and ribbon-like for jelly noodles, but dumpling-like noodles also exist. More elaborate shapes were once common in rich meals, but now are seen as decadent, and are reserved for semi-ritual use at formal occasions.

enòk = dishonoured corpse

To some degree, this definition is almost pleonasm: any corpse that stays still long enough to be named is dishonoured, for the Lày destroy the corpses of their dead as soon as possible – usually, on the same day or night. A corpse is removed from its house by a hacking a hole in the wall, so as not to contaminate a doorway, and is taken, completely hidden by a cloth, to the shore, where it is set out to sea on a raft and burnt. Those who knew the dead person are expected to watch the burning ceremony, and the corpse is dishonoured if anyone refuses (although an inability to attend due to illness, absence or binding oath is permissable). During this time, only a special caste of psychopomps are permitted to touch the body. However, the funerary rites truly begin after death, in three stages: vigil, mourning, and proclamation. In the vigil, a bell chimes for around ten minutes every three hours, and during the chiming, those who loved the deceased will cry and wail in a public place. No individual is permitted to cry at the chimes for more than two days (once in memory of the times passed, and once in regret for those to come), and the family are expected to cry together, but the vigil can be lengthened by the number of unrelated or distantly-related mourners who come and cry – the length of the vigil is an indication of the greatness of the deceased. During the vigil-time, however long it is, the family live in other houses, wear no clothes, prepare no food for themselves, and use no tools, and speak only to each other. The vigil is followed by a period of mourning, in which the family wear red clothes, paint their faces black and their hands white, and grow their hair (died red) long, without cutting it, instead braiding it together into dreadlocks. In this time, they continue to live in another house, are forbidden to fornicate or eat meat, are forbidden from going to sea, and can use only tools dedicated to the gods of mourning. Because grief is a deity that possesses people, the pious will give the mourning offerings for the god; these offerings remain marked as dedicated to mourning, and must never be destroyed, or used outside mourning – they can only be disposed of by offering them to another god, or by throwing them into the sea. During the time of mourning, the name of the deceased may not be mentioned, and their existence not acknowledged – debts both owed and owing, for instance, go into abation, and the time of mourning does not count toward interest. Neither the dead nor their family may be spoken ill of. Marriage in this time is impossible, and any baby born is killed at birth (babies are not considered human until their first meal, and so can be disposed of easily, without the full mourning ceremony –in any case, vigils for infants are usually minor events). The period of mourning lasts for an indefinite period of time, but it is generally fixed at seventeen times the length of the vigil, except in cases where the deceased was of national significance. Before the Discord, mourning could be maintained for years. Finally, after the mourning, there is a day of proclamation, in which all those who admired the deceased are encouraged to use their name: typically, by beginning all conversations with “I had a friend named…” or the like – however, it is forbidden to speak of the dead as though they were still alive. The day is usually the occasion of a huge feast, and often marriages are conducted at this point. A festive atmosphere prevails, and it is particularly felicitous for children to be conceived on the day of proclamation. In some cases, the proclamation may last several days.

The corpse (which word is taken to include all physical remains, even after cremation) is dishonoured if any part of the above is not followed. There are five degrees of dishonour: dishonouring the proclamation; dishonouring the mourning; dishonouring the vigil; dishonouring the disposal; and preventing disposal entirely. The first can be merited on some occasions, if the deceased is hated; the second can be merited only by the most severe crimes, and otherwise is the grounds for ostracising the offender; the third will bring blood feud regardless of the cause; the fourth, usually in the form of displaying the corpse publically before disposal, and of delaying disposal, is seen in the execution of the most despicable criminals only, and otherwise only in warfare; the fifth cannot be justified under any circumstances – it is usually done by burying the body in a secret location, and is the worst crime that can be committed.

It is said that a dishonoured corpse returns to punish the offender, although this is no longer considered to take the form of any sort of supernatural zombie, but rather a general misfortune. However, children are told of zombies – the corpse, even in the form of ashes in the sea, returns to plague the criminal, generally simply by growing heavier and heavier until the wrong-doer is crushed in their sleep.

In ages long ago, endocannibalism was practiced; this no longer occurs, but is still a motif in some stories.


One thought on “A Course in Rawàng Ata: 2.3

  1. nac says:

    Huh. Are you SURE you’re bored with these?

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