People are animals (sings the Isakpolo bird)

Morning clouds in Kawu

It is no news that people are animals, especially not this Darwin Year. But normally that something we say of ourselves. Wouldn’t it be rather more interesting if another member of the animal kingdom would weigh in on the matter?

It happens in Kawu, where I am right now for fieldwork (hence the silence on this blog). The call of the ìsakpòlò (Common Bulbul, Pycnonotus barbatus), 1 singing in the early morning, perfectly resembles the tonal contour of the following Siwu phrase:

màturi bra màbɔi
people make animals
‘People are just animals’
Recording of the call:
Whistled imitation and pronunciation of the Siwu sentence:

Tone in Siwu is lexically distinctive. Low tone is marked by grave accent (à), High tone is unmarked, and the rare Extra High tone (which in most cases arises from tonal sandhi processes) is marked with an acute accent (á).

The first time I became aware of this bird was when one of my assistants jokingly said, ‘That bird is insulting us.’ Next time I’ll try to provide a picture it. Meanwhile, there you go. People are animals. You didn’t hear this from me. You heard it from the ìsakpòlò bird.


  1. I thank Ies Goedbloed for helping me identify the species.[]

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