I have been exchanging emails with a number of professors during my time in Uganda. Our conversations usually revolve around boring scholarly stuff like development theory and political philosophy. Fortunately, from time to time I get some practical advice from our discussions. In one instance a Global Health professor at Dalhousie replied to an email saying:
“Careful on those boda bodas. Did you know that Kampala has one of the largest head-trauma wards in all of Africa. There’s a reason for that.”
My professor’s reply got me thinking: how did these Boda Boda things come about in the first place? After months of painstaking scholarly research, field work, and Indiana Jones-style adventuring I think I’ve finally found the answer to my question:
The word “Boda Boda” was originally derived from the Greek word: “Βωδα” (or “death”) and the Latin verb: Ɓơƌă (or “to trap”). Oddly enough, these Greek and Latin words experienced entirely separate histories until the Anglo Saxons put them together.
As legend has it, when Beowulf was tasked with fighting Grendel, he did not traverse the icy fiords of Scandinavia by foot like so many have been led to believe. Rather, as the resourceful guy that he was, Beowulf fashioned two cylinders out of animal hide and attached them to a wooden frame. He then whipped up a mini-internal combustion engine by using a sheep’s stomach, some matches, and wolf dung. Beowulf went on to attach the engine to one of his leather belts, and the leather belt to the cylinder located on the posterior end of the wooden frame. He placed a large bird on the right handlebar of the wooden frame that would loudly “squawk” whenever he gave it a good squeeze. Finally, to set his contraption apart from any other like means of transport, Beowulf painted “Jesus IS Able” on the front fender of the wooden frame and “Use Skin Care” on the back in small neon letters. Nobody was going to mess with him.
Beowulf was impressed with his little creation. As it happens, the only mode of land transportation before his contraption was… well, feet. However, Beowulf’s large Anglo Saxon brain struggled to find a name for the odd device beneath his crotch.
The following is an excerpt from the original transcript of Beowulf. I had to do some horrible shit to get this so you better appreciate what you are about to read:
“Beowulf (to himself): Hmmm, I have been tasked by these insane villagers to bring death to some monster, or some shit like that. A modern English word for death hasn’t really been invented yet, but the Greeks have had that one on lock down for a while. Βωδα will have to suffice. Okay Beowulf, think – you are a giant pseudo-Viking that specializes in trapping and killing shit… hmmmm, trapping and killing shit… *villager walks by*… damn I would like to take off one of her 6 layers of bear hide and see what’s going on at layer 5 *villager turns around and waves*… CURSES that’s a guy! Homosexuality is definitely not cool here yet, despite my obvious adversity to women. Okay man, focus. You will probably have to trap Grendel before you kill him. THAT’S IT! TRAP! Shit, the modern English word for trap hasn’t been invented either. Guess I’ll steel this one from Latin. Ɓơƌă, aweh yeah… Ɓơƌă. Kinda sounds funny when you say it over and over. Ɓơƌă. Now to go and see about that guy’s 5th layer of bear hide… uh, I mean go do really manly pseudo-Vikingish type stuff.”
In the following centuries, as English evolved and spread around the world so too did Beowulf’s invention. The colonial era and industrial revolution saw the evolution of Beowulf’s original Βωδα Ɓơƌă (or Death Trap). Animal hide cylinders were eventually replaced by tires made out of rubber from the Congo; the original wooden frame was replaced by lightweight metal from North America; the sheep stomach internal combustion engine stuck around for a while, but was eventually replaced by an array of contrivances from the recently underdeveloped UK.
Although the Βωδα Ɓơƌă’s material components evolved over time, its original meaning, “Death Trap” remained static. The interpretation of “Death Trap”, however, has shifted over time. The Anglo Saxons originally viewed Βωδα Ɓơƌăs as an easier means to trap and kill various monsters. Unfortunately, subsequent civilizations discovered that the Βωδα Ɓơƌă paradoxically killed more of its users than monsters or beasts. Monster slayers, knights, and warriors would all drive their Βωδα Ɓơƌăs too fast, spin out of control, and suffer terrible deaths. In fact, between the 9th 13th centuries, nearly 100 000 brave dragon slayers (like Beowulf) died at the helm of a Βωδα Ɓơƌă. The previous figure increased tenfold between the 14th and 18th centuries. Historians now maintain that Βωδα Ɓơƌăs – not the Bubonic Pague – killed 50 million Europeans in the 14th century.
History students are taught that the High Enlightenment was important because it saw the expansion of the human heart. During the Enlightenment, standards of living improved in Europe as modern medicine and hygiene became available to more people. Further, notions of liberty, democracy, and constituent power toppled oppressive monarchs and religious leaders – “Off with their heads!” Things were looking up in Europe, but death rates still remained inexplicably high. That is, until June 28th, 1919.
Recent historical scholarship has reviled an important event occurred in 1919. An international treaty was signed between all European states that effectively banished the Βωδα Ɓơƌă from the continent. This agreement was called the “Treaty of Versailles”. The Treaty of Versailles did three things:
- Redrew the map of Europe
- Inspired Woodrow Wilson to create the League of Nations (well, he tried)
- Created the concept of selfless philanthropy
The latter saw that all Βωδα Ɓơƌăs were shipped from Europe to its respective colonies in Africa, Asia, and South America… free of charge! After all, people who lived in colonized areas struggled to feed themselves and live as long as their ancestors for some strange reason; they clearly needed some free stuff to save them from their primitive ways. More, decreased quality of life could not have been a result of colonialism. Colonial masters cared a great deal for their subjects – they even sent them Βωδα Ɓơƌăs free of charge! Hmmmm…
Death rates in Europe miraculously plummeted once it was rid of Βωδα Ɓơƌăs. Further, average life expectancy shot up, hunger and malnutrition ceased to exist, and maternal mortality rates fell faster than Latoya Jackson’s facelift(s). Best of all, Europeans felt good about themselves. Their selfless donation of Βωδα Ɓơƌăs to their primitive colonial subjects was a sure-fire way to make things better for everyone!
The ignoble savages of Africa did not possess the mental capacity to understand high-minded languages like Greek or Latin. Heck, they probably didn’t even have any conception of language before colonizers saved them from their primitive ways. Therefore, colonial powers were more than happy to send “Death Traps” to their ‘children in the South’ because colonized people wouldn’t know the true nature of Βωδα Ɓơƌăs anyway.
Oddly enough, European colonies experienced the exact opposite of their masters in the North after the Treaty of Versailles. 20 000 year old kingdoms fell all over Africa, Asian dynasties were reduced to rubble, and South American civilizations disappeared. Many historians attribute the fall of the South to colonialism; however, new carbon-dating technologies revile that the arrival of Βωδα Ɓơƌăs was far more detrimental to colonies than any racist pastor or hateful priest.
Once Βωδα Ɓơƌăs hit the streets of colonized countries, death rates immediately skyrocketed as shop keepers and farmers spun their Βωδα Ɓơƌăs out of control. Life expectancy fell, hunger and malnutrition came into existence, and maternal mortality rates climbed faster than Rob Ford’s cholesterol after looking at a Boston Cream doughnut from Krispy Kreme.
Upon colonial independence, newly sovereign states agreed to express their independence in a number of ways. One of the most prominent displays of independence among these countries was their collective decision to divorce the Βωδα Ɓơƌă from its oppressive, Western roots. Unfortunately, recently underdeveloped countries did not contain the capacity to export “Death Traps” back to Europe (free of charge!) so they were forced to settle for a name change in lieu of completely eradicating the Βωδα Ɓơƌă. Consequently, the recently developing world decided to call the Βωδα Ɓơƌă a Boda Boda.
Thanks to our European ancestors, the streets of the “developing world” are still congested with Boda Bodas. In fact, in a Ugandan city named Kampala, travel by Boda Boda is nearly unavoidable.
Additionally, it is no coincidence that poor countries like Uganda have such poor indicators of “development” compared to the West. After all, how can a state develop a strong economy when all of its people are killed off in Boda Boda crashes!
The lack of development in the ‘South’ begs the question: have countries in the “Global South” always been underdeveloped, or did selfless donations from the West under-develop them? This historian will let you decide for yourself. If you can’t make up your mind then try saving a poor African child in the meantime. You will feel great about yourself for “the price of just a cup of coffee a day”! Heck, send the child some money to buy a Boda Boda while you are at it.
Thus, the Βωδα Ɓơƌă; or in modern day English: Boda Boda. The Death Trap.
Wear a helmet,