What is Tambaya?

I’m Nigerian, and we’re known for answering questions with questions, so here’s one back: what most distinguishes humans from animals?

It’s something that, like the most profound things in life, is so unexpectedly simple we might easily miss it. Like you probably missed it just now.

Hint: the answer’s right there in the question. Or more to the point, the answer is the question…

Catch it yet? Okay, here goes: we’re the only ones who ask questions about life.

See, everyday, we wake up, dutifully take our places in the rat race, and zoom! We’re off. All day long, we shuttle from activity to activity with hardly any time to “stand and stare.”

But little by little, as we struggle to get ahead (whatever that means to you), or just to keep our place, our very humanity is threatened in the most simple and most profound way: we stop asking the big questions. “Why?” becomes “How?” and then just “What?” and then loses the question mark altogether before fading into “Whatever.” And life becomes about nothing more than getting from one day to the next, with no sense of living for something bigger.

Life becomes meaningless. Which is really tragic, when you think about it, because if there’s anything we desire in the end, you and I, it’s that our lives would have meant something.

This is where I hope “Tambaya” comes in: as a cry of defiance, a rebellion against mindlessness, against meaninglessness. It’s a delightful word from the Hausa language (the traditional lingua franca of northern Nigeria, where I once spent an unforgettable year), and it means “Question.”

That’s what this blog is about: the big questions. The questions only humans ask. The questions that lead us to find meaning in our otherwise ordinary existence.

Welcome. Any questions? 🙂

[This page was updated 8 November, 2011]


2 thoughts on “What is Tambaya?

  1. It’s funny you mention questions because I’m discovering there is a art to asking questions. I’m learning from reading Frank Bettger’s How I Raised Myself From Failure To Success In Selling and as well as this audio cd that I’m actually listening to now.


  2. You’re absolutely right, Harnew! That’s what I’ve discovered over the past couple of years, too. Offering answers requires knowledge, but asking the right questions demands insight, and that isn’t easy to come by. Thanks for dropping by!


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