As night fell yesterday I absentmindedly heard the fluttering of tiny wings and thought a moth must have got in through an open window. As the fluttering became more insistent I looked up and realised the house had been invaded by dozens of karya, a species of flying termite that appears every year at the beginning of the warm season on Reunion Island. Attracted to the light they soon lose their wings, fall to the ground, and if you’re not careful they can create a colony and start attacking the woodwork in and around the house.
The word karya arrived in Reunion Creole from the Tamil word kareya via Indo-portuguese. In Reunion Creole the noun has also given rise to the adjective karyaté which means (1) ‘attacked by termites’ or (2) ‘to be in a bad way’.
Mauritian, Rodrigues and Seychelles Creoles also have the same word; interestingly in Mauritian Creole karya can also mean “concrete with little holes in it” – an obvious reference to the termite’s destructive power – and karyaté means any piece of wood or metal that is porous or spongy, while karyate means “to destroy slowly, to fade away to be eaten away.
Minor irritation aside, karya are an annual reminder of the arrival of the warm weather and the cycle of the seasons, and in that respect they are welcome.
To find out more about Reunion Creole you can read my post here.
- Dictionnaire étymologique des créoles français de l’Océan Indien: mots d’origine française; Buske Verlag, 1993; By Annegret Bollée
- Petit Dictionnaire Créole réunionnais / Français; Université de la Réunion, 1990; By Daniel Baggioni