Sunday 7 August 2016

Jambo! Swahili for beginners

Any tourist visiting Swahili-speaking Kenya or Tanzania, will quickly learn to greet people they meet with a friendly 'jambo'. And like many other Swahili words it's easy for English speakers to pronounce and really quite nice to say!

However, 'jambo' by itself is usually only really used with foreigners. If you want to make that little bit more effort, the correct greeting is 'hujambo' if you are the first person to speak. The response is 'sijambo'.

Another common greeting that you'll may hear, which requires a specific response is 'Mambo?'. This should be responded to with 'poa'. This roughly translates to 'how are things?', 'cool'.

One of the words that you'll hear time and again is 'karibu', which translates as welcome or you're welcome. As a tourist, you'll see this as a greeting on the gates of the national parks. You'll also hear it from waiting staff who frequently manage to get in a 'you're welcome' before you've managed to get in your 'thank you', when they bring you your food!

Speaking of thank yous, 'asante' (asantay) is the word you need. This is frequently followed by 'sana', with 'asante sana' meaning thank you very much. 'Sana' can also come after 'karibu' to mean 'you're welcome very much'.

'Pole-pole' (pronounced polay, polay) means slowly-slowly and can be useful for an easing off of the sales pressure in a shop! Outside of the shop environment everything is pole-pole in East Africa!

Meanwhile, pole by itself is a word that means sorry and often used to express your sympathy for the misfortune of others. For example, if someone tells you that they've broken their leg, pole would be an appropriate response. 

Hakuna Matata
The Lion King has taught most of the western world the term 'hakuna matata'. It means no worries (for the rest of your days) and can be incredibly useful in conversational bargaining in shops and for diffusing any situations. 

Oh ... and if you come across a small shop just outside of the Ngoronogoro Conservation Area, called Hakuna Matata Shop - we may have helped name it! We were joking with the owners while we were in there and they told us their newly opened business didn't yet have a name, so Hakuna Matata was what we came up with for them.

The Lion King also secretly taught us the Swahili for lion - 'Simba'!  Who knew that his name was actually just lion? (Well, apart from the Swahili speakers ... they obviously knew).

Other characters in the Disney classic also have Swahili words as names. Nala means gift, Rafiki appropriately means friend, while poor old Pumbaa means foolish! 

I always said that watching Disney films was educational!

Other useful words
While English is widely spoken in East Africa, learning a few words of Swahili is much appreciated. Here's a few more words to help you along your way:

Tafadhali - Please
Hatari - Danger
Safari - Journey
Samahani - Excuse me
Ndiyo - Yes
Hapana - No
Twende - Let's go

Related posts
Trip report - Tanzanian Safari

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