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Posts Tagged ‘Swahili’

 “It’s a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water.” – Franklin P. Jones

Duma -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: The Power of Words  

In Swahili, the national language of both Kenya and Tanzania, the word for hello is jambo. It was a word we heard frequently, and one we spoke in reply, accompanied by a nod of the head.

I liked the word, and the acknowledgment of human recognition it implied between two people who did not speak a common language.

But on our third morning in Africa, one polite man used two words in greeting me.

“Jambo mama,” he said. Then turned to Kim and simply said: “Jambo.”

I asked Bilal later what that was all about. And he said “mama” was a term used to show respect to elders. While my vanity was a bit hurt, the respect offered me was appreciated. After that Bilal started calling me Mama, too, while Kim remained Kim.

I guess she couldn’t help it that she was 21 years younger than me and still a “hottie.”

Another Swahili word I was already familiar with was simba, meaning lion.

 

Big tembo and little tembo -- Photo by Kim Perrin

Other than those three words, Bilal’s radio conversations in Swahili while talking to other guides out in the field, was a lot of mumbo jumbo, which is a good old English phrase for confusing and meaningless.

Since all our guides spoke excellent English, I never had any reason to use any of the other Swahili words listed in my African travel guide, such as:

Duma, meaning cheetah

Twiga …giraffe

Impala … swala

Elephant … tembo

Kiboko -- Photo by Pat Bean

Mister … bwana

Hippopotamus …  kibuko

Rhino … kifaru

Then there is choo, the word for toilet, and chui, the word for leopard.

I already have a Texas twang that can sometimes be misunderstood, so I can easily imagine myself mispronouncing these two words, and telling someone that I had to use the leopard.

The Swahili word for beer, meanwhile, is prombe.  Kim and I, however, learned to call it Tuskers.

 

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