If it often said – by no-one – that if Africa is a fever dream, Swahili is the soundtrack.
With over 50 million speakers worldwide, either as a first or second language, it is the continent’s most widely spoken tongue. Head for Tanzania, the DRC, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and this is the official vernacular you’ll use; deploy it in Mozambique or Burundi and you’ll certainly make yourself understood. Not everywhere, but enough to get by.
For some, Swahili is the voice of Africa. Think of the continent and consider the images, however cliched they may be, springing to mind. Herds of elephants roaming the savannah, perhaps, herded by magnificent tribal warriors. Traditional healers remotely viewing a savannah punctured by the rhythmic, intoxicating clatter of drums. The warmest of welcomes coupled with the most burdensome poverty. Hippos, flamingos, mountain tops touched by the good hand of God… the reader gets the point.
These visions of this imagined realm all point, mostly, the continent’s east, where Swahili is the dominant tongue. Ipso facto, not only is Swahili the sound of Africa, but it’s also the sound of daydreaming. Epochal as he was, never did Carl Jung discover something so simple and inspiring.
Read more: Heading to Ethiopia? Make life a little bit easier by learning some Amharic.
‘Karibu sana,’ said the roadside shaman as you thanked him for directions. Sotto voce, he spoke your middle name with no prompting before dissipating into the ether. (Cynical Editor: So profound. What’re you on about?)
Point being, while all such imagery is stereotypical in the extreme, it does serve a purpose in creating a passage through which to access the continent’s true depth. Swahili is a widely spoken language and any trip to the east of Africa will invariably involve its usage. Be not afeared by its tongue-twisting appearance. It’s easy enough to pick up, as well as an excellent icebreaker. Ask around and people will be more than happy to share it; this list has been solely garnered from various corners of Tanzania thanks to the kindness of strangers.
Unleash the Swahili:
|How are you?||Habiri yako?|
|I’m OK||Uko vzuri|
|Thank you (very much)||Assante (sana)|
|Welcome / You’re (very) welcome||Karibu (sana)|
|Good night||Usiku mwema|
|Good morning||Asubuhi njema|
|Good afternoon||Jiyone njema|
|Sleep well||Lala selama|
|Same to you||Nawewe pia|
|How was your day?||Umeshindaje?|
|How was your morning?||Umeamkaje?|
|Fine||Nzuri / Selama|
|What’s your name?||Jinalako ninane?|
|My name is (Panthro)||Jinalako ni (Panthro)|
|Nice to meet you||Ninafuraki kukutana nawewe|
|Feel at home||Jisikie upo nyumbani|
|See you tomorrow||Tutaonana kesho|
|Day after tomorrow||Kesho kutwa|
|I, me, mine||Ni, mimi, mgodi (NB: None of us are convinced by this)|
|He, she, it||Yeye, yeye, ni|
|They / Them||Wao|
|Niece / Nephew||Mpwa|
|Friends of (Usambara)||Marifiki wa (Usambara)|
|(Thomas) is my very good friend||(Thomas) ni rafiki yangu|
|Slowly (NB: As is pace, attitude)||Poa poa|
|I like your …||Ninapenda pua …|
|How much?||Shilingi ngapi?|
|I want to pay, please||Ninahitaji kulipa, tafadale|
|I want my bill, please||Ninahitaji bili yangu, tafadale|
|I want …||Ninahitaji …|
|Food is ready||Chakula tayari|
|The food is delicious||Viakula nikitamu|
|The food is good||Chakula kizura|
|Breakfast was very good||Kifunga kingwe ni nzuri|
|Lunch||Chakula cha mchana|
|Hot water||Maji baridi|
|Cold water||Maji moto|