Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run, and out of which they grow.  ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Jambo fellow bloggers.

How much Kiswahili (Swahili ) do you recognize? ( glossary below)

Before we volunteered at The Ilula Orphan Center in Ilula, Tanzania, we were given a handbook which included suggested words and phrases to practice. While visiting any country, a little local lingo rolling off the tongue becomes survival language, while other phrases are necessary to exhibit good manners and that you care enough to learn a little.

Ron & I were assigned a staff member to be our new rafiki. Morning, noon and evening she expected us to say the proper Swahili greetings for how are you this morning, how are you this afternoon and how are you this evening?

I mastered it and she beamed. Ron didn’t do so well.

Throughout our stay, Ron was called Babu and I was called Bibi. I guess the grey hair earned us that honor. We also heard ourselves called mzungu from village children as we walked into town. There weren’t many of us mzungus around.

Every evening when we bid good night to the girls, they would reply, lala salama, the two most beautiful words to hear.

Soon after we got home from this wonderful trip, we threw a lively Afican party for our friends which included drumming, singing and good food. Before long, men were wearing the kanga cloths and having their pictures taken. Of course, the evening wouldn’t really be complete without a slideshow travelogue of our pictures shown through the TV.  Indeed, an enjoyable and lively evening.

At the beginning of the party, each person got a list of Swahili 101 and to this day, five years later, I still hear some of these phrases ring out in the grocery store or in an email. Jambo Lynne!!

JAMBO                                         HELLO

KARIBU                                       WELCOME

ASANTE SANA                          THANK YOU VERY MUCH


NZURI                                          FINE



NDIYO                                           YES

HAPANA                                       NO

HAYA                                             OKAY

MZUNGU                                     WHITE PERSON

MAMA                                          MOTHER

BABA                                            FATHER

BIBI                                              GRANDMOTHER

BABU                                           GRANDFATHER

KAKA                                           BROTHER

DADA                                           SISTER

WATOTO                                    CHILDREN

RAFIKI                                        FRIEND


POLE, POLE                              SLOWLY, SLOWLY

KWAHERI                                 GOODBYE

SIMBA                                         LION

TEMBO                                       ELEPHANT

TWIGA                                       GIRAFFE

PUNDAMILIA                          ZEBRA

WALI                                           RICE

EMBE                                         MANGO

CHAKULA                                FOOD

CHOO                                         TOILET

KUIMBA                                    SING

PLASTIK                                    BUCKET




About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
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24 Responses to SWAHILI 101

  1. My favourite phrase is “Hakuna Matata”!! Have loved the sound of it ever since I saw the Lion King, when I was just a few years old!! 🙂

  2. Lala Salama does sound beautiful! I’ve always wanted to learn another language.. and I love when words from other languages slip into our own and find a home there 🙂

    • So true. Our language is full of derivatives and cultural expressions from the world. I would love to speak a language fluently, but never took the time. There is a quote that goes something like this, “If you speak two languages, you’re bilingual, if you speak three languages you are trilingual and if you speak one language, you are an American.” Foreign countries teach English and expect their students to be proficient in it.

  3. You have taken my experience much farther than I have dared to. I sponsor a child in a Kenyan orphanage and exchange letters with her but have never gone there.

  4. ilargia64 says:

    Hi Lynne,…So funny….I remember when I was a child and there were all tose old “Tarzan” films on TV…There I learned about “Simba” , “Pole pole” and “mzungu”….I think it is a wonderful and funny language, very useful in a lot of African countries…
    Asante Sana for sharing it ..

  5. Asante Sana for your comment. I forgot about the Tarzan connection. There are definitely some Swahili words that stand out.

  6. I like ‘rafiki’ and ‘hakuna matata’!

  7. Lovely post, Lynne… how beautiful, lala salama

  8. Swahili is fun…at least the easy words. But I agree, lala salama is beautiful to hear. It’s better than, good night.

  9. Kavita Joshi says:

    good insight ..thanks for sharing it with us 🙂

  10. Asante Sana. Thank you for stopping by.:)

  11. eof737 says:

    MUNGU AKI BARIKI I love this post… smiled all the way and then laughed as I imagined your party at home.:-)

  12. John Higgins says:


  13. Madhu says:

    Between Tarzan, Phantom and the Lion King, it all seems familiar somehow 🙂 Thanks for the lesson Lynne, Lala Salama 🙂

  14. And lala salama to you, too. 🙂

  15. vb holmes says:

    I always thought hakuna matata was the product of a Hollywood screenwriter’s imagination–nice to find out it’s a legitimate phrase as it’s such fun to say.
    Asante sana, Rafiki Lynne, for the language lesson..

  16. Jambo, VB.
    I love your comment about hakuna matata.I found that Tanzanians over used the expression. It seems we were always in situations that required an immediate problem solver. Their reply was always, hakuna matata which in reality could take days, weeks, or seemingly, years to solve.
    Survival language.

  17. Fast Pam says:

    We once went on a safari in Tanzania and we all adopted Swahili animal names – I was the Hyena – Fisi – lol – thanks for conjuring up that memory! fun times!

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