The Swahili classroom – Tuesday 6/18/2013
Greetings are an extremely important part of the language. We spent a lot of time learning the many greetings we might be met with and how we should respond. Introductions are a large part of the culture, and it’s common to spend upwards of 15 minutes on an introduction going through a series of greetings, which is something we need to be prepared for. Certain greetings struck me as very reflective of the culture. For example:
- When asking, How are you? How was your day? How was your trip?, the response is always, always nzuri – good. This fits the positive attitude of Tanzanians. No matter what, you’re doing fine. No matter how bad things are, you’re still doing fine. In the US, I find it superficial when people always respond “good, good, good,” without pausing to actually answer how they are. So it was interesting to look at this question through a Tanzanian lens, putting a positive spin on why we always say we’re doing fine.
- KARIBU. Welcome. I have never heard a word used SO frequently in a language. It’s first said upon meeting someone, as in “welcome to my home”, “please come in”. It’s used to say “you’re welcome” in response to “thank you”. It’s said at the beginning of a meal, meaning “bon appetite” i.e. welcome yourself to the food. It can really be used at any time to say “make yourself at home”. Karibu literally means “come close” or “close”, so karibu is also used for “close by”, “almost”, or “soon”, but that departs from the meaning it holds as a greeting. In any case, it’s surprising how many different ways one word can be applied, and I think it’s quite indicative of the warm, welcoming Tanzanian culture.
And here are my personal favorite greetings:
- Mzima? – Mzima. Roughly, it translates to: Are you well? -- I am well. Literally, mzima means “Whole. Complete. Health”.
- And in the morning, we ask: Umelalaje? – Salama. How did you sleep? – Peace.