THE CULTURE OF GREETINGS
- Greetings are a large part of Swahili culture and communication. They can seem more elaborate and elongated than we are used to in English. For example, you might be asked how you are in several respects before conversation starts to flow in another direction.
- Very important to have proper greeting etiquette, especially in Tanzania or the more conservative Zanzibar.
- Greetings differ depending on the age and status of the person you are addressing.
- Someone older than you might address you more informally, but that is not an invitation to reciprocate their casual demeanor.
- Answer and then ask your greeting question in an appropriate manner, indicative of respect.
GREETING YOUR ELDERS, PEOPLE IN HIGH(ER) POSITIONS
- Greeting: Shikamoo
- Directed at a group of people: Shikamooni
- It elicits the response: Marahaba
- Marahaba,” With the question “hujambo?” You reply with “Sijambo.” Do not ask “hujambo?” back. Like marahaba, it is a question that an older person/someone who holds a higher (professional) status will ask a younger person.
- Hujambo: How are you; more closely translates do “do you have any worries?”
- Sijambo indicates “I have no worries//I am ok.”
- If you are the person of a higher status: to ask a group of people how you all are doing, you would say: “Hamjambo?” The response would be “Hatujambo.”
- Habari is a version of “how are you,” that more explicitly translates to “news”;
- In terms of respect, it holds a neutral tone and can be directed at anyone.
- It can be asked alone, with inflection. Or, as follows (please note these are some – not all – possible articulations):
- Habari zako? (how are you?)
- Habari za asubuhi/mchana/jioni/usiku? (How is the morning/afternoon/evening/night?)
- Habari za kutwa? (How is the whole day?)
- Habari za wiki/wikiendi? (How is/was the week/weekend?)
- Habari za familia yako? (How is your family?)
- …za mama, baba, dada, kaka, ndugu, rafiki (mom, dad, sister, brother, comrades, friends)
- Habari za darasa lako? (How is class?)
- …za nyumbani/chuoni/shuleni (..at home/at the university/at school)
- Nzuri (good)
- Salama (peace, calm)
- Sawa (Okay)
- Njema (good/pleasant)
- Vyema (good/pleasant)
It’s not as common to respond with a “not good,” regardless of the circumstances in initial greetings. If you’re awful, a sawa tu (just ok) will suffice.
- Asubuhi njema!
- Colloquial, or “street” greetings are exchanged with peers.
- Mambo vipi? This is one you will hear most often. The words can be put together, or asked by themselves. I.e., mambo or vipi. It means more or less “what’s up?” Vipi also means “how” but has been encompassed into greetings.
- Niaje? (What’s up/how’s it going?)
- Unaendelaje? (How’s it going? – more directly, how are you going?)
- Sema? (Speak? – say what’s on your mind/the news/etc.)
You can add kaka (brother) or dada (sister) to these greetings. Vipi kaka? Sema dada?
Kaka and Dada are used commonly. In the Swahili language, familial words are exchanged as terms of endearment. A friend could be your brother/sister, as could a stranger. It is friendly, respectful, and welcoming to use these as much as you’d like (with peers)!
RESPONDING TO INFORMAL GREETINGS
- Poa – cool
- Safi – clean
- Bomba – coming from the English phrase “the bomb.”
- Freshi – fresh (English influenced)
- Or with any of the answers to habari?
IF YOU ARE OUTSIDE…
- Announce your presence with “Hodi!” It said with inflection like and means “Knock knock!”
- Greeting/invitation to enter is karibu (welcome) or karibu ndani (welcome inside).
- To say thank you, “Asante” and thank you very much, “Asante sana.”
- To thank more than one person you say asanteni
- Greeting: Salaamaleikum; Response: Aleikumsalama
- Greeting: Upo? (you there?); Response: Nipo! (I’m here!)
- Greeting: Uko salama? (are you safe?; Response: Niko salama! (I am safe!)
- Pole is used throughout conversation; however, you might hear it in an initial greeting if you have an apparent ailment/hardship
- Pole is an expression of sympathy.
- To express sympathy to multiple people, you say poleni.
- Usiku mwema (goodnight)
- Ndoto njema (sweet dreams)
- Lala salama (sleep peacefully)
- Kwa heri! (Bye!)
- Tuonane kesho (See you tomorrow)
- Tutaonana (We will see eachother)
- Mpaka badaaye (Until later)
- Badaaye (Later)