Basic Swahili Words and Phrases

23 09 2008

Hakuna matata!!!                         (Sunset over Stone Town, Zanzibar)

Just as authors, adventurers and explorers of centuries past brought the cultural wonders and riches of distant lands to their fellow countrymen and women at home, so Elton John and Tim Rice enlightened much of the 20th century western world to Swahili. Well, not quite, but few people who hadn’t travelled to East Africa likely knew what Hakuna matata meant before ‘The Lion King’ was released in 1994.


Swahili is spoken by approximately 50 million people in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo. Although English is also widely spoken in most of those places and certainly anywhere frequented by the majority of tourists, it’s always nice to have a smattering of words and phrases to raise a smile, leave a good impression and avoid matata mengi! 



Hello – Jambo
Welcome – Karibu
Goodbye – Kwaheri
Yes – Ndiyo
No – Siyo/Hapana
OK – Sawa sawa
Please – Tafadhali
Thank you – Asante
Sorry – Pole
Excuse me – Samahani
No problem – Hakuna matata
What is your name? – Jina lakonani?
My name is __ – Jina langu ni _
Very good – Nzuri
Where are the toilets? – Wapi choo?
I don’t understand – Sielewi
Sleep well – Lala salama

Buffalo – mbogo
Elephant – ndovu/tembo
Leopard – chui
Lion – simba
Rhino – kifaru

Many problems – Matata mengi



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan