The greeting ritual

dsg-02-smileGreeting words are arguably the most important in Kiswahili.

Walking around, one is always being greeted by other pedestrians and people sitting around. It is much appreciated when one joins the greeting ritual.

In time I’ve found this cultural practice provides comfort and a pleasant feel to the day.

It’s not about actually wanting to know details or responding in honesty. Instead there are set questions and answers providing both with the framework to acknowledge one other.

That’s all, but at the same time it means a lot.

Greetings Swahili

Even passing by someone on the street often requires a greeting.

Coming from a culture where communication is focussed on no-nonsense and saying what’s going on openly it has been a long lesson to change my usual ways.

Now I walk and talk away, alternatively responding to Shikamoo, Mambo, Umeamkaje, Habari za leo with the correct answers of Marahaba, Poa, Salama, Nzuri. 

It really works and brings a smile to every face.

Some 14 years ago I started to study Tanzania’s national language, Kiswahili. It is written as pronounced which is an advantage.

And certain words and expressions are being used constantly in many variations, so once those are mastered it helps a lot.

Tanzanians assured me it was very easy to learn so it was with optimism that I joined a course. When I was away for seven years without exposure to people and language only the basics stuck with me.

Upon my return to Dar, I decided to pick up and move on from the conversational street level retained throughout the past 10 years.

With weekly private lessons, lots of conversation and infrequent study at home I’m slowly getting there.

But easy it will never be.


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About the Author

Josie van den Hoek
Josie first visited Dar es Salaam in 2000 and is still here. She writes about encounters on her daily walks and Tanzanian life.