Tuesday, May 29, 2018

"Habari", "Shikamoo", "Jambo", "Mambo" and Some Other Greeting Words Used In KiSwahili Speaking Nations

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides examples of some greeting words in KiSwahili speaking nations.

The content of this post is presented for educational, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.
Click for Part I of a three part pancocojams series on songs that include the word "Jambo". That post showcases Ella Jenkins' children's song "Jambo". The links to the other posts in this series are included in that post. The other featured songs are The Three Mushroom's "Jambo Bwana" and The Lion King's "Hakuna Matata".

Entire Embedded Article:
Posted July 21st, 2015 by Elizabeth Kelly
"At home, there are only three reasons why I even acknowledge the person passing me. The first is if I know them well, the second is if I sort of know them, and the third is if I just happen to make eye contact with them, and even that only elicits a smile. And this is perfectly normal. They don’t expect me to do anything to admit that I acknowledge them, and I don’t expect them to either.

Here, in Tanzania, this is absolutely not the case. Here, there are three things I need to think about if I see a person approaching. Do I know them? How old are they compared to me? Did I already see them earlier today? After analyzing these three questions, I next need to think of the proper way to say hello, and maybe even think of an automated response if they take the greeting further into small-talk. It sounds like a lot of work, and it can be quite repetitive when walking down a busy street, but it can actually be rewarding, and may lead to meeting some very interesting people.

Greetings are important because it opens up the doors to a potential relationship. Friendship, partnership, business networking, resources, romantic relationship; they’re all possible. Even if nothing comes out of it, there is still an open door, and in the future if you ever meet again, you can start back on the right foot. There is also the mentality of creating relationships because you never know when you may need something. This is the warning to those who do not greet, because the person not greeted will remember that and may think poorly of you in the future when you cross paths again.

Greetings are based on age. If you are greeting someone older than you, “Shikamoo” is the word you want (or “Shikamooni” if there are multiple older people together). The response to this is always “Marahaba”, which is an appreciation of the respect and returned greeting. If you forget to greet an elder this way, they may passive aggressively remind you by saying “Marahaba” first, to let you know that you messed up. For those who are your own age, or for elders who you have properly greeted earlier that day, the collection of variations of Hujambo is the way to go. “Hujambo” gets the response “Sijambo” (one on one) and “Hamjambo” needs the response “Hatujambo” (one greeting a group). There is also the very common slang phrase “Mambo” (basically “what’s up?”), to which you reply “Poa!”

At first, it was hard to remember all of this, and it was especially difficult to think fast and pick the correct phrase for the correct situation. But it was worth the effort to learn. There are three common circumstances that make me very proud and happy to know the proper way to greet people. The first is when encountering an elderly man or woman. Many are skeptical at first of our presence in their town or on their property. We don’t blend in, so we get a lot of stares and interesting looks. But as soon as we greet the elder with “Shikamoo,” his or her face lights up and we are invited to join them in what they are doing or are welcome into their shop. It is an added bonus if you greet an old woman by saying “Shikamoo bibi” or an old man by saying “Shikamoo baba.”

The second common circumstance happens when we pass groups of children playing or going to school. Usually they just stare, but sometimes they wave excitedly and yell “Hi!” The shock and bewilderment when we say back “Mambo” is priceless. Sometimes with more quiet children, we’ll start first with “Mambo,” to which their eyes widen and they smile and yell (or sometimes whisper) “Poa.” Sometimes, all of this sparks conversation and laughter of “mzungu” (white people), because most foreigners do not make the effort to learn the ins and outs of greetings. This is especially fun when we are running in the morning through the village, when all of the kids are waiting for the school bus and we look even more foreign while exercising. Of course a “Shikamoo” is also necessary for their mothers waiting with them.

The third common circumstance might be my favorite. After coming back from a safari and having spent a weekend shopping in Arusha Town, we have had quite a few encounters with places catering to tourists. What greeting do we get when we walk into these places? “Jambo!” This isn’t even a word! This is in no way a greeting, but most foreigners believe that in Swahili, this is the way to say hello, so this is what the shopkeepers who deal with tourists say to them. Like everyone else, their response to our proper Swahili greeting of “Sijambo” is great, and often entices a short, simple conversation about how our day is going and that our Swahili is good, to which we say that we only know a little bit, and then go about our day.

In the United States, I never could have imagined something such as a greeting creating such an impression, forming so many opinions, and receiving such surprised and welcoming reactions. I keep thinking about what it will be like to go home and only greet those I know. The ideas behind the culture of greetings here make so much sense to me, and are really an integral part of the Tanzanian culture as a whole. Connections and relationships are necessary for life, and these cannot start without a greeting or a display of respect."
The English translation for the KiSwahili word "Poa" is "Good", "Well", and/or "Cool" [vernacular meaning of that word].

Page Excerpt
..."Greetings in Swahili are a crucial aspect of Swahili culture; it is not uncommon for a conversation to go on for several minutes before it actually moves beyond saying what would be considered “hello” in western cultures. There is no generic word for “hello” in the language, rather there are numerous options depending on the relative ages and race of the people involved, as well as singular and plural forms, time of day, and other factors.

Greetings are somewhat regular and formulaic, with specific responses required (not completely, but somewhat).

Often, Swahili greetings are structured in a call-and-response format, where a certain initial greeting will require a particular response (for example, shikamoo is always followed by marahaba).

Positive responses are the norm, even more so than in the west. Thus you will not generally respond that you are unwell, regardless of your actual state.

You will note that some greetings fall into "families," where many greetings are derived from variations on a theme, such as the habari family, including habari, habari yako, habari za..., habari gani.

Note that if you mess up with the greetings, or anything else in the language, Swahili people are not likely to become angry or offended, but instead to be somewhat amused, yet understanding and helpful of your language difficulties, especially if you are white-skinned. (African-descended western individuals may face varied difficulties in being mistaken for Africans, including being expected to know the language, at least until the situation becomes clear.)

A non-comprehensive list would include “hujambo” (reply “sijambo”) for two people of similar age and race, “jambo” (reply “jambo”) for between white and black people, “shikamoo” (reply “marahaba”) for a young person to an elderly person, “hodi” (reply “karibu”) when in the doorway of a house. There are additionally numerous informal greetings such as “mambo”, “safi”, and many more. Farewells are abrupt or even non-existent. Habari is perhaps the most common and general-use single greeting, as it can range from very informal to semi-formal."...
This Wikipedia page continues with a chart of greetings and their responses.

Example #1: Swahili - Learn the Greetings & Intros

Swahili101, Published on Jun 8, 2009

In this Swahili course you will learn enough kiSwahili to start conversations and as you go along you will find out it is easy to learn and understand what is being said to you. Most of my matter is reproduction from my website which has been up and running since 1995. The site has been used by tourists and students from different countries to learn kiSwahili and also as a source for African recipes from Zanzibar Islands.

The course will start with greetings and take you through different scenarios that a tourist may go through while visiting the Swahili coast (East Africa). I have taken some of the matter from a book called 'Tourist Guide to Tanzania - by Gratian Luhikula' and published by 'Travel Promotion Services Ltd.'

The object of my course is not to teach kiSwahili grammar or written kiSwahili, but rather to get you conversing confidently from day one."...
Here are selected quoted from this video about various greetings words in Swahili speaking nations (Numbers assigned for referencing purposes only)
1. Swahili101, 2012
...."when you use 'jambo' as response, you are condesing "sina jambo" down to "sijambo" down to "jambo"... the white man used this to respond when he was asked "hujambo" he would say "jambo" and node his head positively. He also greeted Swahili man by saying "jambo"...
“condensing” = typo for “condensing” [shortening]

2. Swahili101, 2013
"Hujambo? is short form of "huna jambo?" = "don't you have an issue?" or "don't you have a problem"... it is proper to say "Hujambo" instead of "Jambo". "Jambo" is tourist's accepted hello in Swahili. It does not in any way shape or form mean "hi foreigner" "

3. Swahili101, 2014
"@rosiejoe21 :-) yes they are both correct. Asubuhi = morning, njema = good. Habari = news, za = of (pl.), asubuhi = morning.
You are more likely to hear someone say "habari?" to greet you and find out how you are doing any time of the day (without attaching the period i.e. morning, afternoon or evening). You are more likely to also hear combination of "habari" + period of the day, than you are to hear period of the day + njema."

4. Swahili101, 2014
"Jambo is common accepted tourister way of saying hello. Actual word is hujambo! I guarantee you if you said Jambo or answered Jambo (to someone who said ether Jambo or Hujambo to you), they would know you meant to say 'hi or hello' back to them."

5. Swahili101, 2014
"They both mean the same thing. When white man came to Tanzania, they found it hard to say 'hujambo' so they said 'jambo'. It is today a colloquial way to say 'hujambo'. So hujambo is right way, however, 'jambo' is easy, and widely understood. If you find it easy to say 'hujambo', then do that. It is better.
Thanks for asking."

6. Swahili101, 2014
"Unless you are planning to teach Swahili in Tanzania (then Jambo is not OK, it is more of a common word than 'authentic dictionary word'. However, I guarantee you that you will do very find using Jambo as a tourist. If you want, you can use the full word, 'Hujambo'. But Jambo is understood by everyone who speaks Swahili.
It's kind like, British would rather you say 'Hello there' instead of 'hey'."
In his summary to his video entitled "Swahili - Learn the Greetings & Intros", Swahili101 wrote "I come from Zanzibar Islands (bigger Island called Unguja), Zanzibar is an Archipelago belonging to Tanzania in East Africa, just below Kenya."

Example #2: Learn Swahili - Swahili in Three Minutes - Greetings

Learn Swahili with

Published on Sep 30, 2013

Learn common Swahili greetings with our Swahili in Three Minutes series! In Kenya, manners are important, and this step-by-step video teaches you some of the basics you need to be polite while speaking Swahili. A native Swahili teacher will explain the simple phrases necessary.

In this lesson, you'll learn how to use some common Swahili greetings. Visit us at, where you will find many more fantastic Swahili lessons and learning resources! Leave us a message while you are there!
Ana Harman
Here are selected quoted from this video about various greetings words in Swahili speaking nations (Numbers assigned for referencing purposes only)
1. Ana Harman, 2015
"You know "shikamoo" is only used when talking to people older then you...."

2. Kristen Sells
"I think she mentions this in a previous video that you use it when addressing elders."

3. DreadlockDrummer, 2014
"what about jambo? ive met 2 people from kenya, so i knew about habari, but neither of them ever told me about shikamoo, they told me 90% of the time people say jambo for hello"

4. Adrianne Giuliani, 2014
"Jambo is sort of more slang swahili. Most people use it with foreigners because a lot of them are familiar with it already. Hujambo is used when greeting one person (literally meaning you have no issues/problems?) and the reply is sijambo ( I have no issues). Hamjambo is used when greeting more than one person and the reply is hatujambo. I am told just jambo is more common in Kenya.. I spent time in Tanzania though and people only greeted me with jambo when they assumed I knew no swahili. Shikamoo is commonly used for people older than yourself or for someone in a higher position or rank than yourself. It is very commonly used. Hope that helps.

5. Mathias Caspersen, 2017
"What about jambo?"

6. Andrew N., 2017
"Using the word jambo is a direct indicator that you're a foreigner with no background when it comes to using Swahili in normal conversation. It's rather easy to teach that word but a native speaker would never use it as is."

7. Evalynn Nm 2018
"yeahhh nobody says jambo, lol. It's a tourist/foreigner thing, we just say mambo"

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