Saturday, July 21, 2018

Please Help Translate The Swahili Greeting Words In These Two Speeches That President Obama Gave In Kenya (2015 & July 2018)

Edited by Azizi Powell

On July 16, 2018 former United States President Barack Obama gave the keynote address at the opening of his sister Dr. Auma Obama's Sports/ Recreation center in Kenya.

After watching a YouTube video of that speech online, I also watched a YouTube video of a speech that President Obama gave in Kenya in July 26, 2015. At or near the beginnings of both speeches President Obama used Swahili greetings and also said other words (I think) in Swahili.

I'm impressed with former President Obama's ability to connect with his audiences by code switching and otherwise. I've found some information about some of the words that were used in the beginning of those speeches, but can't find English translations for the other words.

Please help for the historical record (in the United States and other non-Swahili speaking nations.


In addition to these brief greeting words and introductory comments, I'm sharing these videos for historical and cultural purposes. The 2015 video is captioned, but, unfortunately, the 2018 video is not. If you know a link for a full or partial transcript of this speech, please share it in the comment section below.

Also, the Addendum to this post showcases a video of Dr. Auma Obama's speech at the July 16, 2018 ceremony to officially open the Sauti Kuu community center. The Addendum also showcases a video of President Obama dancing at that ceremony.

Congratulations to Dr. Auma Obama and all others who have helped and are helping with Sauti Kuu Foundation and its initiatives!

Thanks to President Obama and Dr. Auma Obama for their positive life work and their positive role modeling. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of the these videos on YouTube.

SPEECH #1 - The President Speaks to the Kenyan People

The Obama White House, Published on Jul 26, 2015

President Obama delivers remarks to the Kenyan people in Nairobi, Kenya. July 26, 2015
This video includes the following captions [I've added an identification in brackets of the person/people speaking].
[President Obama]- Hey!

[Audience] Hey!

[President Obama]- Habari Zenu

[Audience]- Nzuri*

*I believe this is a correction of [applause] which was the caption that is given.

[President Obama] then said "eh eh" or similar sounding utterance that I believe was in polite acknowledgement of what other people said.

[President Obama] - "Wakenya mpo
Read an excerpt below from an online discussion about "Habari Zenu".

From online sources, the English translation for the Swahili word "nzuri" is "good". I remember learning from an African American friend who I'm no longer in contact with that "Nzuri" is one response to "Habari gani". She lived in Tanzania for a couple of years and then taught KiSwahili at the University of Pittsburgh.

I also learned online that "Wakenya" is Swahili for "Kenyans". However, I couldn't find any English meaning for "mpo". What does "Wakenya mpo" mean in English?

Also, is the "Hey" [greeting] and "Hey" [response] common in Kenya?

"SWAHILI: habari

ENGLISH: a/the news, how, Information

Swahili Sentence example: Habari za mchana Rehema?

English translation: How is your afternoon, Rehema?"

Is the colloquial English phrase "What's happening?" a correct translation for "Habari"?

[commenter] vtopphol
"It's a bit arbitrary which from you choose, but zako is plural when it comes to the pieces of news, and singular when it comes to number of persons asked. You would use zenu when greeting several persons, and if you greet someone who you haven't seen in a long time, or someone who you haven't met before, it is common to use the 'z-' forms, implying that she or he has many 'pieces of news', because many days have passed.

The important thing to remember is that this is not a question about what is actually happening in the life of a person, but a greeting. The answer would still be "Nzuri sana!", and then you could start telling about what has happened since last time, and start asking more specific questions. Those questions could also be part of an extended greeting. And the better you know a person, the longer the greting phase would be. For example, if the person you are greeting has a wife, that you also know, or he has talked about the last times you met, it would be natural to ask "Habari ya mkewe?", and the answer is still "Nzuri sana!".

[commenter] Catriona28475
"Shouldn't that be "when it comes to the pieces of news, za is plural (several pieces of news) and ya is singular (one piece of news)"?

As you explain, and several other comments here confirm, the amount of news the speaker indicates (singular or plural) depends on the number of people asked (or asked about) and how much news they can be expected to have (that you don't already know about). So:
- ya (singular) for one person you see often
- za (plural) if you haven't seen this person for a long time
- za (plural) if you are meeting someone for the first time
- za (plural) if you are asking several people (even if you see them often).

I am not questioning that it is a greeting and that the answer is always "nzuri" or similar (even if you have some bad news to tell). The real question is how can this be translated to an English greeting that any English speaker would say and understand as an equivalent greeting.

"How is the day?" is completely meaningless, which is why so many people have commented here that they can't work out what these three simple words mean when put together.

Maybe "Habari ya leo" would make sense if translated as "How are things today?"
"Habari ya mkewe?" would then translate as "How are things with your wife?)"...

SPEECH #2: Speech by the Former US President Barack Obama in Kenya

SABC Digital News, July 16, 2018

SABC is funded in whole or in part by the South African government.
[an audience member ulalates - "Ululation .... from Latin ululo, is a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound resembling a howl with a trilling quality. It is produced by emitting a high pitched loud voice accompanied with a rapid back and forth movement of the tongue and the uvula."...

[President Obama] - Habari

[Audience] - "Nzuri" [I'm not sure if this is what was said, but I think that "Nzuri" is a standard response for most "Habari" greetings.]

[President Obama] - ? [I don't know what he said.]

Here's a video of Dr. Auma Obama's full speech during the launch of Sauti Kuu Initiative - July 2018

KTN News Kenya, Published on Jul 16, 2018

Dr. Auma Obama's full speech during the launch of Sauti Kuu Initiative - July 2018.
Note that Dr. Obama doesn't start her speech with any Swahili greeting words.

According to other videos on this initiative, "Sauti Kuu" means "Powerful Voices" in Swahili.

Former President Barack Obama dances with Mama Sarah Obama

KTN News Kenya, Published on Jul 16, 2018

Former President Barack Obama dances with Mama Sarah Obama.

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