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Shikamoo doesn't create distance

Swahili Greetings part 2: Shikamoo – it makes you young or old!

For us it is clear: we’d love to stay longer in Tanzania, if possible. That’s why we also try to learn Swahili. The first thing we learned was greetings. That’s really quite helpful. On our way to visit friends, we passed a group of people. We greeted them with “Habari” (Learn more about “Habari”). They greeted back. However, one person we greeted with Shikamoo. That warmed their hearts instantly and we laughed together.

The Smile after a Shikamoo Greeting

Do you want to know why? UnboxingTanzania examines “Shikamoo” with you – the meaning, the cultural context and when to add it to “Habari”.

Why do you say Shikamoo:

Most cultures place a high value on respect. Tanzania is no exception, and we like that so much. This attitude is reflected in the greeting “Shikamoo”.

In Dar es Salaam, the respectful co-existence is seen every day. The people in the city have different religions and come from all regions of Tanzania. In addition, there are the many immigrants. Whether old or young, poor or rich, university or basic education – people treat each other with respect.

In Germany, where we grew up, people do not automatically greet each other on the street. We greet friends, neighbours and acquaintances. If you should happen to have eye contact with someone, you might nod and mumble a hello.

That was a major change for us. Not only do we greet almost everyone we meet, but we also have to consider, which greeting is the right one. By now, we love the greetings in Swahili. We have already started many nice conversations and met interesting people.

What does Shikamoo mean:

“Shikamoo” is an abbreviation for “Shika miguu ya” which means something like “to hold someone’s feet”. It paints the picture of bowing down. It can also be rendered “I pay you my respects”.

For this greeting Shikamoo, the only factor is age. It is not the status of a person that makes the difference, but you show respect for the other person’s life experience by greeting him or her with Shikamoo! Of course, you will still ask about the well-being of the other – with “Habari” .

How to use Shikamoo:

We would like to share two everyday experiences with you. It shows how important greetings are in Tanzania.

We were traveling with Tanzanian friends. An elderly man was sitting on a stool in front of a house, not really noticing us. We greeted with “Shikamoo Baba”. Instantly, the amazed gentlemen was smiling all over. Beaming with joy, he returned our greeting with marahaba. Not only he, but also all the neighbours were delighted that we Wazungu greeted, Baba with due respect. We grinned just as broadly and were happy about a new acquaintance. And that simply because of a greeting that is normal in Tanzania.

Generations connect

By the way, the answer to “Shikamoo” is always “Marahaba”. We tried to answer differently, but everyone tells us that Marahaba is the only possible answer. This shows that you accept the respect shown to you. Really, if you don’t, you’d be a bit rude.

Sometimes we are the older one to be greeted. In Tanzania you meet many children. The weather is fantastic and the children spend most of the day outside. This is also the case in Buza. As soon as the children see us “Wazungu” they run towards us and greet us with “Shikamoo”. The big eyes get smaller and the big smile disappears for a moment. The little ones look expectantly to us. That’s right, only when we return the greeting with “Marahaba”, do the children rejoice. But not only the children are happy. For us too, it is wonderfully refreshing to meet our little friends. The greeting “Shikamoo” is part of this.

Shikamoo in our lives:

By now it is unthinkable for us to walk past an elderly person without greeting them appropriately. That doesn’t mean, however, that this greeting has become a mere empty phrase for us. No, we want to express our respect, first of all respect for the wonderful people here in Tanzania. The hospitality we experience every day is extraordinary. We want to show our gratitude with actions, such as learning the different greetings.

On the other hand, we are thrilled about the culture of mutual respect and think that, really, everywhere people with life-experience should be greeted with “Shikamoo”.

#unboxingtanzania : Take a picture how your grandparents / parents react when you greet them with “Shikamoo” and tag us on Instagram. or on Facebook.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Mesfin Wimeskel

    Thanks for your your time and energy!

  2. Natalie Stepniak

    Thank you for sharing the importance of greetings! I need to implement Shikamoo more often!

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