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Swahili Greetings Part 1: “Habari”! in Tanzania your life is a “news item”

One reason we feel so at home and welcomed in Tanzania is that almost everyone greets us. Not because we are Wazungu (learn more about “Wazungu” unbox it), but because Tanzanians just do so. They are hospitable and that is why they welcome you too. Be nice – say hello.

UnboxingTanzania shows you how to make friends in Tanzania, just by a little greeting. 

When YOU say Habari

“Habari” is the greeting we hear most often. Literally translated it means “news” or “information”. So, you’re asking about this person’s latest news, his headlines.

“Habari” can best be translated as “How are you?” Although it is only a greeting, you can already see the cultural diversity on our planet. The English greeting “good morning” is rather formal. In contrast, “Habari” is a personal question. Why is that? Well, how do you know if your friend’s morning is good. “Good morning” might be totally inappropriate. We find that approach considerate.

Back home in Europe, people only ask friends or acquaintances how they are doing. And, yes, of course, your answer in Tanzania also depends on how well you know the person you are talking to. Not only the personal greeting, but also the answer to it reveals a lot about the culture here in Tanzania. So, how can you reply to the greeting?

When THEY say Habari

That’s easy. Whether you have good news or bad news, the answer is always “Salama”. The word has Arabic roots and literally means “peaceful” and can be translated as “good” in this context. However, if you are not feeling well, after a short break you can add “Lakini” (English: but) to the salama and explain what is bothering you. “Pole,” your Tanzanian friend will reply. It doesn’t mean “slowly” in this case, but that he or she feels sorry for you – and they really mean it.

What we like about Habari

We got to know the people in Tanzania a little better and slowly understand the background of this greeting. Some of our friends here in Dar live a simple life – no running water, no toilet in the house and they don’t have a fridge or can’t afford electricity all the time. To our question “Habari yenu?” they answer with “salama” and we can see their contentment. The ability to see the positive in life makes the people of Tanzania special in our eyes and hearts.

We love this approach of focusing on the positive in life. Every time we are greeted with “Habari”, we ponder why we are doing well. And when we receive the answer “Salama” and see the dignity with which people face life every day, we are simply amazed.

Maybe your life in Tanzania isn’t really on the front page of the newspaper, but you are important to the people you meet. That’s why they ask. Let us know if the Tanzanian way of greeting works where you live.

What you can say after Habari

The welcome doesn’t have to end here, however. Here is a small vocabulary list for your greetings:

Habari        How are you? / What’s new?
Salama, na wewe?I’m doing well. And you?

And then you can introduce yourself:

Jina langu ni…My name is…

Again, you can just ask “and you?” – Add “na wewe?” to find out the name of your new Tanzanian friend. Then you introduce your friends/children/spouse and travel companions. Depending on how much you love languages, you might just want to remember the first sentence that applies to everyone:

Jina lake ni…His/Her name is…

And then you can explain who that is:

Huyu ni…This is …

…rafiki yangu…my friend
….mume wangu…my husband
…mke wangu…my wife
…baba yangu…my father
…mama yangu…my mother
…mtoto yangu…my child
….watoto wangu…my children

To show your interest in your host or your new Tanzanian friends, you can ask them about various, more specific “news”:

Habari yako /yenuHow are you/you all?
Habari ya familiaHow is you family? 
Habari za asubuhiHow is the morning?
Habari ya mchanaHow is the afternoon?
Habari za jioni How is the evening?
Habari ya kazi How is work? 

Siku njema, rafiki yetu! – Good day, our friend!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Jacky

    I love the simplicity of the Swahili translation explanations!

  2. Joachim aus Quelle

    Asante kwa kozi ya lugha na maelezo.

    (Gratulation. Danke für den Sprachkurs und Erklärungen.)

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