Adopting the Swahili Language on a Kenya Safari

Whilst the English language is widely spoken throughout the continent of Africa, to really immerse yourself in a Kenya safari experience is to appreciate the local culture to its full extent. Swahili, along with English, acts as the nations official language, with many Kenyans being fluent in both, as well as individual languages associated with the tribe to which they belong. The most common word picked up by travelers on a Kenya safari is ‘Jambo’, a simple, multipurpose greeting commonly used to welcome tourists by the exceptionally friendly Kenyan people. While English does indeed prevail as the language most adopted within the tourist industry, understanding a little of the Swahili tongue and making an effort to demonstrate your cultural interests will go a long way with the natives you meet on your Kenya safari journey.

Origins of Swahili

Swahili is officially known by its speakers as Kiswahili, and is the official language of Tanzania as well as Kenya. It is also adopted in areas of other African countries such as Zambia, Rwanda and Uganda, with an estimated 70 million speakers worldwide. Originating from the Arabic word ‘Sahel‘, meaning ‘coast’, Swahili began life as a reference by Arab traders to the East African coastal towns they discovered and the tribes people that lived there. As the traders intermingled with the coastal tribes, a mixture of Arabic and the native Bantu languages emerged. Years of language development, also influenced by European settlers, have produced the Swahili tongue as it is heard on a Kenya safari today. Speakers of this fascinating language are termed Waswahili people. True to its original breeding ground, Swahili is at its most authentic when heard on Kenya’s coast. The further inland you travel on a Kenya safari, the more diluted and flexible the language becomes, but the basic words will be understood and appreciated throughout the country.

A Few Simple Swahili Words for your Kenya Safari Adventure

Mastering the Swahili language to a level of fluency requires countless hours of dedication and practice. The grammatical system is complex, largely influenced by the native Bantu languages from which it derived, but a few simple words should suffice to see you through your Kenya safari adventure. On there own, Swahili words are fairly simple to pronounce, being largely phonetic. As mentioned, ‘Jambo’ is used as an all purpose greeting, whilst ‘Tafadhali’ and ‘Asante’ mean ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ respectively. Specifically for a Kenya safari, the following words may come in very handy; ‘Ndovu’ or ‘Tembo’ for ‘Elephant’, ‘Mbogo’ for ‘Buffalo’, ‘Chui’ for ‘Leopard’, ‘Kifaru’ for ‘Rhino’ and, as many don’t realize they already know, ‘Simba’ for ‘Lion’. As with any vacation in any country, respecting the native people, their customs and language should ensure a friendly and helpful welcome. Adopting a few simple Swahili words throughout the course of your Kenya safari will enhance your cultural experience and understanding of the magic of the country holds.