Swahili: Connecting Africa Through Language
“Asiyefunzwa na mamaye hufunzwa na ulimwengu” (If you’re not taught something by your mother the world will teach you)
I’ve always loved the sound of Kiswahili. It’s a melodious language, full of depth, and has some beautiful words and turns of phrase. Though seemingly comparatively straight forward for English speakers, it’s also a complex language to speak with fluency, as I discovered first hand after several years of study. Whilst routine communication is clear enough to get to grips with, the language is rich in texture and challenging to master perfectly if your ambition is to speak Kiswahili “sanifu” i.e “proper” Swahili.
However, as the lingua franca of much of East Africa, having some degree of proficiency can break down barriers, create more meaningful interactions and greatly enrich travel experiences throughout the region.
There is debate amongst Kenyans and Tanzanians as to the origins of Kiswahili. Some claim it was first recorded on the island of Zanzibar whilst Kenyans cite Lamu as having produced the first Swahili school on the coast. Rooted in Kingozi, a Bantu language of the Wangozi coastal people, the interaction between Swahili people and Arabic, Indian and Persian traders adapted and evolved the language into Africa’s most recognised.
The word “Swahili” comes from “sawāḥilī”, a form of an Arabic word meaning “of the coast”. Although its birthplace is the Swahili coastline, from southern Somalia to Mozambique, it is now widely spoken in Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, as well as being one of the official languages of the African Union. Beginning 2020, South Africa will offer Kiswahili as an optional language in recognition of its status and importance in connecting people continent-wide. It is a prosperous language symbolising connectedness, independence, self-determination, pride and pan-Africanism.
As part of our pursuit of immersive experiences throughout the continent, we offer Swahili classes for all pre-travel to East Africa. We also arrange wonderful language and cooking experiences on board a traditional dhow (wooden sailing vessel) in Lamu on the Kenyan coast. This is such a special and unique experience - not to be missed!
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“Huwezi kujua ukiwezacho mpaka umejaribu” (You cannot know what you can do until you have tried)