Putting Christ into the Crisis of UGANDA

Learn a little Swahili

Some useful Swahili words for a mission trip to Uganda, Africa


Between peers: "Habari!" to which the greeted answers, "Nzuri!".

Between peers: "Hujambo?" (Are you fine?)
to which the greeted answers, "Sijambo!" (I'm fine!)

Young to older: "Shikamoo!" to which the greeted answers,
"Marahabaa!" (I acknowledge your respect!).


Hello! Hi! Habari!
How are you? Hujambo?
Good/Fine Nzuri
Thank you (very much) Asante (sana)
Please Tafadhali
Goodbye Kwaheri
Welcome Karibu
Danger Hatari (Title of a 1962 John Wayne movie!)
Friend Rafiki (character name in the movie "Lion King")
Sorry Samahani/Pole
Excuse me please Samahani
Where are you going? Unakwenda wapi?
I am traveling Ninasafiri
Car Gari
Bicycle Baiskeli
Cold Baridi
Hot Moto
Food, Meal Chakula
Eat Kula
I am (very) hungry! Nina njaa (sana)! (Nasikia njaa sana!)
I am (very) thirsty! Nina kiu (sana)! (Nasikia kiu sana!)
Drink (noun) Kinywaji
Drink (verb) Kunywa
I can speak Swahili! Ninaweza kusema Kiswahili!
I can't speak Swahili! Siwezi kusema Kiswahili!
I am (very) happy! Nimefurahi (sana)!

Days of the week...

Saturday Jumamosi (literally: first day of the week)
Sunday Jumapili (literally: second day of the week)
Monday Jumatatu (literally: third day of the week)
Tuesday Jumanne (literally: fourth day of the week)
Wednesday Jumatano (literally: fifth day of the week)
Thursday Alhamisi (Arabic: fifth day of the week)
Friday Ijumaa (Arabic: the day of congregational prayer)

Days of the week...

One Moja
Two Mbili
Three Tatu
Four Nne
Five Tano
Six Sita
Seven Saba
Eight Nane
Nine Tisa
Ten Kumi

Time references...

In the Swahili culture the day starts at sunrise (unlike in the Arab and Jewish worlds where the day starts at sunset, and in the Western world where the day starts at midnight). Sunrise in East Africa, being exactly at the Equator, happens every day at approximately 6:00 a.m. And for that reason, 6:00 a.m. is "0:00" Swahili time.

Time/Hour Saa
Minute Dakika
Watch/Clock Saa
Morning Asubuhi
Evening Jioni/Usiku
Afternoon Mchana
Night Usiku
What time is it? Saa ngapi?
Noon Saa sita mchana
Today Leo
Yesterday Jana
Tomorrow Kesho
Day Siku
Week Wiki
Month/Moon Mwezi
Year Mwaka


Leopard Chui
Rhinoceros Kifaru
Buffalo Nyati
Lion Simba (another character name in the "Lion King")
Elephant Tembo/Ndovu
Cheetah Duma
Baboon Nyani
Monkey Kima
Chimpanzee Sokwe
Donkey Punda
Zebra Punda-milia
Giraffe Twiga
Deer Paa
Hyena Fisi
Warthog Ngiri
Hippopotamus Kiboko
Snake Nyoka
Dog Mbwa
Pig Nguruwe
Cat Paka
Goat Mbuzi
Cow/Ox Ng'ombe
Sheep Kondoo
Ostrich Mbuni
Bird(s) Ndege

The Swahili language is basically of Bantu (African) origin. It has borrowed words from other languages such as Arabic probably as a result of the Swahili Muslims using the Koran for spiritual guidance.

The Swahili language also absorbed words from the Portuguese who controlled the coastal towns (c. 1500-1700 AD). Some words were borrowed from the languages of later colonial powers on the East African coast, Britain and Germany.

For centuries, Swahili was the language of the East African coast. Long-time interactions with other people bordering the Indian Ocean spread Swahili to the distant islands of Comoro and Madagascar and even to South Africa, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Trade and migration from the coast during the 19th-century helped spread the language to the interior, particularly Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Central African Republic and Mozambique.

Christian missionaries learned Swahili to spread the gospel in Eastern Africa and also helped to spread the language. As a matter of fact the first Swahili-English dictionary was prepared by a missionary. During the colonial time, Swahili was used for communicating with the local inhabitants. Hence the colonial administrators pioneered the standardization of the Swahili language. Still today it is spoken in many East African countries.

If you would like to practice some of your new found linguistic skills during a ChristAid mission trip to Uganda, send an email. Please include your name, address and phone number.