Kiswahili is the glue that binds Tanzania together. It’s essentially a Bantu tongue, enriched by thousands of loan words, primarily Persian and Arabic, but also Hindi, Portuguese, German and English.
Kiswahili is pronounced exactly as it’s written, with the stress nearly always on the penultimate syllable. Where an apostrophe precedes a vowel (eg ng’ombe; cattle), the vowel is accentuated, something like a gulp.
The ability to pepper conversation with appropriate proverbs (methali) is also much admired in Tanzania – as elsewhere in Africa. The pithier sayings even find their way onto kangas worn by women, to express sentiments that might be taboo if spoken aloud.
Here are a few of our favourites, taken from the new Rough Guide to Tanzania.
Kila ndege huruka na mbawa zake
haraka haraka haina baraka
Atangaye na jua hujuwa
Moyo wa kupenda hauna subira
Fadhila ya punda ni mateke
Heri kufa macho kuliko kufa moyo
Asifuye mvuwa imemnyea
Asisa firie nyota ya mwenzio
Fumbo mfumbe mjinga mwerevu huligangua
Penye nia ipo njia
Ukipenda boga penda na ua lake
Mwenye pupa hadiriki kula tamu
Heri kujikwa kidole kuliko ulimi
Kizuri chajiuza kibaya chajitembeza