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.
1. Every bird flies with its own wings
Kila ndege huruka na mbawa zake
2. Hurry hurry has no blessings
haraka haraka haina baraka
3. He who wanders around by day a lot, learns a lot
Atangaye na jua hujuwa
4. A heart deep in love has no patience
Moyo wa kupenda hauna subira
5. The gratitude of a donkey is a kick
Fadhila ya punda ni mateke
6. Better to lose your eyes than your heart
Heri kufa macho kuliko kufa moyo
7. He who praises rain has been rained on
Asifuye mvuwa imemnyea
8. Don’t set sail using somebody else’s star
Asisa firie nyota ya mwenzio
9. Put a riddle to a fool, a clever person will solve it
Fumbo mfumbe mjinga mwerevu huligangua
10. Where there’s a will there’s a way
Penye nia ipo njia
11. If you love a pumpkin also love its flower
Ukipenda boga penda na ua lake
12. A hasty person misses the sweet things
Mwenye pupa hadiriki kula tamu
13. Better to stumble with toe than tongue
Heri kujikwa kidole kuliko ulimi
14. A good thing sells itself, a bad one advertises itself
Kizuri chajiuza kibaya chajitembeza