Swahili can be a bit frustrating to learn. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy learning it even if I struggle with some of the grammar and sentence structures which are nothing like English or Japanese. It’s not easy, but I’m doing my best in being fluent in multiple languages, especially since I have a heritage incentive to learn Swahili. However, I get annoyed with so many people with how ignorant they can be. I can only last so long and not rant given how many years worth of internalized anger in me. Oh heck, I always see clouds in every silver lining.
1: “So why don’t you learn Spanish?”
This is a big one in America. I have no issue with Spanish or anyone who speaks it. I know some words and phrases, but the way people ask it is that Swahili barely has any speakers or is impractical. Sorry, but there are 50 million speakers of Swahili and multiple countries have it as an official status. I get that Spanish is spoken in several nations and I live in a region with a sizable Latinx population, but I want to be better at other languages. I almost put up a reason being the whole “This is ‘Murica, and we speak English, ya’ll!” mentality, but that’s too easy to critique. Oh, wait. Spanish is a European language, so it doesn’t get that kind of questioning.
2: People thinking I’m going to speak it all over Africa.
If I visit most of East Africa, that could work, but that’s not going to work in the whole continent. Speaking Swahili would be counterproductive if one was in Nigeria, Egypt, or even Sierra Leone. It also annoys me how people call that language “African” like how some idiots think that people in Mexico speak “Mexican”. Swahili is an African language, but it’s mainly in one area and there are hundreds of indigenous languages in the continent. Not everyone speaks that language on the Motherland. you wouldn’t say that about European or Asian languages, so why is it cool to oversimplify everything that’s spoken in Africa?
3: People saying “Jambo” as a way to say hello.
I used to think that was the right way to greet someone, but that’s not the case. I noticed it with Duolingo and when I had my first online class with my teacher, she said that it’s one phrase you should NEVER say in the Swahili-phone parts of Africa. Don’t worry, will get to another well-known phrase you shouldn’t say in Africa later, and I think you all can guess what it is. It’s “hujambo” if you’re talking to one person or “hamjambo” if you’re talking to multiple people. Man alive, even saying “mambo” would actually be putting in more effort in speaking it and that’s a regional dialectal example! If you’re going to say hello to someone in another language, then get it right, everyone.
4: The assumption that people think I’m only using this for mission trips.
I don’t know if I’ll do a mission trip, and if I take part in one to help others, I will make sure it’s legit. No one has said it to me, but I know they’re thinking it because people are stupid to assume that the African continent is nothing but poverty. I know people directly from the continent who will definitely tell you otherwise. Yeah, because poverty never happens in America, right? Go ahead and search videos from Wode Maya, Miss Trudy or even Phillip Scott’s videos about traveling to Ethiopia, South Africa, and Kenya and you will find cities that are on par with most Western cities and some are cleaner than here in the States. I don’t think you can eat lunch while sitting in a gutter in Portland, OR (take that, hipster jerks!) like you could in Kigali, Rwanda with how clean it is, for example. Don’t believe me, look up Kigali and how clean it is like Wode Maya’s videos or even some cityscape pictures! If you think African countries are nothing but mud huts, warzones, and rampant starvation, then you’re a racist POS. Don’t gaslight me about that!
5: Some people act like Kenya and maybe Tanzania are the only places you can speak Swahili.
Are they countries where Swahili is the #1 language? Yes, and I don’t deny that. But what ticks me off is when I see people say only Kenya or only that country and Tanzania know those languages. That is insulting and even I knew they weren’t the only ones years ago. The DRC has millions of people who know the language and it has official status there like Uganda and Rwanda even if they aren’t the most-spoken languages there. It’s even used as a lingua franca in East Africa much like English or French depending on the country. Then again, a lot of people treat Africa like it’s a country in America, so I’m not surprised they would have such ignorance about as statement like that.
6: Can we please stop the bloody Lion King references in these language sites? Also, I hate that movie franchise even more with the more I learn that language.
Raise your hand if you think I wouldn’t make any potshots against everyone’s favorite 90s Disney movie for this list. PUT YOUR HAND DOWN! Before I really rip apart Disney and their fanbase, let me preface by saying not all Lion King fans are like this, so I’m not talking about specific individuals, but I have noticed this about the collective.
We get it. We know what “Simba” and “Hakuna Matata” means in English. You can use other examples in pop culture. Also, not all the names are real Swahili (I’m not talking about Scar or Ed) or mean what you think they mean. The word for king in Swahili is “Mfalme” and NOT “Mufasa”! If you know about those prequel books in the 90s which also involve the potential real name of a certain character, the word for garbage is “Takataka” and not “Taka”. Oh, and the word for want is “Kutaka” and the “Ku” changes with the pronoun, so nice try! Shenzi should be “Mshenzi” which means savage. Wow, I guess that’s how the Lion King creators and certain groups of their fans see most, if not all melanated people, but won’t admit it. I’ll even go this far to use a variation on a meme: “I want to learn Swahili because I like The Lion King!” #SaidNoOneEver! Disney and most Lion King fans have minuscule knowledge about Swahili or African cultures like how they barely know anything about Hamlet (BURN!). If they were so respectful of these cultures, they would drop the “Hakuna Matata” trademark and finally credit Solomon Linda for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Oh wait, none of those things have happened. I’m sure Lion King fans would love to see African cultures or at the very least someone like me derogated and exploited. Tell me when I’m telling lies! Remember how I said my Swahili teacher talked about what not to say in that language? “Hakuna Matata” is the other big one since you will legitimately offend people because there have been too many ignorant tourists (read: white people who don’t care about the culture) saying that phrase flippantly to the locals without trying to use other Swahili phrases and people know about the trademark in multiple African countries while being righteously angry about it. It’s a shame how no one gets questioned in that fanbase when they pretend to know something or blindly obey their mouse overlord. As I get older, I’m getting weary of this massive ignorance for those that aren’t called out on it because Disney always gives them a free pass to do whenever and think whatever they want with no consequences.
Given that Lion King was the only real cultural exposure I had to most of Africa south of the Sahara in school, and that through that Disney filter, I’m not surprised to hear this. We certainly weren’t learning much about African history before European colonialism started, and even that stuff was much too glossed over.
No wonder most people here think Africa is a country, or all the countries there are the same etc. etc. You hear similar stuff about the Arab countries and the Middle East in general, but I think that ignorance is generally worse regarding most regions of Africa and certainly about the use of Swahili and its many other languages.
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Sorry for the delay. I understand if it was the only cultural reference even though there are no human characters in that movie franchise and the ones in Tarzan don’t look like they’re from the continent. Thanks for trying to understand my frustrations. I know I’ve been guilty on ranting about The Lion King, but I was so disillusioned as an adult when I realized the problematic aspects in and out of context of the main story. It’s frustrating how no one questions Disney or the fandom about these things. However, the problem isn’t just The Lion King. It’s an overall lack of exposure in the media and miseducation to lead to sheer ignorance and racist stupidity from multiple people. I want to ask fans of TLK and Tarzan what countries those movies take place in, and I’m sure I’d get blank stares.
Exactly and it’s so not true. Not every country looks alike or have the same languages. This even goes for the environment, food, clothes, customs, etc. No one says that about Europe, so why does Africa get this treatment. There’s over 54 countries that are sovereign nations and that’s not counting dependencies and overseas commonwealth territories! I do think Swahili and other African languages need more respect and positive representation.
I appreciate your comment, and I do appreciate what you said.
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Wowsers, Ospreyshire. I have just now subscribed to an independent archiving service, put together by an actual human being. My application should be completed within a few days, so I will send you a link to a pdf file that contains some fascinating information on the nature of Swahili.
Look for a link, shortly.
Meanwhile, here is metadata on ArchiveDotOrg for folks interested in all things Swahili:
And here is something I wrote on The Joy of Arabic: 30 June 2016:
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Thank you so much, Bill! That’s great news. Thanks for the link for the Swahili books. Asante sana, Bill! I’ll have to check out your article about Arabic.
Reblogged this on billziegler1947 and commented:
Another brilliant focus on Swahili Language from the incomparable Ospreyshire.
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Thank you so much for reblogging this!
A brilliant post, Ospreyshire! Your frustrations are legit. People assume so many things about Africa, like the ones you’ve covered here. To say these assumptions are annoying is an understatement…Kudos to you for widening (and sharing) your understanding and learning more languages!
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Thank you so much! I appreciate you agreeing with the sentiment. It’s crazy how there are sadly people who still think that way in America in 2023. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you originally from an African nation before moving?
Sure thing! it’s been fun to learn languages. Do you know any other languages other than English?
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Yep, I’m a South African, no matter where in the world I live. And yes, I speak four other languages besides English. 🙂
If you are up to reading, you can gain more content on languages I speak and understand from this interview.