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Jambo-Mambo in Swahili

Week 22, Episode 43

You must have heard somebody refer to a confusingly sounding language as mumbo-jumbo. In Swahili, these two words have actually a real meaning: jambo (jum-boh) means "issue, matter, affair, etc." and mambo (mum-boh) is just its plural form. The words belong to the JI-MA noun class and can serve you as an example when learning about this importnat pecularity of the Swahili language.

But here let me show you that jambo is even much more than "issue" in Swahili.

First of all, you will find it as a greeting, though normally used only by tourists: "Jambo!""Hello!" If you apply the literal translation, then basically saying "Jambo!" is like saying "Issue!". More positive greetings that show you've put some effort and time in learning Swahili differ a little bit depending on whether you address one person or more and have a special Greeting-Answer ritual:

— Hujambo? (How are you?) to one person; literally "You don't have issues?"

Sijambo. (I am fine); literally "I don't have issues."

Hamjambo? (How are you?) to 2 or more people

Hatujambo. (We are fine.)

Hajambo? (How is he/she?)

Hajambo. (He is fine.)

Hawajambo? (How are they?)

Hawajambo. (They are fine.)

See those prefixes of negation from the previous episode?

Without questioning intonation, "Hujambo!" simply means "Hello!" but now you know the idea behind it ;)

"Mambo!" is becoming more and more popular as a greeting, too. Mostly used by children or amogst young people of same age, it still means "Issues!" The expected response to that is "Poa!" which actually means "Cool!" but in this case is used as a reciprocal greeting.

It is important that even in your greetings you show respect to the people older than yourself and preferebly to the people of a higher status as well. No Jambo-Mambo is applied here. The proper way to address them is by saying "Shikamoo", literally "I hold your feet", to which the reply will always follow "Marahaba" — "You are welcome [to do so]". This answer actually comes from Arabic and literally means "God's love" or "God loves you".

There are big chances you'd hear "Habari?" ("News?") instead of any kind of a hello. Answer to it "Nzuri" (n-zoo-ree) or "Njema" (n-jeh-mah) meaning "Good/Fine."

This should prepare you well for making a good first impression when speaking in Swahili. Poa, isn't it? :) How about more cool words?

Twende! (T-when-dehLet's go!

" I am such a njema article! Like me now! "

Read more about Swahili and other languages at

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