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Essential Swahili for your Kenya Safari

There is nothing better than a genuine smile and a warm ‘Hujambo!’ when you arrive on safari in Kenya. The warmth of the Swahili language is obvious, although it is often followed up with a clumsy ‘Hello’ from a guest and no idea of what to say next. Just as it’s great to learn about all the wildlife in Kenya when you’re on safari, a few days with a great safari guide will also give you an opportunity to learn about the rich cultures and language that the Maasai have.

Did you know that in Swahili a Giraffe is ‘twiga’? A twiga sounds much more appropriate to us because giraffes like to nibble on the twigs and leaves on Acacia trees.

We’ve compiled a list of animal names and basic phrases to help you when you’re on your safari in Kenya. Your guide will be amazed and undoubtedly touched by your effort.


Swahili translations for animal names

Animal – Mnyama
Antelope – Paa
Baboon – Nyani
Bird(s) – Ndege
Buffalo – Nyati
Bushbaby (Lesser) – Kombo
Cheetah – Duma
Crocodile – Mamba
Eland – Pofu
Elephant – Ndovu/Tembo

Giraffe – Twiga
Hippo – Kiboko
Hyena – Fisi
Impala – Swalapala
Jackal (Black-backed) – Bweha
Leopard – Chui
Lion – Simba
Mongoose – Ngushiro
Monkey (Vervet) – Tumbili
Monkey (Common name) – Kima

Ostrich – Mbuni
Porcupine – Nungu
Python – Chatu
Rhino – Kifaru
Snake – Nyoka
Warthog – Ngiri
Waterbuck – Kuru
Wild Dog – Mbwa mwitu
Wildebeest – Nyumbu
Zebra – Punda milia

General phrases in Swahili

Welcome – Karibu (sg) / Karibuni (pl)
Hello (General greeting) – Habari (inf) / Hujambo (sg) / Hamjambo (pl) / Sijambo (reply)
How are you? – Habari? / Hujambo? / Habari yako? / Habari gani?
Reply to ‘How are you? – ‘ Nzuri Sijambo
What’s your name? – Jina lako ni nani?
My name is… – Jina langu ni…
Where are you from?  – Unatoka wapi?
I’m from…  – Natoka…

Pleased to meet you -Nafurahi kukuona   Nimefurahi kukutana nawe
Good morning – Habari ya asubuhi
Good afternoon – Habari ya mchana
Good evening – Habari ya jioni
Good night – Usiku mwema  Lala salama (sleep well)
Goodbye – Kwaheri
Good luck – Kila la kheri!

There is also a great BBC website where you can click to listen and try to get the pronunciation right
Other sources: