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14 Beautiful Swahili Words to Learn



Swahili is an African language spoken mainly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda but speakers of this melodic, emotive language can be found across the African continent.  The language rolls off the tongue and it is difficult to speak Swahili without feeling the emotion behind the words. 

Swahili is heavily influenced by Arabic. In fact, the word ‘Swahili’ itself is Arabic for ‘coastal people’. The flows and patterns are strong reflections of Arabic influence. For example, in both Swahili and Arabic, words have to end in a vowel.

Here are our top 14 Swahili words to make you fall in love with language and help prepare you for your visit to Africa. 

1. Furaha – ‘Happiness’ or ‘rejoice’

Furaha describes feelings of happiness and joy. It is used often during happy and joyful ceremonies to encourage the crowd to enjoy themselves. If you’re using it to encourage someone else, the word becomes furahia or furahi.

2. Jabali – ‘Strong as a rock’

Jabali is the literal translation of ‘rock’. In Swahili, the word is used to describe someone who is strong and sturdy.  It can also refer to a community or family member who is seen as the voice of reason, the dependable one. It is quite a common boy’s name.

3. Mahaba– ‘Love’

Mahaba is the Swahili noun for ‘love’. It derives from ‘haba’, the Arabic word for love. The meaning of the word can be adapted to mean ‘overflowing with love’ by appending the ma- at the beginning. ‘Mapenzi’ is a derivative of the word and is a popular girl’s name. 

4. Nakupenda – ‘I love you’

Nakupenda is one of the most loving ways to say “I love you” in Swahili.  You can emphasise the phrase by adding the word ‘sana’. This is the Swahili word for ‘a lot’ so will adapt the sentence to mean “I love you so much”.

5. Polepole – ‘Slowly’

Polepole is the Swahili word for ‘slowly’. It is most often used when asking tell someone to slow down when driving, walking or working on something, which is great to know if you’re travelling with someone who is always in a hurry!

6. Hakuna Matata – ‘No worries’ 

You are likely familiar with this phrase thanks to the iconic Disney film, the Lion King. Roughly translated from Swahili, it means ‘no worries’. What you might not know is that it is not a common phrase among native Swahili speakers. It is heard more often in Zanzibar and Kenya; however in Tanzania, you’ll have more luck using the phrase ‘hamna shida’ in the north and ‘hamna tabu’ in the south.

7. Upepo – ‘Breeze’

In the coastal region of East Africa, wind brings relief from the humidity and heat, making it a valued weather phenomenon. If you want to say you are enjoying the cool summer breeze you would say ‘kupunga upepo’.

8. Kumbatia – ’Embrace’

The Swahili word ‘kumbatia’ means to embrace someone and hold them close. It can refer to romantic or platonic hugs. It is a common word, used mainly by people on the Kenyan coast, who hug and kiss friends and family more freely than in other Kenyan cultures.

9. Asante – ‘Thank you’

It is always worth knowing the word for ‘thank you’ when travelling somewhere new. In Swahili, ‘asante’ is the word to know. As with ‘I love you’, adding ‘sana’ will mean you say ‘thank you so much’.

10. Mapenzi mubashara – ‘Love is beautiful’

Mapenzi mubashara is Swahili for ‘love is beautiful’. It is used when you’re talking about the beautiful things love has to offer and the perfect words elude you. 

11. Umoja ni nguvu utengano ni udhaifu – ‘Unity is strength, division is weakness’

This is quite a long one to learn, but the meaning is worth it. It is a popular phrase in East Africa, used by leaders to unify their people and by family members or colleagues to ease conflicts.

12. Jameela – ‘Beautiful’

Jameela is the Swahili word for ‘beautiful’. It is a loanword from Arabic where it shares the same meaning. A good looking man is referred to as ‘jamil’ or ‘jameel’, while a beautiful woman is ‘jamila’ or ‘jameela’. Jameela refers to a person and is used more as a name. Mrembo is a synonym for beautiful and is more widely used as it can be a descriptor of people, clothes, homes and other items.

13. Adui mpende – ‘Love your enemy’

Short but sweet this is the Swahili translation of the common saying ‘love your enemy’.

14. Amani – ‘Peace and tranquillity’

In Kenya, the Swahili word for peace is used frequently in daily life. In fact, it is used in the Kenyan National Anthem as a reminder to live in peace, unity and freedom with each other. It is not just about calm and reason, it is also about the absence of chaos and the presence of serenity.

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