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Swahili Language & Culture: Kanga Writings

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Sunday, February 21st, 2016
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Kanga Writings 2

These are some of the writings appearing on kanga – a very popular dress in eastern Africa. Some of these writings are common Swahili proverbs. Majority of them, however, are just messages the wearer wishes to send across. It may be a message of love, caution, warning, reassurance, or just an act of self-expression.

No. Kanga Writing (Swahili) Literal Translation Most Common Meaning
1 Akiba haiozi Savings never go bad It’s always good to save or invest for the future.
2 Akipenda chongo huita kengeza A person in love with a one-eyed person calls her/him “cross-eyed” When a person is in love, he/she hardly sees the bad attributes of his/her lover. She/he will always belittle or find excuses for any faults on her/his lover.
3 Akufukuzae hakwambii toka A person who wants you out of her/his place will not tell you, ‘Get out!’ The actual Swahili proverb doesn’t stop there, it continues with: “… you will just learn that from her/his actions.”

This proverb (which is used a lot in the Swahili world) is just a reminder that people’s inner feelings are mostly communicated through actions, attitude and behaviour, and much less through words.

Literally, the proverb tells people not to wait until they are verbally notified that they are no longer welcome at a particular place, instead, they should try to take note of the attitude, actions, and behaviour of their hosts, to know that they have stayed long enough and it was time to leave.

4 Ala! Kumbe! I see!! That is so! A common expression used to show that one is suprised by some information that he or she has just come to know of.
5 Asante gari ya muhishimiwa Thanks to the honourable’s car In the Swahili world leaders are always called with “Muhishimiwa” or “Mheshimiwa” title which is the translation for “Honourable” or “His/Her Excellency”. In rural areas you hardly find any cars save those government-owned cars given to district and regional commissioners, local concillors, members of parliament, etc. These “honourable’s cars” help rural people in many ways including giving them rides (lifts) especially in case of emergencies. That’s why this kanga writing expresses gratitude to such a car.
6 Asiyekujua hakuthamini He/she who doesn’t know you, doesn’t value you Another Swahili proverb: Zimwi likujualo halikuli likakwisha – An ogre (zimwi) that knows you won’t eat you completely. In the Swahili folklore, a “zimwi” is believed to be a monster that eats people.
7 Atakae hachoki A person in need never gets tired Of course she/he will feel tired only after getting what she/he wants.
8 Bahati ni upepo sasa upo kwangu Being lucky is like (the blowing of) the wind, now (it’s blowing) on my side Indeed, don’t expect to be lucky all the time.
9 Chanda chema huvikwa pete A favourite finger gets a ring on An award or privilege usually goes to the one who deserves it. Another Swahili proverb: Mcheza kwao hutunzwa – A person who plays at home gets awarded. A person who brings “the bacon” home, is the one that gets recognition.
10 Chokochoko mchokoe pweza, binadamu hutamweza If you want to poke (provoke) someone, then poke an octopus; you will fail with a human being The word “chokochoko” actually means “provocation” but it is derived from “chokoa” which means to poke or to fork. The way fisherman fish octopus in East Africa is by forking them in their holes with pointed wooden sticks.
11 Chokochoko si njema mchague la kusema Provocation is not good, you should choose what to say A warning against those who use their tongues to incite chaos and misunderstanding between people.
12 Dua la kuku halimpati mwewe A chicken’s prayer doesn’t affect a hawk This saying is normally used to refer to the helplessness of the powerless in the hands of their oppressors. Had the prayers of the victims be of any effect on to their victimizers, then certainly the oppression would end. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
13 Dunia duara The Earth is round Go wherever you go, but you’ll return to the same old place. In some cases this saying is used to discourage overindulgence in other peoples’ affairs. The Earth is round, everything revolves, and you’ll never get to the bottom of everything! Some would add, “Dunia duara, ukiichungua utahara!!” (The Earth is round, you’ll end up catching diarrhoea if you investigate it!). Try not to get bothered, worried and concerned with everything. Afterall, the Earth is round!
14 Embe mbivu yaliwa kwa uvumilivu A ripe mango has to be eaten slowly Of course the writing doesn’t refer to an actual “ripe mango”. It refers to a love partner who is willing and ready. She/he has to be handled gently and with care.
15 Ewe Mola tuepushe na mahasidi O Lord, save us from the evil ones A good prayer when surrounded by vultures that are ready to feast on your ‘prey’.
16 Fadhila za punda ni mateke The way a donkey expresses gratitude is by giving someone a bunch of kicks This saying is used when one gets bad treatment in return to a favour he or she gave to someone. Another Swahili proverb: “Mtenda wema kijuki, mwishowe hutiwa moto”, (A bee gets burnt/smoked in return for the favour of making honey).
17 Fimbo la mnyonge halina nguvu A poor man’s cane is not strong enough Another similar Swahili proverb: Dau la mnyonge haliendi joshi – A poor man’s canoe doesn’t sail fast. For the canoe to sail fast, the wind has to be blowing in the direction the canoe is headed to. But even the wind doesn’t blow in the poor man’s favor! There is yet another similar proverb: Mbuzi wa masikini hazai – A poor man’s goat doesn’t bear kids. In short, nothing seems to work in the poor man’s favor. That’s an unfortunate reality.
18 Fitina yako faida yangu Your bad words against me, actually benefit me. When you incite others against me, you actually benefit me. When someone goes around spreading bad words against you, she may actually benefit you in a way. For example, the other people will realize that the other person is really bad for what she says about you. Or, the other people will come back to you and tell you what the person is saying against you and you will know that she is a person to avoid – hence a benefit to you.
19 Haba na haba, hujaza kibaba Little and little, fills the measure Small things, when combined together make up big things.
20 Halahala mti na macho Beware, a stick and your eyes! It is a caution given against an impending danger.
21 Halua ya lozi imemshinda mdokozi Almond sweetmeat is a formidable challenge to a petty thief Sweetmeat is a famous dessert in Zanzibar and along the coast of East Africa. It is made of starch, sugar, oil and sometimes nuts or sesame seeds are used. Depending on the way it is made, it can be as soft as jelly but sometimes it may be very hard to cut with fingers. The saying above is meant to laugh at someone who has attempted in vain to do something like to win over somebody else’s lover.
22 Hasidi hana sababu An envious person requires no reason to practice envy He/she would practice envy for no reasons at all! There is something within him/herself that makes him/her practice envy. The inner urge is all by itself enough reason!
23 Hata tukibanana hapa atapata aliyejaliwa Even if we get into a scramble here, the winner will be the one destined to win More literally it translates as: “Even if we squash each other fighting for it, the one who will get it is the one destined to get it”. The writing actually discourages people from using violence means to try to get things for themselves. In essence, it says, a particular thing goes not to the strong but to the one destined (ordained by God) to get it.
24 Hata ukinichukia la kweli nitakwambia Hate me, but I won’t stop telling you the truth. The words of a person full of courage!
25 Hata ukinuna buzi tumelichuna You may be angry, but we’ve skinned the big goat! The literal translation of the writing is very simple, but its meaning is rather hidden. You have to know some Swahili slang to be able to understand it.

“Big goat” = buzi, goat = mbuzi

“buzi” is Swahili slang for a well-to-do (temporary) male sex partner. “kuchuna buzi” = “to skin the big goat” is another slang for sleeping with such a man.

As you can now realize, this is not a very polite saying. Someone is boasting that she has actually slept with some rich man even if the other lady is angry about that. That man might even be the other lady’s lover – giving her the reason to be angry about it.

26 Hodi hodi naikome mwaka ujao naolewa Knock, knock, should stop, as I’m getting married next year The lady doesn’t want any more (male) visitors who drop by her house trying to win her as she has already been engaged and she is actually getting married very soon. Of course she’s concerned that persistent ‘knock, knock’ on her door by the visitors would spoil her chance of getting married.
27 Huyo kibuzi mwarika mtizame anavyojitingisha There (she is), stupid goat, look at how she swings her body! “Kibuzi mwarika” which I have translated as “stupid goat” is just an insult. This statement is certainly made to offend someone. The person issuing that statement is certainly not pleased with someone that shows off her body by swinging it provocatively while she walks.
28 Japo kidogo chatosha kwa wapendanao A little is enough for those in love It doesn’t really need much to sustain a relationship! A few words of endearment and assurance are more than enough!
29 Japo sipendezi kubembeleza siwezi (I know) I’m not loved (by some people) but I cannot beg for (their) love. She/he is very proud of herself/himself! She/he is not prepared to humiliate herself/himself.
30 Je! iko namna? Is there a way? This is slang which is usually used when there is something suspicious happening.
31 Jogoo wa shamba hawiki mjini A country rooster would not crow while in town Usually meant to despise country people but its wider meaning is that some things only fit in some environments.
32 Kama ni ubaya ulianza wewe If you think I’m bad then you started it! I’m just giving you the taste of your own bitter pill!
33 Kanga nenda na urembo, shani urembo na shani Kanga, go with embellishment; wonder, elegance and wonder As if talking to kanga the writing goes with the whole idea of giving kanga as gifts to loved ones. Here the gift giver “instructs” the kanga to go to his or her lover with the message to confirm the relationship.
34 Kasheshe unalijua unalisikia? Do you know of “Kasheshe” or you just hear about it? “kasheshe” is a rather new word in Swahili which refers to a serious crisis situation. Here is a warning against inviting or causing a crisis situation.
35 Kazi mwanamandanda, kulala njaa kupenda Work is an obedient child, sleeping hungry is one’s choice When you work hard, it is certain that you will succeed. On the other hand, if you don’t work hard, you are bound to have a miserable life.
36 Kidogo changu pokea na dua njema nakuombea Please except this little from me along with my prayers What a pleasant way to give!
37 Kikapu cha mama kimejaa ndago My mother’s basket is full of straw Swahili people use straw (and I should say, many kinds of straw), for many purposes. They make straw baskets, hats, fans, mats, food covers, and a slew of other decorative stuff. Women (mothers) are the ones that make most of those things. Therefore, for a mother to have a basket full of straw, it may mean that she’s well provided for, well served, contented. In that case then, a child here (in this kanga writing) sort of boasts of how he/she has provided all what his/her mother needs. Such a kanga, with such a writing, would be ideal to give to one’s mother as a gift.
38 Kikulacho kinguoni mwako What “eats” you is in your dress The source of your problems is those close to you.
39 Kila jambo na wakati wake There is an opportune time for everything Do not mix up things! A time for work shouldn’t be used for playing, and vice versa.
40 Kila mwenye kusubiri hakosi kitu A patient person never misses (a thing) With patience, you always stand to win.
41 Kila uonalo wasema na hili kaseme pia You talk about everything you see, then talk about this one too! It’s an angry message from someone who’s fed up with the behavior of another person. The other person gossips about everything she/he sees on others. She/he talks bad about others in their absence. So, realizing that she/he has witnessed a certain thing happening (probably something bad to her/him), she/he is given a challenge to go around and talk about it as well. In a way, it is an angry protest.
42 Kuelekeza si kufuma To aim is not to hit Good intentions alone serve nothing if not followed by tangible results.
43 Kuku mgeni hakosi kamba mguuni A new hen would always have a string tied to its leg You can always easily identify a new person in town through his/her appearance, actions and behaviour. There will always be something that he/she will have or do that is not common in the town. In other words, each stranger comes with an identity!
44 Kupata si werevu, na kukosa si ujinga Getting something is not necessarily because of cleverness, and missing something is not necessarily because of ignorance Another Swahili saying: Mpaji ni Mungu – God is the Sustainer.
45 Kwangu anakula keki afuate nini kwako we hafkeki By having me he gets to eat a real cake, that’s why he doesn’t come to you as you are just a half-cake This statement is said in jest. The speaker seems to have won a love battle. She is now throwing some insults to the person she has just defeated. She says, she has won him over because she is “the real thing” – perfect in every sense, while the other lady (the loser) doesn’t really match up with her. She is just a “half-cake” – not perfect.
46 Lia na tabia yako usilaumu wenzako Blame your character not your fellows It’s very easy to blame others whenever one faces a problem. This writing is a reminder that sometimes the blame should be on the “man in the mirror” – that is, yourself!
47 Lisemwalo lipo If it’s being talked about then it’s already here This is a very common Swahili saying. One would say that when he has heard about something he/she is not sure of especially something big or bad.
48 Machoni rafiki, moyoni mnafiki Friendly in the eyes, a hypocrite in the heart Typical hypocrites are very good at concealing their true characters.
49 Mama ni mama japokuwa rikwama A mother is a mother even if a “coolie’s cart” Even a bad mother is still a mother worthy of respect, love and care.
50 Mama nipe radhi kuishi na watu kazi Mother, give me your blessings; living with people is really tough Swahili people believe that one has to earn his/her parent’s blessings (radhi) to be successful in life. The blessings serve as a shield and guidance in the face of any hardship.
51 Mambo mazuri hayataki haraka Good things should not be hastened Another similar Swahili proverb: Haraka haraka haina baraka – Rush rush doesn’t lead to bounty. You need to slow down sometimes since when you do everything in a rush you do not get enough time to enjoy what you do.
52 Mapenzi hayana macho ya kuona Love is blind Those in love do things that trascend normal senses.
53 Mapenzi hudumu ukila zabibu Love lasts if you eat grapes The literal translation doesn’t make much sense but it actually means, love is sustained by sexual relation.
54 Mche Mungu upate rehema zake milele Fear God so that you earn His everlasting blessings Many kanga writings reflect deep religious feelings of the Swahili people. This is one of them.
55 Mcheza kwao hutunzwa A person who plays at home gets awarded He/She who brings “the bacon” home is the one who gets recognition and favour.
56 Mchezea wembe humkata mwenyewe A person who plays with a razor, cuts himself If you get involved in a dangerous exercise, you are bound to get harmed physically or emotionally.
57 Mchimba kisima, huingia mwenyewe A person who digs a well, gets himself inside (first) A person who sets a trap often times finds himself caught in it. If you have bad intentions against others, chances are, you’ll be the first to be affected by those intentions directly or indirectly.
58 Mdhaniaye ndiye kumbe siye The one whom you think is the right one is the wrong one You are barking up a wrong tree.
59 Mgaagaa na upwa hali wali mkavu A person who walks and searches thoroughly around a beach never eats “dry” rice (rice with no fish stew) If you work hard looking for something, you will never come out empty handed.
60 Mie langu jicho To me, my eye! He/She is prepared to do nothing but look at the way things go! It is the same as saying, “I don’t care!”.
61 Mimi na wewe pete na kidole I and you are like a ring and a finger We’re so close.
62 Mke mwema pambo la nyumba A good wife is a home’s adornment A wife full of love, lights up the home with her compassion.
63 Mke mwenza!! haa!! mezea! Cowife! Ha! Just swallow it! A wife tells her husband to never even think about having a second wife! The statement “mezea” (just swallow it) is Swahili slang which means, “let it pass” or as they say in US, “Forget it!”
64 Mkuki kwa nguruwe, kwa binaadamu mchungu A spear only fits a warthog, it’s bitter to a humanbeing In other words, those people who like to cause harm and discomfort to others, often times are very quick at crying foul when something bad is done to them.
65 Moyo wa kupenda hauna subira A heart deep in love has no patience A person deep in love doesn’t like to wait!
66 Moyo wangu Sultani, cha mtu sikitamani My heart is like Sultan, I don’t long for anybody else’s property I am satisfied.
67 Moyo wa subira haufanyi ghera A patient heart is never in haste A patient heart doesn’t fumble around.
68 Mpaji ni Mungu God is the Sustainer Mostly used by the havenots to console themselves.
69 Mpenzi uwe radhi Sorry, my dear! It’s about time that someone said, “I’m sorry!”
70 Msijifanye hamjui linalonikera Don’t pretend you don’t know what annoys me The person says: “You pretty well know what bothers me but you keep repeating the same as if you don’t know that it annoys me.”
71 Msilale wanawake Women: do not fall asleep It’s a call to women not “to fall asleep” – meaning, not to be completely passive. They should “wake up” and do what is best for them.
72 Msilolijua litawasumbua You will be troubled with what you have no knowledge of Normally said to discourage those who are so nosy about the affairs of others.
73 Mso hili ana lile A person missing this has that There is no useless person. Likewise, there is no person that is absolutely perfect.
74 Mti hawendi ila kwa nyenzo A log moves only with proper tools You need to have proper tools to carry out any task.
75 Mtoto umleavyo ndivyo akuavyo The way you raise a child is what he/she will grow to be The upbringing of a child is what moulds his or her character. It is a lesson given to parents to raise their children well for them to have better future.
76 Mtumai cha ndugu hufa masikini A person who relies on his/her relative’s property, dies poor Encourages selfreliance.
77 Mtupie Mungu kilio, sio binadamu mwenzio Throw saddening stuff to God, not to your fellow human being The logic is, God can handle any situation, not so with an ordinary human being.
78 Mungu atanilinda ubaya wenu hautanifika God will protect me, your evil deeds will not reach me God will protect me against your evil deeds. He is afterall, The Protector.
79 Mungu ndie muamuzi wa kila jambo God is the Judge for everything This is a very common attitude of many Swahili people. They will just leave matters to God to decide. It is the basis for their non-confrontational and peaceful attitude.
80 Mwanamke ni chachu ya maendeleo A woman is an important part of development A woman is an important part of any development effort.
81 Mwenye wivu ajinyonge The envious should hang herself/himself Mmmh! Quite rough words! This is a very harsh and impolite statement from someone who is really fed up with those who envy her/his relationship or success in life.
82 Mzaha mzaha hutumbuka usaha Too many jokes burst out the pus If you joke with someone too much, you may easily do or say something that will anger him or her.
83 Mzizi sio jadi kupendwa ni bahati To be loved is not through a love potion but through your good luck Of course many people would dispute that. Some people in the Swahili world do indeed believe in love potions.
84 Naishi niwezavyo siishi mtakavyo I live as I can afford not as you wish Another Swahili proverb: Mtu hujikuna ajipatapo – A person scratches herself/himself where her/his fingers reach. In this writing the kanga wearer is confronting others who seem to talk behind her back regarding her life style. She is telling them she is not prepared to yield on their pressure. She’ll just continue to live according to her means no matter what they say. This is a very strong statement.
85 Na iwe leo furaha ya harusi Let today be the happiest wedding moment A wedding day is considered to be a climax of life in many culture. Swahili culture is no exception. This kanga writing is a very popular chorus in many Swahili wedding songs.
86 Naona ni shoga yangu, kumbe ni mke mwenzangu I thought of you as my girlfriend, but alas! You are my cowife Someone is messing around with someone else’s husband!
87 Napenda kukuona mpenzi wangu ni furaha ya moyo wangu I love to see you my dear, you are the joy of my heart! Mmmh! It’s a kind of words you never get tired of hearing!
88 Nazi mbovu harabu ya nzima A bad coconut renders good ones bad A bad person or thing in the midst of good ones can easily spoil either the attributes or even the character of the good ones.
89 Neema ya wazee furaha ya watoto Economic success of parents is a joy to their children Parents who are economically successful have enough means to take good care of their children.
90 Nikiwepo sipendezi na kunikosa huwezi My presence doesn’t please you and neither can you afford to be without me Mmmh! A kanga with such a writing is definitely intended to give someone a good “rub”. The giver of such a kanga might even be hit back with it!
91 Nilikudhani dhahabu kumbe adhabu I thought of you as gold but you are such a pain I regarded you as the most precious thing I have ever had, but you have proved to be nothing but torture and torment to me.
92 Nimekisaliti kidole na jiwe, liwalo na liwe I have betrayed a toe against a stone, let it be! I am prepared to bear the consequences of my own mistakes.
93 Njaa mwanamalegeza, shibe mwanamalevya Hunger weakens, but food satisfaction intoxicates When one is hungry, he becomes weak but when he is stomach-full of food he becomes too lazy to work.
94 Paka chume mtaani kwenu, halahala vitoweo vyenu A stray cat is wandering around your neighbourhood, watch out with your “vitoweo” (fish or meat) It is a caution given to lovers to watchout against wanderers lest they snatch their partners off.
95 Pekepeke za jirani, hazinitoi ndani Unwarranted spying by a neighbour does not take me out of my house The best treatment for nosy neighbours is to ignore them.
96 Pema usijapo pema ukipema si pema tena A good place is one where you have not dwelt on, once you do that it ceases to be good Often times you get fascinated with things you have little knowledge about. Once you have knowledge and experience with that thing it ceases to interest you. It’s an unfortunate reality that bedevils many human relationships.
97 Penzi la mama tamu, haliishi hamu Mother’s love is so sweet that you never have enough of it Couldn’t have said it better!
98 Pilipili iko mtini yakuwashia nini? A chilli pepper on its plant, how could it make you hot? The issue is none of your concern, how could it bother you? In other words, “This is none of your business!”
99 Rafiki akupendae humuona penye haja A friend who loves you, you’ll always see him/her when you’re in need Compare with the English saying: A friend in need is a friend indeed.
100 Samaki akioza usimtupe ataokotwa uje ujute If a fish goes bad don’t throw it away lest you regret when someone picks it up Of course the meaning is far from the “fish” thing! It is a caution against making hasty decisions on things that affect us directly. And in this particular context it is with regard to relationships. The writing teaches us not to be too swift at dumping our friends and lovers only to regret when they find “better” suitors.
101 Shanuo baya pale linapokuchoma A comb becomes bad when it hurts you An otherwise useful thing or a good person becomes bad to you when it/he/she harms you in whatever way.
102 Shukurani zetu pokeeni na dua njema tunawaombea Please accept our thanks and good prayers An excellent way to express gratitude.
103 Sichagui sibagui atayenizika simjui I do not choose nor do I seggregate, for I don’t know who will attend to my funeral This is a nice saying and a very important reminder to all of us. We really don’t know who will and will not be useful to us. You may be in trouble and get helped by someone you least expected. It always help to treat everyone equally and with respect.
104 Siku ya kufa nyani miti yote huteleza The day a monkey is destined to die, all trees get slippery There is no escaping one’s fate.
105 Sithamini pochi yako bali utu wako I value not your wallet but your morality Another Swahili proverb: Bora utu kuliko kitu – Good moral character is more important than material wealth.
106 Situmai uzuri wangu, natumai bahati yangu I don’t rely on my beauty but my luck Compare with: The beauty and the beast!
107 Tamu ya mua kifundo A sugarcane is sweetest at the joint What seems to be hard to achieve in real life is often times the best. Fruits of hard labour are enjoyed the most.
108 Tulia tuishi wazuri haweshi Calm down and live with me, pretty ones are never in short supply Indeed the world is full of beautiful and handsome people. If one were to fall for each one of them it would be impossible to establish a lasting relationship with anyone.
109 Tulia tulia utakalo utalipata Just be cool, you’ll get what you want A re-assuring statement!
110 Ubaya hauna kwao mola nisitiri na njama zao There is no special place for wickedness; Oh Lord, save me from their evil plots One can come across wicked things anywhere even where he/she least expected. Wicked things are not reserved to special places. There is no “home” for wickedness. Realizing that, the person here seeks refuge to God to protect him/her from any kind of evil plots against him/her. The saying itself is very poetic in Swahili and the meaning is far reaching.
111 Uchungu wa mwana aujuae mzazi A parent has the ultimate feelings for her/his child “Uchungu wa mwana” is generally used to mean the pain a mother feels from pregnancy to child birth. Ironically, it is this pain that creates a solid bond with her child and giving her the reason to protect the child from any harm. In essence, the writing says: “It is the mother that knows best how hard it was to give birth to the child and therefore she has the ultimate feelings for her child.” In this case though, the writing is more general to include the feelings of both parents to their child. Hence the use of “mzazi” (parent), instead of “mama” (mother).
112 Ukali wa jicho washinda wembe An eye is sharper than a razor A look can be extremely effective in sending a desired message across. It can be a friendly and inviting look or a threatening one.
113 Ukila nanasi, tunda lingine basi Once you taste a pineapple, you’ll never go for any other fruit It is very common in Swahili to use sweet fruits to signify things associated with love. There are songs and songs about such fruits as “nanasi” (pineapple), “zabibu” (grapes), “tofaa” (apple), etc., all having nothing to do with the fruits themselves but love. Hence such sayings as, “Ukila zabibu, utaleta majibu”, (Once you taste grapes you’ll definitely respond), obviously talks about things associated with love.
114 Ukimkirimu Mola wako hukosi fungu lako If you are generous to your God, you won’t miss your share (of compensation) If you are generous to your God (and His creations), He will be generous to you. If you serve your God, He will serve you.
115 Ukiona vyaelea vimeundwa When you see them (vessels) afloat, somebody made them Nothing comes out of nothing! One has to work for whatever he or she wishes to achieve.
116 Ukipata shukuru ukikosa usikufuru When you get (something) be thankful and when you miss (something) do not blaspheme The one who gives is the same one as the one who deprives. It’s the Almighty God. The best thing is to be thankful for both – getting and missing things. The Swahili people believe that it’s in God’s plans that people miss some things and get some things.
117 Ukistaajabu ya Musa utaona ya Firauni If the acts of Moses make you wonder, wait until you see the acts of Pharaoh Get prepared for the worst! As the Americans would say: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!!
118 Ukiujua huu, huu huujui If you know this one, you don’t know this (other) one Sometimes interpreted as a gesture demonstrated by flies when they rub their legs forward and then they repeat rubbing their legs backward. i.e. if you know the forward one, you don’t know the backward one. In other words you will always find that there is something you don’t know.
119 Usiache mbachao kwa msala upitao Don’t abandon your old rug for a passing mat Value more what is yours and more permanent rather than a temporary thing that is not yours even though it appears to be better looking than yours.
120 Usibadili nia kwa jambo la kusikia Don’t change your mind because of a hearsay People do speak lots of things which are not always the truth. This is a piece of advice not to take hearsay seriously.
121 Usicheze na ulimwengu ukikuelemea utajuta Don’t play tricks with the world, you will regret when it falls on you “Ulimwengu” in Swahili literally translates as “the world” or “the universe”, but in the above saying it means one’s life and whatever surrounds him/her including other people and things. The correct (non-literal) translation of the above saying would then be: Don’t be unconcerned with your life, you will regret when it fails you.
122 Usikumbuke uovu ukasahau fadhila Don’t remember the evil things only while forgetting to be thankful for the good deeds Make a judgement based on both, good and bad side of everything.
123 Usilaumu sisimizi sukari haimalizi Don’t blame an ant, it will never finish the sugar Don’t look for lame excuses.
124 Usinichukie kwa umasikini Don’t hate me for (my) poverty Hate me for something else but not because of my poverty as I didn’t ask God to make me poor.
125 Usinione nasinzia uyasemayo nayasikia You see me dozing but I hear whatever you say Don’t think that I am not aware of what you do in my absence.
126 Usinipende kwa moja nipende kwa yote Don’t love me for just one thing, love me for everything She/he demands to be loved as a person (as a whole) not just as someone that possesses one likable/adorable thing.
127 Usisafirie nyota ya mwenzio Don’t set sail using someone else’s star Everyone has his or her own destiny. If someone has become successful by doing something, it is not necessarily right to assume that you will also be successful by doing the same thing.
128 Usisahau hisani kwa dhiki ya mara moja A single instant of hardship should not make you forget all the favours The message here is that any long-term relationship is bound to encounter some displeasing incidents which should just as well be ignored in favour of so many good things rendered over the whole long period of relationship. That is exactly how relationships are sustained!
129 Usisherehekee vita ukalilia amani Don’t celebrate war and cry for peace You cannot blow hot and cold at the same time. You’re either for peace or for war – not both at the same time! If you are happy to go to war, it is hypocritical at the same time to cry (pray) for peace.
130 Usitake ushindani huniwezi aslani Don’t compete (with me), you can never beat me War of words!
131 Utamaliza limau shaba haiwi dhahabu You will run short of lemon juice (rubbing), but never will copper turn into gold Don’t wish for the impossible.
132 Uzuri wa mke ni tabia si sura A wife’s beauty is in her character, not her looks Compare with: Don’t judge a book by its cover!
133 Vidole vitano, kipi bora Five fingers, which is the best? It is an indirect way of saying that it is difficult to say which finger is better than another since fingers work together to accomplish a task. In other words, it is a call for unity. Compare with another Swahili proverb: Kidole kimoja hakivunji chawa – One finger is not capable of smashing a flea. You need two fingers (usually two thumbnails) for that purpose.
134 Vishindo vingi sio kutenda jambo Fumbling around doesn’t accomplish anything Another Swahili proverb: “Simba mwenda kimya ndiye mla nyama” – A quiet lion is the one that catches the prey.
135 Wajenga kwa wengine kwako kwabomoka You build somebody else’s place while yours is falling down A wake-up call for a person too negligent of his own life.
136 Wameadhirika mahasidi wasojijua Humiliation has come down upon the evil ones who don’t know themselves Those who wrongly took themselves as saints rather than evil persons, have now revealed their true colors. They are very much humiliated! It seems to be the right time to laugh at them.
137 Wangu wa ubani nimemuweka ndani I am securely holding my lover inside “Ubani” (Frankincense gum) is a very common incense in East Africa and Arabia. It is commonly used in large gatherings especially in religious (Islamic) ocassions where believers say prayers. It is very common to burn “ubani” in a small earthen container called “kiotezo” filled with hot charcoal. Burning “ubani” is customarily taken to be an essential part of saying prayers. The custom is thought to have been brought to East Africa by the Persians (Iranians). Associating a lover with a word “ubani” is likely due to its nice fragrance or the fact that it requires a hard task of burning “ubani” in a prayer to have a lover. Statements like, “Humpati hata kwa ubani”, (You will never win her even if you burn “ubani”) are common in Swahili.
138 Wape wape vidonge vyao, wakimeza, wakitema shauri yao Give them their (bitter) medicine tablets; It is upon them to swallow or to spit them off! Usually said when one proceeds telling someone things that he or she would not like to hear. Maybe someone is complaining about what he or she did or just an attempt to intimidate him or her.
139 Wasemao nawaseme siwajali mambo yao I don’t care what they say! I’ll just ignore them!
140 Wastara nimestirika mlilolitaka halikunifika Destined to be safe, I remain protected, and your evil wishes have not materialized A triumpant and daring statement!
141 Wee! Utaumiza roho yako You! You’ll hurt your soul Another impolite caution!
142 Zawadi ni tunda la moyo A gift is a fruit from the heart Another Swahili saying: Kutoa ni moyo usambe ni utajiri – Giving is from the heart not from the wealth.
143 Zawadi ni zawadi, usichoke kupokea A gift is a gift, don’t get tired of receiving Compare with another Swahili proverb: “Kutoa ni moyo usambe ni utajiri”, (Giving is from the heart not from the wealth).


Copyright © Hassan O. Ali, 2004.

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