10 Common SiSwati Phrases I Hear Almost Everyday ;that would be unusual to Americans

After living in Swaziland for over a year now, here are some phrases or words I hear in my everyday life as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

“Hawu” pronounced (Howuuuu) **My personal favourite
A sign of disbelief, reacting to a what another person said or did. Example in response to a Swazi saying “they wish to go to america one day” Me: “You have to be in a plane for at least 20 hours to fly to the United States.” Swazi: “HAWU?!?! … okay I don’t want to go anymore.”

“NKhosi”, Of the King or other praise names
After a person has given something to you (can be anything from borrowing you a blanket to giving you a present) you would say Ngiyabong Nkhosi, which means thank you “of the king”. My last name here in Swaziland is Dlamini, which is a very common and royal last name. Dlamini is also the last name of the king here in Swaziland. So, the praise name for my last name is Nkhosi but other last names have different praise names to say in respect to your family name.

“Ngicela ungiphe shukela”, Please may you barrow me sugar
Almost every day I get a knock on my door with an adorable small child at the other end of the knock. This child is usually requesting to “barrow” something from me because their parent(s) need it. It could range anywhere from asking for a pencil, to watching a cartoon or a cup of rice. The difference is the word “borrowing” doesn’t mean the same as it does in American culture. If someone in the U.S. asked to barrow something I would expect it in return, but no such rule is true here in Swaziland. When someone asks to barrow rice, they will most likely eat it all 🙂

“Nigyaphila”, The response of “I’m fine”
In the native SiSwati language when you ask how someone is there are two options to answer with; Ngikona (I am here) or Ngiyaphela (I am fine). No one ever states a response other than these two. NEVER. There is no, I’m okay or I’m wonderful!.. always just “I’m fine”. This is true whether a swazi is speaking SiSwati or English.

“Uyakudla yini kudla kwe SiSwati?”, Do you cook/eat Swazi food?
When I’m meeting someone new, I tell them about myself and why I’m here. I could continue to tell them something that is obscure from the Swazi culture that I find interesting. Then the inevitable question of “Do you cook Swazi food at your house?!” always comes into the conversation. Swazi’s seem to be so interested in the fact that I have cooked porridge or rice with my family. I tell them I cook it with Gogo every week and they always burst out in a deep belly laugh. Never knew my cooking could bring such joy to people!

“Usati kakhulu SiSwati”, You are fluent in SiSwati
I get this whenever I greet someone in their mother tongue. I have the greetings down pat now and apparently that’s enough to be fluent in a language! I feel quite silly because I only said two phrases to them and I’m not a fluent speaker in SiSwati. They always continue to reassure me that I am in fact fluent speaker with no doubt in their minds, even when we have switched to english after finishing the greeting in SiSwati.

“Usidudla”, You have gotten big
I haven’t gain an enormous amount of weight here, but I am more.. plump or happy? —I like to call it, than I was in the states. Even though I eat a lot more vegetables here than I did at home, I still eat a lot more starches as well. If I wear a certain type of skirt that shows off my beautiful “happy” mid-section; I’m bound to get comments about my weight. It could start off with “Oh what happened to you Nobuhle? You are so big now!”, or they would simply say “Too much food for you Nobuhle”. Comparing this to american etiquette it is drastically different. A stranger would never comment on your figure even if you were drastically larger than the average american.

“Yini lokusebusweni?”, What is biting your face?
As of recently I had a bit of a fiasco with my acne. I got a meriena IUD placed in February of this year. Everything was fine until a few months ago when I started to get really bad pimples on my face from the change in hormones. During this time, Swazi strangers and friends alike would come up to me very concerned about the bug bites that were on my face. “What is biting you in the night?”, “The sun must be doing this to you”, or “What has happened to your face?” hahahah all I can do now is laugh, but every time I tried to explain acne to Swazi’s they didn’t understand and went back to their original conclusions of what was happening to my face. I guess Swazi’s have acne as well but the mere fact that they are black makes the zits less noticeable.

“Utowuba nemukhuhlane”, You will catch a cold!
On my homestead all the floors consist of a cement-like material. I’m always fine with sitting on the floor when we have visitors; or at the schools when I’m waiting on a teacher. I sit outside on the cement with no second thought. I’m always scolded by teachers, my Gogo or make that I will catch a cold when I sit on a surface like that. I must be wearing my shoes or be guarded by a grass mat to sit on or I will indefinitely catch a cold!

“Umshaya”, I will hit/ beat you
Now, this phrase isn’t ever directed at me because I assume they don’t know how I would take it. However, it is something I hear in everyday conversations in a variety of contexts. I can hear it in the primary school yard from a teacher to a student in the most serious manner, on public transport with two friends just messing around, or girlfriends referring to one another in casual conversation. Pretend fighting is something seen in the U.S., but beating each other is a topic of conversation that can always be heard here. Either way play beating and actual beating of children, animals, and colleges is apart of everyday life here.

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