Mzungu

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Mzungu (pronounced [m̩ˈzuŋɡu]) is a Bantu language term used in the African Great Lakes region to refer to people of European descent. It is a commonly used expression among Bantu peoples in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia. The word "wachizungu" has a particular historical development in this region, dating back to the 18th century. "Wachizungu" used to mean "things of the aimless wanderers." Literally translated it meant "someone who roams around aimlessly" or "aimless wanderer."[1] The term was first used in the African Great Lakes region to describe European explorers in the 18th century, apparently as a result of their propensity to get lost in their wanderings in Africa. The word Muzungu comes from Kiswahili, where ‘zungu’ is the word for spinning around on the same spot. That dizzy lost look was perfected by the first white people arriving in the African Great Lakes. Muzunguzungu is Kiswahili for a dizzy person.[2] The term is now used to refer to "someone with white skin" or "white skin".

In the Bantu Swahili language, the plural form of mzungu is wazungu.[3][4][5]

The possessive kizungu (or chizungu) translates as "behaving rich". However, in some areas, such as in Rwanda, it does not necessarily refer to the colour of your skin anymore either. Traditionally Europeans were seen to be people of means and rich and so the meaning was extended to refer to "rich people" regardless of the colour of their skin. It would therefore not be unusual to find an employer of any race being referred to as "mzungu." However, it can be used generally for any European language. In Swahili, the plural form of mzungu is wazungu. The possessive kizungu (or chizungu) translated literally means "of the aimless wanderers". It has now come to mean "language of the aimless wanderers" and more commonly English, as it is the language most often used by Wazungu in the African Great Lakes. However it can be used generally for any European language. Wachizungu, Bachizungu, etc. – literally "things of the aimless wanderers" – have come to mean the Western culture, cuisine and lifestyle.[6]

Everyday use[edit]

Mzungu can be used in an affectionate or insulting way. It is used in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. It is often called out by children to get the attention of a passerby.[7][8][9]

Alternative expressions[edit]

In Kinyarwanda and Kirundi, European people are also known as rutuku which means "red" (after their skin color). The underlying tone for "rutuku" though is in reference to aggression. Though the literal translation is "red", the underlying translation is "aggressor", referring to colonialism and the plundering of local resources by the "white people." The word English has been loaned into Bantu languages as kiingereza in Swahili, chingeleshi in Bemba, or lungereza in Ganda. The terms "mzungu" and "mlungu" are sometimes erroneously used interchangeably. Whilst mzungu generally refers to a white person, mlungu refers to the white foam ejected from an animal's vagina when in heat and is only used in a derogatory sense. The term is similar to "vloeibees", meaning flow-beast, in Afrikaans.

Regional variations
Language singular plural possessive
Swahili in the African Great Lakes Mzungu Wazungu Kizungu
Luganda in Uganda Muzungu Bazungu Kizungu
Chichewa in Malawi Muzungu Azungu Chizungu
Chinyanja in Zambia Muzungu Bazungu Chizungu
Kinyarwanda in Rwanda / Kirundi in Burundi Umuzungu Abazungu ikizungu
Bemba in Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo Musungu Basungu Chisungu
Sena in Mozambique Muzungu Azungu
Shona in Zimbabwe Murungu Varungu
isiZulu in South Africa Umlungu Abelungu

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]