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Jambo! (jam-bo!) is a Swahili greeting or salutation with an exclamation mark. It is similar in meaning to the English word Hello!.


Specifically, Jambo is a Swahili language class 5-6 word which are part of the "collectives" or dialogic actions among groups of people. Jambo primarily means 'affair.'[1] The English word "affair" not used in the sexual connotation, but in the commercial, professional, public or personal business definition.[2][3]

Etymologically it is from amba (-amba) from to say, ultimately from etyl. It is a cognate with Zulu. Secondary meanings include as dealing with a thing, issue or matter.[1]

First use[edit]

The spoken word "Jambo" was once used as a greeting among traders of the Swahili coast of southeast Africa.[4] While less formal, it is in widespread use in East Africa and beyond.[5] While similar to the English word Hello, it really meant to come and settle ones affairs in the business sense. It was used by traders from India, China and other lands before the Portuguese Vasco da Gama visited the area in 1498. It is in current use.[6][7][8][9]

Colonial use[edit]

During the European "Scramble for Africa" which brought a period of "Imperialism" and East African European colonialism, the Swahili word "Bwana" was used to refer to the Europeans.[10] Briefly the word today refers to as "Mister" or big boss or an important person and occasionally used in a derogatory manner. But the historical reality it was simply "Master." The British dictionary or older English usage refers the word "Master" as a male person who is in charge of others or of a task.[11] In many ways in East Africa the combined phrase "Jambo Bwana!" (Hello, Master!) became viewed as "Hello, Slave Driver" or "Hello, Slave Master" by those seeking independence especially in Colonial East Africa.[12][13]

Post Colonial use[edit]

After independence and over a half century of Independence, many still use the word "Jambo!" And some enterprising East Africans use the old imperialist welcoming phrase "Jambo Bwana!" as a welcome greeting seeking tourist dollars.[12][14]

"Jambo Bwana!" (translated as "Hello Mister!"), is also notably one of the best internationally known Kenyan hotel pop songs. That welcoming song, with some local variations including the informal name of the "Jambo! Jambo!", is sometimes used to greet visitors to Kenya.[15]

Today, more traditional greeting or welcoming terms are encouraged for tourists to better understand and to relate to the local people. For example: In Tanzania and for the Swahili language, there are many tourist guides and educational pages which provide common phrases.[8][9] Below are four basic ways in Swahili to say "Hello!" and a basic polite reply after the dash.[16]

1. Hujambo - more correct than Jambo! (how are you?) – Sijambo (seeJAmbo) (I am fine / no worries)
2. Habari? (any news?) – nzuri (nZOOree) (fine)
3. U hali gani? (oo HAlee GAnee) (how are you) – njema (fine)
4. Shikamoo (a young person to an elder) – marahaba

Surname use[edit]

"Jambo" is also used as a surname in southeast Africa. For example, Zhaimu Jambo (born 23 August 1987 in Harare), aka "Jimmy", is a retired Zimbabwean footballer (soccer player).[17]

Other use[edit]

The word jambo has found its way into different cultures and languages. For example, the word Jamboree (scouting). This is the Swahili word Jambo used in English, as a borrowed foreign word, with the ending -ree. The word Jamboree is a transitive verb with a direct action of the primary word Jambo.[18] For example, an attendee of a Jambo is a Jamboree. The word "Jamboree" is used primarily by the Scouting program before the first Boy Scout Jamboree in 1920. The word has also come to mean "a lavish or boisterous celebration or party."[19][20] Another example of a transitive word is "transferee" which the person receiving a transfer (money or goods) is the transfer-ree dropping the extra r. In contrast the person giving the transfer is the "transferor." Such transitive words are still used in formal terms dealing in legal affairs.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ashton, E. O. (1947). Swahili Grammar: Including intonation. Longman House. ISBN 0-582-62701-X.
  2. ^ "Affair". November 1, 2015.
  3. ^ Nurse, Derek, and Hinnebusch, Thomas J. Swahili and Sabaki: a linguistic history. 1993. Series: University of California Publications in Linguistics, v. 121.
  4. ^ Prins, A. H. J. (1961). "Swahili The Swahili-Speaking Peoples of Zanzibar and the East African Coast (Arabs, Shirazi and Swahili)" Ethnographic Survey of Africa, edited by Daryll Forde. International African Institute, London. See also: Prins, A.H.J. 1970. A Swahili Nautical Dictionary. Preliminary Studies in Swahili Lexicon – 1. Dar es Salaam.
  5. ^ Ashton, E. O. Swahili Grammar: Including intonation. Longman House. Essex 1947. ISBN 0-582-62701-X
  6. ^ George L. Campbell and Gareth King (2011). The Routledge Concise Compendium of the World's Languages (2nd ed.),. Milton Park, Abingdon ; New York : Routledge. ISBN 9780415478410.
  7. ^ What is the meaning of Jambo?
  8. ^ a b 12 Swahili words to know before traveling in East Africa by Kelly Lalonde
  9. ^ a b Useful Swahili
  10. ^ R. Mugo Gatheru (2005) Kenya: From Colonization to Independence, 1888–1970, McFarland, ISBN 0-7864-2199-1
  11. ^ Concise Oxford Dictionary, Tenth Edition on CD ROM 2001 Version 1.1, from the Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 2DP, UK cites: 1 chiefly historical a man who has people working for him, especially servants or slaves. Ø dated a male head of a household. Ø the male owner of a dog, cat, etc. 3 a person who has complete control of something: he was master of the situation. 4 a man in charge of an organization or group. Ø chiefly Brit. a male schoolteacher, especially at a public or prep school. Ø the head of a college or school. ...
  12. ^ a b Maloba, Wunyabari O. (1993) Mau Mau and Kenya: An Analysis of Peasant Revolt, Indiana University Press, 0852557450.
  13. ^ Evelyne Jone Rich, Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein , Africa: Tradition and Change (1971)
  14. ^ Jolliffe, Lee (2000). Tea and Tourism: Tourists, Traditions and Transformations. Channel View Publications. ISBN 1-84541-056-4.
  15. ^ Jambo song in Sawhili from YouTube.
  16. ^ "Hello in Swahili: 19 Cool Swahili Greetings You Should Know". September 12, 2015.
  17. ^ Jambo! at National-Football-Teams.com
  18. ^ Hopper, Paul J; Thompson, Sandra A (June 1980). "Transitivity in grammar and discourse" (PDF). Language. 56 (2): 251–299. doi:10.1353/lan.1980.0017. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  19. ^ Jamboree. Oxford University Press from the Concise Oxford University Dictionary 10th Edition, 1999. (accessed: November 02, 2015).
  20. ^ Jamboree. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/jamboree (accessed: November 02, 2015).
  21. ^ Duhaime's Law Dictionary: Transferee Definition: A person who receives property being transferred.