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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, Burundi, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, dating back to the 18th century. Literally translated it meant "someone who roams around" or "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 extensive travelling all over the place. The word Mzungu comes from Kiswahili, where zungu or zunguka is the word for spinning around on the same spot. Kizunguzungu is Kiswahili for a dizziness.[2] The term is now used to refer to "someone with white skin" or "white skin".

The possessive kizungu (or chizungu) translates as "behaving rich". However, in some areas, such as in Rwanda and Burundi, it does not necessarily refer to the colour of one's skin. Traditionally, Europeans were seen to be people of means and rich and so the terminology was extended to denote affluent persons regardless of race. It would therefore not be unusual to find any employer being referred to as "mzungu." In the Bantu Swahili language, the plural form of mzungu is wazungu.[3][4][5] The possessive kizungu (or chizungu) translated literally means "of the wanderers". It has now come to mean "language of the 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 "wandering people" – have come to mean people who adopt the Western culture, cuisine and lifestyle.[1]

Everyday use[edit]

Mzungu can be used in an affectionate or insulting way. It is used in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi and Burundi. It is often called out by children to get the attention of a passerby.[6][7][8]

Alternative expressions[edit]

In Kinyarwanda and Kirundi, European people are also known as rutuku which means "red" (after their skin color). 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 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.[9] The term is similar to "vloeibees", directly translated as "flow-beast", referring to a beast in "flow" or heat in Afrikaans. [10]

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
Kisii language in Kenya Omusongo Abasongo Ebisongo
Sena in Mozambique Muzungu Azungu
Shona in Zimbabwe Murungu Varungu
isiZulu in South Africa Umlungu Abelungu

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Chemi Che-Mponda. "Swahili Time". Retrieved 23 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "What is a muzungu? Definition. Diary of a Muzungu - Uganda travel blog". Diary of a Muzungu - Uganda travel blog. Retrieved 23 September 2015. 
  3. ^ H-Net Discussion Networks – Etymology of the term muzungu: reply. (2002-09-19). Retrieved on 2011-05-28.
  4. ^ The Wandering Wazungu. Retrieved on 2011-05-28.
  5. ^ Notas. The Janissary Stomp. Retrieved on 2011-05-28.
  6. ^ "Rwanda: A Mzungu's Thoughts On Justine Sacco". Retrieved 23 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "Mary Walker: Christmas in Kenya". Retrieved 23 September 2015. 
  8. ^ "Tanzania". Retrieved 23 September 2015. 
  9. ^ Davidson, Basil (1964). The African Past:Chronicles from Antiquity to Modern Times. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 308. 
  10. ^ Smith, Dr JJ (1951). Handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal [Reference dictionary for the Afrikaans language] (in Afrikaans). Voortrekkerpers. 

External links[edit]