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Some Kihaya Vocabulary

Mwaa, ebitoke enmeli: agandi mbi muno!

Kihaya is a Bantu language spoken by about a million people around Tanzanian Lake Victoria. Despite being one of the larger surviving tribal tongues - with as many mother-tongue speakers as the mighty Kiswahili - at time of writing this, there were no resources online for it, and only one academic text in forty years.*

I was taught by several people, young and old, and they conflicted over basic meaning ("omushana" is used for 'afternoon' and 'rainy season' supposedly without homophony, for instance). I suppose this is to be expected in real, unliterary, unacademic languages. Anyway Kihaya shares a great deal of vocabulary and structure with Kiswahili, and the orthography I've used is its - 'e' for 'ay' and so on. It loans a lot less from English than Kiswa does: I only found two cognates in the 200 or so words I learned ('ebegi' - bag and 'etoche' - torch). Note the loans from Arabic, though - e.g. "kitab" for book, "ekyai" for tea.

Stress is almost always on the second-last syllable of each word. Adjectives, adverbs and intensifiers are placed after their nouns (e.g. very bad = 'mbi muno'); otherwise its grammar is forgiving and subject-verb-object. Pronouns are almost never necessary; you just say the verb and imply the subject.

I really recommend learning some if you plan on spending any amount of time in Kagera: it sounds great (really hard vowels), it's not going away, and any mzungu who speaks even a token amount is greeted with warmth and lower prices. So:

  • Ego = Yes   ("aygo")
  • Che = No    ("chay")
  • Inga = Nothing
    [also used as 'no']
  • Ota? = How [are you]?
  • Tata olailota = Good morning [man I respect]
  • Mama olailota = Good morning [woman I respect]
  • Agasi bao = Good morning [peer]
  • Masibota = Good day [woman I respect]
  • Tasibota = Good day [man I respect]
  • Wasibiota = Hello again [peer/child]
  • Agandi? = How are you? [lit.: News?]
  • Orige? = How are you?
    [Conventional reply: 'Ndige!']
  • Waguma? = Alright?
    [Conventional: 'Naguma!']
  • Wabonake? = Any problems?
    [Conventional: 'Inga!']

    [Jennifer Clark writes to point out the more specific response "tinabonakantu" - I see no problems before me.]

  • Ogumile ge? = How is your endeavour? [Formal]
    [Conventional: 'Ngumile!']
  • Shumara mwaitu? = Morning [married man].**

My favourite Kihaya word of all is a greeting:
  • wayokayo. (Roughly, "You look well upon your return")

Most of the above greetings can be answered merely with 'Ego' - yes. Inject a little joy and you'll get away with it.
  • Nyegera! = Welcome!
  • Mpao = Goodbye.
  • Mpore = Sorry / regrets
  • Garungi = Good
  • Garembe = Fine
  • Ndungi = Great
  • Mbi = Bad
  • Ulio = OK [lit: I am present]
  • Muno = very [used as affix e.g: "garungi muno"]
  • Nganyila = please [rare: a begging measure]
  • Wakora = Thankyou
  • Kasinge = Thankyou [only during day?]
  • Inye = I/me
  • Yange = My/mine [possessing objects]
  • Bange = My/mine [possessing abstracts like friendships]
  • Iwe = You***
  • Ichwe = We

'Tinku-' is a general negation prefix. Works with both nouns and verbs. "Ge?" is a particle indicating a question, but it isn't mostly necessary.
  • Namanya = [I] know
  • Tinkumanya = [I] Don't know
  • Nog ya Kamachumu = [I am] Going to Kamachumu.

The rules for pluralising are obscure to me:
  • Omzungu = Foreigner
  • Abazungu = Bunch of foreigners
  • Munywanyi = Friend
  • Banywanyi = Friends
  • Dada/kaka/mama = [as in Kiswahili]
  • Tata = Father
  • Mae = Paternal grandmother
  • Mwana = Child
  • Mwaa = Now
  • Anunku = Here
  • Nyenkya = Tomorrow
  • Bwankya = Morning
  • Omushana = Afternoon
  • Bwaigoro = Evening
  • Omkiro = Night (after sunset)

"E-" is a general prefix for a noun; "Eki-" is a general prefix for an artefact (literally: craft-thing). "Ebi" is for plural artefacts (e.g. 'ekitabu', book, and 'ebitabu', books). "Ama-" and "En-" are for foods.

  • Ebegi yange = My bag
  • Ekitebe = Chair
  • Ekitanda = Bed
  • Ekiratwa = Shoe
  • Ekitabu = Book
  • Ekidonge = Pill
  • Etara = Light
  • Etoche = Torch
  • Egras = Glass
  • Omuswaki = Toothbrush
  • Emiwani = Spectacles
  • Ebitoke = Plantain
  • Enfulu = Fish (mostly for tilapia)
  • Ente = Cow
  • Embuzi = Goat
  • Enjangwa = Cat
  • Enyama = Beef
  • Enfuma = Sweet potato
  • Amanumbu = Potato
  • Amauli = Egg
  • Ekyai = Chai
  • Enjura = rainwater

Finally, and most importantly:
  • Ompungulizemu ebei! = Lower that price!
  • Nganyila, tinku ebitoke ya omkiro! = I beg you, not plaintain tonight!

* Recently found a World Bank Swahili-Haya translation with lots of relevant terms (p.4 onward)...

** I got this one a lot. (I think they were being sarky.)

*** This will get shouted at you a lot. Try not to hate the shouter: after, all, by using it they've refrained from calling you Mzungu.


  1. You have left out my favourite - tinabonakantu - I see no problems before me - as a response to Wabonaki?

  2. Added, thanks! I didn't spend long enough there to get really into it, which is a thing I may always regret.


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