Daily Archives: March 18, 2015

It’s all in a name

When we first arrived in Mwanza we would find that we were called Mzungu*. The word means “white person” or more accurately European  (though we know North Americans who are called Mzungu too) , but nowadays it is not meant to be insulting, just a way of saying hello. However, it has a much darker history (see below) unknown to most modern Tanzanians.

We still get called Mzungu (or it’s plural Wazungu) but as we (in particular Anita) have begun to know more and more Tanzanians the name has changed.

Nowadays we are called by a more familiar name. In Kiswahili or at least in Tanzania parents are named for their children. So I am called Baba Matayo or possibly Baba Lebeka. Anita similarly Mama Matayo or Mama Lebeka.

The naming is obvious and means Father (or Mother) of our children.

Unlike names in Europe where people were named for their fathers i.e. Jacobson, Johnson, Richardson. In Icelandic they even use – dotir to indicate the daughter of someone.

Baba Matayo is much better than Mzungu!

* The term Mzungu is actually derived from the word Mzunguko meaning circle. It has a dark history as it refers to the way White European slavers captured slaves by setting a ring of fire around an African Village, leaving one small gap through which hapless villagers could escape the flames for a life in captivity.