Gay Dictionary Swahili
How to say gay in Swahili
Below are the words of our Swahili Gay Dictionary that we will expand in new editions. If you know any more, please, contact us. But first some information about the language and where it is spoken.
Swahili is a language of the Niger-Congo family spoken mainly in Tanzania and Kenya, and adjacent areas of Uganda, Mozambique, South Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, and Zimbabwe, reaching forty-five million speakers.
The situation of the LGBT community in Tanzania and Kenya is bad, since sexual diversity, or knowledge of it, is punishable by between 5 and 14 years in prison or life imprisonment, in the case of Tanzania. Religions get society to see homosexual behavior as something detestable and its terms and expressions for gays are polarized between the less stigmatized top and the bottom, the worst of the worst. Although as always, these countries tend to see homosexual behavior as something that comes from outside, there are references from the 19th century that point to the opposite.
The word Anti is an adaptation of the English word “aunt”. Both in English and Swahili language are slang for homosexual men, although in the English case, it is used to refer to an aged gay. In the Swahili language it is used to name the feminine homosexual men although it is also used with the meaning of “woman” or “beautiful girl”. We would be facing, therefore, the importation and adaptation of English slang.+
Baba askofu is a curious expression, recently coined in its homosexual meaning, which would translate into the English language as “father bishop.” In origin it is an expression used as a sign of respect towards the representatives of the Christian churches, extending its use even outside what the religious context would be, pointing to people who stand out for position, generosity, and altruism. Mama askofu would be the equivalent expression for women.
However, and following the scandals of sexual abuse of children perpetrated by church priests, this expression, in a unique metonymic turn, has become to point out, in a given context, the top homosexual man. In fact, Baba askofu is one of the few expressions, with Basha or Mende, that we have found to indicate the top position in homosexual anal intercourse, in a region where the top or the bottom role in the homosexual behavior means everything.+
Basha is one of the most common and significant words in Swahili slang for naming active homosexuals or men. And we mean men who are “really, masculine” but who, occasionally or not so much, have sex with “female” men.
The term would derive from the word of Turkish origin paşa that we also find in Arabic as باشا [bāšā] and that in Spanish we know as bajá or pasha, with the meaning of governor, man with a position of high command in the army or the administration, etc., and that in Swahili speaking areas it is also used to name the king of a deck of cards.
Its use as a homosexual slang goes back at least to the 80s and we found it in several dictionaries of the time, such as the Standard Dictionary of Swahili, which also states that the term does not presuppose homosexuality, but rather referred to the “man who sodomizes” being indifferent the gender of the couple.
The sexual partner of the basha would be the shoga, and some authors have wanted to see in the basha and his shoga a relationship model that is structured on the power, the money, the age of each one of the parties, etc, but nevertheless and for what we have been able to find out and for what we can suppose the thing is something more complex at the level of feelings.
We would meet again, therefore with the idea of the Mostacero (Spanish, Peru) or Manyak (Arabic), which shows that one thing is homosexual behavior and another very different, homosexuality.
The expression Bwabwa is a euphemistic derivation of the word “ubwabwa” that would be translated into the English language as “undercooked rice” and it is used against bottom homosexual men. As in many other places in the world, the idea of a homosexual man (especially if he is bottom) as a “half-done” man or a half-man (the other half is a woman), usually has an equivalent in local slang.+
The literal English translation of the expression Chakula is the noun “food” and it is used to name bottom homosexual men. Finding a clear origin to the expression seems an impossible task, however, based on what has been investigated, we dare to point out that it could be due to the generic concept chakula = food as opposed to nyama = meat, whose connotations associated with heterosexual sex and women, in particular, are common in other languages and also in Swahili, where we find for example that nyama is also a slang for vagina. Bottom homosexuals, therefore, would be an alternative to a real meal, simple nourishment to take away hunger. But hey, it’s just a theory.
Related: Mostacero. Gay Dictionary (Peru)+
The expression Choko belongs to the Tanzanian street slang called “lugha ya mitaani” (languages of the city’s neighborhoods) and it is used to refer to bottom homosexual men. The origin of the term and its relationship with homosexuality seems confusing and various possibilities are pointed out.
Some derive it without further ado from the French word “chocolat”, perhaps because of the youthfulness of the so-called and the color of their skin. Others point to the Swahili word “choco”, which means oven, and that would have sexual connotations for relating the butt to the shape of some traditional ovens in the area.
However, the theory that stands out is that the term “choko” would be nothing more than the abbreviation or shortening of the word “chokolaa” or “chokoraa” used in Tanzania and that would derive from the Kenyan Sheng slang “chokora ”, all of them referred to the street or homeless boys.
And although in principle there was not too much relationship between this term and homosexual behavior we found that several studies indicate that homosexual practices (including anal penetration) among street boys was the norm (at least in geographical scope of the study ) and not transactional sex as one might think, but as a complex pattern of affective and sexual relationship that is framed within a model called “kunyenga” and that we could translate as “comfortable sex” and that boys distinguish from the so-called “real sex ” that would be the heterosexual sex.
It is also very striking the fact that the “kunyenga” is justified as an alternative to homosexuality since there seems to be a belief, fostered by the church, that jerking off causes or is a sign of a homosexual deviation, therefore and to avoid this tremendous danger of being carried away by the demon of homosexuality that hides behind masturbation, what better way to vent with a good friend or fellow of misery “playing” the fake sex.
Having said that and without more information available, decide the audience which is the most likely origin of the term “chock” to name homosexual men in Swahili.+
In principle, the expression Fuga ndevu refers to homosexual behavior and has the meaning of “the one who lives or cohabits with a homosexual man”. It applies, like most terms we have treated, to the bottom homosexual men. Although some sources point to a humorous euphemism as a source, based on a more literal translation of the type “the one who cultivates/bears a beard”.+
Gashi is a term that by the middle of the last century, was collected as a synonym for a beautiful or desirable woman and that in the Japanese word “geisha” would have its origin, but that already in the 80s in the “Swahili-English Slang Pocket-Dictionary” it also appears as a synonym for homosexual man or queen.+
Kaka poa is the most general expression for gays we have found, commonly used in both Kenya and Tanzania and where the individual’s top or bottom role is secondary. It would literally translate as a brother (kaka) “relaxed” or “superb” (poa). This slang has its equivalent for lesbians in the expression “dada poa“.+
Kaumu lut’i is an expression in disuse that we have wanted to rescue, as a curiosity, from a French – Swahili dictionary of the last decade of the 19th century. Kaumu lut’i is translated as “the people of Lot” and evidently refers to the biblical history of Sodom. It is an expression that we have also found in other languages, such as the word لوطي (Lūṭiyy) from Arabic, which would have the meaning of sodomite.
In principle, Khanithi is one of the oldest terms we have found in this language to refer to homosexual men, and it already appeared in the first Swahili dictionary that was published at the end of the 19th century (“A Dictionary of the Swahili Language” Krapf, 1882). This expression derives from the Arabic word ḵanīṯ (خَنِيث) which is translated into English as “effeminate”. In its first mention in the aforementioned dictionary, Khanithi is associated not only with the terms sodomite and effeminate, but also with male impotence, or rather, with impotent men.
This association between impotent man and bottom homosexuality, along with effeminate or even weakness, is recurrent, and has remained until recent times in the Arabian Sea region where Tanzania and Kenya are located, although anyone who has visited our dictionary will know that we can find similar ideas in many other parts and languages of the world. Homosexual man as a half-man, as an incomplete man, as a man with a defect was, and unfortunately remains, rather a universal idea: Why else would one man let to be penetrated by another? Why would a man give up his dominant or top position in life and sexuality?
In any case we are facing a term that places special emphasis not only on the sexually bottom attitude of the homosexual men, but also and perhaps above all, on his effeminacy or even the transvestism of the Kanhiti, who usually dress as women or in a feminine way and which is associated, not only with the idea of a third sex, but in more recent times, with the western idea of drag queen. A very recurring idea and of which we have infinite examples throughout the world and history: homosexuality, transgender, transvestism are often inseparable or indistinguishable. If you are not a real man, you are a woman, or something similar. There’s no more.
The word Khanithi, that we can also find written as Hanithi, haniti or hanisi, or plural as mahanithi, is preferably used in Tanzania while in Kenya the equivalent would be mashoga or shoga.+
Since Swahili is a language whose use extends throughout different countries, we can not speak of an only one Swahili gay slang, but we find differentiated jargons depending on the area in which we are. While the most common would be the Sheng of Kenya and the Lugha ya mitaani (“languages of the city’s neighborhoods” or “street language”) of Tanzania, there are also more local jargons and Kubumziwa is a slang that belongs to one of these.
This expression would fit in the so-called “Coasti Slang” and more specifically in Mombasa jargon. A jargon that is developing towards the 80s and that is related to the increase of Western female sex tourism (European sugar mamas), especially of German women who along with their bikinis and their desire for a sexual memory carried certain words.
One of those German words is “bumsen” which means to fuck and that, as you can see, quickly began to swell the vocabulary of the local “beach boys” in the form of the expression “kubumzen“.
From this new word, or rather, from the verb, the term at hand would derive by adding the affix -iw (passive derivative affix of the Swahili language), giving rise to the slang “kubumziwa”, which went on to name the action of being penetrated by a homosexual man. In this exotic and half commercial scene of international and interracial sex, from to be fucking a stranger woman derives to being fucked by one of the European sugar daddies. We are not, as in most cases, facing a name or even an adjective that is used to name, ridicule or insult homosexual men, but we are dealing with a verb that tells us about a particular time and place. How to translate into the English language such a thing? Suggestions are accepted.
Swahili is a language spoken mainly in Kenya and Tanzania, however, we also find speakers in some bordering areas such as Uganda. Kuchu seems to be a term of Swahili origin that some associate with the word “makuchu” but that nevertheless is not a proper part of speech or specific jargon of the language, but would be a kind of “Swahiliism” of Uganda where are spoken about 40 languages, and Swahili, despite being an official language, is not only a very minority language but since the time of the dictatorship of Idi Amin Dada has a reputation for being the language of thieves and rascals.
It is used within the Uganda LGBT community as the equivalent of the English word “queer” though and may also have pejorative use. We want to take advantage of the opportunity offered by this entry to make broadcasting of a great documentary entitled “Call me Kuchu”, which shows the terrible situation that LGBT people have to live in Uganda.
See: Documentary «Call me Kuchu» (commented on a talk show).
Read also: El Proyecto Pilla Pilla y la perversión.+
There is no language worth its salt without its jail slang … and there is no jail slang where there is no reference to homosexual behavior. In this case, with the word Mende we are facing the man, the husband, the male who sustains, maintains and protects one or more “wives” (boys) who turn themselves in to him more or less voluntarily and whose literal translation into the Spanish language is the cockroach.+
Mfiraji is a term that is part of the standard Swahili. Its most appropriate translation would perhaps be sodomizer. It basically refers to the top one in anal intercourse among men, although it is not a concept that relates to sexual identity or orientation, either to the bisexuality. It is a very common idea or differentiation throughout the world (see mostacero), and in Swahili, we find this same approach in other more local terms as Basha. It is one thing to penetrate a man and another to stop being straight.
Mke si mume is another very old expression that we also find in some studies of ethnology and dictionaries of the late 19th century. In some areas like Bardanza, it is used to name both men and homosexual women, and in others, it means sexually receptive man. The English translation of this expression cannot be simpler, but the interpretation is much more complicated. In all texts it is translated as “woman not man” or “woman is not a man”, however, Swahili dictionaries define Mke as wife and mume as a husband. A mess that we have not been able to clarify and for which we expect help from Swahili speakers.+
The English translation of the expression Mlawiti is a homosexual man.+
The expression Msagaliwa literally refers to men who grind Liwa, an aromatic wood, to produce a cosmetic paste. This word is used to refer to the eunuch, the weak man, henpecked, impotent, who acts as a servant of women, and with this sense of the incomplete and defective man, which we also find in the expression Khanithi, it is used to point to homosexual men. It is an expression that derives from the Bantú language according to Porter M.A. in his work “Talking at the margins: Kenyan discourses on homosexuality”+
Msenge is an insult that seems to be quite common in the area of Tanzania and would be the equivalent of the classic “sissy.” We find it already in the middle of the last century written as senge, referring to the single man as the first meaning, as well as to the bottom and feminine homosexual, to the one who is sodomized, and to queens. It is also associated with transsexuality and transgender and, even, we have seen it translated as “whore.”+
The literal English translation of the word Mshumaa is the candle and is used to refer to bottom homosexual men.+
Mtoto wa watu is a rather complicated expression concerning its origin and intention, which could literally be translated as a boy/son/boy of men. On the one hand, it is used to point to bottom homosexual men, and on the other, it is the expression used in the Swahili version of the Bible to refer to Jesus Christ as “son of men” in the sense of the son of humanity. How do you pass from Jesus Christ to a bottom homosexual man? At the moment we can only speculate in two ways, appreciating in both of them a humorous touch for their relationship with the character of the bible.
Outside the documentation that referred to homosexuality properly we find a clue that perhaps could provide some more light on the meaning of this expression, because although the literal term for wife is Mke, we usually find the construction “mke wa mtu” when we speak, for example, of what in English would be translated as a married woman or even someone’s wife (we would not say, for example, “do not flirt with her, she is a wife” but we would say “she is a married woman”, she is the wife of, etc).
When replacing in the phrase Mke by Mtoto we find a euphemistic pun in which the meaning of a child/son/boy of a man, makes much more sense as equivalence to someone’s wife/a man’s wife and that we could translate into the English language as “someone’s little boy” when this someone is a man, and an emotional-sexual relationship is established between them. A theory that we also saw reinforced when we found that in prison slang bottom homosexual men are named, among other things, mtoto, clearly in the sense of wives.
Another possibility of explaining the idiom Mtoto wa watu, and related to the previous one, is the literalness of the phrase that could also be translated as “boy or little boy of men” with the sense of puppet of men, of several or many men.
Variation: Mtoto wa mtu.+
Mtu wa jinsia moja is a neutral term that would come to mean homosexual man. It literally means man (mtu) of the same sex (wa jinsia moja) and we can find the same construction with homosexual couples “wanandoa wa jinsia moja” or homosexual marriage “Ndoa za jinsia moja”.+
Mumenke is one of the words we have found in the Swahili language since the late 19th century. Its literal translation into the English language is man-woman, a term that brings us closer to the idea of the third sex or intermediate sex present in many cultures.+
We have only found a reference of the expression Nding’oing’o, and although it is something that we do not usually do, we include it in this dictionary even if it is waiting if any Kenyan reader can confirm its use. According to the information at our disposal, we would be faced with a word that, like the word “mende,” would be part of Kenyan prison jargon. It would literally be translated into Spanish as a “dung beetle” in clear reference to the excrements that this insect surrounds itself and feeds on. We seem to understand that Nding’oing’o, as “mende”, refers to the “male” alpha prisoner but we cannot assure him. Although this expression reminds us of others like Mostacero, Mayate, and Cucarrón, we will continue looking for …+
Shoga is an expression used to name homosexual or effeminate men and who would come to be the sexual partner of the basha. It is a term that is related to the feminine since it is also used to indicate the best of a woman and also to name the best friend of a woman.
Watu wa Sodom is an expression that is referenced in an English – Swahili dictionary of the early 20th century, whose translation would be “men of Sodom,” in reference to the reviled biblical city, and which would have the meaning of sodomites.