Jovai! Learn Ngoni language

By Valtteri Nurminen, COCO volunteer

This is the fifth article of our blog series celebrating the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Previously, there have been blogs on Luhya, Luo, Maa and Luganda languages. If you have missed them or have already forgotten how to say hi in Luhya or thanks in Maa, I urge you to go read the blogs and practice your language skills! This time we will move southwards to Tanzania and introduce the culture and language of Ngoni.

Ngoni, also known as Angoni, is a Bantu language originating from South African Nguni languages. Today it is a spoken language and ethnic group in the East African countries of Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. In total there are around 300 000 Ngoni speakers located in these countries. The biggest concentration is in Southern Tanzania where there are around 250 000 speakers of Ngoni.

However, there are far more members of the Ngoni ethnic group than there are speakers of the Ngoni language. This is because not all Ngonis are able to speak the language of Ngoni. Many speak similar “Chingoni” languages, such as Chewa and Tumbuka languages. Because of this, there have been even some claims in Malawi about Ngoni as a culture without a language.

Ngoni language is certainly threatened in Tanzania. This is because of Swahili’s increasing position in Tanzania. Swahili has not only intervened as the language in official settings but it also plays a constantly growing part in the everyday lives of the people, even in the traditional matters and in the most remote countryside areas.

This is because of the Tanzanian government policy which has aimed to promote national and linguistic unity by strengthening the position of Swahili as the country’s first language. As a result of this policy, Ngoni and other indigenous languages in Tanzania have become threatened by Swahili. Therefore, urgent action is needed to sustain and preserve the unique language and culture of Ngoni!

To do your part of preserving and promoting Ngoni, you can learn and share words and sayings in Ngoni:

Hello – Jovai

How are you – Uvili chabwina?

What is your name – Lihina laku yani?

My name is – Lihina langu ni

Yes – Ena

No – Lepa

Thanks – Usengwili

Great – Bwina

Goodbye – Nihamba

School – Shuli

Football – Mpila wa magendelu

Come – Bwelai

Father – Dadi

Mother – Mawu

Boy – Mgosi

Girl – Mdala

Baby – Mwana

Water – Manji

Grandfather – Gogo

Grandmother – Mbuya

Big thanks for our project partner and East Africa Director Oswin Mahundi who delightedly shared translations to his mother tongue. Oswin is the founder of COCO’s main partner in Tanzania, the Hoja Project. Together Oswin and COCO have worked to develop and run the Hoja Secondary, the cornerstone of COCO’s Schools for Life programme. Oswin keeps working hard to provide education and a better future for children in Tanzania.

Thank you for reading this blog. I would like to challenge everyone to learn at least five words or sayings in Ngoni this week and to share the learning with your friends and family!

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