Background Information

about the

Swahili Language


Have you ever heard (or spoken) the phrase "hakuna matata?" Are you familiar with the words "rafiki" or "simba?" If you have seen Disney's animated Lion King, you are sure to have been exposed to this vocabulary. What you probably did not realize, however, is that these words and phrases are not fictional but were borrowed from the Swahili language. Of the over eight hundred African languages spoken on the continent, Swahili is the most common. It is a language spoken by about 45 million people that reside in the eastern region of Africa. Because of the grand geographical expanse in which this language is spoken, it serves as a unifying and common language to many African people. The following African nations have residents that speak Swahili: Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Zaire, Comorro, Oman, Congo, Madagascar, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and the Central African Republic.

As one can see, this language is very important and well used on the African continent. The following lesson will focus on the book Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book by Muriel Feelings. This book will introduce children to counting 1-10 in Swahili. The illustrations by Tom Feelings are rich in detail and offer children a glimpse into the unique aspects of east African life. As you share the book with the class, talk about the illustrations and help the children to make comparisons with their lives and what they know about the East African culture.


Hakuna matata = No troubles/ No problems

rafiki = friend

simba = lion



Feelings, Muriel. Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book. NY: The Dial Press. 1971.

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