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Officially The Tembas

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Can you tell where someone is from by their name? In America it helps us tell where people’s ancestors came from – Anderson, Andersen, O’Malley, Nguyen, Chang, Lee, Smith, Sanchez. Both Julius and I had names that don’t give away where we are from. My last name – Bloom – was bestowed onto my family when my great-grandfather came over from Norway and the clerk at Ellis Island felt that there were too many Andersons. Since he was from the village of Blom, the clerk changed his name to Bloom. Bloom is actually more common as a Jewish name.

Jacob is not technically Julius’ family name, it is the first name of his Grandfather. In Tanzania last names can be more fluid. Many people use their father or grandfather’s first name as a last name. However, it seems most also have a family name they can use. Julius’¬†family name is Temba. Just like Nguyen or O’Malley in the States, the name Temba lets Tanzanians know that Julius’ father is from the Chagga tribe. Even more impressive to me is that people who grew up in Kilimanjaro region (where the Chagga tribe is based) would know that his family is from the village of Kibosho, just by the last name. Does anyone know if this is true in other countries?

One Tanzanian we knew in America said that he made sure his children had their family name as a last name. He felt that it would give them that Tanzanian identity even though they lived in another country. We also thought this was a good idea. When Esther came along we gave her the last name Temba. I learned at my job that you can give your child any last name you want on their birth certificate – even one that is made up or one from a deadbeat dad who denied it was his kid (one thing I saw at my job).

This week Julius and I finally got around to legally changing our name to match hers. With a short visit to the county courts it was done. So, we are officially The Tembas! Julius is lucky in that his signature is illegible and he can keep using the same one. I will have to get used to Sara B Temba instead of Sara A Bloom.

Learning Kiswahili

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

There is an old joke told in Tanzania: Swahili was born in Zanzibar, it grew up in Tanzania, became sick in Kenya and died in Uganda. Julius has taught me that even within Tanzania there is a pecking order as to who speaks Kiswahili the best.

When the Arabs came to the East African coast (almost 1000 years ago) they called the people they met the "Coastal People" or "Sahil". As time went on the word became Swahili. All the tribes along the coast at that time spoke a common language along with their tribal languages. This language became known as Kiswahili (the language of the coast).

As time went on and more foreigners showed up, the language adopted words from Arabic, Portugese, German and English. On the islands of Zanzibar, Kiswahili became the main language for the Africans who were brought there as slaves by the Arabs. Hundreds of years later it is still the only language spoken on the islands. Up to today, Zanzibar's Kiswahili is still seen as the purest in the country, followed by the coast, then the rest of the mainland. Julius grew up in Tanga, a small city on the coast and he gets compliments from other Tanzanians here for his "good Kiswahili".

  I (Sara) have been dabbling with Kiswahili since I studied at the University in Dar es Salaam in 1996. Over the years I have bought loads of dictionaries, study guides, grammar guides, CD-Roms, CDs. I have everything at my disposal. Plus, my husband is fluent! I should be fluent at this point too. When a trip to Tanzania is coming up I cram like crazy, but once home my skills start to fade.

I once asked Uncle Phil how he got so fluent in Spanish (he is a priest for a parish with a huge Hispanic community). He said that he made the decision in seminary to study Spanish for an hour a day. It was so simple and made so much sense! If I studied Kiswahili for an hour a day, think of the progress I would make. I am making a challenge to myself to do just that. Hopefully I can blog about what I am learning along the way, just to make the lessons stick. Kiswahili is not a hard language for an English speaker to learn. There are many rules but unlike English, they are not broken very often.

   Some better sites on Kiswahili and learning Kiswahili include:

Kamusi Project (Yale's enormous Kiswahili site including Dictionary)

Page of Links from Stanford's Kiswahili Department       

Kiswahili Flashcards from the fun Flashcard Exchange Website

Mwana Simba's Swahili Lessons

Swahili Language and Culture

Once you have a handle on the language you can visit Wikipedia in Kiswahili

Wish me luck!