What’s in a Swati name?

Sisi, greet this person. Sisi, greet this person. Sisi, greet this person.

I was receiving a tour of my soon-to-be home and community from my eldest sisi, and she wanted to make sure I made a good impression that day.

Nail the greeting, and no other siSwati (really) matters. The people you meet will say that your siSwati is so great, that you will be fluent in no time, and all you did was acknowledge him or her properly.

The greeting needs to be person specific, and you need to use as much about that person as you know.

A proper greeting goes something like this:

Me: Sawubona + mother/ father/ sister/ brother + last name/ praise name

Other person
: Yebo.

Older person should ask first question
: Unjani? (How are you?)

: Ngiyaphila. (I am well.) Unjani wena? (How are you?)

Older person:
Ngiyaphila nami. (I am also well).

: Hamba kahle. (Go well.)

Older person:
Hamba/sala kahle. (Go/stay well.)

Praise names

The praise name that could be a part of the greeting is the cherry on top of a well-done greeting. A praise name tells the history of a family’s last name and it is many words long. A praise name essentially identifies the clan you are part of. eSwatini is a nation of  one main tribe of people, and the last name and following praise name is important heritage.

For instance, the last name of the king is Dlamini. This is the royal clan. The first word of their praise name is nkhosi, which means king. The second part is wena wekunene, which means you of the right.

This is the last name of my chief, who is also a prince, and therefore more closely related to the king than other Dlaminis. When he is greeted, you answer his questions with nkhosi and call him nkhosi.

Nkhosi is also used as the generic praise name for all emaSwati because it is the king’s praise name. For instance, when I greet a crowd of people at a meeting, I say, “Sanibonani bonkhosi.”

The family histories

The praise name for my family includes ntimandze bhambo lunye tingaba timbili teta nenyoko ekhabonyoko. The first word has no translation; the rest are: rib one if there are two of your mother from her home. That means something about taking one of your mother’s two ribs from her body.

My family knew the stories of a few other surnames.

Once there was a king named Mavuso and he was left handed, which is disliked in the Swati culture (and many others in the world). At some point in his life, a parental figure poured hot porridge into his left hand so that it would burn, be unusable, and ultimately force him to use his right hand. His clan took on the surname of Mavuso and a main praise name of ncele, which means left.

The Shiba clan tells a story about a man who left his job with a king and joined the people living in northern eSwatini. His trademark habit was dunking a piece of bread into his soup, and so he was named for this. Kushiba continues to mean to dunk.

The Motsa clan had special rituals that would bring the rain in times of drought. Their praise name is mvulane, which comes from imvula, which means rain.

The Tfwala women were experts at carrying lots of items on their heads. Kutfwala means to carry a load on your head.

The Mabuza clan is named after a man who asked too many questions, because kubuta means to ask.

The Mamba clan is known to be cruel because of its praise name story. This clan was often at war with other clans, and when the Mambas would win, which was often, the battleground would turn to dust. The main Mamba praise name is ntfulini, which comes from lutfuli, which means both disturbance and dust.

Praise names, marriage, and thanks

People with the same main praise name cannot marry. For instance, both the Matsebula clan and the Tsabedze clan use mkholo as their main praise name. I would not be able to marry a Kunene, Madvonsela, some Shongwes (some use ntimandze and some use mabhengeta), or an Ngwenya.

Praise names also come into play with the king’s marriages. There are some clans that cannot marry the king, and others that he needs to marry (Magongo and Matsebula, for example).

Knowing praise names is also important for giving thanks. Sure, you can just say ngiyabonga (thank you), but you can also use the person’s surname or praise name instead.

Praise name goals

One of the most memorable presentations during Pre-Service Training was about the history of Swaziland and was led by a man from the National Archives. He had an incredible knowledge of praise names. He had all the praise names of a variety of surnames memorized and could recite them so fast and furiously. I think the whole group stared at him in awe.

I have perfected my greetings since the days of PST. Now it is time to wow my neighbors and friends with my knowledge of their praise names and family heritage.

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week three: Cultural Differences.

This entry was posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What’s in a Swati name?

  1. I love reading this! I know some of it but a lot was new to me

  2. Thandi says:

    What a lovely, respectful and non condescending blog! Thank you. From an impressed Swazi Dlamini.

  3. Ndumiso mamba says:

    Love this as a Swazi. Mamba clan.

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