Thursday, January 12, 2006

Origin of Word "Karatasi"

A friend shared this with me and I thought I would share with y'all

I have a hobby of tracking the origin of words. So let me tell you the origin of the word karatsi in Swahili.
Starting in the 1500s when the Portuguese started calling on the ports of Dar es Salaam and Mombasa, every time a ship from Portugal pulled into port, all the Portuguese who were waiting for the ships would row out to the arriving ships shouting : Cartas! Cartas! Cartas! What they received - if anything - were rolled pieces of paper! You see the word "cartas" means "letters". The marooned Portuguese were starved for news from Portugal and could not wait to
read their letters! Receiving and distributing letters was an important ritual
among the Portuguese. The on-looking Africans eventually referred to all paper as "cartas" which eventually became "karatasi" in Swahili".


Poi said...

Wow, great!

Thanks for sharing. Isn't it just amazing?

Happy Thursday!

akiey said...

He! I just got schooled here:) I would never have guessed.
Lemme sort out my Cartas for today with a smile.
Until then...keep em coming gal!

Irena said...

Poi: Yes this is interesting.

Akiey: No pun intended but I thought youknew this being from MSA and all:-) Oh gosh I know you gonna get me on this one :-). but it is fascinating how a language was born. I intend to explore more about origin of swahili words.

Irena said...

Akiey: I have just stereotyped you:-) Blog coming soon

jke said...


What about the origin of the word "mzungu"?

Irena said...

JKE: Mzungu , "jungu in sheng" = white man. According to Valentine Marc Nkwame of arushatimes


Another plural term pronounced singularly as “Mtasha” The old term for “Watasha” is “Wazungu” while “Mtasha” used to be “Mzungu” A name for any white foreigner regardless of country of origin. Mtasha is also used to describe (or insult), a local person who is too proud.

God willing, next month we are going to find out where exactly the term “Mzungu” or “Wazungu” originated from in the forthcoming December 4-10 issue of The Arusha Times. You just watch this space.

So I guess it is still a mystery huh but still searching...............

Irena said...

JKE: Woiyee , here is an explanation from this person's blog!!not sure how true this is.

Mzungu is a local word which has its origin in a metaphor derived from the ocean. Some days the ocean is like a big bowl of soup being mixed in a mixer. During these days white foam appears on the water surface. That foam is Mzungu – white scum.
Colonialism gave us that name. The white man coming in and defiling everything with their scum.

Keguro said...


mzungu--can't remember where I got this from

it's onomatopoeia

white people ran around so much, they made us dizzy (kizunguzungu)

means people who rush around to much

akiey said...

Irena, LOL! No offense taken:) As we all know languages evolve at different paces & for different reasons & as although I know the source/origin of a bunch of words (eg. Siasa, Tabaka, poromosha etc) Cartas was a lesson experience for me:)

Mzungu: For generations Msa folks believe the source is the fact that the White Men came from more than one direction and with more than one motive so in essence "walizunguka Waafrika" hence the term "Mzungu" which was a corruption of "Mzungukaji"

"Mtasha" was a very common Msa street slang to refer to "Mlami" (another slang term) both of which referred to White people.

jke said...

@Keguro: yup - that's the same explanation I was told.

Brother Jero (BJ) said...

mmh ok thanks for the info. Swa is just a collection of languages fromuu all ofer the place, talk about a Langa langauge??

Irena said...

Kegure: Thxs for the explanation
Akiey: Thxs too for enlightening us with your insight.
Brother Jelo: True that!