18 Responses

  1. George at |

    I am from the US, a retired professor, finishing my sixth visit as a volunteer at a health research institute in very rural southeastern Tanzania. In that town, I feel warmly welcomed by everyone I encounter, including frequent 6 A.M. walks through town. Yes, I am called “mzungu,” but it seems like a warm, friendly greeting, accompanied by a wide smile and a wave. In once incident, I was biking alone 10 km from town. Two little girls, probably 3 or 4, stopped their playing to watch me ride by. They called out, “Good morning, good morning, good morning.” As I rode past, I smiled, waved, and replied, “Good morning.” They jumped up and down in pleasure, “Mzungo say good morning.” I made their day, and they made mine.
    I absolutely accept and appreciate the feelings of the writer and responders who HAVE been harassed, but I want to add that experience, while common, is not universal in East Africa.

  2. liz at |

    Know this is an old post but wanted to say that I totally agree.
    Have lived in Tanzania for almost 20 years. Hate having muzungu shouted at me every time
    I step into town. So rude.
    However like Valerie mentioned I hit them back with some equally derogative names in Swahili which makes them think twice about shouting it again to me.

  3. Cheza at |

    Learn Swahili next time

  4. fredrica shirima at |

    Am a…Tanzania and yes I will admit it has been passed from generation that white people have lot of money but being called mzungu has nothing to do with being racist…and the way you talk about how youre student how insignificant tanzania is makes me think what a hypocrite volunteer you got your own issues soo please get over yourself …

  5. Hopr at |

    This seems like such a small minded viewpoint.
    I’m currently volunteering in Kenya and I also get called a Mzungu.. However I have never taken offence to it and my skin is is actually brown. I am black British. Mzungu has nothing to do with the colour of your skin. Open your mind a little and try to embrace new cultures, no wonder you felt like a tourist, you obviously took a us and them approach to your experience.

  6. Dave T at |

    I recently returned from volunteering in Suswa, Kenya, and at times felt the same as Amanda about people calling me Mzungu. After a while I thought, “Only a few people shout it at me and people get called a lot worse because of their skin colour. Besides, the people doing it probably don’t see it the same as I do.” After that it seemed to stop being a problem for me and I’d either reply “Habari!” or wave hello.

    The one thing that did really grate a bit was some Kenyans seeing me as a wallet on legs, but then although I’m not rich materially I have so much more than many of them, so its not surprising. I would say the people I got to know well, the ones that mattered most did not have that attitude. So I’m looking forward to going back soon.

  7. Faith at |

    I am Tanzanian.
    When i was a kid i used to call whites men wazungu too, without bad intention and i believe other Tanzanians do the same especial uneducated ones.
    they just think its normal and right to do so. when i was in form six i realis that whites people hate that name because one of my teacher comes from america and told me that can you ask other student to stop calling me that name, can you imagine at that time i note that he feels bad about that name.

  8. Isabella at |

    Oh, I really like your article. Now I’m in Tanzania and this is exactly how I feel.
    I found one solution. Well, it’s not perfect but still better than nothing. I’ve joined a gospel choir and I’m practicing and singing with them. Only one of the people speaks English, but when you sing the language doesn’t matter.
    Otherwise I’m just a mzungu or – what’s even worse – simply walking white ATM… !

  9. Dave at |

    Perhaps I was luckier, but I found the use of ‘mzungu’ to be good-natured, and the children who yell out ‘give me money’ seem to be aware that they’re being cheeky, sort of like a 3 year-old who swears, sees the reaction of adults, and decides it’s a great way to gain attention. Admittedly there were one or two teenage boys who seemed to think they may actually succeed with the ‘give me money approach, but they’re in the minority.
    As for touts, ripoff prices, and the walking wallet sensation, you can’t tell me that this hasn’t happened elsewhere overseas. I’ve seen it being used in wealthy countries, and even here at home on unsuspecting tourists.
    On the whole, however, I felt that 99.95% of locals treated me as an equal. Tanzanians are just as likely to invade one another’s personal space, especially on dalladallas, where any such concept is left at the door, conductors pushing passengers to the back or grabbing passengers by the arm is not limited to wazungu.
    All said, I hope you still had a wonderful time, some of my most cherished memories are from my time over in Tz, and I have no doubt that there are many, many people who are grateful for what you have given, and I trust that you have left a good impression on those you met in your day-to-day living ober there.

  10. Sandra at |

    Three months isn’t very long! Not long enough to state that if you stayed you would always be a tourist here in Tz. Try speaking with someone like my Aussie colleague who’s been here 7 years. It would be insulting to her (and her local hubby and kids) to suggest she was a tourist. Things take time – from past experience it’s taken me around 2 years to feel at home in any new country/city. Five months in I’m just starting to feel comfortable here.

    Meanwhile, I also don’t enjoy the constant ‘Mzungu’ but 80% of the time it seems innocent, and I love all the high fives and random cuddles I get from kids when I’m out running (that doesn’t happen back home!). I find the best way to head off trouble is to pre-emptively greet everyone and give them a smile > you get back what you put out into the universe. I’ve only had one kid ask for money and I laughed and gave him a big HAPANA SANA.

  11. Katie at |

    I lived in Tanzania for over a year and left with a deep sadness, feeling like I was leaving my new home, family and friends behind. After a month or so in TZ, not a single person called me mzungu, and I think that is primarily because I tried to immerse myself in their culture. I ate the same food, listened to the same music, watched the same movies (YES – they have movies, which also means they have TVs) and hung out at the same local spots. I gained meaningful relationships with friends that I still keep up with, some daily. I feel terrible that you left with such distasteful things to say about a country filled with some of the most welcoming and kind people I’ve ever met. I honestly believe your bad experience in Tanzania stems from something more personal rather than an entire country. For anyone who reads this blog in hopes to gain a little insight into Tanzania – This is NOT an accurate view of life in TZ. My advice to anyone traveling there is to get to know the people you’re around. Share a plate of ugali with the locals, hang out, find out the latest gossip – don’t separate yourself. You’ll find that we are SO much more similar than we are different.

    Amanda – You are a mzungu. You’re right, you will always be a tourist in Tanzania and that’s a position you put yourself in.

  12. Wies at |

    or alternatively is that it is a derivative of kuzunguka i.e. people that wander around.

  13. Wies at |

    The root meaning to “mzungu”:

    Mizungu means strange objects or tools that you need to be taught how to use. So the people with the strange objects, the colonials with their guns, bicycles, etc, became “wazungu” the people of strange things. Sawa mzungu?

  14. John at |

    I found your blogg by accident and read it and feelt I had to comment. The word mzungo doesn’t mean “white person”. Thinking in black and white you’re the one that have mad a false assumption… Sorry to say. I suggest you research the background of the word or ask an educated tanzanian person. It’s definitely NOT the same thing as you shouting to somebody “hey black person!”… Again your looking at this in black and white. In the exact same way you’re accusing others of doing. You’re also generalizing, something you’re also accusing tanzanians people of doing when they see a white person.

    I’ve been in your situation and recognize a lot of the stuff your writing about. But you have to remember that you are a tourist in a foreign country. You can’t generelize a whole population of being beggers that expect hands out from “mzungos”. Or assumptions about the school system that you don’t know anything about. Do you think that’s fair? There a poor people all over the world. In some places there are more than others. Same thing with uneducated people, muggers, thiefs, and son. It has nothing to do with the culture.

    The feeling of never fitting in a foreign country can be attributed to every country in the world with a population of immigrants. You should turn that feeling into a life lesson.

    1. Look up the difference of rascism and discrimination!

    2. Look up the REAL meaning of mzungo! A similar meaning you can find in almost every post colonialized country.

    1. Abruzzi Vancouver at |

      Muzungu is used by Dr. Livingstone to hide people, it means “I don’t see you” in Arabic. laa shufnak, maashufnak, maa shufna, (he does DR LIVINGSTONE does not see you, meaning, you don’t have to worry about been spotted, he wont tell the bad guys where you are. also, Susi and Chuma where muslims remember? Suni (Muslim) and Chuma (Mosque).

  15. Valerie at |

    Oh loved reading this and I know exactly the feeling and that you will always be different. I’ve lived in Tanzania for any years and now I’m in Kenya.

    However, once your Kiswahili gets better and you can quickly turn around when they shout “Mzungu”and say
    “Tanzanian!” or “Kenyan”
    “my name isn’t mzungu”,
    “don’t be stupid”
    “Is that the best you learned from school” or “go back to school” which makes them feel very stupid,
    and my favourite if it’s really a bad situation is “don’t be an asshole”
    Usually I get an apology – but sometimes the effort is draining..lol.

    If I got from a school and I had time I would go into the school and have a serious word with the Principal. That’s not on!

    1. Rose at |

      It is best to look up the word and its meaning instead throwing those insults around: –
      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
      Mzungu (pronounced [m??zu??u]) is a Bantu language term used in the African Great Lakes region to refer to people of European descent. It is a commonly used expression among Bantu peoples in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, dating back to the 18th century. Literally translated it meant “someone who roams around” or “wanderer.”[1] The term was first used in the African Great Lakes region to describe European explorers in the 18th century, apparently as a result of their propensity to get lost in their wanderings in Africa. The word Mzungu comes from Kiswahili, where ‘zungu’ or ‘zunguka’ is the word for spinning around on the same spot. The word was assigned to the first white people arriving in the African Great Lakes because they often became lost. Kizunguzungu is Kiswahili for a dizziness.[2] The term is now used to refer to “someone with white skin” or “white skin”.
      The possessive kizungu (or chizungu) translates as “behaving rich”. However, in some areas, such as in Rwanda and Burundi, it does not necessarily refer to the colour of one’s skin. Traditionally Europeans were seen to be people of means and rich and so the terminology was extended to denote affluent persons regardless of race.

  16. Amy at |

    This is BRILLIANT. Encompasses my exact thoughts on the term perfectly. The worst is walking past a school in rural kenya; it’s an absolute chorus, overwhelming.


Leave a Reply