Mzungu name – Cultural description not racism!

In 2001 when i was still a tour guide at the Kasubi Royal Tombs (burial ground for kings of Buganda.), I used the word Mzungu woman trying to describe a white lady to a group of some travelers who had visited the Royal Tombs. I did not think and know that it was an insult to some of the members from this group. May be they had not got a good explanation of the inside meaning of the word “MZUNGU” am just assuming.

Origin of the word Mzungu or Muzungu

Mzungu word is widely used in East Africa describing a white person but the word originated from the East African Coast with in the swahili speaking tribes who used the word ZUNGUKA to the first European explores who came along the coast for trade. The word Zunguka in swahili literary means a wandering person, so mainly because the European explorers were looking for way out on their own, thus saying, wantu wana zunguka zunguka wana kwenda waapi these people wandering around are going where?

The word spread like wild fire around East Africa and since the Europeans were coming in great numbers, the word Mzungu became a new word in East Africa and is still used up to now.

In Uganda, the local people will call a European person Mzungu trying to describe to their colleagues of the presence of a white person. But they will call other white persons especially from Asia by their country names. Example the local boda boda drivers (Motor cycles) will guess the country of an Asian person and will argue to their friends that, he/she is not a mzungu but an Indian, Japanese or Chinese.

Meaning of the word Mzungu or Muzungu

I personally discovered that Mzungu is not racist but is meant to describe a white person to other people around especially here in Uganda and mzungu is not a name.

Remember we don’t have anything like racism in Uganda. So most people will use Mzungu not to undermine or under look any white person but rather describe that person.

I met Mr Matt Jensen a Canadian National at the New City Annex Hotel, I asked him what his feelings were when he was called Mzungu, he said this to me that “I don’t personally mind when people call me Mzungu. If you call me mzungu without a negative feeling, its okay I think some don’t care but it depends on someone.”

He further said, “In Acholi land where I have been visiting, the locals mostly young children call me “Munu” (pronounced Mono), meaning white person but i don’t mind.”

Matt also said, “once you accept the peoples’ culture around you, then you are bound to have a great experience.”

Today Mzungu word is seen as a funny word by some and is often seen printed on T-shirts.

mzungu word