Nairobi is the undisputed Sheng capital of the region, and this may place some residents with little understanding of it at a disadvantage. (Unless they’re watching Sheng Talk – Kama Kawa)
Learning Sheng can be quite the challenge because like all other languages (and perhaps more than most), it is evolving and adopting new words at a break-neck pace.
Being a very young language, it is heavily influenced by the whims of fashion and trending circumstances but it does however have its fundamentals. Based on the day-to-day activities of Nairobi urbanites, here are the Sheng words that every Nairobain should know:
Niaje: A casual greeting for all occasions. It can sometimes be used as a general probe into a situation/matter.
Mangapi: When you need to learn of the cost of something without betraying your naivety towards its general price range, this is the word you want to use.
Ganji: Cue that song by O-jays… Money money money money, Moneyy.
Mathree/Matatu: The Nairobi public transport system has maintained this name for generations, perhaps because new variations never catch on fast enough. You may want to ask the tout, “Mangapi?” before you enter because the prices do change a lot faster than Sheng words.
Kanjo: The cunning Nairobi City Council officials. Their name has become synonymous with Matatus because of the cat-and-mouse games the two always seem to be playing.
Msupa: The pretty girl on the street. It is also a general reference a lady, so when you meet the pretty girl on the street after alighting from the Matatu, you’ll be like “Niaje Msupa.”
Haga: So there you are bragging to your pals about this pretty girl you met yesterday, and how managed to get her number. You are showing them her Whatsapp profile picture as well as some other images from IG. The one of her in a jaw dropping, figure hugging dress pops up and you all agree that she has quite the fine “haga”.
Tei: You invited her for a drink (Tei) at the local watering hole, and she agreed. Turns out your friends were there too. Now it’s one big party.
Ongwelo: Don’t we all have that one friend who has the herb, the ongwelo almost every time? He shows up and well… Its passing around. Wait, you don’t have that friend? Never mind.
Kamenuka: Your loud impromptu party at the local appears to be annoying the other patrons. There’s suddenly a fight and things don’t look very good. Its time to split. Kamenuka.
Mban’ga: The police are already on the scene. Watch yourself!
Image by Stifler