Endangered African Proverbs Collections: Sheng (Kenya) Sayings
Hakuna Matata: A Collection of Contemporary Nairobi Sayings With a Commentary. Collected by Joseph Kariuki. Endangered African Proverbs Collections: A Continuation of the African Proverbs Project. Nairobi, Kenya: privately printed, June, 2003. 27 pages.
These Sheng sayings were collected by Joseph Kariuki Muriithi, the Assistant Moderator of the African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories Website based in Nairobi, Kenya. The youth subculture in Nairobi, Kenya coined “Sheng” as a common language of interaction among them. The word Sheng has it origins in the 1970s to capture the then new youth language of Nairobi. It was a blend of Swahili and English. It is the short form of Swahili and English, hence Sheng. Later it incorporated other local languages but the name of the new blend remained the same. Notice that the Swahili part of the formation of the word is at the front, meaning that Swahili contributed more words and phrases in the new language. It is thought to have originated in Nairobi Eastlands Estate. Later in the 1990s the youth from the middle class estates of Nairobi used a different form of this language with English contributing more words and phrases so this form was given the name Eng-ish. However this form did not catch on and was “eaten” by the Eastlands Sheng which is the form that was commonly used and that spread to Kenya’s main cities and towns.
Sheng language is a blend of Swahili, English and other local Kenyan languages (such as Kikuyu, Dholuo, Kamba, etc.). It started in the 1970s, picking up momentum in the 1980s and 1990s. This unique language has been attributed to the language complexity in Kenyan cities that attracts various languages. It has also been seen as the youth’s attempt to carve out a niche for themselves, give themselves a special identity and communication style and mark out how distinct they are from the older generation of their parents. In the emotional realm of ethnicity, the Sheng language has been seen as an answer to the negative notions of ethnicity in urban areas given that no one ethnic group is able to identify with the language.