Xhosa: Theme 1 - Greetings and Courtesies

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The most important and effective way to reach out to a person is to greet him/her in his/her own language.  In true Xhosa tradition greeting is a very important procedure.  It is a structured encounter and it is considered ill-mannered not to greet either a friend or a stranger in passing. One should always greet.  Ubuntu (humanity towards others) plays a prominent role in the African culture.  It is therefore not sufficient to merely say “Molo!”  You should also take the time to enquire about the other person’s well-being: “Unjani?” Greeting one person in the plural form is an indication of respect as well as inquiring about the person’s family members.  In Xhosa the greeting always stays the same whether it is morning, noon or night.

Who greets first?

Normally, the person who arrives somewhere is supposed to greet those present first but according to Xhosa custom the junior person should greet the senior person first. Should it happen that two people arrive at the same place simultaneously, e.g. if they meet in town, it does not matter who greets first.

Forms of address:

When greeting a person older than yourself (more or less your parents’ age), tata 'father' would be used for a man and mama 'mother' for a woman.  For greetings of people of your grandparents’ age, tat’omkhulu 'grandfather', and makhulu ‘grandmother’ are used as forms of address.  Greeting someone of your own age you would address her as sisi, 'sister', and bhuti, 'brother' for the male counterpart.

Saying goodbye:

The person leaving first should be the first to say goodbye.  It would be impolite of the other person(s) to terminate the conversation first.  When saying goodbye to one person you would say Hamba kakuhle (‘Go well’) or Sala kakuhle (‘Stay/remain well’).  When saying goodbye to more than one person, Hambani kakuhle or Salani kakuhle would be used.