In many African languages, there are specific words used to describe the color black. These words not only refer to the physical appearance of darkness, but they also hold cultural and symbolic meanings.
These words showcase the complexity and depth of language in African cultures and demonstrate how colors hold significant cultural significance beyond their physical appearance.
Here is a list of 12 African words that mean black.
1. Mnyama (Xhosa/Zulu)
In Xhosa, mnyama is a word used to mean black, while darkness is Emnyama.
The Xhosa people use this word to refer to the absence of light, the time of the night when it is dark, or a shadowed or black area.
However, it can also be used to refer to a person who lacks moral values, spiritual conviction, or knowledge of their own cultural background.
2. Dudu (Yoruba)
Dudu refers to any object or entity that possesses a dark or black coloration.
The word has been used to describe various items, ranging from clothing and accessories to natural elements like soil and rocks.
It is also used to describe skin complexions, from dark brown and brown skin to dark tan.
3. Nyeusi (Swahili)
This term is used to describe the color black and is frequently utilized as a descriptor for both individuals and objects.
In many cultures, black holds significant symbolism and meaning, often representing power, strength, or even mourning.
When referring to people, the term “mweusi” may be used to describe someone with dark skin, and “nyeusi” dark hair. Additionally, it can be used to describe black objects.
4. Obuddugavu (Luganda)
Obuddugavu is used to mean black in Uganda. This color holds immense importance in the heritage of the Ugandan people, who take pride in their African roots.
The significance of black can be seen in various aspects of Ugandan culture, from traditional clothing, the national flag, and accessories to art and music.
5. Madow (Somali)
The Somali word “madow” originates from the Afro-Asiatic language family, specifically the Cushitic branch.
It is commonly used to describe the color black or dark.
In Somali culture, the color black is often associated with mourning and loss, but it can also signify power and strength.
6. Baki (Hausa)
The word “baki” holds many meanings in Hausa, such as guest, edge, intervention, and mouth, among many more.
However, it can also be used for the color black or dark. When used in reference to color, black is used to describe having a very dark color, such as coal or “as dark as the night.”
7. Nhema (Shona)
The word “Nhema” is derived from the Shona language, and it translates to the English word “black”. This term is commonly used by native speakers of the Shona language, which is primarily spoken in Zimbabwe and parts of Mozambique.
The color black holds various meanings and associations in different cultures, but in Shona culture, like many other African cultures, it can represent strength, power, and authority.
8. Umukara (Kinyarwanda)
Umukara means “To be black.” The word is used as a way of acknowledging and celebrating the unique beauty and strength that comes from having black skin.
It is also a reminder of the struggles and challenges that people of African descent have faced throughout history, including slavery, colonization, discrimination, and racism.
9. Wakuda (Chichewa)
The term “wakuda” is a word that conveys the meaning of the color black. Among the Chichewa-speaking communities, this word is commonly used to describe dark objects, clothing, or people with dark skin tone or hair color.
10. Ba Batsho (Sesotho)
Translated, Ba Batsho means, “They are black.” It is a phrase that refers to people of African descent, particularly those with dark skin.
The phrase is often used in the context of celebrating blackness and acknowledging the beauty and strength that comes with it. Ba Batsho is an affirmation of identity and pride that reminds the Sesotho people to embrace their heritage, honor their ancestors, and stand up for themselves in the face of discrimination and oppression.
11. Swart (Afrikaan)
The Afrikaans word “swart” originates from the Dutch word “Zwart” which means black. It was brought to South Africa by Dutch colonizers during the 17th century and became incorporated into Afrikaans, a Creole language based on Dutch.
The meaning of “swart” remains the same in Afrikaans as it does in Dutch – black or dark in color.
It is commonly used to describe people with dark skin, as well as objects or animals that are black.
12. Boolo (Fulani)
Boolo is believed to have originated from the Fulfulde language, which is spoken by the Fulani people across West Africa.
The term is used to describe a dark, black, or dark brown colour, and it is often used to describe a person’s skin colour.
Other African Words You Should Know: