swahili time and globusSwahili time- an interesting cultural miscommunication

Swahili time is 6 hours different from world time! Most people realize this when they see the translation for ‘one o’clock’, which in Swahili is saa saba. Saba in Swahili means ‘seven’, so instantly there seems to have been some sort of error. Surely ‘one o’clock’ should be saa moja (moja meaning ‘one’)? Then they see that saa moja is the translation for ‘seven o’clock’, and the world starts spinning.

In Swahili, the time is measured from sunrise to sunset (daytime) and sunset to sunrise (night time). The Swahili clock determines its time according to how many hours it’s been since sunrise and sunset – typically around 7 o’clock each way. This is primarily because most Swahili speaking countries are on the equator and the times for sunrise and sunset are almost identical year-round. The sunrise in the Swahili speaking world is so consistent that you can set your clock by it – so people do.

In Swahili Time, 1 o’clock in the morning is the first hour after sunrise (what everyone else calls 7:00 a.m.), and 1 o’clock at night is the first hour after sunset (what the rest of the world calls 7:00 p.m.).

Talking about time in an East Africa we should not forget about some habits -Even if arranged meeting days in advance, being at least 30 to 60 minutes late for an appointment is seen as the norm.

Although all say the hours in Swahili Time, no watch or clock has ever been designed especially for their way of telling time. Instead, they use standard clocks, set with the hands in the standard position, and add or subtract six hours when they read the time.

And it’s not just Swahili that does this: Luganda, Kirundi, and Kinyarwanda use the same time system!

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