Chilapalapa the colonial language of the oppressor


CHILAPALAPA language was created to oppress and humiliate Africans.
One time this writer’s uncle recalled a story whereby he came to look for work in Salisbury back in the colonial days.
He stood at the door of a big shop in First Street and a white man inside the shop asked him what he wanted.
My uncle said, “I am looking for employment sir.”
The white man was offended because a black man was not supposed to look at the white man in the face and speak perfect English.
That act suggested that the black man was claiming to be on equal standing with the white man.
To humiliate and denigrate my uncle the white man said, “Iri kudei?” meaning, “What does it want?”
By calling my uncle ‘it’ the white man was clearly referring to my uncle as an animal or a lesser being.
The white man then said, “Kulibe musevenzo,” meaning “There is no work.”
He then spoke in heavy Chilapalapa telling my uncle to leave immediately and to learn to speak Chilapalapa and not English next time he looks for work.
All my uncle could understand was that he was being insulted in Chilapalapa.
Such an incident between a white shopkeeper, farmer or boss in a company was not unusual.
Chilapalapa was the racist language to oppress and demean Africans.
At Hwange coal mine, for example, there were many incidents where black miners in the 1940s were often spoken to in Chilapalapa and called monkeys.
Around Rhodesia, many shopkeepers, especially those of Asian origin and white mine bosses often used Chilapalapa or what was also called ‘kitchen kaffir language’ to demean Africans.
Where did this derogatory language come from and what has happened to it since independence?
Chilapalapa as a language was heavily influenced by Shona, Nyanja and to a lesser extent, Ndebele.
According to Wikipedia, Chilapalapa was “previously known as ‘Kitchen Kaffir’. The word ‘Kaffir’ is the Arabic word for an unbeliever, i.e. non-Muslim, and was used by Arab slavers to refer to the indigenous black people of Africa.
“It hence became a common word used by early European settlers to refer to the same people.
“Through time ‘Kaffir’ tended, in Southern Africa, to be used as a derogatory term for black people.”
In colonial Rhodesia, Chilapalapa was widely used even on television.
There was a well known white Rhodesian comedian, archer, entertainer and newsreader called Wrex Tarr.
Tarr was born in Southern Rhodesia in 1934, at the height of land discrimination. He grew up in racist colonial Rhodesia and attended the then all white only Prince Edward School.
He became famous among the Rhodesians for his ability to use Chilapalapa to stereotype and humiliate Africans through the use of jokes.
Below are some of his poems cited from the website titled Memories of Rhodesia:
Koki Lobin
Cock Robin
Zonke nyoni lapa moyo ena kala, ena kala
All birds of air, they cried, they cried
Ena izwile ena file lo nyoni Koki Lobin
They heard the death the bird Cock Robin
Ena izwile, ena file, ena izwile ena file Cocky Lobin.
Kubani ena bulalile Koki Lobin?
Who then killed Cock Robin
Mina kruma lo Sparrow
Me, said the sparrow
Na lo picannin bow and arrow kamina
With the little bow and arrow of mine
Mina bulalile Koki Lobin.
I killed Cock Robin
Tarr was also a news reader for the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation or RBC before he became a popular comedian.
During the liberation war for independence, Wrex was awarded the President’s Medal for Bisley Rifle Shooting.
He went on to compete in the 1988 Olympics representing Zimbabwe in archery along with his wife, Merry.
Tarr became famous for his records titled, ‘Futi Chilapalapa’ and ‘Cream of Chilapalapa’.
He died on June 6 2006 in East London, South Africa.
Here are some of the most common Chilapalapa words used in Rhodesia translated into English:
Kabanga – maybe, futi – as well, mina – me, wena – you, kawena – yours, kamina – mine, hamba – to go (as in footsack) funa – to want, lapa – here.
One writer called Shereen Palmer in Memories of Zimbabwe recalled with nostalgia the times on the Rhodesian farms.
She writes that there were some ‘splendid times’ when they spoke in Chilapalapa to the Africans.
She placed on her facebook page descriptions of the servant or garden boy called Hungwa.
She wrote the following:
“Mama endi Baba ena kona makuru fum enda maningi maworkers.
“Ro cooki katina ena ro gardeni boy futi, a man of all talents.
“Munyeskati Mama andi Baba ena funa hamba tamba tamba rapo kusiko, buti, ena aikona funa tata ro piccanin ka ena, too much trouble.
“Ini ku ensa?
“Manje ena usa maningi skop aikona?
“Hungwa ena kwanisa ku basopa ena aikona?
“Shuwa ena shuwa, so Hungwa ena nika tina scaf skati Mama endi Baba ena hambiri ku tamba tamba.
“Ena ensa tina mfana sheka sterek naro mastories kaena.
“Shuwa heaven God.
“Manje Hungwa ena aikona tanda maboon, ini ndowa mina aikona asi?”
Then she goes on to say that the highlight or biggest event in Hungwa’s life was to see King ‘Jojo’ or King George during his visit to Rhodesia to open Houses of Parliament.
Palmer described Hungwa like a child or a trickster who saluted, danced and was fascinated by brass buttons.
She ended her childhood story with this patronising line: “I always loved Hungwa and I always will.
“It all ended so sadly, but, maybe that’s another story?”
What this former Rhodesian writer did not realise is that such a master slave relationship in which she spoke to Hungwa like a boy, was not going to last. Hungwa was a grown up man with a family and he could speak Shona fluently and possibly his English was not bad either.
And yet, Hungwa was subjected to Chilapalapa, the language that humiliated him and treated him like a young boy.
The liberation war came and ended it all.
Chilapalapa as a language is hardly ever used in Zimbabwe now.
Its usage is now considered extremely offensive.
Such a derogatory language for black Africans should never have been used.


  1. Chilapalapa was not even a language Maidei, but a so called Pedgin or Creole, meant for communicative or business transactions only. It could not reach the status of a language.

  2. Chilapalapa was the language used on the Mines originally so that the gold mine operators could give instructions and orders to all the different tribes who came to work at IGoldi. All of the tribes had different languages and came from all over central Africa. It was just an easy way for people to converse.

  3. I am proud that I learned Chilapalapa, and that I used that regularly throughout my childhood. I consider that it was very respectful of me to speak to my elders, whatever race they were, in what I understood to be a reasonable language. The fact that it was a pidgin language made no difference to me. If I was speaking to Madala, I respected that person fully, whether they were Shona, or Ndebele, or British. There was no oppression intended at all when I spoke that language.

    This particular pidgin evolved from a need of many cultures to communicate with each other; yet, I suspect that the writer here wants to twist this, and suggest that this is something the white man magically made up for oppressive purposes. What a load of rubbish.

  4. Chilapalapa was actually a joke. It was invented by Wrex Tarr and was only used for entertainment. Fanagalo, or “Kitchen Kaffir” was a patois that white Rhodesians could use to speak to their domestic staff, whether Shona, Ndebele or Shangaan. It worked. The new Zimbabwe has discarded this and the country is so much better for it. Pamberi Zimbabwe.


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