What to say in response to ‘habari gani’ during Kwanzaa, and why

Bruno Cooke December 29, 2021
What to say in response to ‘habari gani’ during Kwanzaa, and why


Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture culminating in a feast called Karamu, on the sixth day (December 31, or New Year’s Eve) – here’s what to say in response to the Swahili greeting habari gani, and a few other tidbits you might find useful during the celebrations.

What does ‘habari gani’ mean and why do people say it?

Habari gani is the greeting for each of the seven days of Kwanzaa – it is also an everyday Swahili greeting, effectively meaning “how are you?”

But the literal translation of habari gani is a bit different. In English, Habari (ha-BA-ree) literally means “news”. The plural form is the same. It is from the Arabic word kabar, which means the same.

Habari forms part of several greetings in Swahili, much in the way that English speakers use “good” in “good morning”, “good afternoon”, “good night”, and so on.

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For example, according to Just One Africa, to say “good morning” in Swahili, you say habari za asubuhi. “Good afternoon” becomes habari za mchana, while “good evening” becomes habari za jioni

Wiktionary’s entry on the Swahili word gani lists it as an adjective, meaning “what, (of) which”. Put together, therefore, habari gani translates to “what is the news?”, to which one might offer the response – in English – “I’m good, thanks”.

What should you say in response to ‘habari gani’ during Kwanzaa?

If you were having a conversation in Swahili (or Kiswahili, as the language is known to its speakers), for example in Malawi or Djibouti, you might respond by simply saying, nzuri (n-ZOO-ree), which means “fine”.

But during Kwanzaa there are specific responses to the phrase habari gani, which correspond to the days of the celebration.

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Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of African heritage. These are, in English (and Swahili): unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani).

On each of the seven days, the traditional response to the phrase habari gani is whichever day it is – of course, in Swahili, rather than English.

What do people eat on the sixth day of Kwanzaa?

On the sixth day of Kwanzaa (December 31), people eat a feast called a Karamu

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Because of the diversity and variance of those celebrating Kwanzaa, there is no one-size-fits-all menu for a Karamu feast, but it often includes a large one-pot stew

Celebrants might pair this with various breads, rice dishes, vegetables, meats, tubers, cakes and pies. Kwanzaa is only just over half a century old, having been founded in 1966 by Dr Maulana Karenga. 

The dishes served at Karamu come from the African tradition, but also incorporate influences from the Caribbean and American South.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.