What is Money In Swahili Language?

July 22, 2023 No Comments
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As you embark on learning Swahili, one of the first words you will encounter is pesa. Pesa is the Swahili word for money, and it is a concept that is central to almost every culture and society. Understanding pesa and how it is used in Swahili will provide insight into some of the values and daily life experiences of Swahili speakers. Pesa can refer to physical currency, like shillings and cents, as well as one’s financial situation and well-being.

The various uses and meanings of pesa reflect the importance of community, relationships, and hospitality in Swahili culture. Through exploring the meaning and usage of pesa, you will gain a deeper appreciation for the cultural context in which the Swahili language is spoken by millions of people across East Africa.

Pesa is much more than just a word for money – it is a window into the priorities and ways of living in Swahili communities. As your Swahili vocabulary expands, keep in mind the cultural significance and deeper meanings behind the words.

Money In Swahili the Origins of the Word ‘Pesa’

The word ‘pesa’ originates from the Arabic word ‘pesa’ meaning money or coin. When the Portuguese colonized parts of East Africa in the 16th century, they adopted the term to refer to the local currency. The word entered the Swahili language through trade and commerce between the Arabs and Swahilis. Today, pesa is the most common Swahili word for money and is used throughout Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The currencies of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda are called the Kenyan shilling, Tanzanian shilling, and Ugandan shilling respectively, but they are commonly referred to as ‘pesa’ in Swahili.To earn or make money in Swahili, you would say ‘kupata pesa’ (to get money) or ‘kuzalisha pesa’ (to produce money). When something costs or is worth a certain amount, Swahilis say ‘inagharimu pesa’ (it costs money). Some examples: Kupata Pesa (To Earn Money)

  1. Kufanya kazi – To work
  2. Biashara – Business
  3. Mauzo – Sales

Matumizi ya Pesa (Money Expenditures)

  1. Kununua – To buy
  2. Kodi – Taxes
  3. Gharama – Expenses

Understanding the origin and uses of the word ‘pesa’ provides insight into Swahili culture and commerce. Money facilitates trade, employment, and economic growth across East Africa, so the concept of ‘pesa’ is very important in the region. Learning the meaning and application of pesa is essential to building fluency in Swahili.

How ‘Pesa’ Entered the Swahili Language

The Swahili word ‘pesa’ meaning ‘money’ entered the language in the 19th century during the height of trade between the Swahili coast and the Indian subcontinent. Initially, the term ‘pesa’ referred specifically to Indian rupees, the main currency used in trade with India at the time. As the Swahili people adopted the rupee for their own use, the word ‘pesa’ became a generic term for money. The old Swahili word for money, ‘sarafu’, fell out of use.

The adoption of the rupee and the spread of the term ‘pesa’ coincided with the rise of Zanzibar as the center of trade for the Swahili coast. Zanzibar’s status as an international trade hub led to greater wealth and commercial activity up and down the coast. This increase in trade and prosperity popularized the use of currency over barter, cementing the importance of ‘pesa’ in Swahili.

Today, ‘pesa’ is ubiquitous in Swahili and used throughout East Africa. It is integral to Swahili proverbs and sayings about wealth, commerce, and value. For example, “Bila pesa hakuna keki” means “without money, there is no cake”.The history of ‘pesa’ demonstrates how Swahili absorbed foreign influences and adapted to new economic realities. Its origins point to the central role of commerce and trade in the development of Swahili culture.

Through global trade networks, a single Indian word traveled to East Africa, gained widespread popularity, and became an essential part of the Swahili language.

The Meaning of ‘Pesa’ in Swahili

The Swahili word ‘pesa’ translates to ‘money’ or ‘currency’ in English. ‘Pesa’ refers to any form of money used as a medium of exchange, whether coins, paper money, or other currencies like the Tanzanian shilling or Kenyan shilling.

Origins of the Word

The word ‘pesa’ has its origins in the Indian rupee, the main currency used along the East African coast during the 19th century. The Indian rupee was abbreviated as ‘Re.’ or ‘Rs.’ and pronounced ‘rupiya’ in Swahili. Over time, ‘rupiya’ evolved into ‘pesa’ in Swahili. Today, ‘pesa’ is the most commonly used word for money in Swahili.

Use of ‘Pesa’ in Swahili Phrases

The word ‘pesa’ appears in many common Swahili phrases related to money and finance:

  • ‘Kupata pesa’ – to get money or earn an income.
  • ‘Kutumia pesa’ – to spend money.
  • ‘Kuweka pesa’ – to save money.
  • ‘Kukopa pesa’ – to borrow money.
  • ‘Mkopo wa pesa’ – a loan of money.
  • ‘Biashara ya pesa’ – a money-making business.
  • ‘Kufanya biashara bila pesa’ – to do business without money, to barter.

‘Pesa’ is truly integral to Swahili vocabulary related to commerce and trade. Understanding the meaning and usage of ‘pesa’ is key to navigating financial conversations and situations in Swahili. Whether referring to coins, cash, or currency, the versatile word ‘pesa’ is essential to know when learning Swahili. By understanding the origins and common phrases using ‘pesa’, you will gain valuable insight into Swahili culture and language. Using ‘pesa’ in the appropriate context and with the proper pronunciation can help demonstrate your fluency in Swahili.

Using ‘Pesa’ in a Sentence

To use the Swahili word ‘pesa’ in a sentence, there are a few common ways it can be incorporated. Pesa directly translates to ‘money’ or ‘currency’ in English. When referring to money in a general sense, you can say:

  • Nina pesa kidogo. Meaning, “I have little money.”
  • Una pesa ngapi? Meaning, “How much money do you have?”

To express that something costs a certain amount, use ‘pesa’ with a number:

  • Nimenunua kitu hiki kwa pesa mia tano. Meaning, “I bought this thing for five hundred shillings.”
  • Gari hili linauzwa kwa pesa laki tano. Meaning, “This car is selling for five hundred thousand shillings.”

To convey that you are paying for something, use ‘pesa’ with the verb ‘lipa’ which means ‘to pay’:

  • Nililipa pesa elfu kumi kwa chakula hicho. Meaning, “I paid ten thousand shillings for that food.”
  • Tutalipa pesa ngapi kulipia mafuta? Meaning, “How much money will we pay for the fuel?”

When talking about receiving or earning money, use ‘pesa’ with the verbs ‘pata’ meaning ‘to get’ or ‘kupata’ meaning ‘to earn’:

  • Amepata pesa nyingi kwa kazi yake. Meaning, “He earned a lot of money from his job.”
  • Wafanyakazi walipewa pesa zao. Meaning, “The workers were paid their money.”

To express a lack of money or poverty, use ‘pesa’ with the verb ‘kosa’ meaning ‘to lack’:

  • Ana kosa pesa. Meaning, “He lacks money.”
  • Kwa sababu ya umaskini, wengi hukosa pesa. Meaning, “Due to poverty, many lack money.”

By incorporating ‘pesa’ into sentences with other common Swahili words and verbs related to money and finance, you can convey a variety of monetary concepts in Swahili. With regular use and practice, using ‘pesa’ will become second nature.

Plural Form of ‘Pesa’

The plural form of ‘pesa’ in Swahili is ‘pesa.’ To indicate more than one shilling, you simply use the same word, ‘pesa.’ For example: Nina pesa. – I have money. (singular)Nina pesa. – I have money. (plural)The context of the sentence and quantity described will make it clear if you are referring to one shilling or many shillings. Some examples to demonstrate the plural form:

• Nina pesa nyingi. – I have a lot of money. (many shillings)

• Kuna pesa chache uwanjani. – There is little money in the yard. (few shillings)

• Walipewa pesa za kutosha. – They were given enough money. (multiple shillings)Numbers with ‘Pesa’

When referring to a specific amount or quantity of money in shillings, the number comes before ‘pesa.’ For example:

Some other words related to money and currency in Swahili include:

• Fedha – money, currency, finance• Sarafu – coin, currency

• Noti – banknote, bill, currency• Bakshishi – tip, gratuity• Tozo – fare, fee, charge, tax

So Pesa is a Swahili word meaning ‘money’ or ‘currency’. There are several related terms in Swahili that are useful to know:


Fedha is another common word for money or cash in Swahili. For example, you might say “Nina fedha kidogo” meaning “I have little money”.


Sarafu refers to coins or small denomination currency. If you want to say you have some loose change, you can say “Nina sarafu kidogo”.


Noti means banknotes, paper money, or currency bills. For example, “Je, una noti ya elfu tano?” means “Do you have a five thousand shilling bill?”.


Mkopo means a loan, credit or debt. For example, “Nimeomba mkopo kutoka kwa rafiki yangu” means “I asked for a loan from my friend”.


Kodi refers to taxes, duties, levies, or tariffs. For example, “Kodi ya mauzo ni asilimia 15” means “The sales tax is 15%”.


Biashara means business, commerce, trade or enterprise. For example, “Nina biashara ya maua” means “I have a flower business”.


Uchumi refers to the economy. For example, “Uchumi wa nchi hii umekua kwa asilimia 4” means “This country’s economy grew by 4%”.


Mtaji means capital, assets, resources or funds. For example, “Nahitaji mtaji wa dola elfu kumi ili kuanzisha biashara yangu” means “I need ten thousand dollars in capital to start my business”.To summarize, there are many useful related terms to know in Swahili to discuss money, finance, business, and the economy. Familiarizing yourself with these additional words and phrases will build up your vocabulary and help you have more complex conversations.

‘Pesa’ in Swahili Proverbs and Sayings

The Swahili word ‘pesa’ has several meanings related to money and finance. In Swahili proverbs and sayings, ‘pesa’ is used to convey lessons about money, wealth, and their role in life.

Hard Work Over Luck

The proverb “Pesa haianguki mbinguni” translates to “Money does not fall from the sky.” This saying emphasizes that money and success come through hard work and perseverance, not by luck or chance. One must actively earn and work for wealth.

Money Opens Doors

For example, The saying “Pesa ni mlango wa vitu vyote” means “Money is the doorway to all things.” This suggests that money provides access and opportunity. With money, more options and possibilities open up in life. Lack of money, on the other hand, can limit choices and close doors.

The Root of Evil

The proverb “Pesa ni mzizi wa maovu yote” warns that “Money is the root of all evil.” While money itself is not evil, the love of money and greed can drive people to harmful acts and poor decisions. The desire for wealth and material gain needs to be balanced with more noble life pursuits.

Temporary Pleasures

The saying “Pesa hufurahisha kwa muda, hekima hufurahisha milele” cautions that “Money gives pleasure for a while, wisdom gives pleasure forever.” This conveys that money can buy temporary enjoyment and satisfaction but wisdom provides lasting contentment and well-being. Material wealth is fleeting while knowledge and insight endure.

Generosity Rewarded

The proverb “Mwenye pesa hakosi misaada, mwenye hekima hakosi malipo” means “He who has money lacks not help, he who has wisdom lacks not reward.” This saying suggests that both wealth and wisdom can attract benefits, assistance, and recompense from others. Generosity and knowledge are valued and repaid in kind.

In summary, Swahili proverbs using ‘pesa’ provide guidance on gaining, valuing, and using money in a virtuous and balanced manner. Wealth should be earned through hard work, not relied upon as a sole source of happiness, and used to help others in need. Money opens opportunities but wisdom provides the most lasting rewards.

The Importance of ‘Pesa’ in Swahili Culture

Pesa is an integral part of Swahili culture and daily life in East Africa. Pesa refers to money or currency in Swahili, but it represents much more than that. It signifies economic status, opportunity, and security. For many Swahili speakers, access to pesa means the ability to provide for one’s family and community. Without enough pesa, it is difficult to pay for essentials like food, shelter, and education. As such, pesa is closely tied to well-being and prosperity. Accumulating and saving pesa offers stability in times of hardship or emergency.

Financial Security

Having a steady source of income and savings provides a financial safety net. This allows one to pay for unexpected costs like medical bills without falling into debt or poverty. For many, financial security is a lifelong endeavor that requires budgeting, investing, and planning for the future.

Economic Opportunity

With more pesa comes more opportunity to improve one’s situation in life. One can invest in a business, pay for job training or higher education, or finance a move to an area with more job prospects. Pesa unlocks the potential for upward mobility and a better life for oneself and family.

Social Status

The amount of pesa someone has or earns also impacts their social standing.
In Swahili culture, there is a close link between wealth and status. Individuals who possess disposable income and valuable assets such as homes or vehicles receive more respect within their communities. However, it is also important to share one’s good fortune with others through acts of charity, community support, and hospitality. In summary, pesa shapes life in East Africa in profound ways. It represents security, opportunity, status, and responsibility.

Pesa enables people to care for themselves and others, so its importance in Swahili culture cannot be overstated. Understanding the meaning and influence of this single word provides insight into the values and experiences of Swahili speakers.

FAQs: Common Questions About ‘Pesa’

Pesa is a Swahili word that refers to money or currency. While continuing to learn Swahili, you might have questions about the usage of “pesa.” Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions:

What types of money are used in Swahili-speaking countries?

The major currencies used in East African countries where Swahili is spoken include:

  • Kenyan shilling (KES)
  • Tanzanian shilling (TZS)
  • Ugandan shilling (UGX)
  • Rwandan franc (RWF)
  • Burundian franc (BIF)

So These currencies are often referred to collectively as pesa in Swahili.

How do I ask how much something costs?

To ask about the price of an item in Swahili, you would say “Pesa Ngapi?” (How much money?). The seller would then tell you the amount, such as “pesa kumi” (ten shillings) or “pesa mia moja” (one hundred shillings).

Do people bargain or negotiate prices in Swahili?

Yes, bargaining and negotiating prices are very common when shopping in Swahili-speaking countries. It is expected that buyers will negotiate and try to get the lowest price possible. Some key phrases to know include:

  • “Naweza kulipa pesa ngapi?” (How much can I pay?)
  • “Je, unaweza kushusha bei kidogo?” (Can you lower the price a little?)
  • “Nitakulipa pesa ” (I will pay shillings)

Sellers will often start with a higher price, expecting that the buyer will want to negotiate for a lower amount. With some patience and bargaining, you can often get 10-30% off the original asking price.

What are some other useful Swahili money terms?

Here are some additional money-related terms in Swahili:

  • fedha – cash, money
  • sarafu – coin
  • benki – bank
  • kuchukua fedha – to withdraw money
  • kukopeshwa – to lend
  • mkopo – loan
  • malipo – payment
  • ankara – receipt

I hope this helps provide some clarification on pesa and how it is used in Swahili. Let me know if you have any other questions!


In conclusion, As you’ve discovered, the Swahili word ‘pesa’ has a meaning that goes far beyond just ‘money’ or ‘currency.’ Pesa represents an entire economic system and way of life in many East African communities. Understanding pesa provides insight into the daily experiences of millions of Swahili speakers across Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and beyond. Though a small word, pesa carries the weight of culture and identity.

Mastering pesa and its many nuances will serve you well on your journey to learn Swahili. But more than that, it will connect you to the humanity of Swahili speakers and enrich your perspective on a vibrant region of the world. Keep exploring this concept and other areas of Swahili life and language. There are many more discoveries to be made.

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Asante na Kwaheri!

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I'm an elementary school teacher who loves what she does! I enjoy creating resources in my Native language "kiswahili". My goal is to spread the beautiful language of "Kiswahili" inside and outside the classroom. Thanks for stopping by! Read More

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