'Nyong'inyo' and other Sheng words used by hawkers

From simple terms like Ndula to more complex ones you may not know

In Summary

• A hawker at Ngara shares his journey to adopting the language

Nyong'inyo (socks)
Nyong'inyo (socks)
Image: Elizabeth Ngigi

Sheng' is a young language heavily influenced by the whims of fashion and trending circumstances. It does, however, have its fundamentals.

Based on the day-to-day activities of Nairobi urbanites, Sheng is also used in the clothes industry, and people should be in the know of some of the words used.

Kamau, alias Kamaa, a hawker in Ngara market, told the Star that when he started the job, he thought it was all easy. "I came from upcountry, where I was only using mother tongue. I started selling clothes in Ngara two years ago and now I am better," he said.

"Kitambo nilikuanga nje sana and even my friends called me 'Mshamba' because I could not relate with the Sheng language."

He could not get enough customers as most of the people who shop at Ngara are university students, who use Sheng.


That is when he decided to start learning the language. "Every time I went for stock in Gikomba, I made sure that I asked for new words from the suppliers. Sometimes, I could just listen and not talk, but I would ask later what the words meant," he said.

His first Sheng word to learn was Ndula, Sheng word for shoes. He was very happy to learn the word, which he made sure he also started selling shoes. "Ndio tu nitumiange hiyo jina," Kamaa said.

Other Sheng words used by hawkers include Kladi, the general names for clothes, Toja or Trau meaning trouser, Mbwenya meaning blazer coat, Nyong'inyo for socks, Ngepa or Label for cap. Buti is for boots, Maangolo for spectacles, while Kifuniko cha Asali is for panties.