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Bwana

From Academic Kids

Bwana is a Swahili word which is used in an equivalent way to several English forms of address.

Bwana is used for "Sir" and for "Mr.", (written Bwana Jones or Bw. Jones). Bwana is also used for "Lord"; for example, in a Bible verse where Jesus is referred to as The Lord.

In context, Bwana may have other meanings. In some countries it is occasionally used between female equals; if a woman is asked how Bwana is, it is understood that one is inquiring after her husband.

In countries where Swahili is commonly spoken, Bwana may be heard as a term of respect even if the conversation is being conducted in English.

Western misconception

The word Bwana was often used in Western Cinema and books, notably in Tarzan stories, almost exclusively by subordinate Africans when addressing Caucasian men. The following is an example of the way the word "Bwana" was used in a Tarzan story:

"Do you know where your master has gone?" he asked the black.
"Yes, Bwana," replied the boy. "He has gone to the other camp beside the big afi that flows far toward the setting sun.
"Can you take me to him?" demanded Baynes.
The boy nodded affirmatively. Here he saw a method of revenging himself upon his hated Bwana and at the same time of escaping the wrath of the Big Bwana whom all were positive would first follow after the northerly safari.

— The Son of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs, published 1915.

Because of this, audiences assumed that the word must have a meaning along the lines of "master", massa or "Great White Hunter" and that modern usage would be considered offensive or derogatory — this is untrue.

In stories located in the British Raj, the titles sahib and mensahib are used for similar effect.

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