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Personality tests, Tanzania style

I was asked to teach on personality and teams for a Leadership Training Seminar for TAFES. The easiest thing for me to pull together in the 2 days before the seminar was some stuff on DISC, but I had to work out how to make it resonate for Tanzanians.

Personality testing is not very common in Tanzania, I guess because of the lesser focus on the individual, but when you do them, people see the value in it because it’s a way of showing how we need one another. Swahili is full of proverbs that teach this, for example:

  • Mtu ni wenziwe – a person is part of many
  • Mganga hajiganga – a doctor does not heal him/herself
  • Mwerevu hajinyoi – a smart person does not cut his/her own hair
  • Mtu ni mtu – a person is just one person
  • Mwosha huoshwa – a person who washes is also washed (OK, this one sounds dodgy, but it’s the equivalent of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours)

I planned to do the seminar in Swahili, except for the actual DISC parts since the anagram – Dominant, Influential, Steady, Compliant – is clearly tied to English, and the Swahili equivalents of each (mtawala, mshawishi, mfariji, mtaratibu) all start with ‘m’ because they belong to the noun class for people.

But doing a seminar in Swahili is more than just translating words; it also about concepts. For example,  common shorthand for DISC is to use an animal to represent each type:

D – Lion – direct, decisive, do-er

I – Otter – interesting, interactive, inspiration

S – Golden Retriever – stable, supportive, sincere

C – Beaver – cautious, careful, conscientious

The problem is, the latter three of these animals are not well known in Tanzania, and animals can have different meanings. For example, dogs are not pets in Tanzania, so there would be quite a bit of explaining to do to get across why a Golden Retriever represents an S-type.

So I put on my thinking cap and consulted with my language teacher to try to come up with alternatives.

We kept lion.

For I, we went with a rabbit. In Swahili the sungura is the smartest of all animals, with a knack for knowing how to get people to do things, but being fun or clever.

For S, we decided on a Mother Hen. In contrast to a Mama Bata (mother duck) whose duckling follow along behind her, a Mama Kuku gathers her children under her wings.

For C, we decided on a white ant. The mchwa siafu is always busy and industrious. This one also had an easily recognisable saying, used as a campaign slogan in the last Presidential election: Hapa kazi tu! which literally means “Here there is work only.”

We also came up with a Swahili proverb for each type and a Bible verse, to show how each type imitates God in some way.

Categories: Tanzania Tanzanian culture Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

2 replies

  1. Hi Tamie, I’m interested to know what bible verses you decided on.  Well done on such great preparation! I’m so impressed with how well you seem to understand the culture and language, and how to adjust your message accordingly. I’m sure it probably still feels like early days though, lots more to learn.  Hope you’re well. Sam xox 

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

    1. OK, I could have given the Bible verses more thought, but here’s what I came up with:
      D – giving of the 10 Commandments
      I – giving of manna in the desert
      S – Jesus saying he wants to gather his people to him like a mother hen (Matt 23:37)
      C – the entire book of Leviticus

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