I see you. Sawubona.
I learned of this lovely and nuanced Zulu word today in a post at Wayfinders Collective, where Ashley is building a place for discovery and the finding of ways forward — which resonates quite strongly with me right now. (Hi, Ashley! I see you.)
So I did a little research about “sawubona.”
First, pronunciation. Turns out it’s pretty much what you might expect: sah(woo)-bone-ah. Forvo has a couple clips of (what I understand to be) native speakers, if you want to head over there to hear them. (C’mon back when you’re done.)
The nuance of this word is deep and fascinating, and I strongly recommend this video at the Global Oneness Project of Orland Bishop explaining its meaning. He talks about how the “seeing” of sawubona doesn’t just refer to me, myself, doing the seeing, but rather to me, my ancestors, and the divine; that this seeing is being done by both me and the Universe. He explains that this word says so much more than just “I see you” — it establishes me as a witness to your existence, affirms your reality, and invites your participation in my life (and mine in yours).
“I see you” in English is used this way, too, although perhaps not quite as poetically. The Urban Dictionary (in which definitions are crowdsourced and tend towards the slangier uses of words and phrases) includes several entries that define “I see you” as confirming existence, validating identity, or recognizing accomplishments. And most native English speakers use the phrase “I see” to communicate “I understand,” or “I acknowledge.”
As for incorporating this meaning into the word(s) used for greeting, it certainly isn’t unique to the Zulu language. “Namaste” is another greeting that communicates so much more than a simple “hi there” — its translation is closer to “I bow to you,” and it carries with it a recognition of the divine, in both of us. “Aloha” similarly implies love and compassion. And let’s not forget Na’vi, from the movie Avatar; oel ngati kame (“I see you”) communicates an acknowledgement of the essence of the person being greeted, and an opening of heart and mind to them and to the Universe.
So, I see you. Aloha. Namaste. Sawubona. Hello. And welcome to my journey of discovery.