When I was studying Kiswahili several years ago, I was taught that "samahani" was an acceptable way to say "I'm sorry" ("I'm sorry I made that mistake") while pole meant "I'm sorry" only in the sympathetic sense ("I'm sorry you sneezed"/"You have my sympathy").
in arabic we have samahani which means "forgive me" .. so it makes sense to me.
That is a very interesting distinction, and subtly different from the one I was suggesting above.
Great explanation! :) I remember "pole" as "sorry" (generally said often) and "samahani" as "excuse me" (or "forgive me" as given by SamiaELSharkawy) - also used as in English "Excuse me, may I...."
samahani سامحني forgive me, excuse me
(as I cannot find this information from Wiktionary, I share the next link with a list of Swahili words of Arabic origin)
Swahili is a language that fuses African Bantu with Arabic. Arab sailors and traders have established links and ties with East Africa for centuries, their language strongly merged with the local language to produce a creole derivative.
The word Swahili itself is derived from Arabic Sawahili سواحلي which is plural for ساحل meaning [Language] of the Coast.
This article gives some examples of Arabic words still in today's Swahili.
If you're passing through a crowd and need to squeeze between people, is it appropriate to use "samahani"? I was in TZ recently and a friend told me that's an American concept, to say "excuse me" while passing through a crowd, but that seems ridiculous. They said to use "pole" if anything. ?
we say samahani in a crowd, if someone in the crowd got hurt or pushed, then we say pole. but maybe that's only how i was raised, i won't say that whoever told you so is wrong.
If you're looking to make space to move through the crowd, "samahani" would be the correct word. As @Ruqaiya00 said, "pole" would be in a case where someone encounters a misfortune that was not caused by you. From my understanding "samahani" is related to the word "kusamehe" which means "to forgive." So in order for "samahani" to be applicable, you need to have done something to be forgiven (like ask to disturb someone to make way for you in a crowd...), whereas "pole" is more in line with "condolences" albeit sometimes for very superficial problems like stubbing your toe.
Is this word used to ask pardon, to seek someone's attention, or both?
I think it's both. At least I do remember that when you try to call someone whose phone is off, the automatic voice would say "sorry, the number you have dialed is not available" and then a swahili version starting with "samahani...". Maybe not the best source, though :)
Well, that sounds like the former, at least. Now I just need to know whether one can say "Samahani, what's the time" or "Samahani, don't I know you?"
it is both. you can use it to ask for forgiveness/pardon or to get someone's attention. The way I think of it, they are really the same thing. When getting someone's attention you are asking them to forgive the intrusion or disturbance.