Deciphering all the honking

2 July 2010 at 09:20 13 comments

By Aaron Kaye, Kiva Fellow, Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a dangerous place to drive.  But this isn’t for lack of communication on the part of the drivers.  The chaotic streets of Sierra Leone’s captial, Freetown, are constantly buzzing with honking taxi horns and motorbike horns.

I had always thought that honking was a universal language — kind of like love or music or football/soccer.  It turns out I was totally wrong.  There is so much to learn about honking and I’ve been thoroughly educated since arriving in Freetown.  At this point you’re probably wondering if I’m really going to talk about the act of honking this whole time.  The answer is yes… and in the name of sharing my knowledge, here are a few honking explanations in case you ever find yourself in Freetown:

When taxis honk it may mean the following:

  • “I have space in my taxi, would you like a ride?”
  • “Please get out of the way, you pedestrian.”
  • “I’m taking a right at this intersection.”
  • “I’m not taking a right at this intersection.”
  • “I have newlyweds in the back, please get out of the way.” (Note: this generally happens on the weekends)
  • “I have sick/wounded people who need to go to the hospital, please get out of the way.” (Note: this happens on all days of the week)
  • “Hey witeboi.”
When motorbike taxis honk it may mean the following:
  • “I have no passengers, would you like a ride?” (Note: Motorbike taxis are frequently without passengers, meaning the honking may persist for several miles)
  • “Please excuse me, I’m driving the wrong way on this one way street.”
  • “I’m driving exceedingly fast and can’t really stop.”
  • “Hey witeboi.”
As you can see, there is so much to be learned from a simple honk.  This is only a partial list.  If you’ve ever experienced a honk that carried extra meaning please share it in the comments.  Remember to keep your ears open, listen carefully, and look both ways before you cross the street.

Entry filed under: Africa, blogsherpa, KF11 (Kiva Fellows 11th Class), Sierra Leone. Tags: , .

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  • 1. Gabe Francis  |  11 August 2010 at 10:15

    In Latin America there is also a honk to attract the attention of a beautiful woman on the street, usually accompanied by an aggressive or flirtatious remark.

  • […] TO have a traffic light.  Watch out for coverless manholes.  Kiva Fellow Aaron Kaye’s guide to honking in Freetown, Sierra Leone also applies to […]

  • […] TO have a traffic light.  Watch out for coverless manholes.  Kiva Fellow Aaron Kaye’s guide to honking in Freetown, Sierra Leone also applies to […]

  • 4. Taylor Akin  |  7 July 2010 at 09:53

    You also left out greeting friends and aquaintances, like “Hey, orange selling lady who I pass by every day! How are you? How did you sleep? How is your family?”

    At least that was the case in Togo!

    Hope you’re having a blast!

    Kiva love,

    Taylor (KF9)

  • 5. Michelle Kaye  |  5 July 2010 at 19:27

    PS: honking here in Colorado is also sometimes in place of (or an addition to) name-calling with an expletive added to it – glad to hear that “witeboi” is the extent of it for you 🙂

  • 6. Michelle Kaye  |  5 July 2010 at 19:26

    Aaron, I think I can actually hear the tone in your voice as you write…delightful!! I love hearing little tid-bits about your adventures and can’t wait to read your book one day!! 😉 Sending you Cool, Colorado summer breezes and love from me and Raoul to you in hot and steamy Africa…. xoxoxox

  • 7. stephanie  |  4 July 2010 at 19:31

    Haha – great post! On the major highways here in the East… honking can also mean,”I am now going to pass you, please find scoot over as far as possible so as to accommodate this.” Or, “thank you for allowing me to pass you.” Or, “excuse me large animals, please move off the road.”

  • 8. Anna Cleal  |  4 July 2010 at 18:48

    Bahaha. In manila include “I’m ridiculously close to you, but don’t mind me I’m just letting you know that I’m here”, “I’m coming through whether you like it or not so MOOOOVVVEEE”, “Hey Americana”. Nice blog

  • 9. denise braithwaite  |  3 July 2010 at 14:49

    From a former taxi driver BEEEEEEEEEE!:)

  • 10. Nilaus  |  3 July 2010 at 12:28

    Spot on witeboi

  • 11. sajid ali  |  3 July 2010 at 07:01

    i don’t listen this songs no comments

  • 12. katimayfield  |  2 July 2010 at 11:09

    Honking must be in the family of tonal languages whose words change meanings depending on the rhythm you set your voice to.

    At my last placement in Honduras I was always terrified when driving to work with my roommate, because she honked her horn with the same insistency whether she was saying “get out of my way I am NOT stopping at this red light” or “I AM stopping at this red light so you, sir, may proceed”.

    Finally I realized, though, that she was using a prolonged “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP” to signal that people had better get out of our way; and that “BEEEE-EEEEE-EEEEP” meant she was conceding right-of-way to someone else.

    …maybe it was just coincidence, but we managed to remain accident-free:)

  • 13. david oglaza  |  2 July 2010 at 10:27

    It sounds just like India – I like this song on the radio…beep beep. I like the internet …. beep beep

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