Deciphering all the honking

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.

About the author

Aaron Kaye