African Communities Greeting Styles and Gestures
In Africa like any other part of the world, greeting is an important ritual that must be observed by the young and old alike. It is a sign of respect, civility and even love. It could also be one of the ways to improve a person’s mood and disposition just by asking how they are and how their day has been.
In many parts of Africa, greeting takes many faces depending on the community. In some, it is not just enough to say hello, there should be a handshake or even a hug. In others, the person who should initiate the greeting must have a certain status in the society.
The Maasai are pastoralists and when they encounter each other, the greeting is very detailed. They would ask each other about their day, their animals, their people at home and other related issues including the weather.
The difference comes in when a person is a child. In this case, the child has to bow their head and the adult would place their right hand on their heads.
Swahili is the language spoken across East Africa. It is also a group of people in Kenyan and Tanzanian coast. In Swahili, one can greet others using the word ‘habari yako?’, which loosely translates to ‘what’s your news?’ Other words include ‘hujambo’ (single) and ‘hamjambo‘ (plural) to ask ‘how are you?’
There is also a specific greeting between children and elders, where the child must be the one to initiate the greeting by asking ‘Shikamoo’ and the older person has to reply with ‘Marahaba’ before they can go ahead and find out more about the other person.
According to language professors, the word Shikamoo comes from shikamu, which refers to nashika miguu yako (I touch your feet), which was an ancient form of greeting between Bantu elders and the youth. The response, Marahaba’ is derived from Arabic, and means ‘I give you my blessing’.
Across the Kalenjin community in Kenya, the greeting between an older or more respected person and younger or lower calibre person requires the latter to stretch out their right hand and hold it with their left hand in a handshake as a sign of respect. They use the phrase Chamge or chamuge (how are you) and the response is chamge (fine) or Chamge mising (very fine) for emphasis
In the Yoruba culture, postration and kneeling as a style of greeting have been practised for a long time. Boys and men prostrate and girls and women kneel when greeting someone thought to be older or in a high position. The most expressive form for men is completely lying down with only the head raised up. For the women, one can either kneel on both knees or just use a single knee without necessarily touching the ground.
In the Shona community in Zimbabwe, a handshake is accompanied with a clap as a sign of respect. As with many tribes in Africa, the youth greets the elders as a sign of respect and acknowledgement of their existence.
In some places in the country, people would greet each other using totems, depending on their totem and their level of influence. In some cases, parents would be greeted with the name of their firstborn children.
When you get to someone’s compound, you have to shout out a greeting to inform them about your arrival. The greeting is important for various issues: as a tradition set by Shaka Zulu indicating that you come in peace and to get the blessing and protection of the ancestors of that family.
This particular greeting is different from the usual street greeting because the men need to remove their hats and everyone has to face the compound before calling out the greeting.
Curled from Face to Face Africa