Here Come the Africans Pt 1: Why Africans Greet Strangers

In Africa, saying hello means so much more than just saying hello.

We greet because we acknowledge a person’s significance, not because of their status or stature but simply because you are speaking to a person, because we desire agreement and peace amongst one another.   By Kgomotso Tolamo

 

I am a passionate and proud African, I am an advocate for all things African, therefore I detest conversation that exclusively paints a picture of deepest darkest Africa with all its crime, corruption and disease. Perhaps it’s painted because it’s profitable for some to exclusively paint that picture and not tell a complete, honest story or perhaps because of language barriers. If it is in fact language barriers, I’d like to communicate a few things about us Africans that are left unsaid when the grimness of our continent and people is discussed.

Here, in Africa not greeting is rude.  Have you ever walked passed a grocery packer, not greeted, come back to ask for help and he unhappily assisted you? This is because you simply did not acknowledge his presence, you did not acknowledge him as a significant person. You don’t only greet people you know or see often, you greet everyone.  Usually greetings are said in plural form to show respect, as well as inquiring of the person’s family, this communicates that I am not only concerned about your well being I am concerned about your entire family’s well being.

The IsiZulu greeting is Sawubona / Sanibona – this means I/we see you, I/we acknowledge your presence.  The person being greeted would then respond by saying yebo, this simply means yes, yes I also see and acknowledge your presence. The greeter would carry on to ask unjani, this means how are you. This essentially speaks that before I even ask how you are I will acknowledge your presence and honour you as a significant person.

The Setswana / Sepedi greeting is Dumelang – this loosely translates to agree, this means  that we are in agreement with one another, there is no strife or disagreement between us. The greeter would carry on to ask Le kae this means how are you, in Sestswana I will also acknowledge that there is no strife between us before I enquire of the person’s well being.

In the Sepedi / Sesotho greeting the first party would say Kgotsong and the party being greeted says aeyate, this loosely translates to say, may the peace between us continue.

A simple one word  greeting in three languages speaks, “Yes, I see you, I acknowledge your presence, there is agreement between us and may the peace between us continue.”

We greet because we acknowledge a person’s significance, not because of their status or stature but simply because you are speaking to a person, because we desire agreement and peace amongst one another. In summation it is not neglecting to greet that is considered rude, it is neglecting to acknowledge a person and neglecting to enquire of their well being that is considered rude.

This testifies that the very foundation of relating to one another is seeking to ensure peace and agreement. It is actively ensuring that we are not blind to one another, that we look at one another, that we see one another and from that premise we enquire about life.  The weight that this one gesture carries testifies of importance of building and maintaining relationships that sustain our communities. We as an African people understand that you cannot simply sustain communities with people you do not acknowledge, people you are not in agreement or at peace with. As the Sepedi saying goes madume gafele, directly translated to you never run out of greetings – I could never greet you enough.  So every day, every morning, every evening we say “Yes, I see you, I acknowledge your presence, there is agreement between us and may the peace between us continue.”  Because we should never run out of the desire to see, acknowledge, ensure agreement and continue peace among one another.

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