Africans are a respectful lot. The part of Africa where I am from (western Nigeria), we respect elders so much that part of our greeting involves lying flat on the ground by the male folk and kneeling down on both knees by the female folk. That is just one part of the many set of respect ‘rules and regulations’ we have to abide by.
1 USE OF SISTER/AUNTY AND BROTHER/UNCLE
I think the fact that I am a product of two tribes is part of why I call my elder brother by his name. I remember one weekend my paternal first cousins came over, we had to call them ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’, then when they left, my dad started to enforce a new rule! He said I had to affix ‘brother’ to Iyke and my kid brother had to affix ‘sister’ to Seyon. Man, all hell was let loose!!! I was like is it at 7 years old that I was going to learn something strange? In fact it felt awkward to the ears when I called my elder brother ‘brother Iyke’ and I had to beg my dad to excuse my kid brother from attaching ‘sister’ to my name. Well, my kid brother still calls my elder brother ‘brother Iyke’ but as for me and my coconut head, I don’t see myself calling my elder brother ‘brother’. End of story.
Another supposed sign of respect is genuflecting when greeting an elder. Man, I tell you the culture difference did not help because in my mum’s place (eastern Nigeria), you don’t go all the way to the floor but in my dad’s place, we have to go down south (no pun intended). I remember I used to have difficulties kneeling down and one of my aunt was like my mum did not train us well (in Yoruba land, when a kid is spoilt (real or assumed), he/she is the child of the mother, but if a child is well trained, he is the father’s child) and I was mad!! I had to bite my tongue to keep it in check but trust me, when I got home, I told my mother and she told me to start to kneel down *grumbling* well, funny enough when I see an elder even on the road now, I go all the way (my dark knees can bear me witness).
3 EYE CONTACT
In Nigeria, I know looking at an elder in the eyes while you are being talked to is termed ‘disrespectful’ (I stand corrected).
I remember being labelled what my parents did not name me because I looked an elder in the eye.
4 SPEAKING UP WHEN PARENTS OR ELDERS OFFEND YOU
Aha! This is the part I love because my mum and I had epic fights over this. You see, my mouth is very sharp and quick *bats eyelashes* and I hate injustice (real or perceived). I do not hesitate to speak up when I am offended because I hate to keep things on my mind (it kills me slowly). Now, it is natural for elders to offend young people but I do not know if it is pride that prevents African parents from admitting they are wrong even when they are pointed out.
5 UH, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT THIS IS IN ENGLISH BUT IT IS THE USE OF EH AND OH (FUNMI WHERE YOU AT?)
I remember I spoke only English for the first 17 years of my life. When I got into university in western Nigeria, it dawned on me I had to learn Yoruba. Imagine the look of horror on my landlord’s face when I used ‘oh’ to address him. It was a kind housemate that patiently explained to me that ‘oh’ is for young people while ‘eh’ is for adults.
Now, these are just the few everyday instances I can remember and I am sure we are not strangers to these examples.
I am of the opinion that respect is earned. Yes! You earn respect; you do not force people to respect you!!!! Yeah, the Bible states that we should honour our father and mother so that our days on earth may be long as that is the first commandment with promise and I am sure we all know ‘parents’ refer to people older than us, not just our biological parents but with no intent to disrespect anyone, I’ve seen some ‘parents’ that firstly are not worthy to be parents; I call them ‘chance parents’ as they had parenthood foisted on them by mistake and they probably realized too late they were not cut out to be parents.
These set of people treat kids they sired with disdain. I see no reason why I should respect someone who only doles out torrents of curses morning, noon and night, someone who clearly abdicates his/her parental responsibilities, I mean you too judge!
On the issue of calling elders ones aunty, sister, brother or uncle, well I do not have anything against it but NOTE that you do not learn how to use your left hand in your old age.
As per the greeting, experience has taught me that salutation is not love, neither is it respect, so the fact that I kneel down to greet you do not mean I respect you. Kapish?
From my little exposure, maintaining eye contact means that you are confident and bold. Please, some aspect of our culture should be revised if we are expected to adapt to whatever culture we find ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Besides, we know when you are on an interview panel, you are expected to maintain eye contact with the interviewer.
You see that aspect of parents? Remember the same Bible says that parents should not provoke their children to anger.
P.S. Yesterday was my first day at work and man, I am still in shock. The lackadaisical attitude these northerners have to education is appalling!! Imagine students putting on bathroom slippers to school, they fly their shirts, they look so dirty and wait for this....the assembly is conducted in part hausa, part English. I have not been assigned a class or subject yet but with this language barrier, I hope I do not end up frustrated in Sultan Abubakar College bearing in mind that it is all boys *sigh*