Home > Uncategorized > Age and respect (and a little witchcraft)

Age and respect (and a little witchcraft)

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

  Over the weekend we celebrated the 60th birthday of our boss.  His wife arranged it and in typical fashion for such a milestone asked the guests to bring jokes, adages, etc. regarding old age.  There was a mix of mzungu’s and Zambians and, if I recall correctly, only one Zambian said anything about old age.  Zambians and Africans in general will tell you that their culture respects age.  Therefore they have a hard time making jokes about getting old.

   I would argue that while Zambian’s pay “lip service” to respecting their elders, I rarely see anything showing true respect.  For example, there are many rules around greeting your elders and I do see them practiced on a daily basis.  They consist of general signs of respect like a hand over your heart when you greet or a dip when you shake their hands.  Culturally it is disrespectful to talk to someone who is sitting while you are standing.  It took me a while to catch on to this one and I think in daily life it is starting to wane but I do occasionally see women or children kneeling when talking to a seated adult.  However, I find that the respect is only in the outward appearance.  Another example that my partner shared with me is when an older person asked a woman to wash their clothes.  The woman didn’t want to wash the clothes but it would be disrespectful to say no.  The woman simply took the clothes and dipped them in water so it would appear they were washed.

  I have a difficult time with many of the outward motions of respect .  It isn’t that I am not willing to dip a bit when I shake my elders hand but I don’t even think about it until I miss the opportunity.  I am realizing how deeply engrained is the idea of equality.  I try to show respect to everyone regardless of their position but I don’t do for one person what I wouldn’t do for another.  I often tell Zambians that if I had the opportunity to meet the President of the United States, I would shake his hand in the same way that I would shake the hand of anyone else.  I might refer to him as “Mr. President” but that would be the extent of it.  Contrast that with my experience early in our coming to Zambia, I had the opportunity to meet a chieftainess and was told that I should enter the room on my knees and walk on my knees to her and greet her from my knees.  I did it, but I was not too happy about the entire process.

  Don’t get me wrong, respect is a good thing but outward respect only is not respect but merely cultural conditioning.  I see young men driving an empty car, not only drive past elderly men and women walking along the road, but in many cases force them off the road.  I argue that if Zambian’s truly respect their elders they would ACT in respectful ways.  When I see several Zambian’s drive past an elderly person needing a ride and I stop to pick them up since no one else did, I would argue that I show more respect to them even if I fail to greet them properly.

  Back to the party… One point that came up in the party was that “in the village” (which is a euphemism for in rural areas) elderly people are blamed for bad things that happen in the village.  If a child is sick, they blame the elderly.  All of the Zambians agreed on this point which I found amazing considering their pride in treating their elders with respect.  To be honest, I didn’t quite believe them.  Today I was reading a newspaper and came across the following…


Poor English aside, you get the picture.  I can’t imagine better evidence for what they were saying than this.  Witchcraft (and withcraft Smile) is very much part of the mindset.  With my grey hair, I am beginning to wonder what is being blamed on me.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Joan
    November 30, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    You may be quite surprised what you are blamed for. It may be good. Thanks for the update. See you in a couple of weeks.

  2. kathy fast
    December 1, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    I concure about how we see people showing respect, yet do not sense an attitude of respect.

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