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African Ingenuity

15 African Cultural Values That Must Be Preserved

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People displaying the African culture

The Samburu people, Northern Kenya have unique African culture (Photo Credit: African Budget Safaris)

African cultures are adorable with many unique values. Sadly, we are losing some of these African cultural values due to westernization. One of them is the traditional way of greeting elders. For instance, in the Yoruba tribe of southwestern Nigeria, a male child has to prostrate to greet an elder. Also, collecting or giving out something to an elder with the left hand is considered disrespectful.

Perhaps, the reason why Africans must jealously guard some of their cultures is that they promote morals and respect. Hence, this post aims to help African realize the beauty of African culture. Without further ado, here are 15 African cultural values that must be preserved.

#15. Receive a gift with both hands

The act of receiving gifts with both hands, which is part of the African culture

(Photo credit: stylist.co.uk)

Showing gratitude is one of the essential virtues not just in Africa but worldwide. However, in Africa, showing appreciation when someone gives you a gift is expressed differently. If someone graciously gives you a gift, a non-verbal way to show extreme thankfulness is to accept it with both hands. This African cultural value is more pronounced in the southern part of Africa. Subliminally, this gesture prevents the awkward situation where gifts slip and fall upon reception.

#14. Respect for elders

Until recently, African culture is mostly spread through word of mouth. Perhaps, this is what makes elders valuable in African societies. To date, it is still taboo to insult or physically abuse an elder. In some communities, doing so comes with dire consequences. In a recent viral video, the youths of a certain community in Anambra State in Nigeria flogged a young man 100 strokes for beating up a woman. Children are thought to always acknowledge an elder. Thus, during mealtime, elders are served first. For Christians, respect for elders is biblical (Exodus 20:12). Interestingly, Africans have been practicing this even before the arrival of Christianity on the continent.

#13. Eat with the right hand

In other parts of the world, people rarely care about how you eat. In Africa, it is a different ball game. The right hand is mainly for eating and the left hand is preserved for sanitary purposes. Thus, it is almost forbidden for the left hand to touch your food in Africa. Also, you are expected to use your thumb and first two fingers to pick up and push food into your mouth. Two water bowls will be placed in front of you for washing your hands before and after the meal.  Eating with the right hand is a cultural value practiced in every part of the continent. Interestingly, those who stick to this African cultural value can avoid contaminating their food.

#12. Prostrate or kneel to greet an elder

The act of kneeling down - part of the African culture

(Photo credit: ThisisAfrica.me)

Reverence for elders is a common African cultural value. However, the way it is expressed can vary remarkably from one region to another. Males prostrating when greeting an elder is common among the Yoruba people of the southwestern part of Nigeria. Also, Yoruba women kneel to greet an elder. For westerners, kneeling for another can be embarrassing or demeaning. However, Africans see this differently because of the value they place on age. Little wonder the slogan, “Old age is wisdom” is popular on the continent.

ALSO READ: 9 Traditional African Music Instruments And Their Origin

#11. Africans generally do not make eye contact because it is perceived as disrespectful 

In the Western world, making eye contact is polite, but in Africa, too much eye contact can get you in trouble. Just like body language, eye contact sends certain messages in conversations and presentations. Narrowing eyes, dilated pupils, excessive blinking, widened eyes, and averted gazes all tell a story. Little or no eye contact shows disinterest, lack of engagement, nervousness or shyness, and distraction. Prolonged eye contact can be seen as domineering and usually makes people uncomfortable. So, when you are with an elderly person (especial one of high social status) avoid gluing your eyes to theirs. Rather than impress, you may unsettle them.

#10. Silence is perfectly fine when there is nothing to say

In most African conversations, you would notice spans of silence. So, don’t be nervous if you experience this during an African discussion. When there is something to be said, it will be communicated. However, there will be silence when there is nothing to say. This culture is common among older folks in Africa because they usually weigh their words before voicing them.

#9. Don’t shake hands with someone older than you 

In western cultures, handshakes, hugs, and kisses are common greetings. However, in Africa, there are responsible ways of greeting an older person. Handshake is not one of them except the older person offers you their hand to shake. In business settings though, this law is less rigid.

#8. Don’t call elders by their first names

It is important to know that Africans don’t call elders by their first names. You are only permitted to when told to do so. So, keep this in mind especially if you are going to places in Africa (Nigeria especially) for personal reasons such as vacation or meeting relatives. This seemingly harmless mistake can cost you a potential bride if you are visiting her parents for the first time. When the temptation to call names hits you, fill it up with “Sir (sah)” and “Ma’am (mah).”

#7. Having large gatherings during holidays 

Family having a large gathering

(Photo credit: Visitdetroit.com)

African homes have large gatherings during holidays like Christmas or the New Year. In Western countries showcasing glowing light is often all there is to show that a celebration ongoing. On the other hand, an Africa Christmas does not have a flamboyant display of lights. Rather, the coming together of large crowds of people tells you that a celebration is imminent. In some countries like Malawi, children dance and sing in groups. This spirit of communalism is a treasure that Africa should never lose.

#6. Couples wearing matching clothing

Couple and their children wearing matching clothes (Photo credit: foodtopiafarms.com)

A couple and their children wearing matching clothes (Photo credit: foodtopiafarms.com)

Matching outfits made from identical fabric is a regular feature in traditional weddings and parties in Africa. They’re called “Aso Ebi,” a Yoruba phrase meaning ‘family cloth’. It is a popular tradition in Africa for couples to wear matching clothing as a public display of affection. However, it is not only families that match outfits. Social and religious groups do the same. As fickle as this may seem, it fosters togetherness and makes it easier to identify groups.

#5. Offering food and drinks to guests

One popular tradition in Africa is offering food and drinks to guests as a show of hospitality. However, it is rude if the guest refuses this show of hospitality. Africans believe in entertaining their guests with food and drinks as a show of kind gesture. On a subliminal level, it is a way of showing love for neighbors. Also, people tend to think better on a full stomach. Perhaps, that is why it is almost impossible to see a gathering in Africa without food.

#4. Marriage is not just between two people but two families

They say that when you marry someone, you marry their entire family. There’s a lot of truth in that. In Africa, the family you intend to take a wife from will automatically be your own family. In a continent with diverse tribes and religions, we need this kind of reasoning to foster peace.

#3. Do not point the sole of the foot to anyone

In many African cultures, the foot is regarded as the dirtiest part of the body. Hence, try not to point your foot sole towards anyone as it counts as an insult. However, this cultural practice is commonly found in the western part of Africa. So it is important never to point the sole of the foot to an African.

#2. Africans typically serve as their parent’s caretaker in their old age 

In the African culture, Africans typically serve as their parent’s caretakers in their old age. In the west, old people are sent to nursing homes. Sometimes, old parents live in the homes of their children or grandchildren for proper care. Perhaps, the loneliness of old people in western countries is why they easily fall prey to scammers. However, it is hard to hear that an old person in Africa fell to scammers. The reason is that they are not looking for love because they have those they love around them always.

#1. Feasting during childbirth and burials

Burial in western countries is usually a sober moment. In Africa, it often comes off as a feast. There is large feasting during burials. Crying soon transforms into eating and drinking. Likewise, when a child is born, well-wishers gather and eat and drink in jubilation. In eastern Nigeria, the Igbos usually welcome visitors by sprinkling baby powder on them.

Conclusion

From a distance, it is easy to misunderstand African cultures. This is because they often don’t follow the popular norm of the West. However, when you take a closer look, you will not only appreciate these cultures but also see the deeper message they carry. This is why it is important for Africans to preserve their cultures at all cost. So if you are planning a trip to Africa, understanding these African cultural values will enhance your experience.

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