Cultural Note: Greetings

Age determines who should initiate a greeting. In general, the younger person should initiate with the proper greeting: shikamoo and the response by the older person is: marahaba. Otherwise, context will determine the initiator. For example if one enters a room already occupied by others, he/she is expected to initiate the greeting unless seniority dictates otherwise. as such those in the room should initiate the greeting and, out of respect, stand until the elder finds a sit.

Terms of reference

In greetings, one can refer to the gender of the respondent, baba for someone who is a father-figure, mama for someone who is a mother-figure, dada for a kin-sister or a female within the same age group, kaka for a kin-brother or a male within the same age group. In both Tanzania and Kenya, one may use bwana Mr. Also, in Tanzania, one may use ndugu brother or brethren. The term mzee may also be used for a male elder. Female elders are referred to as bibi or simply as mama. Thus:

hujambo baba? how are you father.
hujambo mzee? how are you old man/elder.
hujambo ndugu? how are you brethren (male or female).
hujambo kaka? how are you brother.

Terms of response: naam and labeka

These responses are gender specific. The response naam is used by men while labeka is used by women. In addition, women have the option of a shorter form abe. Both the male and female responses imply I hear you or here I am.


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