Respect, a perspective on Zambian culture.


Respect…I’m sure many would agree if I said that respect was earned, but this view for me was challenged and has been challenged many times. I used to think myself a very respectful person but every time I think “I’m there”, I’m convicted about seemingly small things be it respect for others or even myself, the call on my life and any number of things.

I remember a vague conversation with one of my brothers (One of the few wise Zimbabweans I know…jokes!)a few years ago and for some reason respect became a topic of discussion. I expressed the view that respect needed to be earned and he didn’t accept that. I was so shocked and asked if he would still respect me if I went around doing things that for some reason or the other are unrespectable. I remember giving an example, possibly something morally “rather –  rather”.

He told me respect was not dependent on whether someone showed themselves to be respectable. That was an “ahhh…” moment for me. I couldn’t argue with him when he asked what the world would be like if everyone disrespected each other because the other person did something unrespectable.

Looking back, I have disrespected the people in my life at one point or the other  and more frequently than anyone else, I’ve disrespected myself at every turn but more importantly every time I show disrespect, for either myself or others, it shows a disregard for God. I disrespect for the Judge who always sees what we do.

There are a few Zambian, more accurately, Bemba sayings that come to mind when I think of respect. One, makes up the words of a very well-known Zambian song…to Zambians, that is. “Mayo wanjebele, uko waya uko, wika tuka ba noko”, which pretty much means, directly translated, my mother told me, where you’re going, don’t insult your mother. Pretty much the meaning is wherever you go, don’t insult your mother or father. It’s a song that calls for us to respect every elder, which is anyone older than you pretty much. The song goes further and says even if a person is a fool, treat them as you would your own parents.

Another saying would be “Kwapa ta cila kubeya” which means, the armpit will never be above the shoulder. My grandmother, loves using this one on me when I complain about her sending me to do something every time my elder sister who’s only a year older than me is around…she just doesn’t seem to send her. Sometimes I can be a nut head! but even when I’m upset with my elder brother and sister…there are things that they don’t tolerate and a lot of the time, I have to submit. And it’s not a case of them “lording it over me” but them making boundaries clear. It should be noted that they are very reasonable individuals who generally respect me too.

Now for many, it might seem like African culture is very “disrespecting” of children, however, I choose to differ. I’m reminded of sayings like “imiti ikula, ee mpanga.” which means, the trees that grow, become forests. This talks about children of today being tomorrow’s leaders. But how does that fit into my argument on respect? Another saying “Amano ya fuma mwi ifwesa, ya ingila mu chulu” which translated is Wisdom went from a mole hill and entered an ant hill much means that a young person can advise the elder. They can give words of wisdom too.

Now, the best way to teach values is to embody them… so what better way is there of teaching a Child, who will one day lead a nation to respect others than to respect them? If a child can offer advice, the person on the receiving end has to respect the vessel from which it is coming for them to value it. And the child who is offering it must do so in a way that recognises that this person they are talking to is older and more experienced and should be given a level of respect too. Without respect and consideration for the other party, we start wars where mere dialogue would have offered a more favourable outcome.

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Author: blessingsonahill

When I figure it out, I'll let you know

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