I can’t believe I’ve been in Gainesville only a week. It feels a lot longer than that. Suffice to say I’ve been having a lot of fun, getting out in the sun (aka scorching fire ball from above), meeting new friends, and learning a lot about Nigeria and Yoruba culture.
If I could describe what I’ve learned so far in one word it would be: respect, respect, respect. Respect of the eldest, respect of the patriarch, respect of the senior. In Yorùbá culture it is odd that Westerners have this obsession with staying young. For the Yorùbá it isall aboutgetting old. They cannot wait to be old. This brings me to Ègbón and àbúro or older sibling and younger sibling. If your older sibling is a month older than you, you show them respect. You cannot even say their name without adding a sign of respect before it. In terms of professors and elders, our Yorùbá class has now adopted the custom for women of getting on your knees and saying a traditional greeting of respect for every Yorùbá elder or professor that we meet.
Side note: YOU MUST GREET EVERYONE – about to duel? must greet. about to rob? must greet. family member JUST died in the middle of the street? there’s a greeting for that. pass a person on the side of the road who is asleep? there’s a greeting for that.
The men have to prostrate themselves on the floor and cheerily greet the professor lying face down on the floor. We’ve taking to less extremes by bowing as low as possible in public but in the classroom this is (supposed to be) tradition.
In a way I think that this is not at all as “backwards” as many in Western culture might label it (you dare not interrupt, challenge, add to, or speak when your elder is talking) but forward thinking in a different way. Many aspects of western culture have lost roots in this type of respect for wisdom and old age. However in terms of ìbánisòró (dialectic) and gender (age is not determined by years necessarily but by stature) there is some tension developing among those with Western education in Nigeria who challenge the more traditional relation between old and young. However, no matter how liberal, this is laden in the culture and does not translate very well for a lot of Yorubas into what we see amongst ourselves today. For examples, our conversation partner (a to-be-respected Olùkó or teacher) talked about the incredible disrespect college students (especially football players in class) have for their professors. Our teacher talked about how he still has to get over how rude it is when someone enters a room he is in and does not come to greet him or a younger person starts the greeting informally or with a question. The younger person in Yoruba would NEVER go up to a Professor or Òjògbón and say “hey what’s up?” or “How’s it going” – I’m imagining my conversation partner’s face at this right now and can’t help laughing.
Anyway, the first week has been great. I’m off to class.
O dàbo (until we return)