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How Do You Greet Your Elders in Kenya?

How Do You Greet Your Elders in Kenya
Written by See Africa Today

The charisma, warmth and a whole new set of vibrancy characterise Kenya. It is evident everywhere you go but how do you greet your elders in Kenya?

Everything notwithstanding, the Kenyan culture is epic and elders are at the centre of it all. And greetings are a big part of it but there is a ‘traditional system’ on how you do it.

It’s a part of the acceptable etiquette in the Kenyan setting which young kids are taught from an early age. However, the presence of ‘generation X’ makes the topic on how do you greet your elders in Kenya vital.

‘Generation X’ is a group of children and teens who relate more with the western culture than with their African culture. Therefore the need to educate them on the important aspects of the culture in Kenya cannot be underscored enough.

How Do You Greet an Elder in Swahili?

Swahili is one of the national languages in Kenya besides English. It is a coastal language whose popularity wades through all the major cities and towns in Kenya.

Kenyan greetings

Kenyan greetings. Photo/Verywell Mind

So how do you greet your elders in Kenya in Swahili? Before traveling to a location where Swahili is spoken, make sure you know how to greet an elder in Swahili by telling them “shikamoo.”

It ideally means “how are you” to which the elder responds ‘Marahaba’ meaning ‘I’m fine’.

Alternatively, you can greet your elders by telling them ‘Jambo’ meaning ‘Hello’ but shikamoo is more appropriate.

How Can I be Respectful in Kenya?

As a whole, Kenyan culture is a mashup of various tribal traditions. While local customs and etiquette may differ from country to country, following basic rules of etiquette will help you have a pleasant trip.

In Kenya, it is customary to say “hi” and shake hands upon meeting a new person. This sufficiently answers how do you greet elders your Kenya. If you are a visitor, be in the know that it’s not always okay to give someone a bear hug.

“Mama” or “Baba,” with the name of the oldest of their offspring, is the most common way to refer to older people in Kenyan culture. It’s customary to refer to the mother or father as Mama or Baba so and so (use a name of their children).

A gesture of respect while shaking hands with an elder is to support his or her right forearm with the left hand. You should also never touch an elder without permission.

Further, using your index finger to point at someone is rude – much so when it is an elder. Secondly, it’s disrespectful to use the left hand to pass something; instead, one must use the right hand or both hands.

Also, the culture in Kenya passed on to generations by elders is to always escort your visitors whenever they visit you. You could walk them to their car or bus stop as a sign of respect and gratitude.

Men and women are strongly discouraged from making public demonstrations of their affection.

Compared to Americans, Kenyans have a different idea of personal space. You are likely to have guests drop by your house unannounced for a quick chit-chat. This is not the case in the US or Europe when you inform your host of your intention to visit first.

What is Considered Disrespectful in Kenya?

Besides how do you greet your elders in Kenya, it is important that you know what the community here consider disrespectful.

They include:

Turning Down Hospitality

Hospitality is firmly embedded in people’s way of life. Visitors can anticipate food and drink wherever they go. Accepting a plate of food or a cup of tea is the accepted norm.

How do you greet elders in Kenya

How do you greet elders in Kenya? It is rude to refuse a meal offered by your guest. Photo/The Culture Trip

Asking People’s Tribes

Never inquire about the ethnicity of a Kenyan. People in Kenya are proud of their ethnicity, but it doesn’t define them. In particular, young people prefer to think of themselves first and foremost as Kenyans.

For this reason, even when you are not stereotyping somebody, asking someone about their tribe may be seen as you doing so. But, you can always ask about the country’s 42 tribes.

Not Complying With Security Checks

Security checks at the entrances of buildings are essential due to the growth in terrorist activity around the world, including Kenya. When you’re searched, an electronic wand is passed over your body and bag.

Therefore, refusing a security check is a sign of disrespect.

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