Vhahangwele Nemakonde
Digital Journalist
4 minute read
24 Aug 2016
2:25 pm

When in Venda, avoid standing at all costs

Vhahangwele Nemakonde

The Citizen will be publishing a series of articles exploring the similarities and differences in cultural principles and what constitutes disrespect in different cultures. This week, we go north.

I am assuming it was after watching Muvhango that someone came up with the brilliant idea of making fun of the TshiVenda language.

Earlier this year I saw a Facebook meme that was making fun of Tshivenda, saying VhaVenda always put “vho” before every word, even the names of objects, such as vho-tshidulo (chair). Whether the meme was made out of ignorance or one was just having fun with words, it is not clear.

Growing up, we were conditioned to think of specific actions as being disrespectful, and others as acceptable – but have you ever wondered if society, or, rather, cultures, have the same set of rules for respectful behaviour?

Coming to the workplace, I was faced with a dilemma of having to call my bosses Steve and Charles, and another elder colleague Bra Isaac, when my own culture did not allow me. But as they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?

For instance, upon walking into the boss’ office, one has to wait until one is given a seat, but for someone who grew up in Venda, their first instinct would tell them to immediately enter and take a seat because it would be disrespectful to speak to one’s elders while standing.

Also, I could not help but think someone might have visited a friend from another province and culture and earned the reputation of being disrespectful when, in fact, they did not think they were doing anything wrong because where they are from, their actions are not considered wrong.

On his trip to Venda last year, President Jacob Zuma praised the VhaVenda for their respectful behaviour, jokingly saying were he not already married, he would have married a MuVenda woman. He was specifically referring to how women in Venda lie down when they greet – but would we call a Zulu woman disrespectful for failing to do so?

ALSO READ: If Zuma wanted a MuVenda wife

Growing up, some of the words no child wanted to hear coming from an elder were: “A ni na mikhwa (you have no manners),” because, let’s face it, what child does not want approval from their elders?

The most obvious way the elders could spot a disrespectful child was how they responded to a call. If one wanted bad attention from the elders, all they had to do was respond with “Heh!” instead of “Aa” when called by an elder.

Not even your parents would save you from the tongue-lashing you would receive from other elders.

Still on the tongue-lashing, no matter what happens, you do not look your elders in the eyes when they are talking to you. That would be taken as a sign of disrespect and that you are ready to give them a few words of your own. To be safe, quietly look down and apologise, assuming you would be kneeling or sitting down as opposed to standing, because that would mean you are ready for a fistfight.

A list of a few “disrespectful” things:

  • Eating while standing
  • Giving or accepting something while standing up straight. If you cannot go all the way to the ground, at least bend your knee to show you know your place.
  • When giving or accepting, don’t do it with one hand, because no matter how small the object is, your hands must support each other. This one was so bad, they would actually take back whatever it was they were giving you if you accepted it with one hand.
  • Going to the chief’s house in pants (only for women, of course. Traditional attire all the way – “Nwenda”). A man must have a jacket on.
  • Greeting the chief and elders while standing. Basically, avoid standing at all costs – it will make your life easier.
  • Adults do not lie. Well, a younger person is not allowed to say an adult lied, they say “o swaswa” (which literally means “joking” but is a euphemism for lying). I always argue that adults should just stop “u swaswa” so they save the rest of us all the trouble.
  • Don’t talk back to your elders, even if you’re right. Don’t raise your tone either.
  • When a man enters a yard or house, he must take off his hat.
  • When a woman enters the yard, they say “Aa!” and take a seat.
  • When a woman enters a house, she must kneel down at the door before coming in (what a disrespectful generation we are).
  • When cooking on a fire, a woman must kneel instead of sitting on a chair, or worse standing – depending on the size of the pot.
  • You do not take someone’s belongings without asking – and no, we don’t mean stealing. Even if they’re your close relative, you ask before you take. Kids don’t just open a fridge and take what they want; they ask from an adult first.
  • Do not accept anything from an elder while standing. You must kneel first. You don’t give anything to an elder while standing either – use both hands too.

Are there disrespectful things you think we left out? Let us know in the comments below.