I recall having grown up in a conservative rural society where we were lectured and groomed on etiquette, humility and a sense of respect. It was a society where unbecoming and uncouth behaviour was strongly detested and the rode was never spared in such incidences of moral and societal deviance. Such was a society that strongly believed and subscribed to the African adage which reads ‘Spare a child and spoil the child’. Foul mouthed and vulgar leaning individuals had no place in such a society.
It was a society which had stricter norms of ‘ubuntuism’ a sense of oneness and a sense of how one was expected to conduct him/her self along socially acceptable norms. It was a society steeped in good mannerisms, obedience, with largely Christian social upbringing. The Girl child was expected to be obedient and exemplary. Society expected her to be refined with having some feminine finesse. Though, the issues of women empowerment had started to gather steam and traction on a global level and national level as exemplified by the post – Beijing Conference movement. This did not deter the male folk in castigating and downplaying the role of women in decision making within the realm of the family.
In such a patriarchal society it was common to hear men bating with their lives, that never would they be ruled with, what they termed ‘peti-coat’ government? Crudely, implying that women were objectified and viewed as what has been termed as ‘subjects’ in the Mamdanian sense and not as, ‘citizens’.
Nonetheless, the girl child was forbidden in openly talking about sexuality (though in private) we knew the Girl child always discussed these issues. We could pick from their puerile giggles at the well, in the fields and on their way to fetch firewood behind the woods in the forest. In such a conservative society the girl child was expected to be bow down when she meets an elder. Blame it or not, it was a society which had its own way of relating.
In such a community where my umbilical cord lies, it was also socially unacceptable for the young people to call the elder person with his/her first name. In fact, it was totally forbidden to call an elderly with his/her name. This rule was applicable even to those perceived as social outcasts.Nomatter, how you mocked or mimicked him, society never allowed the young ones to morally cross the level of calling the ‘outcast’ using her first name. In such a society titles were easily identified basing on familial relations and also defined along totem lines.
Many years later in a foreign country I witnessed how an Asian colleague was always at pains in trying to address the professors and Drs with their first names. In our introductory lectures to acquaint to a ‘new’ life in a developed country, the lecturers had told us ‘Do not call us with our titles, in this part of the land we call each other by our first names and we are comfortable with it’. This astounded me and fellow colleagues.
But, having interned at a trade union in Zimbabwe, my surprise wasn’t that much, as compared to the puzzlement of my fellow students. In order to dilute status and hierarchy (socially speaking though not professionally) the management at the trade union had decided to loosely use the term ‘sekuru’ meaning ‘uncle’. Without necessarily meaning one was actually related. In other cases, they used totems, and myself being of the ‘Simboti’ leopard totem, I would therefore get constant calls as simboti.
Such was done to dilute cleavages which might have arisen due to hierarchical differences. Thus, making others feel unease, less important. Such a relaxed and (un)officialised environment made work easier.
Back to the Asian guy, I witnessed for countless times how he faced challenges in addressing the professors with their first names. At times he would pre –fix a Mr John to a one Dr John. At times he would try calling the name John but it could all not come out of her lips. I understood his uneasiness.
This discomfort might have emerged from his upbringing and different societal rules, norms and culture. A situation which I can also personally relate with. Even by the completion of our studies, he still had challenges in calling John by his first name, which is John. Rather he would rather pre – fix it with the Mr John title.