By Tom Brown
The Zulu salutation is “Yebo” (or YeeEbo!) Yes! And the greeting is returned by, how are you? “Ninjani!”
Customs and traditions in South-Africa
We were brought up to have great respect for superiors even as infants, for all adults and especially the older. We were to honour all grown-ups as parents and family and address every adult in the appropriate manner. For instance an African woman was Musadi, and the men had to be greeted and addressed as Muna or Madala.
Children have always been taught absolute respect for adults irrespective of race or religion, as family, and especially to honour older people.
When referring to the past I am talking of some thirty or forty years ago around the time of my own childhood.
Overseas visitors usually find very amusing the universal use among the Afrikaans speaking of Uncle, “Oom” (o-Oh-m) and Aunty, “Tannie” (tunny) as a demonstration of affection, trust and respect for an older man or woman as if family. Parents and teachers and such people are not to be addressed by their name unless they insist. The very formal word “U”, for You in Afrikaans is used less, however usually in prayer and in the sense of 'Thee' or 'Thou' etc.
Amongst other expressions frequently heard is “baie dankie” (buy-a-donkey) and it means 'thank-you very much', “asseblief” comes from the Dutch 'alst je blijft' or, 'if you please'.
Afrikaans is the third most spoken language in South-Africa, only Zulu and Xhosa are spoken more. English is only sixth.
Almost all of our very large population of coloured people (i.e. of mixed ancestry) are Afrikaans mother-tongue with a very proud heritage of their own. They speak a unique dialect and comprise about a half of Afrikaans people. There are many languages in fact we have eleven official languages of which nine are indigenous.
Many people have westernised completely but ancient African customs and society are as strong as ever and people are extremely proud and jealous of their history and roots.
The following are all well known words and commonly used for greeting and in familiar everyday speech:
“Madala” (ma-dá-la) – Grandfather, or Wise man
“Magogo” or “Gogo” (ma-gho-gho) – Grandmother
“Tate” - Father, “Mma” – Mother
“Muna” (móó-na) – Mister
“Musadi” (moo-sádi) – Mrs, or Ma'am
“Madoda” or “Induna” – Big man or Great warrior
“Morena” (more-éna) – Sir, or Lord
For the spelling and phonetics, the “a” is pronounced like the u in 'mud' and 'dud' and o in 'done'; the “o” sounds like the o of 'more', 'born'. Also, “o” (and “u”) are the oo of 'noon'; “i” is the i in 'ring' otherwise the ee in 'see'; “e” sounds like e in “where” or a of “care”.
There are words too that were in everyday use those days that were often experienced as degrading, insulting and humiliating, commonly “boy” ”meid” and “miesies” “baas”. They have all fallen into almost complete disuse and much for the better. There were also few words that now are taboo.
Nowadays names and forms of respects are in use freely across language and race borders. Say if a young black person calls one oom or tannie you feel honoured and it is a show of affection and a compliment. Adults of all races, colleagues neighbours and friends will easily call each other sister or brother and typically young men will greet “Bra” for brother or “Nkosi!” (lit. king), or “Chief!”
Young African men rarely grow beards, it is the privilege of the elder. It is the privilege of an old man, a grey man, a Madala, and so even from the earliest traditions. The beard is clipped neat and short and it signifies wisdom and knowledge, patience and sufferance, experience and hardship. Such as of the statesman and former president Thabo Mbeki, the Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi and spiritual leader Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.