"Relationship Terms" and Shared Understandings
An examination of the terms used to characterize people and their participation in various sorts of social relationships reveals that the meaning of the terms depends on the existence of a number of general values and beliefs. These cultural elements are found to be part of the expectations in an array of the statuses involved in many of the multiplex relationships found in Swahili society. These general understandings are expressed quite explicitly and, often, as parts of the evaluations of particular individuals and their specific behavior. Sometimes the evaluations are general, but more often, they focus specifically on particular statuses of variable inclusiveness ranging from the broad "community member" to the narrow "member of the nuclear family involved."
These expressed evaluations involve using the qualities referred to by
particular terms as bases for assessment of the categories of individuals and, sometimes, relationships to which they are applied. The terms are emotionally as well as evaluatively charged, so that their application carries intrinsic support for conformity to the standards they entail. Since the terms are used differently according to the statuses of those to whom they apply, they militate for the differentiated conformity called for by distributed culture rather than for a uniform conformity that would blur functional distinctions among statuses.
Investigating Terms Concerning Expectations and Relationships
To study the terms characterizing individuals and relationships, I began by compiling a list of seventy words and phrases referring to character and behavior. These were originally taken from conversations with various community members. Each term was discussed with three different male informants of high prestige who were native to the community. Each was asked to comment and provide any additional terms he could think of. After analyzing the results of this (Swartz 1985), I discussed these same terms with three older women (one in her fifties, two in their sixties) in the same way on a later field trip (1988). The results of the discussions with the women confirmed my hypothesis that there was little gender-based difference in the models for behavior which can be seen in the uses of the terms.
After eliminating alternate terms and phrases for the same traits and behavior, I have twenty-nine remaining. Each of these is considered below.
The Swahili are very private people, one of whose main values is sitara . This can be glossed as "secrecy" or "privacy" with an implication that honor can be maintained only if the specifics of life are kept secret. The basic unit for the sharing of secrets is the household group (usually including a nuclear family and often no one else), and this is expressed in a fairly commonly heard proverb, Nyumba yasitara mambo : lit. The house hides the things that happen, with "things that happen" referring to unfavorable and undesirable events.
This pervasive concern with concealing even the most ordinary aspects of life applies to family members and forms an active force in much of what everyone does. The values suggested by this term not only apply in relations with neighbors and fellow community members but with anthropologists as well. These understandings affect the way community members treat one another and limited my ability to observe and discuss community life.
The next terms to be considered are unusual in two respects. First, they concern the broadest sorts of expectations applying in all public relationships involving adults. Second, they are positive in that getting or having what they refer to is unquestionably desirable and positively evaluated by everyone I
talked to. A proverb notes, with respect to positive attributes, Jina jema hung'aa gizani : [A] good name (always or as a regular thing) shines in [the] dark.
No term is more laden with emotion and value than uungwana , referring to the quality of being a noble as opposed to being a slave. It is most often heard as mwungwana , meaning a noble person. To say someone is not a mwungwana is a profound insult, which, if accepted, bars the individual and his or her family members from marriage with those who are considered waungwana (pl. of mwungwana). Being a mwungwana always involves the belief that the person so characterized has no slave forebears. This is both a necessary and a sufficient condition in that if one is believed to have slave-free ancestry, one is a mwungwana even if, because of bad behavior, one is a wretched example of the category. This does not, however, mean that category membership is not evaluated according to the performance of certain kinds of behavior and the avoidance of others.
Thus, a mwungwana always shows utu (civilization or refined behavior) and avoids brash, noisy, demanding behavior if he wishes to be evaluated positively. Waungwana do not eat cornmeal (or, if they do, let no one know they do), gossip, raise their voices, or squabble with those beneath them. Silence is said to be the anger of a mwungwana, and the general understanding is that a mwungwana, something all community members must be if they are fully part of the community, behaves with restraint, a concern for high standards, and an abiding concern with the rights of others.
Fakhri refers to an attribute informants say is indispensable for honored standing in the community, and, in strict usage, only waungwana can be characterized in this way. My senior male informants, all of whom speak excellent English, as a substantial majority of the community does, say that the English words most fully approximating its meaning are honor, prestige, and dignity. The utu required for being a mwungwana is essential for fakhri, but being a mwungwana is not sufficient for having fakhri. The absence of both slave ancestry and grossly unacceptable behavior makes one a mwungwana, but more positive qualities are needed for fakhri. The most important and obvious of these is the active respect of senior community members.
Fakhri mainly comes from notable accomplishments in religion, education, politics, or the professions. It can, however, be based in personal character and demeanor. A man or woman who is admired for his or her consistently impressive behavior over a period of years may win fakhri despite not having university degrees, great religious learning, wealth, or power.
A person who has fakhri has what really matters even if he is poor to the point of having no regular place to live and only an indefinite source of food, as some learned, holy men (sheikh is the term used for such a person) might. Further, if you are without fakhri, not even a shiny Mercedes and a new two-story house will redeem you. A person whose money comes from sin—a bar
owner, a person profiting from selling fermented coconut toddy, a pimp—may be rich, but he will not have fakhri if people know the source of his wealth. Even building a mosque may not win him the esteem and respect referred to by the term "fakhri."
Fakhri has few synonyms or modifiers. There is little elaboration of the idea as far as vocabulary is concerned. It is a highly desirable condition, and everyone knows that it is. There are, as we will see, a variety of ways to get it, but there is little embellishment of the basic idea. It may be that the Eskimos have many names for the snow that is the base for much of what they do, but the Swahili have only one name for what observation shows to be one of the most significant—publicly, the most significant—parts of life for them.
Women are most concerned with their fakhri with their female neighbors (the women of their mtaa), while men's fakhri is affected far more by their relations throughout the Old Town community. Women gain fakhri according to their relationships with and evaluation by their neighbors. Men's fakhri has a broader base, depending, as it does, on all their relations throughout the community.
Women in their relations with one another are benefited in meeting expectations if their husbands provide them with sufficient funds to dress and ornament themselves well. A woman who succeeds in getting her husband to provide her with the needed funds for proper dress, ornament, and the staging of reasonably impressive weddings and funerals is well along to having at least a minimum of fakhri. Unless a man is viewed as a great sheikh, he must find employment, almost always outside the immediate community, that will pay him enough to allow him to dress properly and to entertain his fellows on great occasions.
Men's fakhri, however, appears independent of providing funds for wives in that a man receives no honor for a wife who has high prestige among women and loses none if she has a low standing with her peers. The division of the sexes, in fact, makes it almost impossible for men to know what women are doing save through the reports of their wives, and, similarly, women depend on hearsay for their knowledge of the doings of men.
All men are expected to be pious and, preferably, learned in the holy works. When small, everyone goes to religious school to learn sufficient Arabic to be able to read the Koran and pray, but ever-increasing knowledge of religious matters is an important source of male fakhri that is less open to women who may, however, contribute to their fakhri by their general piety. The idea that there could be a female sheikh was viewed as risible by the women I asked about it.
Children who do well in secular school and who demonstrate general competence in life's affairs—especially boys but also, in the women's domain, girls—are much admired and are a source of fakhri for their mothers and,
less, their fathers. However, children's attainments should never be mentioned since this is understood to incite hasadi (jealousy) and the evil eye (mato ), which can lead to the admired child losing his admirable ways or, even, his life.
Women are viewed—and view themselves, as best I can tell—as emotionally freer, less logical, and less tied to the practical concerns of life (especially money) than men are. According to both male and female informants, this is women's proper state, and although women who are careful planners and successful in business (there are currently several who are) are admired, they may also be feared by members of both sexes (but evidence about this from women is conflicting). I have heard of a number of these businesswomen that they dominate their husbands, which is said by members of both sexes to be a bad thing and contrary to Islam.
Men derive much of their fakhri from their dignity, which entails not suffering others to act as though they are being deferred to. So, for example, if two men take tea together in a teahouse, there is sometimes a spirited discussion of who should pay, especially if one feels that the other's paying would indicate his acceptance of the other's largess. Men are reluctant to accept anything that appears to be charity, and even children will not accept clothing that has been used by another unless the first user was a same-sex sibling.
Part of the tension between men and women stems from women's inclination to push their husbands to spend freely on rituals, clothing, and jewelry and the men's fear that lack of money may put them in a position where they cannot always defend their prestige. Similarly, men fear that knowledge of their poverty (which may or may not be real) may be spread through the gossiping of women. A man does not lose fakhri for being poor but only for being known to engage in the behavior associated with poverty such as eating cornmeal. Although women also prize being "nobles," men fear that the women's garrulousness together with their weak, as men see it, commitment to fakhri many undermine both their own honor and that of the men associated with them. There is a proverb that men sometimes repeat which brings together their fear of women's talkative natures and their scorn for women's commitment to the standards of fakhri: Hakuna mwanamke mwungwana : (There is no woman [who is a] noble).
Adabu is the only other term concerning general standing in the community. This one, more than fakhri, has to do with relations between people according to their respective statuses and, also, their prestige.
Adabu can be glossed as "proper relations and behavior between superiors and inferiors." In standard Swahili, adabu is often glossed as "manners," and a book entitled Adabu Njema was used as a sort of manners guide in Tanzanian schools in the latter part of the colonial period and the early years of independence. For the native speakers in Mombasa, however, the meaning is much narrower. Broadly, the term refers to being properly deferential to
superiors and, at the other side of asymmetrical relationships, not being unwarrantedly overbearing with inferiors. In fact, the term is mostly used for a young person who deals with his elders with unfailing respect. Adabu implies a hierarchy in social relations, and experience with the group shows that this hierarchy involves both age and fakhri. A young person with adabu treats all older people with a certain deference but is far more circumspect and respectful in behavior toward an older person with firmly established fakhri than with one who has little.
Honor and Deference: How Terms Encourage Conformity
The understandings involved in adabu and fakhri provide an important illustration of how interconnected complexes of understandings are manifested in speech and how, in turn, they affect manifest social behavior. A junior who meets the general expectations in behavior toward his seniors is characterized in a positive way by those seniors and is likely to gain preference when there are limited goods at the senior's disposal (e.g., marriage with the senior's daughter).
At the same time, a fairly senior man or woman who has met the expectations in his or her status as adult community member gains fakhri, which leads younger people to behave toward him or her with adabu, thus providing manifest (i.e., behavioral) confirmation of the older person's fakhri. Such demonstration, in turn, wins respect and esteem for the younger person and confirms that he or she has utu (civilization).
To generalize this, and similar processes are involved in terms to be considered below, meeting expectations for positively evaluated behavior by members of one status (adult community member in the example) imposes expectations on relations with occupants of another status (young community member) which, if met, bring rewards to both parties to the relationship. By so doing, the sorts of status expectations central to valued relations are displayed and the merit of conforming to them is demonstrated in observable behavior.
The interconnections of the expectations inherent in fakhri and adabu entail sequences of behavior from different individuals which demonstrate the virtues of both sets of expectations by manifestly (i.e., socially) rewarding them. The expectations involved provide a script, as it were, for converting broad understandings about honor and "good" behavior between individuals of different ages into directly observable action that affects the individual's community standing and, at least in some cases, self-esteem.
Interestingly, for men, I recorded no words for negative aspects of standing in the community. To be without fakhri is less a negative condition than it is lacking a prestigious but nonessential positive one. Such a person may well
be seen as a mwungwana if his genealogy is acceptable (or, at least, not known to be otherwise), and, unless he is known for egregiously violating the standard expectations of the community member status, he will be characterized as such without further qualification. He is just not a prestigious and honored community member.
For women, the situation is rather different. If they do not stage the impressive weddings and funerals that bring fakhri but do attend those of others (and all women do attend), they are said by informants to risk bringing shame (aibu) on themselves. It is only a "risk" of shame because so long as they have an unmarried child or a living parent, the opportunity to meet the honor-bringing expectations still exists. When all chance of meeting expectations has passed, however, the woman who has not held the rituals is likely to be negatively evaluated as a man who has failed to meet equivalent expectations is not.
Adabu, as concerns young people, does not have the optional quality fakhri has for men. Huna adabu (You have no adabu) is a strong reproach when delivered from a senior to a junior. A young man or boy (girls and young women are rarely in situations where such issues arise since they are generally secluded in their houses) who consistently fails to manifest adabu is called a muhuni , a pejorative term concerning failure to meet a range of expectations to be considered below.
A middle-aged man cannot be a muhuni no matter how he acts. Although both fakhri and adabu apply to behavior in general, they refer to different sorts of behavior for members of different statuses and their presence or absence is evaluated according to the status of the person involved. Just as mature men cannot be judged as muhuni, without adabu, children cannot have fakhri. They can only contribute to or detract from that of their parents. Further, women's fakhri comes from different behavior as evaluated by a different audience than men's does.
Unfavorable Terms and Understandings Mainly about the Young
Somewhat more broadly applicable but related to muhuni and closely connected to adabu, there is the characterization mshenzi , uncivilized and uncouth person, mentioned in the general discussion of status in chapter 5. Like the epithet, "Huna adabu" (You have no manners), "mshenzi" is an insult sometimes hurled at an offensive person rather than being only a characterization used in discussion or in describing someone. An mshenzi is a person who lacks the attributes of civilization, utu. It is someone who fails to meet the most immediate expectations in interaction (e.g., by failing to dress properly or speak acceptably). Most often, this trait is attributed to noncommunity members, but some community members who are understood to violate seri-
ously the standards of decent behavior are included. It is generally a young person who is characterized as an mshenzi. Still, an older person is occasionally also referred to in this way if he (I have only rarely heard it used for female community members) is viewed as an egregious violator of direct expectations concerning dress, speech, and interpersonal relations.
An even more serious pejorative used almost exclusively for young people is based on a term, fadhla , used in Old Town but not listed in any of the standard Swahili dictionaries (Krapf 1882; Johnson 1959; Akida et al. 1981). It refers to gratitude and reciprocity between those in junior statuses and those in senior statuses. Although the term is positive, it occurs mainly as an accusation or denunciation by an older person (often a parent or other relative) of a younger and concerns the younger's failure to reciprocate for what the older has done for the younger.
The general importance of fadhla in relations among peers was readily agreed to by informants, but in conversation, I rarely heard people mention or talk about it save in relations between juniors and seniors. Moreover, all of my recorded instances of its occurrence are references to a junior's failure to do what a senior thinks the junior should have done. These failures sometimes refer to specific instances of help not given (e.g., not taking a sick person to the hospital) or consideration not shown (e.g., failure to visit a parent) but can also be quite general, as in failure to live in a way that reflects credit on the parent.
The word is used as a serious denunciation of a junior by a senior: "Huna fadhla! " I am told that a young man can be moved to tears by his father or some other highly respected senior telling him he has no fadhla and that the same is true for young women and their mothers, although the term may be in less frequent use among women. So far as I can establish, the term is not used as an epithet across gender lines.
The general expectation involved in fadhla is a broad and vital one in relations between individuals in statuses with quite different prestige. Unlike adabu, fadhla is not an expectation in all relationships between juniors and seniors. Fadhla refers to expectations of juniors as held by seniors in very close relationships, especially between parents and children but possible in any relationship where the interests of the two are closely identified.
Expectations in Specific Relationships
Turning to the expectations in specific relationships, a meager vocabulary appears on my list, but the terms used refer to some that are quite central where they apply.
The first of these, shibana , refers to a role where the statuses (and there are rarely or never kinsmen in this relationship) of the participants include expectations that are unique among those in the community. The male par-
ticipants (women seem never to have this relationship) can ask each other for anything without haya ("shyness," see below) and can take each other's food or money without asking permission. Such freedom with other's possessions cannot, informants tell me, cause a quarrel in a role characterized in this way. The relationship is one that grows up slowly over a long period between men who get on with and trust one another.
This relationship is a rare one. It was only after much inquiry that I was able to get a single example of it, and subsequent searching has revealed only one other. The fact that the shibana relationship rarely occurs, however, should not obscure the important ideals and expectations it entails. The rarity of the Western honest man, disinterested party, or unbiased judge does not lessen the broader implications of the understandings forming those statuses, and the same is true of the shibana relationship. It serves, I suspect, to underline the nature of expectations in ordinary men's relationships by its contrast with them. Every man I talked to about this relationship knew what it was and what its expectations are even if they could think of no participants.
The fact that shibana, with its broad expectations and mutual accessibility, is so rare and difficult of attainment emphasizes the markedly different and much narrower expectations in more common relations between unrelated men. Knowing the expectations in the shibana relationship and its rarity does not ensure conformity to comparable and opposite expectations in other men's relationships, but it certainly calls attention to them. This is especially so as concerns the potential shame arising from being free with another man's confidence and possessions.
Women, whose possessions are closely controlled (ideally, at least) by their male kin, could not easily be in a relationship whose central expectations specifically concern the use of possessions. Perhaps important, however, is the fact that shibana-like freedom is more characteristic of relations between women in areas not concerning the free use of possessions. The expectations in women's relations with one another allow, sometimes require, that they embrace each other, shout together in joy and anger, hurl insults, dance together, and gossip. Shibana-like lack of restriction is not unusual in the expectations in many women's relations, and it would not offer a sharp contrast as it does to what is common in relations involving men.
Effects of Relationship Terms through Contrast
The general point suggested by the shibana relationships is that the expectations in particular relationships can be made socially visible and psychologically effective in ways other than those we saw for "honor" (fakhri) and "manners" (adabu) where the meeting of expectations receives manifest social rewards.
As will be seen, Swahili shared understandings are often displayed by focusing attention on the badness of not meeting them. Shibana calls attention to the expectations in ordinary men's relationships by focusing on the rarity, rather than the badness, of their absence. Shibana may call attention to expectations such as generosity, openness, and selflessness, but since these are appropriate for men, if at all, in relations with children and wives, it would seem likely that the main cultural effect is that of emphasis by contrast.
The Virtues of Reserving Special Treatment for Those in Special Relationships
Liking Only Those in Your Eye
The more usual sort of contrast, that between commendable meeting of expectations and condemnable failure to meet them, is seen in the clearly disapproving characterization of a particular sort of participation in relationships: Apenda mtu matoni (lit. He or she likes a person [while he or she is] in [his or her] eyes [i.e., sight]).
This, informants told me, refers to a person who likes people and pays attention to them only when they are with her (it is used most for women) and forgets about them when they are not present. Some informants say the characterization means the person has no real commitment to anyone and treats everyone basically the same. The implication, I was told, is that people should differentiate between those who are closely related (by kinship or, less, neighborhood) to them and those only distantly connected and that the salience of a relationship should not depend wholly on the presence or absence of those involved in it.
Informants are unanimous in saying that liking those who are in sight is a negative trait and that people would be quite angry if they knew someone was using the phrase to characterize them. An important quality of this phrase is that, unlike shibana, it focuses on a person rather than a relationship. This, in fact, is characteristic of most of the terms concerning meeting or failing to meet expectations. By focusing on individuals, the implied evaluation becomes forceful to the extent that people wish to avoid being unfavorably characterized. Thus, the implied model not only formulates and displays valued expectations and saliences but does so in a way that can promote conformity to them.
A related and highly similar cultural model to the one found in the "liking those in sight" phrase occurs in two proverbs, one that states the understandings abstractly and one that makes an accusation against a particular person.
The abstract statement is made in a proverb quoted at the beginning of chapter 4: Mla nawe hafi nawe ela mazawa nawe (lit. He [who] eats with you will not die with you unless he was born with you).
The understanding here is people who are "born with you," mainly your
nuclear family kin, will stand by you, unlike those who share your largess but who have no strong tie of kinship. Informants say that the message is that it is a mistake to treat everyone the same, especially to waste your resources on "strangers," since only close kin are committed to you. The proverb, like the accusation that someone has no lasting affection, emphasizes the virtue of differentiating between those with whom one has lasting ties (i.e., of close kinship) and all others.
The same message is contained in an unusual proverb used as criticism of whomever the user wishes to name for neglecting their close kin while being generous with "outsiders": [Someone's name] ni uvuli wa mvumo hufunika walo mbali (lit. [The named person] is [like] the shade of the Mvumo, it covers those who are far away).
The mvumo is a tree with a long, branchless trunk and a crown of branches and leaves at the top so that it gives no shade near its base but only at a distance. This proverb says that the person it names gives his good things only to those who are distant from him while neglecting those near him. This message is the same as that seen in the previous two statements, but here it is a culturally constituted trope for use against a named person.
Informants agree that this proverb would not be used in the presence of the person named and that that individual would probably not find out the comparison had been made. Community members agree, however, that those who hear the comparison involving another would be likely to consider who else, including themselves, it might apply to.
Broadly, the preceding three proverbs all emphasize the importance of distinguishing between those with whom there are close ties, mainly kin based, and all others. They specifically enjoin the reservation of affection and other scarce goods to relationships with kin or, at least, people whom one has associated with for very long periods. A related but different message mainly concerned with neighbors and friends is found in the personal trait, hanamazoea .
The verb zoea can be glossed as "become accustomed to" or "being used to." Mazoea , the nominal form, is used to refer to the state of habituation or being accustomed. "Hanamazoea" can be glossed as having no habituation or not becoming accustomed to people or things. It is an unfavorable characterization applying to one who does not develop closer relationships over time. It is applied to a person who fails to be friendly and return hospitality through failing to manifest signs of friendship such as invitations despite having often accepted such signs from others.
The positive state, mazoea, can be seen in the keening of a woman at her stepfather's funeral: "Habituation," she wept, "is worse [i.e., more deeply felt] than love" (Mazoea mabaya kuliko mapenzi ). Lasting relations are most
valued, and kin relations are the prototype of these, but failure to treat long-standing associations with due regard is disapproved even if they involve those without kin ties.
Broad Personal Traits, Broad Expectations, and Hierarchy
The absence of valuable traits, such as "habituation," is understood as unfortunate, even deplorable, but not usually remediable. It is the general Swahili view that character traits are fixed and, although controllable, cannot be changed. Thus, the proverb, Tabia ni chanda cha mwili : lit. Character is [a] finger [i.e., part] of [the] body.
Character plays a vital part in Swahili understandings in how people behave, and, although character is mainly fixed, it is worthwhile, as an informant put it, "to praise what is good so there can be teaching." Some of the most praised traits are those involved in meeting expectations in roles, especially in those involving seniors. Similarly, some of the most generally condemned traits are those manifest in failing to meet such expectations in these relations. Description of the traits, then, provides explicit statements of the understandings that are central expectations in important roles and offer a basis for "teaching" through praising, or condemning, them.
One of the admired traits, particularly important for younger people but praiseworthy in everyone, is haya . This word describes the main characteristics of a person who is modest rather than boastful or brazen and who is considerate of the rights and sensibilities of others. A child who is offered an attractive toy and, instead of enthusiastically accepting, remains quiet and averts his eyes is said to have haya. A man or a woman who behaves with modesty and restraint when successful and who is reluctant to impose on others is showing haya, as is a person who is generous in assessing the behavior of others. A person with haya knows his or her rights and entitlements and does not forego them without strong reasons, but is readier to view others as having met expectations than to view them as having failed to do so.
As noted above, the participants in the extremely rare shibana relationship use each other's possessions without haya. This means that they need not be concerned, as good people in most relationships are, about accepting things from others beyond what is called for by closely calculated reciprocity. Save in the shibana relationship, those with haya are concerned to see that the rights of their partners in relationships will receive primary attention while being ready to interpret what has been done by the partner as satisfying their own rights. Haya is, generally, a reluctance to view one's self as slighted or neglected while manifesting concern about the other.
Because of its haya, the lion, an animal admired by the Swahili for its bravery and lack of guile, is said not to attack those who look straight into
his eyes. A brave soldier has the same characteristic, which is seen in his knowing his duty and doing it, while, at the same time, being respectful of others, even opponents, who know their rights and stand up for them.
While haya is a highly valued trait that strongly affirms the general significance of others' rights, its emphasis on consideration for others brings it closer to leading those having it to be easily victimized by those without it. Informants say that those with haya know their rights as well as those of others, just as the lion does, and that being victimized is upumbafu , foolish-ness or idiocy. In fact, however, assessments of people sometimes lead the same person to be characterized by haya or by upumbafu depending on the assessor's own character and his overall view of the person involved and of the acts in question.
Respect and Reciprocity
Closely related to haya, heshima refers to the trait of respecting others and not being arrogant or proud in dealing with them, while, at the same time, behaving with dignity so as to be worthy of respect. There is a proverb that says, Heshima apewa mjuwaye heshima : "Heshima" is given to he who knows [recognizes] heshima.
A person with haya accords heshima to others and is, therefore, a likely object of heshima. The understandings basically involved in heshima are more reciprocal than those in haya. A young person with haya is sure to accord heshima to those with whom he or she deals, but he or she may receive little heshima personally because of his or her junior position. In a similar way, adabu, "manners," always inclines a young person to accord heshima to seniors but will win the junior only limited heshima. Both haya and heshima concern the expectations involving rendering unto others, but heshima involves more of also expecting to be treated with the respect one's dignity and accomplishment deserve.
Hierarchy as a General Understanding Supported by the Use of a Variety of Terms
It will be clear by now that Swahili talk about a series of praiseworthy and desirable character traits having to do with hierarchical relationships and the expectations, especially but not exclusively, of the junior in those relationships. All of the terms—fakhri, adabu, haya, heshima—involve a distribution of the understandings that call for a modest and respectful manner, mainly from those in junior statuses directed especially but not exclusively toward those in senior statuses. These terms all express a positive evaluation
of generally being concerned with the rights of others and with meeting broad expectations in a range of relationships.
Not only do the terms provide a recurring reminder of the different expectations in the various statuses involved in important relationships but they can also serve to support conformity by providing desired, or to be avoided, characterizations of the participants in those relationships. Thus, haya and heshima are held up as characterizing valued behaviors in particular statuses, and, at the same time, they are represented as essential traits in those whom others admire. It is a cutting reprimand for a senior to say to a junior "Huna adabu" (You have no manners) or, on the positive side, approvingly to characterize a young person as mwenye haya , (having respect for the rights of others and also his own). The terms, in other words, not only provide a model of culturally approved ways of meeting expectations distributed among different statuses but they also can serve as forces for conformity by applying directly to specific individuals.
None of this would come as a surprise to an observer of Swahili interaction. Two-year-olds walking gravely up to friends of their fathers and lightly kissing their hands are demonstrating adabu (manners), acknowledging fakhri (honor), and showing heshima (respect). It may be going too far to say that their behavior is connected with some kind of permanence in their relationship with the owner of the kissed hand and with the permanence of their fathers' relations with that person, but the fact is that they are not urged to do this kissing (not publicly anyway) and seem to do it only with senior kin and regular, respected visitors to their houses.
The negative aspect of the complex just seen appears in the words kibri and jeuri . "Jeuri" refers to behavior of people who can best be characterized by English phrases such as "disrespectful youth," "street hoodlum," "boor," and the British "cheeky." My best informant tipped his kofia over one eye and slumped in his chair so that he was half lying down (in sharp contrast to the erect sitting posture and carefully centered hat of the individual with adabu) when explaining this word's meaning to me.
A jeuri person, more often a young person than an old one and usually a male rather than a female, is said to use people's things without permission, speak rudely to everyone, and take things from people's hands abruptly when accepting food or other objects. Young men who are rough in their ways, who spend their time with undesirable companions, and who are suspected of drinking and smoking bhang (marijuana) are called muhuni, and the characteristic behavior of muhuni is to be jeuri. It is the opposite of the behavior, conduct in relations, and character implied by fakhri, adabu, and heshima. Informants say that formerly people would not allow their daughters to be betrothed to young men who were muhuni and whose behavior was jeuri, but these days, they say, that is no longer possible since all the young men are
muhuni and are at least sometimes jeuri. This view is generally delivered with despair and sometimes comes with bleak comments about akher zamani , the end of time, a lament discussed in chapter 2.
Whether all young men are muhuni or not, I have never met one who wanted to be characterized in that way. The most abandoned and hopeless young men, older informants say, are those who spend their days—and sometimes nights—in the clubhouses (gahdens ) that are erected in small, unused open spaces in Old Town. These young men include many of those who wear their hair long, contrary to the traditional style of cutting it short or shaving it altogether, and who most obviously reject the restrained behaviors practiced by older men. They are numbered prominently among the youths who bring despair to their elders and who, in turn, say the elders do not understand modern times. Even these young men bridle at the suggestion they might be jeuri and are muhuni.
The understandings put forward in their positive form by the terms "adabu," "haya," and "heshima" are also involved in the pejorative terms "jeuri" and "muhuni." The fact that the young men reject these characterizations suggests their potency. It may be that the young men of the gahdens—and their less-dissatisfied fellow youths who do not spend their time in these disfavored hangouts but who dress and act in a similar way—do not meet the expectations invoked by adabu and the other positive terms as their elders see it. But the youths believe they do meet them. They say they are as respectful as their elders deserve, that they always show concern for the rights of others, and that their behavior is modern (ya sasa ) rather than rude.
Terms and Conformity
It is not that the descriptive terms ensure conformity to everyone's expectations but rather that they make these expectations known and do so in a way that emphasizes the value of meeting them. Occasionally, terms are used in openly expressed denunciations such as "Huna fadhla" (You have no gratitude) where they serve as coercive instruments, but most consistently they display the valued expectations attached to particular statuses and indicate the virtue of meeting them. The terms exert pressure for conformity according to the wishes of those who are aware of them to avoid condemnation or win approval, but this may be distant and contingent on the characters and, especially, relationships between the terms' subjects and their users.
As we will see in chapter 8, the effectiveness of the evaluations of behavior depend on the statuses both of the evaluator and of the evaluated. The young men who are characterized as muhuni often reject evaluations from members of the older generation. Even so, the youths are reminded of what the expectations are which form the basis of these evaluations and they concede some
force to them by insisting that in their own view, and that of their peers, they meet them.