previous chapter
7 Liking Only Those in Your Eye Relationship Terms, Statuses, and Cultural Models
next chapter

Liking Only Those in Your Eye
Relationship Terms, Statuses, and Cultural Models

Apenda mtu matoni: He [only] likes [a] person [when the person is] in [his] eye (i.e., when the person is in sight).

For people to take care of themselves and for social relations to proceed, there must be some common basis for action, some available repository of the procedures and approaches evolved in the group over the generations. Earlier chapters have shown that such a basis and repository do not result from all by all sharing or, even, complete sharing within statuses. Since, however, social life and its products must depend on some group members sharing some understandings, the question is, what is shared by whom and, more important, how does this limited sharing provide the basis for individual and group life?

Status, Culture's Action Arm

Statuses are the action arm of culture. They bring culture's elements to bear on actual situations and problems through categorizing the actor and his associates in the actor's mind and indicating not only who does (and does not) belong to the categories relevant at a given time or situation[1] but also what is expected of category members and those who associate with them. The three different functions of the understandings that constitute any status need not be carried out by different understandings; a single understanding may serve two or even all three functions.

Those in interaction categorize each other and themselves as belonging to various categories that are taken as salient in the applicability of their particular expectations. The agreement of their categorizations and the saliences understood to apply are probably never complete, but, as will be seen, there are powerful processes that make a necessary minimum likely.


When I attended barazas, my fellow participants, judging by what they said and did, accorded me the statuses of visitor (rather than regular member), married man and father, European (i.e., white), university professor,[2] non-Muslim, and probably others. I did not categorize myself in just the same ways, I suspect, but double contingency saved me—as it usually does most people most of the time—from inappropriate behavior. Similarly, I categorized the other baraza attenders as friends, senior community members, Muslims, my hosts, senior men, and family heads.

All persons categorize themselves in a substantial number of statuses at any given period of life according to the situation currently relevant. The actor, in turn, is categorized in a substantial number of statuses by the others involved. The agreement between the various classifications is neither complete nor uniform from instance to instance. Still, social life often proceeds relatively smoothly within the community, indicating a substantial agreement in expectations and in the identifying and salience understandings that "deliver" them.

The complex and simultaneous assignment of similar categories with equivalent salience and expectations by a number of different individuals is daunting to consider in the abstract. Since, however, all members of the Swahili community including two-year-olds have a fairly well developed ability to use statuses in shaping their own behavior and assessing that of others, the complexity can be seen as manageable for participants and, in principle, for observers as well.

Role, a Subunit of Status

Part of the effectiveness of statuses comes from the fact that only a portion of their constituent understandings need to be shared for them to function. Occupants of any one, and those dealing with them as such, need share only those directly concerned with their relationship rather than the status's total inventory of understandings. A student in a chuo (religious school for children) need only share, and that only roughly, the expectations the occupant of the teacher status (mwalimu ) has of him and he has of the teacher. The other roles in the teacher status, including that involving the teacher and the student's parents, need not be shared in any detail as far as his own relations with the teacher are concerned. The parent-teacher role may well affect the student, of course, but the student need not, and probably usually does not, have the understandings required for actually participating in that role.

This is not to say one role relationship may not vitally affect another, as the parent/child relationship sometimes affects the teacher-student relationship. Rather it is to say that a status can play a part in guiding the behavior


of those in a relationship involving one of its occupants without either the occupant or those in relations with him sharing all the elements in the status.

The part of a status that contains expectations concerning members' relations with members of the same or another status is called a "role" here. This concept is useful in directing attention to the fact that limited sharing between two individuals in a relationship need not lessen the effectiveness of culture's guidance in that relationship. The fact that a status's roles can connect the status to a variety of others in quite different relationships is, of course, vital in understanding the processes whereby social structure operates. Several of these latter processes are examined in chapters 9 and 10, but for the present, the point is that these depend on quite limited sharing, even of the components of shared statuses, for their operation.

In order for statuses and their subdivisions, roles, to operate, it is essential that people be fairly confident about which statuses they occupy, which are occupied by those with whom they are in interaction, and what expectations are associated with that occupancy. As will now be seen, this is not entirely a matter of shared understandings leading to inevitable social consequences. Rather, a dialectic between social relations and the cultural elements concerning them proves central to the effectiveness of culture in this, as in many other, processes central to community and individual functioning.

Cultural Models, Language, and Statuses

The expectations and salience understandings vital to statuses' functioning are by no means completely shared, but there are "cultural models" of these embedded in the terms that are used to characterize individuals and relationships. These models play a role in promoting social life and individual satisfaction. As Roy D'Andrade (1985:321) notes, the use of what he calls "character terms," which are included among the relationship terms dealt with below, is an important element in learning the complexes of cultural elements involved in social life.

Keesing argues persuasively for the view that knowledge of a language is contingent on knowledge of "a culturally defined model of the universe" (1979:15) and that cultural assumptions are at the very heart of language use (ibid., 25). His focus is on the usefulness of a knowledge of the group's culture in describing language, while the approach here employs the same nexus but focuses on language use as a means group members use to present each other with cultural models and to promote conformity with them. The Swahili are by no means unusual in this usage, as indicated by Holland and Skinner (1987:79) who found a similar one among American college students, but its universality remains to be established.


The existence of these models does not, naturally, assure conformity with their constituent understandings, but they do provide a basis for sharing, a sort of ongoing socialization in what is acceptable and desirable behavior in interpersonal relations. By characterizing the behavior of particular individuals in strongly evaluative ways, they offer the prospect of encouraging conformity. Such encouragement extends not only to the individuals characterized, if they learn of or anticipate the characterization, but to others who are reminded of the constant evaluation of their behavior according to the understandings that are contained in the models.

D'Andrade has examined another aspect of this same phenomenon. He says that "[a] cultural model is a cognitive schema which is intersubjectively shared by a social group" (n.d.:18). This sharing itself, he argues, imparts a force that would otherwise not be present. As he puts it, "Because cultural models are intersubjectively shared, interpretations made about the world on the basis of a cultural model are experienced as obvious facts of the world" (ibid., 18–19).

What is encouraged by the models implicit in Swahili relationship terms is mainly behavior differentiated according to status differences. The ways young men are encouraged to act by the terms concerning their participation in relationships is quite different from the ways senior men are encouraged to act by the terms applying to them, for example. The main force of the models is to promote conformity, but this is less a conformity to a general culture that applies equally to everyone than it is a conformity to the expectations and salience understandings distinctive of particular statuses. Statuses are the basis for distributing culture among group members and across situations (see Schwartz 1972, 1978, 1989), and the models provided by the relationship terms encourage conformity to the different understandings applicable to different actors in the varying situations they are involved in.

The existence of substantial cultural conformity in the Swahili community is obvious. The sources for this conformity, however, can usefully be examined. The Swahili community works because its members act in ways they find more often and more nearly mutually acceptable than not. Men, for example, who have spent time working in Saudi Arabia recount at length their dissatisfaction with almost every aspect of life there save their pay and their association with the fellow Swahili with whom they share quarters. Their reports always involve accounts of the unacceptable behavior of the Saudis and the Saudis' failure to respond properly to the Swahilis' behavior. These accounts imply, and sometimes explicitly involve, comparisons with their home community, which is, at least relatively, pictured as the desirable standard.

Other examples could be adduced of the Swahili view that proper behavior and desirable relationships are characteristic, even uniquely so, of their community. Such evidence of ethnocentrism, however, is hardly problematic in


any functioning group and needs only to be brought out to emphasize the general acceptability to community members of much of what their fellow members do.

There is only one possible basis for the community's effective operation and for its members' satisfaction with it, and that is, of course, a shared culture. Chapters 5 and 6 show that an appeal to a general sharing of beliefs and values is factually unacceptable and theoretically blinding. Even occupants of a common status are shown to share only partially understandings concerned with that status.

Here the aim is to take statuses as the foundations of social life and, recognizing the absence of complete sharing even in these, to try to contribute to an understanding of how statuses actually operate in Swahili society. Specifically, attention will be directed to two issues: first, the difficult question of how people identify one another as members of particular statuses in various circumstances, and second, and at greater length, how terms characterizing behavior in social relationships provide representations (or models) of the expectations and saliences of a variety of statuses, thereby encouraging their sharing and promoting conformity to them.

Four Kinds of Statuses

Before going further, two distinctions are useful in understanding how statuses operate in Swahili culture. The first of these concerns two different sorts of relationships and the differences in the statuses, especially in their expectations, associated with them. The second distinction concerns the uses of statuses.

Simplex and Multiplex Relationships and the Statuses Involved

The statuses that figure in the kinds of relationships Max Gluckman (1955:19) called "simplex" and those in the relationships he called "multiplex" differ in ways important to culture's operation. A simplex relationship contains expectations that are quite specific in reference and limited in scope. "Bus driver," "passenger," and "sales clerk" are the typical sort of statuses here. The expectations in multiplex relationships cross a number of cultural domains and are usually broad and general rather than specific and concrete. "Mother," "neighbor," and "friend" are typical of the statuses in multiplex relationships.

A status in a multiplex relationship can also be involved in a simplex relationship. A Swahili mother's relationship with her child is undoubtedly multiplex, but her relationship with a physician who is treating her child may


well be simplex even though she is acting and being responded to as a mother in both relationships. The statuses that form the main base of simplex relationships cannot serve as a basis for carrying on a multiplex relationship.

Two Functions of Statuses

The multiplex-simplex distinction, then, concerns the scope and specificity of expectations in statuses. Another important distinction is between statuses as guides for the behavior of those categorized in them and statuses as ways of placing or identifying people.

The guidance function can be seen in, but is by no means limited to, using status categories as a basis for calling for specific sorts of behavior from those categorized. For example, in a pamphlet written in the 1950s by one of the community's most outspoken leaders, he commanded, Rere jamani (Be prideful, family members). This was, I have been told, a demand that his fellow community members, whom he addresses as family members to emphasize their ties to one another and to him, behave themselves according to his somewhat heroic view of how Swahili should act. Similarly, but from the negative side, women sometimes berate one another by saying Si mwanamke, we! (Not a woman, you!) meaning that the object of the phrase is not acting as a woman should. In both cases, the guidance offered is, it appears, salient across a wide range of situations and relationships.

Statuses guide behavior through indicating when they are salient and what expectations they involve. They are not always, of course, presented as explicitly as they are in the above examples. In addition to guiding behavior, statuses also serve to characterize people and to indicate how they are connected to others and to social groups as wholes. Thus, in response to asking friends who someone is, I have often been told things such as, "That is Sheikh Mohammed. He is my neighbor and works for the government."

The two dimensions of statuses—one being the nature of their expectations and salience understandings and the other their use in social placement—each have two varieties that come together to make four combinations. That is, both types of statuses, multiplex and simplex, are used as guides to behavior and both are used in placing and characterizing people. More important for our present purposes, the identifying-characterizing function and the guiding function, though distinguishable, are not independent of one another. Thus, if Sh. Mohammed and my informant had stopped being neighbors (either because one of them moved or my informant felt Sh. Mohammed was not acting as a neighbor should), it is possible he would only have mentioned his name, as sometimes happened when others identified people I asked about.

As concerns both simplex and multiplex statuses,[3] part of the result of placing and characterizing someone can be to provide guidance for behavior


toward him or her. This guide may be directly useful to the one for whom identification is made by suggesting expectations and salience understandings appropriate in dealings with the identified, or it may indicate the identifier's relationship to the one identified, or both. In short, multiplex statuses can usefully be distinguished from simplex, but both types are used both in placement-characterization and in behavior guidance. These latter functions, though separable, often involve one another.

Statuses, Expectations, and Evaluations

As the complexes of cultural elements that bring shared understandings to bear on the actualities of life, the effectiveness of statuses is as much due to their serving as a foundation for evaluation as their serving as a guide for behavior. The latter function, obviously, depends on status occupants having understandings that individuals not in the status may or may not share. The evaluative aspect, however, depends on elements shared by many who are not status members. Indeed, they may be shared by nonmembers more than members.

Since at least some expectations are associated with identifying status occupants, some bases for evaluation are available not only to the status occupants and those in roles involving them but to many others in the group. Thus, although statuses distribute culture in the sense that only those occupying a status may share all the understandings necessary to meeting the expectations of that status, others may well have understandings that form the basis for evaluating the behavior involved.

Soccer players are by no means the only ones who evaluate performance in the games that go on constantly in Old Town. A young man who is an outstanding player will, in fact, be admired by some community members outside contexts in which soccer is the focus. More generally, evaluations of performance in a status can affect an individual's social relations and prestige beyond the situation in which the performance occurs, and these evaluations may be made by people substantially removed from involvement in the performance. More than that, since statuses are connected to one another in a variety of roles whose expectations interlock, the meeting, or failure to meet, of expectations in one status can affect performance and evaluation in others.

Taking a simple example of the interconnection of expectations, it is not altogether unknown for Swahili men to have trouble meeting the expectations in their work statuses. A small proportion of men, especially young men, cannot get and keep jobs that provide them with the pay they need fully to meet their financial expectations as husbands, fathers, sons, and, sometimes, siblings and neighbors. Failures to meet status expectations in the simplex work


relationships which lead a man to be discharged can make it impossible for him to meet some broad and general expectations in multiplex family relationships that call for his having money.

Similarly, behavior called for to meet expectations in multiplex relations can affect performance in simplex relations. This is obviously so when the practical necessities in meeting expectations in a multiplex relationship, such as a mother's need to take time to care for a child, clash with meeting expectations in a simplex relationship, such as the expectation that the same woman be on time for her job as a sales clerk.

Clashes in expectations in the two kinds of relationships are not limited to practical matters. Thus, haya is a complex virtue involving definite but modest assertion of one's own rights combined with active consideration for the rights of others. It is valued in many Swahili multiplex relationships, but it can be quite harmful to meeting expectations in simplex relationships in business and commerce where being forward and demanding can be advantageous.

Who is a What?

For statuses to work as they do, participants in social relationships must share with their partners in interaction understandings of what categories each is assigned. As far as simplex relationships are concerned, recognition of own status and that of the other seems to depend on little beyond an understanding of what the interaction is about. If one had never been on a bus,[4] it might be difficult to understand what being a passenger involves as well as what a "bus driver" is, what he expects, what can be expected of him, and the range of circumstances in which the driver-passenger role is salient. Even in this unlikely case, however, one would quickly learn or stop trying to ride buses. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, for many other simplex statuses.

Even for multiplex statuses, there is so much agreement about categorizing those in broad-scale statuses that it is difficult to get people to discuss the issue. An extract from my field notes on a discussion concerning how one knows who is assigned to a category indicates something of what is encountered when such inquiry is approached directly. The informant, "BR," is a woman in her late fifties whose husband is dead and who lives with her two sons, one seventeen and one twenty-three.

MS: (BR has just given me an example of what a friend is by discussing a friend of her oldest son. The son's friend is Hamid.) How do you recognize that Hamid is your son's friend?

BR: I know he is my son's friend because my son has known him for a long time and they go around together.


MS: But how is he different from other young men whom your son has also known for a long time?

BR: They like each other. They are friends.

MS: So a friend is anyone you like and you go around with?

BR: Yes, that is a friend. (If he goes away?) Yes, if he goes away [as to another city or country], he can still be a friend if they continue to get along and remember each other.

MS: But, so I can be sure I understand, when does someone become a friend?

BR: Don't you have friends in America? It's like how you know your neighbor or anybody. You know them.

However limited cultural sharing may be, the idea that one may be in doubt as to who is a friend, an enemy, a brother, or a neighbor is seen as ridiculous. It may be that a person identifies another as a friend or a neighbor but is not similarly identified by the other who, instead, classifies the first as an enemy or vague acquaintance. As far as their direct interaction is concerned, this need make no difference so long as each behaves according to the expectations held by the other as concerns whatever interaction is taking place.

It may be that one acts toward the other as friend and the other acts toward the first as "person who thinks he is a friend." The overlap of the expectations in the two categories may well be sufficient to allow direct interaction of some kinds to proceed. Difficulties would emerge only when one of those involved followed an expectation (e.g., getting help) that is not consistent with the other's classification. Even when direct interaction is proceeding smoothly, the disagreement in classification may affect other relationships (where participants may know of the unshared classification) in ways that shared mutual classification would not.

I have been told by an older man that a younger was an mshenzi (uncultivated, uncouth person; see below), but when I saw the two interacting in the limited ways they did, as when entering a mosque at the same time, they acted toward one another as others do who share the community member status. It is clear, however, that the older man's "true" (or, at least, unfavorable) identification of the other affects his behavior in some situations since he did tell me the young man was an mshenzi. In fact, neither identification excludes the other, and it is a matter decided by his salience understandings as to which status, or combination of statuses, guides the older man's behavior toward the younger.

So long as the older man treated the younger as "community member," the young man responded to the expectations in that status and treated his elder, in turn, as "community member." The identifying understandings each used resulted from the mutually contingent status assignment each made of the other so that the interaction proceeded. It is likely it would not have continued as it was when the two met at the mosque had the young man wanted


to marry the daughter of the elder, since that would involve expectations beyond the "community member" status, and these would probably touch on the elder's expectations associated with the "mshenzi" status.

From the point of view of how culture works, it appears that agreement on mutual classification is not difficult to achieve in face-to-face relations and depends as much on mutual adjustment of expectations as it does on a preexisting set of shared understandings. Multiple identifications and assignment to more than one status at a time provide flexibility in different settings according to their different expectations without necessarily obstructing interaction in any of them. There is an effective limitation on conflict arising from unshared mutual classification. This is that those who cannot agree on mutually acceptable categories for one another most commonly cease interaction.

In simplex relationships, the basic identifications involved are nearly unavoidable and leave little room for error. Bus drivers and passengers either place one another in those statuses or interaction concerned with bus riding is impossible.[5] In multiplex relationships, mutual identification is also vital, but, as with the example above in which one person classified the other as friend while being classified himself as enemy, the identifications may be only partially shared. A number of Swahili men, mainly former administrative officers,[6] have told me that in the colonial days, the British officials who came to the coast from Nairobi did not "know how to act." These outsiders, unsocialized by the Swahili and Arabs of the coast, treated all "Africans" the same—to the Swahili, an obvious failure to make important distinctions and one that made the upcountry colonials undesirable partners in interaction.

As Holland (1987a ) discovered in her important study of American college students, the ability to differentiate among statuses depends in part on the interest and involvement of the actors in interaction with one another. In what she calls "the romantic sphere" (i.e., the relations of male and female students in dating and such) she found substantial agreement among the students concerning the elaborate classifications of their associates, but in the "academic sphere," where classification was according to subjects studied and similar matters, there is much less agreement (ibid., 240–242).

This finding is important here. It may be that identifying understandings even for the statuses active in multiplex relationships are not completely shared. That they should be fully and generally shared seems unlikely given the generally limited nature of cultural sharing. Since, however, these statuses always involve crucial areas of the lives of those involved, it is likely that the sharing of mutual identification is very substantial. This is made more so by the operation of the mutual adjustment that is the heart of double contingency (see below) in the frequent interaction characteristic of such relations. This is probably the reason Holland's results show that those in high-frequency interaction, common to multiplex relations, come to agree on mutual assignment.


It is important to note that the behavioral importance of mutual assignment in large part resides in the expectations that are part of that assignment. Some expectations are quite specific, and behavior is easily assessed as having met them or not. Other expectations are broader and more diffuse, and establishing whether these have been met involves substantial interpretation. In multiplex relationships, specific expectations and salience understandings of the "passenger gives money/driver issues ticket" sort are usually distinctly secondary. The general tone and significance each participant assigns the behavior of the other matters more in these relationships, and there is a great deal of room for variation in what is acceptable.

Expectations and Double Contingency

Given the flexibility this suggests in multiplex relationships, it might appear that such relationships are being taken as less useful in accomplishing the particular tasks that make up life than simplex relationships are. In fact, this is not so. Simplex relationships are based very substantially on specific expectations, but they are easily ruptured and are not very flexible. Multiplex relationships are more lasting and more flexible, but the very flexibility, based on the less specific nature of the expectations involved, makes them seemingly less useful in getting specific things done. This, however, is countered by the process Parsons calls "double contingency" (1964 [1951]:37 passim). This has been referred to here with respect to identifiers, but it also operates to achieve at least some sharing of expectations.

Thus, for example, in a Swahili family I know, an unmarried daughter got a job, partly prompted by her understanding of what her mother expected her to do given the family need for money. The mother responded in part to the daughter's having done this by taking the major part of the daughter's earnings in accord with what the mother views (she says) as her right. She also leaves part of her daughter's earnings for the daughter's own use (as well as supplying the daughter with a place to live and food) in part in line with her understanding of what she says her daughter expects her to do. When the mother forbade the daughter to use the household telephone because she thought the bill was too high, the daughter objected and said her earnings entitled her to use the telephone when she needed to. The mother acceded to the daughter's wish but increased slightly the proportion of the daughter's wages she took.

The mother-daughter interaction proceeds in this way with each behaving in a way that is partly contingent on what the other does and partly on what the other is thought to expect. So long as both mother and daughter continue to adjust their behavior to the other's response as well as to their view of the other's expectations, interaction can continue without necessary disruption.


In the case cited, the daughter confided that her mother took too much of her pay, but she continued to supply it since, as she said, her mother wanted it and "what else could I do?" Similarly, the mother said that her daughter wasted money foolishly but was, mainly, a "good [girl], not like some 'others.'"

There may be minimal sharing regarding each other's specific expectations, but if each finds the other's actual behavior broadly acceptable (as in Wallace's [1970:27–36] "equivalence structures"), the relationship can continue despite the initially limited agreement on expectations and salience even if the low level of agreement continues. The mother and daughter are by no means fully satisfied with each other's meeting of expectations, but both agree the other continues as a central figure in her life and continues to satisfy the broad expectations that go with being a mother and a daughter.

At a minimum, however, despite double contingency and the existence of some sharing, people do not, indeed cannot, meet all the expectations in their multiplex relationships with one another. That this is so would hardly seem surprising. It does not surprise the Swahili. Every Swahili I talked to about this agreed that no one, "not even a saint," does everything that is expected of him or her. No one, it was often noted, is perfect; only God is.

The proverbs quoted at the beginning of chapter 4 are quite explicit in saying that a bad relative is better than no relative at all. In the terms being used here, an acceptable partner in a multiplex relationship is preferable to having no such relationship. In multiplex relationships, so long as behavior can reasonably be interpreted as meeting their broad expectations,[7] the relationships usually proceed despite imperfect sharing of some of their expectations and salience understandings.

"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,[8] 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.[9] 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.

Being Accustomed

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.

Some General Understandings of the World and Relationships

The Swahili share what they say is the general Muslim belief that the world has been disintegrating steadily since the days of the Prophet in the seventh century. Several have told me that they believe that their group may be among the leaders in this disintegration because of what they understand as their poverty and the pervasive, destructive influence of the outside, Christian and Indian, worlds. It is not without significance that I collected more words referring to personality traits and general behavioral characteristics that are disapproved than words referring to approved traits and characteristics. It is notable that it is in relationships involving seniors and juniors, the fakhri-adabu relationships, that decline is thought by at least some group members to have been most serious.

Not all aspects of interpersonal relationships are taken to have changed equally. Interpersonal conflict is understood as having altered rather less than meeting expectations in hierarchical relationships has. Fighting and open quarreling are not at all common among men, although men who have acquitted themselves well in a fight are at least covertly admired. Overtly, they are in danger of being characterized as muhuni unless the fight is with an outsider, was clearly started by the other or, preferably, was started by both.[10]

In relations within the community, amity is the general expectation. There are no descriptive words for those who promote amity unless the already considered complex words concerning manners, respect, deference, and honor can be looked on as doing that. There are, however, a number of terms concerned with failures to meet expectations that, if met, would contribute to amity.

Characterizations of Conflict Bringers

Gossip and tale-mongering among women is common, the men say, and the negative words regarding bringing conflict into interpersonal relations focus around gossiping. Fidhuli , a person skilled in insulting others, is feared, and the unwary are warned against associating with such people, but there is also a bit of admiration for the hurler of especially pointed insults. The underlying understandings, of course, involve the expectation that insults will be avoided, and a person who does not meet this general expectation is negatively evaluated to the point of being considered dangerous. If, however, the


fidhuli does it well, there is admiration—and one cannot avoid seeing the admiration in people's comments about a skilled fidhuli—for the aptness of the insults rather as there is admiration for a skillful thief.

Kufye means easily insulted and offended. It is a trait, most commonly found in women but present in some men, that is little admired. It exists in a nearly dialectical relation with fidhuli in that your skill as an insulter is related to my perception of insult, while my reluctance to be affronted limits your ability to insult. The implication that there is a value on interpreting what others do as meeting expectations rather than the reverse when there is a doubt is supported by informants who say that a reluctance to view others as having failed to behave properly is part of the valued haya.

Insults come not only from things said but also from failures to meet expectations. If a woman fails to notice another's new dress (and women do quite openly comment on one another's clothing at weddings), the wearer might be insulted because her expectation that her dress would be admired was not met. Such an insult, however, would often be viewed as an indication of kufye unless the neglect were pointed. A person with kufye is one who holds unshared expectations of a particular kind. It is interesting and instructive to contrast this with the sensitivity of the person having the valued trait, haya.

The person with haya is sensitive to indications that expectations are not being met because his or her haya would result in a loss of self-esteem should that happen. Such suffering due to haya is admirable, while that of the person with kufye is not. The person with kufye makes everyone a fidhuli, a skilled insulter, and puts in question everyone's ability to meet expectations, while a person with haya shows how proper regard for real expectations and their fulfillment can operate to bring credit to the individual and to make his or her social relationships more satisfying.

Insults, Conflict, and Secrecy/Privacy

Insults and being offended by them are connected to a central value in all close Swahili relationships, sitara. This highly desired condition involving concealing a substantial proportion of all information concerning self and family was mentioned above. This condition, sitara, is based on siri , secret[s], and is connected to insults and offense by the fact that others' ability to shame or insult depends on their knowing about the life and activities of the insulted and his or her family. Being accused of being kufye, too easily insulted, or any other undesirable trait, depends, as informants explicitly formulate it, on people knowing about what you do. If you conceal what you do by maintaining sitara, you are protected so that, quite literally, one cannot have too many secrets. To have siri is not so much an admirable trait, the


way having haya is. Rather, it is a prudent and sensible one whose absence is "idiocy" (upumbafu).

With "privacy" or "secrecy" there can be little basis for insults or, to carry this further, for "shame" (aibu), a singularly important process to be considered at length in the next chapter. It is worth nothing that the only Swahili dictionary written in the Swahili language (Akida et al. 1981) defines "sitara" as "hali ya kuficha jambo la aibu" ([the] condition of hiding [a] thing [i.e., matter, source of] shame). The state of having sitara is obviously a desirable one from the perspective taken by the Swahili I know. Openness is not valued, as far as I could determine, by any community member, although there was substantial variation in how much people wanted hidden and how vigorous they were in doing that.

The importance of privacy and concealment is seen further in the disapproving term, mwazirifu (lit. exposer), referring to someone who talks quite openly about shameful things in the family. Children and elderly widows are said to be the usual "exposers," both because they talk too freely with anyone who will listen to them and because they go to people's houses at mealtimes and accept food. This last is viewed with horror by the family of the one who does it, because it is understood to imply that there is not enough food at their own houses. Worse yet, an exposer may go to people's houses and actually ask for food.

Such people spoil the privacy/secrecy, sitara, of their families and provide the material the insulters can use and the thin-skinned can be offended by. The mdaku is an outsider who seeks the facts the "exposer" is quite ready to give away. This last creature, like the first, provides the ammunition for insult.

Insults, Honor, and Expectations

It will be apparent that the insulting, the revelation of shortcomings in the family of the target of the insults, is closely related to the whole complex of understandings focusing around honor (fakhri) examined above. Insults are not easily attached to those with fakhri. When this honor is based on piety or excellence of character, what insults can reach the honored one? When it is based on style of dress, elegance of manner, or success in worldly things, the insults can only be effective if they attempt to attack character. In short, a person with fakhri is, by virtue of having it, less open to harm by insult because he or she meets rather demanding expectations of at least one important kind. Insults and fakhri are opposed sets of understanding and both depend on how expectations are met.

Insults reduce fakhri through implying or saying explicitly that the expectations bringing honor have not been met. In fact, most of the qualities that


confer honor (fakhri) are qualities that meet broad expectations in social relationships, and failure to meet them makes such relationships difficult. There are people who are understood to impede others' social relationships by making these others believe that their expectations of partners in social relationships are not being met. Such people are called sabasi , and their specialty is trouble making.

A sabasi causes quarrels between people by telling each of them that the other is saying bad things about him or her. The closest English counterparts to this are "troublemaker," "tale bearer," or the almost archaic and only vaguely appropriate "buttinsky." The sabasi functions in a community where there are a variety of understandings alerting those who share them to the possibility that others are maligning them. The term itself seems to stir negative feelings in those who told me about it.

An aspect of interpersonal relations that is not clearly suggested in any of the above but which is a vital concern in relationships is found in the trait called hasadi , jealousy. Any positive quality a person seems to have may induce this jealousy, and this is very much the same as regards honor. The trait is much invoked in Swahili ethnopsychology and points to some of the central expectations in several multiplex relationships.

One such understanding is that everyone has hasadi and that it is normal to be jealous to a certain extent but that some people carry this to pathological extremes. Such people have a constant predisposition to it, husudu , (to) covet. This trait is often attributed to a less rewarded brother by a brother who feels more rewarded (by parents or by life), but the suspicion of coveting is widespread and by no means limited to siblings or other close kin.

Covetous people are much feared in that they are understood to feel that anything the object of their jealousy gets is rightfully theirs. These people are dangerous in that they are understood to retaliate by telling bad stories about the objects of their jealousy and, less openly mentioned but vital, in other ways.

The "other ways" include a quite involuntary evil eye called, simply, jito , or "eye." This jito operates to harm any object of open admiration. The cautionary tale is told, for example, of a mwadhin (the one who calls others to prayer) with a beautiful voice.

A person with jito was visiting Old Town and heard a mwadhin issuing the call to prayer. As the call was being issued, someone remarked to the visitor that the mwadhin's voice was beautiful. In midcall, the voice was stilled as the visitor's "eye," acting without conscious intention on his part, silenced it forever by making the mwadhin mute.

The part of coveting in Swahili social relationships and its relationship to the expectation that group members keep group, usually family, affairs to themselves is now clearer. We have seen that it is considered important to keep knowledge of the shortcomings of one's family from reaching the atten-


tion of "insulters" and that this is connected to sitara, with disapproval being accorded those who give away the secrets from the inside and those who try to dig them out from the outside with inquisitiveness. We now see it is also important—sometimes a matter of survival—to keep the family strengths and successes private as well. Failing to do so can arouse jealousy and the revenge of the jealous (hasadi) in the form of bad stories circulated and, even, the dire effects of the evil eye, jito.

The Part of Relationship Terms in Cultural Dynamics: Cultural Models

In the multiplex relationships that are the heart of Swahili social life, the identifying understandings that allow community members to know who is what under what circumstances are quite generally shared. So much so, in fact, that people take them as self-evident. Even when sharing of identifying understandings is less than complete at the beginning of an interaction, double contingency operates to create sufficient sharing for interaction to proceed. Further, less than complete sharing of identifying understandings is seen neither to halt interaction in many situations and contexts nor to prevent the differences in status assignments from having consequences in the relationship at issue and/or in others.

Thus, people disagree about placing one another with one set of identifiers, such as those for the statuses of friend and enemy, but may well be able to interact with one another in a variety of settings using statuses on whose identifiers they do agree, such as community member. At the level of interaction, identifying understandings are, by their nature, either shared or unimportant for immediate relations. Failures to share broader identifiers may well have consequences for broader relationships, if such exist, but they need not hamper day-to-day contacts.

The general effectiveness of status identification, however, is not sufficient by itself for social life to proceed. There must also be some sharing of expectations and of the salience understandings that make statuses effective guides to action. One of the sources of this necessary sharing is the same double contingency that is involved in identification. Another, seen to be particularly important for spouses, is the mutual socialization of those in close relationships with one another.

Another source, which has occupied most of this chapter, comes from cultural models that indicate how people are to act and interact. The terms that characterize people's behavior and relationships have been seen to provide statements of many of the broad and general expectations and salience understandings that constitute vital aspects of the multiplex relationships in the Swahili community. More than that, these models differentially associate ex-


pectations with specific statuses promoting conformity not only to the few broad understandings that ideally govern the behavior of all community members but also to the particular understandings concerned with how specific categories of people behave, or should behave, in their relations with other community members.

These term-based associations of statuses and desired behaviors provide potent reminders of the understandings central to the different statuses involved in relationships central to the community operation. More than that, through focusing on specific individuals the value-laden and often emotionally charged characterizations of relations and behavior have the potential, at least, for encouraging the meeting of the expectations contained in those understandings. The effectiveness of the terms in doing this depends on the extent to which people see the terms as applying to them and their concern with approbation and disapprobation. Relationship terms are not the only source of cultural models, but they are a potent one that is frequently and pointedly brought to the attention of all those who hear their own or anyone else's participation being characterized.

The next chapter examines a related but different basis for harnessing the emotional energies of the individual to cultural conformity through the operation of shame, aibu.


previous chapter
7 Liking Only Those in Your Eye Relationship Terms, Statuses, and Cultural Models
next chapter