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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.

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