A casual hello in today’s society may suffice to create a connection between people. Greeting, however, among the natives in western Uganda traditionally was a ceremony of sorts punctuated by specific words that inquired about ones wellbeing and actions that sought to create a bond.
The words, “Kaije, buhooro, buhooro gye, agandi” are but one sentence, which form what becomes a detailed moment of greeting. “Kaije” means may you come in peace and after saying this, people look into each other’s eyes while still hugging and asking how they have been all along.
They then follow it with “buhooro” asking someone whether they are fine and “buhooro gye” asking someone again whether they are fine for purposes of emphasis and confirming whether someone is really fine and conclusively with “agandi?,” when the person greeting is asking how generally life has been.
Robert Tukamushaba, an elder from Rukungiri District, says this lengthy greeting is still an on-going cultural practice within the elderly peers. “It is usually used when an elder spends a longtime without seeing someone particularly a relative or friend, they hug them while pinching the shoulders or patting them at the back. In rare cases it is accompanied with spitting slightly at the person who is being greeted,” he says.
Grandparents also greet their grandchildren/children in the same way especially when they have not seen them for a long time. This, Tukamushaba says, depicts having missed someone, love, solidarity, respect, life challenges gone through, long journeys travelled while to the elders of past years, it signified heroism, celebrated achievement of a person and relief to one’s family because of a norm that in a struggle to make life better, an individual had to go through a lot of hardworking to make life worthwhile and that this usually wasn’t an easy a task and responsibility- so when someone returned home, they would celebrate jovially.
Patrick Behayo Mupenzi, an elder, says every tribe has its traditional way of greeting. “If you compare the Banyankole/Bahororo way of greeting with the Baganda, they (Baganda) are more humble when greeting compared to the Banyankole,” Behayo says. He adds that if a man’s parents-in-law visited his home, they would be welcomed and offered seats rather than them greeting; it’s the son-in-law who walks up to his in laws and greets them and vice versa.
A dying tradition
“This culture of greeting by embracing while pressing the shoulders does not appear popular among the youths as it is in the elders today. Western education has greatly contributed to its disappearance a lot because people no longer want to spend much time greeting which is killing and diluting the practice,” he says.
Intermarriage and western culture is also partly responsible for the fading cultural practice. “People have stopped hugging as a way of maintaining personal hygiene. Someone could greet and hold any part of the friend’s arm, shake hands or hold the back so firmly and strongly for a few minutes,” Tukamushaba says. The biggest percentage and ever increasing number of town dwellers also contributes to the fading cultural practice.
When most of the people travel to their villages during long holidays like Christmas, they would greet the local people so fast because of the perception that asking for money follows the greeting.
“This is because the people who live entirely in villages have a wrong perception that whoever goes to the village always has money, yet someone could not be in a good financial position,” Tukamushaba explains.
Comparatively, he says children who are brought up in villages are more likely to know how to greet culturally than their urban compatriots. “When children grow up in towns, they acquire western/urban ways of understanding and never create time to learn their local language,” Tukamushaba says.
He reveals that in the past, local or village-based churches and schools taught children among other things the way of greeting culturally and caring for elders.
“Today’s schools, both urban and rural don’t teach some of the cultural practices to the young generation, and as such, education has partially contributed to the fading culture of this kind of greeting,” Tukamushaba retorts.
Allan Mugume, a student at Makerere University Business School says while he is being greeted in this way by an elder when he travels upcountry, there is a pat on the back.
Asked whether he feels okay with it, Mugume says he grew up seeing elders greet young children and even fellow adults so he got used to the cultural style of greeting.
Demystifying the greeting tradition
Dr Yusufu Mpairwe, an author of books on Banyankore culture says, “Kaije buhooro!” is the greeting used among Banyankole when the greeting parties have not seen each other for a long time.
Literally it means “May you come in peace!”
This greeting is usually performed when the greeting parties are embracing, hugging and patting at each other’s back or shoulders with smiles all over each other’s face, but sometimes the greeting may be made when the two parties are merely shaking each other’s hand.
When the two parties are unequal in age it is the older person who utters the greeting with the younger party merely responding with “ugh” or “ee”. In most instances the two words of the greeting do not follow each other immediately, rather one says “kaije, kaije, kaije, buhooro, buhooro, buhooro” with pauses in between those words for the responding party to utter “ugh” or “ee”. When the two parties are equal in age the greeting can be offered by the two parties with one party repeating what the other has just uttered.
When the greeting parties are a man and a woman it is the man who offers the greeting with the woman responding, unless the woman is a generation older or unless the woman’s kinship relationship with the man puts her in an older generation, for example if the woman is a paternal or maternal aunt, a stepmother or a grandmother she will offer the greeting to the man even though he may be older in age.
This rule of age or kinship ranking is very fundamental; it overrules political status, thus if I am older than the President or the Bishop I have the right to greet him and if he insists on greeting me, I can rebuke him and remind him that I am his senior in age.
The reason why the youth of these days do not greet this way is because of ignorance of our culture and the mistaken belief that our culture is inferior to that of Europeans.”