Africa is perhaps one of the collections of nations throughout the world that boasts some of the most interesting and thought-provoking cultural values in the world. With so many nations in one continent, African values across the continent can vary widely depending on whether you’re in Sub-Saharan Africa or in the more northern nations. As an example, the northern nations such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco have cultures more akin to the Middle East, while Sub-Saharan African nations are more in line with the typical cultures you’d think when you think of Africa. This article will break it down into some of the most common cultural values you’re bound to find on the continent.
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African Values: Greetings
One of the most important aspects of African values involves the greeting extended to people, either in passing on the street or when being introduced to someone for the first time and in your ongoing relationship with them. Greetings are considered an open, warm, friendly way to show your hospitality to the individual, and to share in the experience of being human. Greetings are a way to show that you are both human beings and that you are both the same, helping you bond from the first instance. To not greet someone that greets you is a sign of disrespect, violation of African values, and is considered the act of either an enemy or a ghost, so ensure greetings are always returned, and in many cases, handshakes are considered even greater greetings, helping you connect.
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African Values: Eating
It should come as no surprise that many nations in Africa would traditionally not use a spoon, knife, or fork and instead eat with their hands, often accompanied by a bread or chapati type dish to help the scooping of the food from the plate. Along with many developing nations around the world, Africa is home to the ‘right-hand rule,’ and therefore, only your right hand should be employed at dinner time. In African values and culture the left hand is considered to be unclean and is typically used for bathroom matters, and so to touch food with your left hand is considered a great disrespect, as well as unsanitary.
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African Values: Feet and Hands
When discussing African values it is important to mention that the soles of your feet are considered one of the dirtiest places on your body and therefore, should not be “shown” or pointed at anyone. When seated, try not to extend your legs outward so that your soles face anyone. The hands, however, are employed in things such as greeting and eating, but pointing and beckoning someone with your palm facing upwards can be considered extremely rude, and can violate the African values so ensure you keep your palms down and pull your fingers inwards to call someone over.
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African Values: Silence
Many countries in the West and other parts of the world don’t enjoy those awkward silences that occur naturally in conversation, which can become sometimes uncomfortable and lend to people jumping to fill the gap in conversation by talking idly about nothing. When discussing African values, silence is still considered something to be enjoyed, perhaps using the time to consider the things that have been said already and to prepare yourself for further conversation. Indeed, Africa is still the place of “think before you speak”, and so any silences in conversation should be considered important and respected. This is why silence is considered as one of the African values and no one thinks it’s awkward at all.
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African Values: Frustration, Anger, Impatience
It is likely that at some point in your African adventure you will find something to be impatient, angry, or frustrated about, and that is normal. Going to a place so far removed from your normal life can be daunting indeed, especially when they seem to have different concepts over things like time. Time in Africa is considered to be in flux, and they tend to focus more on the present and past than the future, so queries into some things such as times of buses, trains, and power outages being resolved can be met with vague, almost indifferent responses. This yet another situation where African values come in handy. Remember that losing your cool in public can cause people to lose respect for you, as it is a sign of having little to no self-control. Instead, reserve your frustration for behind closed doors, when no one is around.
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African Values: Elders
When talking about African values it’s impossible to forget the elders. Elders are held in high regard in almost all African cultures from the Middle Eastern style countries in the north of the continent, all the way to South Africa. Elders are considered important members of the community with a wealth of knowledge and experience to share, and normally elders will be fed first at family meals and may have the ability to ask questions that others are not allowed to ask. Elders will indeed often be considered the most important person at a gathering, sometimes even over the guest or visitor, so just remember that the elders in Africa are held in extremely high regard. This is one of the African values that never gets ignored.
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African Values: Cooperation
All across the continent, you will find that people will always be pitching in to help, regardless of the task at hand. This is also considered one of the African values. Even something seemingly simple as peeling a fruit will get a couple of people involved – one showing you how, while others are getting you a knife and napkin, for example. Many hands make the work small in Africa so that you all then have more time to enjoy each other’s company and enjoy the rest of the time together. Another key aspect to consider with cooperation is the fact that many generations of the same family may live together in the same house (or a small clump of houses together) as many of those who work, also support the entire family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, elders, and those who are unable to work due to handicaps, illness or due to being too young. So the African values come naturally here.
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African Values: Kindness and Hospitality
Perhaps the two most endearing African values are the kindness and hospitality experienced once on the continent. Many times you will be invited to have tea with someone, even stay with them if you find yourself without a place to stay. If that happens, expect to be treated like royalty and given the deluxe treatment. Hospitality is one of the main tenets of both Islam and Christianity, the two main religions found in Africa, and they really do justice to the African values. Many people will see a foreigner and be legitimately curious about how you are liking your visit and want to chat with you about your trip. Although kindness and hospitality are two of the many African values, be courteous but cautious as there is always a less than reputable side to all countries – for example, don’t engage people in dark alleys after sundown and the like, even if they sound like they want to know how you’re liking Tanzania.
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African Values: Sharing is Caring
As with many cultures around the world, sharing food, your home, and anything else you have on hand is the norm in many African nations. From Morocco to South Africa, you will find people ready and willing to share what they have, from food, their homes, a lift to the shops, anything. Caring is a very common African value amongst the people around the continent, and it shows in their level of friendliness and helpfulness with guests. It is not uncommon for you to be invited to dinner with a family, even if they know you have just finished eating, and they haven’t had anything yet. That’s just one of the African values and the level of hospitality the people of this continent have.
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African Values: Brothers and Sisters abound
In Africa, community and a common sharing of the human experience are paramount to daily life. Another one of the Afrcian values is the sense of family. Knowing that brotherhood and sisterhood can go beyond genetics and include everyone in the community means Africans treat one another as though everyone is just an extended family member. You will hear the term brother or sister used with friends or in shops amongst people who aren’t related. Indeed, one of the African values is that everyone is connected and should be treated as such, and the people truly believe it.