Rules! Rules! Rules!


For a long time, I have been wondering why we do some of the things we do. What I mean is the certain traditions that we put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into to make sure they never become extent. For example, why do we eat fish on Good Friday? And why do we put up a tree at Christmas?

But they do not bug me as much as some of the unwritten rules that govern Ghanaian social etiquette. Firstly, why is it rude to give and receive with your left hand? I have directed this question to my mother on many occasions, and all she can offer is "because the left is the dirty hand". However, she has no idea how this rule made its way into Ghanaian society and why the tradition still lives on. I don't think it's a problem per se that these rules exist, but I would just like a bit more information about them. I remember telling my manager at work that I would have to be careful about which hand I use when I'm in Ghana. She asked me "why?" and I told her because the left hand was considered "unclean", then she asked me "why?" again, and I did not have anything tangible to offer.

Secondly, why is it that when you enter a room, where a number of people are gathered, you have to greet everyone, starting from the left (or is it right?) and work your way round in a clockwise motion? I remember going to an aunt's party and being ushered (read: shoved) into the living room by my mother to greet everyone. As I was doing what I assumed to be the right thing, I noticed everybody in the room fiercely staring at me. When I later pointed this out to my mother, she told me it was becasue I went the wrong way around the room. Does it have to be such a big deal?

I am not pretending to be a super-liberal, do-anything-that-goes-against-the norms-of-society type of person, who would do anything to break the rules, it's just that I am baffled why some people insist on abiding to the handbook on Ghanaian social etiquette, when it's missing the hows and whys.

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8 opinionated people have something to say:

Last Born Child said...

Re: usage of the left hand - before modern conveniences and hygiene, anything to do with self cleaning was done with the left hand. As the dominant hand for most people is the right, that was reserved for more "pleasant" uses.

So, an obvious way to offend / disrespect someone was to use your left hand when communicating with them.

Why does this tradition still live on? - I guess we (Ghanaians) are doing all we can to hold on to our traditions. We recognize and accept culture must evolve to survive but we maintain a(n irrational) hold on traditions.

When it comes to greeting from the right and working your way tot he left, I have no clue.

Nanasei said...

Regarding greeting people in an anti-clockwise fashion, have you also realized that most people dance in church in the same manner(anti-clockwise)? The roots of this practice, as I read in an African history class, started with the Bantu people in central Africa centuries ago. They danced around their shrines in that pattern and it is believed that practice found its way from their spiritual observances into aspects of their social lives. For example, before waging war in the field, they chanted and danced in an anti-clockwise pattern to psyche themselves up. Since most west Africans are descendants of the Bantu, it is conceivable that our salutation in an anti-clockwise manner at social events is a custom passed down from our ancestors...

But an easier (and perhaps comical) explanation was given by my uncle years ago when I asked why we greeted from right to left: before modern conveniences (i.e. before the spread of the chainsaw in logging), trees were cut with machetes by right-handed people from the right to towards the left. So we greet from right to left.
I can't say if that was an informed explanation or it's one of those cop outs by some of our Ghanaian elders when they don't know something but feel too proud to just admit so. lol... Having said that, though, I'd like to add that just as men wearing suits and ties in business settings is the socially acceptable "business" ettiquette we are loathe to change, we may not necessarily understand some of our Ghanaian cultural observances. But it gives the indication of proper upbringing and social awareness, you know, a nod to our parents, when we observe them. After all, that's our culture. That's us.

Mike said...

It is a good thing that you have these questions.
We Africans have a very rich culture with traditions that have been slowly kicked to the curb for years. These things make us unique.
I'd suggest you find a 70+ year old relative or two, visit them with a drink, sit them down and ask these questions. You will learn a lot. That's "Sankofa" right there!
I have done that but not enough.

Mike said...

Oh, and you will find out & decide for yourself that some of these traditions are lifestyle-oriented and served the older generation well but do not automatically suit this current generation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting questions you're asking here. Some aspects of tradition is important. It's what makes us uniquely Ghanaian. If we threw away little things like shaking only with our right hand, etc., there won't be much of our "Ghanaian-ness" left. We'd all be European/Westerners. As Africans, the pressure is always on us to let go of our traditions to adopt Western ones, but it's never the other way around.

Last Born Child said...

@Nanasei your uncle's explanation made me laugh. Gotta love our elders - he knew there was no way you'd ask him whether he was serious or not.

Absolute classic. I can't wait to make up something and tell some yougnsters.

Afrocentric said...

Thank you all for attempting to find an explanation, Especially you, Nanasei. I forgot to add that, although I question these traditions, I DO follow these them religiously just to exhibit my "Ghanaianess".

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :)

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