Hate shikamoo? Relax, it means no harm

What you need to know:

Shikamoo is a Swahili greeting that one gives out of respect to someone older. However, many adults who deserve this respect don’t seem to be interested.

Respect for elders is one of the fundamental values in African culture. When it comes to greetings, the younger person greets the older person first as a sign of respect.

Shikamoo is a Swahili greeting that one gives out of respect to someone older. However, many adults who deserve this respect don’t seem to be interested.

This young woman in my neighbourhood for example. She she doesn’t seem to like it when I greet her. She never responds with the usual marahaba but instead says; “Za saa hizi? (how are you?).” And she does so in an unpleasant tone, I can tell without a doubt.

The woman in my neighbourhood is not alone. Many young adults and people between the ages of 40 and 60 shun the greeting. Their responses to shikamoo include mambo vipi? (Hi), asante (thank you), uko poa (are you alright)? Ni aje (what’s up)?

Wondering why many people are not comfortable with shikamoo, I took to social media to seek the opinion of my online friends and the comments were overwhelmingly interesting. Here’s what they said.

Been there, done that

Farida Hamis understands very well why people feel intimidated by shikamoo. Having been there herself, the 51-year-old mother of three says such people are not to blame.

“If people were to be frank, they would tell you that nobody wants to get old. Ageing is not something that everyone accepts easily. That’s why we have this common phrase, ‘uzee mwisho Chalinze’, which implies that old people don’t live in the city,” shares Farida laughing out loud. The phrase explains the behaviour and lifestyle of adults in the city, some who don’t act and behave their age.

Sharing her own experience, Farida says it felt uncomfortable when she started receiving shikamoos instead of mambo, which is a greeting for younger people.

“I can’t recall exactly when this started but it made me start wondering whether I was getting old. I had never imagined getting old (laughs). Ageing isn’t something to celebrate about, you know. It’s even worse when people who seem to be your own age shikamoo you. It feels awkward.”

Farida says with time, she accepted the reality that she was indeed getting old. Although she is now at peace with it, she says it wasn’t easy. She recalls finding the word marahaba hard to pronounce.

Anicet Saduka,31, groups adults who turn down shikamoo into three categories. First are adults who do not accept the fact that they are old. These prefer staying young forever as looking old means they can’t engage in activities of the young. According to Anicet, these adults struggle to look young even though their bodies show the opposite.

The second group is that of adults who refuse to graduate from the adolescence stage. These behave like teenagers and try too hard to prove to people that they are still in the game. The third group consists of adults that Anicet calls hooligans. “For example men and women who do not respond appropriately to greetings because they have a hidden agenda. These view shikamoo as a threat as it means they are old and therefore shouldn’t be making advances at youngsters.

Society has different expectations for different age groups. At a certain age, an adult is expected to have achieved certain goals, for example getting married and having children.

According to Gululi Emmanuel, a university student, some people tend to hate shikamoo if they are yet to achieve certain life goals. Shikamoo reminds them that the clock is ticking away fast on them and that they have goals to accomplish.

Samwel Mjema, 41, says apart from the desire to engage romantically with younger boys and girls, some people avoid shikamoo as a result of upbringing and the environment they grew up in.

What the experts say

Gerald Yacoba, a psychologist and students consultant at the Global Education Link says in the past, adults used to like it when greeted by young people and felt proud to be respected. Today the opposite is true.

Adults seem to be competing with the youth as far as trends are concerned. They desire to continue looking young and dissociate with anything to do with old age.

“The fear of old age and dying makes them hate shikamoo, as it reminds them that they are old and therefore getting closer to death. To stay young, they copy the ways of the youth.”

The expert agrees that sexual relationships with young people is another reason adults reject shikamoo. Such adults enjoy relationships with younger people, which is why you see many of them at the gym in an effort to look young and attractive. Women use cosmetics to hide wrinkles and dye their hair to hide grey hair. They will do just anything to avoid looking old.

A psychologist at the Tanzania Preventive Medicine Organisation, Mohammed Mtunda, says when someone receives the kind of greeting meant for elders, it means they deserve that because of their age.

“Everything should be done at the right time and we need to accept the reality. Everyone should live according to their age. Live like a child yesterday, like a youth today, and like an aldult tomorrow. That is human nature,” says the psychologist.

Martha Fatael, thinks the problem stems from the fact that adults tend to view old age as being synonymous with death, which is not necessarily true. For these, shikamoo signals closeness to old age and death.

Stella Ngenje concurs. She believes adults who don’t accept shikamoo lack self-confidence thinking that responding to such a greeting is an invitation to old age.

“These adults hate the thought of missing out on opportunities to have sexual relationships with younger people if they are perceived to be old. I personally don’t believe in age as a barrier to love. Age is just a number,” Stella says.

A boda boda rider, Elias Mwambene is among those who hate shikamoo. He says accepting shikamoo from his younger drinking buddies would make them feel uncomfortable around him. The 52-year-old resident of Buguruni claims that the greeting makes juniors feel inferior before him and he doesn’t like that.

“I consider all of us to be equal, I want us to speak one language and enjoy life.” Elias, who dates younger girls says accepting a young girl’s shikamoo creates a barrier between him and the girl.

Esther Nyagabona, a grandmother, says trying to defy ageing is like trying to swim upstream. No one goes against nature, she opines.

Esther points an accusing finger at educated people. She says educated women for example, lie about their age simply because they don’t want to be old. What they don’t seem to understand, according to Esther, is the fact that hiding one’s age makes no difference.”

She advises people to embrace their life experiences and the wisdom that comes with ageing.