When I was in high school, after we celebrated mass, the priest would tell us to offer each other a sign of peace; we shook hands with colleagues seated close to us and said hello. The sign of peace was a way of acknowledging the presence of our mates. My dad once told me a story which illustrates the importance of greeting. His friend told him the story; this same friend played a prominent role in the story. It happened that his friend was standing in front of his house, it was a compound house and he had rented some flats out, when a smartly dressed lady walked past him without greeting, she returned to ask him if an occupant of a flat was in; she still did not greet him. What my father’s friend did, he stood like a robot and did not respond to any of her questions. My dad couldn’t stop laughing when he was narrating the story. He asked his friend, “Oh so you didn’t mind her at all?” His friend said, “Not a single word came out of my mouth as response.”
Greeting is an important part of our social lives as Ghanaians. When someone doesn’t greet you, you begin to feel there is something wrong, and you will be right most of the time. Greeting is a way we show respect to our fellow men. It is also a sign of peace and goodwill.
I have been privileged to see how some of our Northern brothers and sisters (this is a generalization, there are several tribes in the Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions of Ghana) greet each other; they either bow or go down on their knees; it’s a bit different from how my ethnic group greets. I am all Akan. There are several tribes within my ethnic group but our style of greeting appears to be uniform. We have different greetings for the various periods in a day. We say ‘m’akye’ in the morning, ‘m’aha’ in the afternoon, and ‘m’adwo’ in the evening. The response to these greetings are ‘yaa nua’, ‘yaa ɛna’ or ‘yaa agya’, and ‘yaa ͻba’ depending on whether the person who greets you is an age mate, elderly woman or man, and a junior respectively. The response can also vary based on maternal family lines or ‘abusua’. There are eight ‘abusua’; they are Agona, Aduana, Asenie, Asakyiri, Asona, Bretuo, Ekuona and Oyoko. We have other greetings based on the times, whether good times or bad ones. We say hyɛden when someone is bereaved. When something good happens to a person; an example is when a woman delivers a child safely, we greet by saying ‘wotiri nkwa’ which literally means life to your head; the person who says this shares the joy of your good fortune. Among Akans, when you see others working you greet, ‘adwuma adwuma’ and they respond ‘adwuma’; ‘adwuma’ means work.
Shaking hands is a way Akans show camaraderie. At gatherings, we start shaking hands from our extreme right and move to the left. We wave at people far from us we can’t shake. During funerals, no one is allowed to shake the hands with the widow or widower. You want to know why? I am told the hand can carry a lot of messages from interested parties.
When you are paying homage to a chief, you extend your cloth, akans wear clothes during traditional gatherings, to your chest and remove your foot wear, usually the ‘ahinima’- traditional slippers, as you bow in obeisance to the chief. The chief then decides if he should extend his hands to greet you or not. It’s different when a chief is greeting another chief; the less powerful chief bows to his senior. The same way it’s a taboo for a chief to eat in public, it’s not allowed that a chief be barefooted. The question remains, what happens when a chief greets his senior? What he does, he steps on the lower half of his ‘ahinima’ as he lowers his clothe in reverence.
Greeting, as a sign of peace, fosters unity, which builds strength.
WRITER- KWAKU GYAMFI -threesixtyGh writer/contributor.