Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cosmopolitan parents. Would You Kneel Down for Your Yoruba Hubby? Should You Teach Your Daughter (s) To?

I was with my friend the other day and she just couldn't get over the fact that a Yoruba woman's daughter greeted her with a mere "Hi Aunty Bukky" She was disgusted at the fact that this was a full blooded Yoruba girl greeting her mother's friend, a full grown woman, with an abbreviation of the equally unacceptable "hello"

Many are familiar with the Yoruba custom of females kneeling down (ikun ile) to greet or serve their husbands food. Some do it half way, others do all the way to the ground making sure both knees touch it.

I know of ladies who are engaged to Yoruba men but dread the point of the wedding when they might be asked to kneel down to feed their husband a slice of cake. They see it as subservience, the women's rights activist in them just can't stand it "We are partners, why do I have to kneel to feed him?" "If he is going to ask me to kneel to serve him food (some men do),  It's a total deal breaker" A PHD holder from Yale said "It's intellectual terrorism!"

Being the mother of a Bi-tribal child (Yoruba/Igbo), I really get asked this question a lot from my fellow Igbos " Will you teach your daughter to kneel down (kun ile) to greet adults?" The answer is an emphatic "Yes!" But many parents who are even both of Yoruba descent but have embraced the cosmopolitan way of life are not definite about this? I must admit I have wondered how my child would feel when her friends greet adults standing but out of sheer force habit she bends down.

So is it worth it? I believe the origins of this custom lie in a wife displaying submission. Submission is about acknowledgement of authority, and not about subservience. In addition, I think it is a beautiful way of preserving culture.

The Yorubas  place a very high premium on showing respect to elders (not just the aged but everyone who is older than one is). This is the significance of prostrating and kneeling while greeting and in some other situations too like during an apology. I've met people who think it is archaic and shouldn't be taught to this new breed of infants but I wonder why. I wouldn't want my child to offend Yoruba elders or any other elderly person  around her and perhaps start on the wrong footing with her future Mother in law (if she turns out to be Yoruba also) because of a simple harmless traditional gesture?

Furthermore, I have observed that this gesture is not only peculiar to the Yoruba. Igbo women kneel at the traditional wedding to offer the cup of wine to the husband. Any wife married into a family from Awka in is expected to greet her in laws. Urhobos kneel to greet and I've heard even some Anioma people do too.

On the other hand, many women will testify that they can make their stubborn husband do just what they want by going down on their knees. A friend once testified "When my knees go down, his heart melts and he gives in. You can move mountains on your knees and so far it is my best get-out-of-jail-free-card." Kneeling down is the joker card for many a Yoruba woman whilst solving serious issues or asking for forgiveness.

So Igbo, Edo, Hausa, European and Asian, ladies do not need to dread the wedding day or avoid those Yoruba toasters. Embrace the culture, there is something in it for you.

Ijeoma Olujekun

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