WHY THE YORUBA KNEEL
It is customary in the Yoruba culture to curtsey or prostrate when greeting one’s elders. This practice is conducted in day to day living as well as celebrations such as weddings.
Kneeling for the older generations is part and parcel of the Yoruba tradition, and as with most tradition, is beginning to lose its meaning and value with time. So why do the Yoruba kneel?
Those outside of the culture might consider kneeling for another to be embarrassing at best and demeaning at worst. In the past, women were also expected to kneel for their husbands. Many would argue it is a practice that should have been stopped when we ceased living in huts and answering to chiefs.
If you are a female, you are expected to go on your knees when greeting one who is older than you; and if you are a male you are expected to ko mo le, in other words, prostrate. Because of the great physical commitment of prostrating, most males place their left arm behind their back and bend to touch the floor with their right hand, instead.
If you have any doubt about how important greeting properly is to the Yoruba culture, all you have to do is listen to Lagbaja’s hit Mummy Hi. In the song, he describes a lady who instead of greeting his mother by kneeling, waves her hand and says hi.
There was an occasion when I was younger and living in England, my grandpa was in the country and I went to see him. He met me at the train station and I did a little curtsey when I approached him. As I was rising from said curtsey, he placed his palm upon my crown and gently assisted me on getting to my knees and told me that was how I greeted my grandpa.
I blushed a little, looked around, but all in all, I found the incident vaguely amusing. And it is one of my favourite memories of him. But it does beg the question, why is it so important?
Greeting is a way of showing respect. It is also vital to communication and community life among the Yoruba because it acts as a catalyst. The absence of an appropriate greeting, whenever it is required can be the beginning of an age-long hostility.
The Yoruba culture is not the only culture, however, that has used the practice of kneeling. The British for example, though not obligated to, still practise curtseying and bowing when addressing a member of though royal family. In the Indian culture, there is the practice of briefly touching the feet of those who are superior to you in age and position.
These practices are a way to remind those who are young and inexperienced that the one they are kneeling to has seen life and has wisdom that can be passed on. It is not a tool to create a form of subservience or servitude. Nonetheless, it may very well be losing its worth with time.
Do you believe the practice should continue?
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July 09, 2019