The visitor and the guest

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April 29th 2012
Published: April 29th 2012
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Try as I might I have not found anyone who can translate ‘thank you for having me’ into Luganda. People look puzzled. It was eventually explained to me (after it had become quite apparent) that there is no gratitude that you should show your host in Baganda culture. The emphasis is on the host to show gratitude.

For a Bugandan, when a visitor first comes to your home you say you are pleased to see them (whatever you think of them), give permission for them to enter and the command them to sit. Command is an important part of Luganda, it has its own tense and forms a large part of everyday speech, which initially comes across as rude to Brits used to asking everything. Then follows the introductions, a series of questions in which you ascertain that everyone from Granny Mary’s cousin to the chickens are ok and definitely make sure that both the visitor and the host are ok.

“Eradde (Is everything calm)?” “Eradde (everything’s calm)” “Ogamba ki (What are you saying)?” “Tewali (nothing)” “Agafeeyo (what’s dying over there)?” “ Tewali.” A lot of the traditional greetings focus on whether there is peace and that everyone is safe. For instance, you will often be congratulated on making the journey without dying

As the visitor you will then have to take something from your host, usually food or drink. This is an important lesson to learn if you have just eaten, particularly if you are a special (i.e. white) guest you will often be given another large meal unless you can come up with a good excuse (having just eaten doesn’t usually quite cut it in my experience!) You also learn not to enter if you are in a hurry. Before you know it the dreaded “I’ll just make you something” are uttered and four hours later you find yourself still trapped.

The final stage of the visiting process is for the host to see you out. This should not be underestimated. As the visitor you must first ask permission to leave, done in command form “Ka ngende (let me go).” If you have fulfilled all your eating obligations and permission is granted then the host will walk you out. How far they walk you depends but I have quite often found myself walked all the way home. At this stage there is the conundrum as to whether you invite them in and the whole process starts again. Some people do but this is where my cultural compromising ends and I go and lie down.


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