We all grew up hearing our parents say at the dinner table, “Chew with your mouth closed!” or “Don’t talk with your mouth full!” In our culture it is rude or sloppy to chew with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full. Of course, now that we are grandparents, we can’t get over how cute it is to see the grand kids chew that way! Well, one day in the tribe I was out on the porch of our house sharing some crackers with a few of the guys as we sat and visited about the latest happenings in the village. As we were eating, one fellow made the comment, “Lo’u, (Red – my village name. It can also mean meat or muscle; pretty sure they meant the latter for me. 😊) you chew with your mouth closed.” “Well ya” was my reply as I half rolled my eyes because of the obvious. “That’s the polite way to eat.” Of course, under my breath I was saying that’s according to my culture. The fellow looked at the others with half a grin on his face and then proudly replied with some cracker crumbs falling out of his mouth, “Well, we chew like pigs!!” And in unison like well-practiced choir, the guys all laughed together in perfect harmony!! It suddenly dawned on me that my language and culture acquisition from that time forward was going to include exercises and practice with a mouth full of food in order to chew and talk according to their cultural practice and “eat like a pig”! Once again, I was challenged with the fact that the simplest things in my culture were the exact opposite in tribal culture. And in realizing those things I also had to accept the fact that those differences were not wrong, just different and therefore okay.
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When it comes to tribal etiquette it’s a good idea not to assume that what we do in our culture is appropriate in another culture. This is very true when you want to enter someone’s house in the tribe. Now you might think, “What’s the big deal with that?” Well, it’s a big deal in any culture, but let’s talk about our culture first. When you approach a house in our culture you go to the front door and ring the door bell or knock so that the people inside can hear you. If no one responds by coming to the door you leave because not to do so would communicate ill intentions. Only if you are a very close relative might you be able to enter the house with a quick knock announcing, “I’m here, it’s just me!” But in our culture, very few people have that right. Most likely a grown son or daughter in most cases.
Tribal culture is completely the opposite. When I was learning the tribal language and culture the most useless thing I learned was, “Ane wiyeme filane nai?” Or “may I come in?” This was useless because you don’t need to announce your arrival or ask to enter a house; just go in. Tribal culture is open door meaning that you don’t ask to enter someone’s home. Initially I was apprehensive to walk in without asking, but I soon learned that to do otherwise meant ill intentions – completely the opposite from my culture!! You see, someone that wants to steal always checks to see if someone is home by asking to come in. It’s okay to just walk in a tribal home because their homes just aren’t private like ours. Their homes don’t have bathrooms, bedrooms or other private things that homes do in our culture. Therefore, just walk in and don’t feel like you’re being a criminal!
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