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Etiquette in Africa: Wikis


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Ignorance about African cultures can lead to accidental breaches of etiquette. Shown here is a group of schoolboys in Ethiopia, a country whose diverse population includes many Muslims and Oriental Christians.

As expectations regarding good manners differ from person to person and vary according to each situation, no treatise on the rules of etiquette nor any list of faux pas can ever be complete. As the perception of behaviors and actions vary, intercultural competence is essential. However, a lack of knowledge about customs and expectations within African cultures can make even the best intentioned person seem rude, selfish, or worse.



Although Africa represents an enormous expanse of geography with an incalculable amount of cultures and customs, noting the following points of etiquette can be useful when dealing with people around the world who have been raised according to African traditions:



  • On the other hand, life in places such as South Africa is more akin to that of places like the United States than uninformed people might realize. As was the case in the United States and Australia, Europeans established their culture in Africa centuries ago and it has largely replaced indigenous culture in many regions. Suggesting that an inhabitant of Johannesburg, South Africa or Nairobi, Kenya comes from a remote region or should worry about lion attacks on the way to work would almost certainly be an unwelcomed breach of etiquette.


A number of countries in Africa have many traditions based in Islam and share values with other parts of the Muslim world. As such, guidelines regarding etiquette in the Middle East are often applicable to these places. This holds especially true in Muslim majority countries which include many of the West African nations such as Senegal, Chad and Mali. Even though most people would consider themselves as Muslim, many mix it with local animism. Many, whatever their religious adherence, to some extent believe in supernatural forces and that certain people, primarily doctors, herbalists, diviners, or marabouts (religious figures) have the power to utilise these forces. It is common to see people wearing amulets (called “gris-gris”) around their waist, neck, arms, or legs. People consult with diviners or marabouts to protect themselves against evil spirits, to improve their financial status or bring them love, to cure chronic illnesses, to settle disputes, or to place a curse on another person.[1]

Tribal and ethnic groups

Africa is home to innumerable ethnic and social groups, some representing very large populations consisting of millions of people, others are smaller groups of a few thousand. The political map of Africa bears little resemblance to the "cultural map" of Africa, and national borders often cross through territories of people who consider themselves unified. Many Africans identify more closely as a member of a given ethnic or linguistic group than as a member of the nation in which they were born and hold citizenship. Accordingly:

  • Oppugning someone's ethnic identity through ignorance or deliberate intention can be a grievous breach of etiquette.
  • Adoption of a "Western lifestyle" has little to do with a person's affinity with their ethnic group. A lawyer in a three-piece suit en route to London, able to converse in Afrikaans and English, may also be a native speaker of Zulu and as proud and assured of his specific ethnic identity .
  • Conversely, pride in tribal identity means that wearing traditional dress does not necessarily indicate a lack of education or an unfamiliarity with the ways of the world. A man dressed in traditional Maasai attire may have been educated at a university in Canada.

See also


  1. ^ Senegal - Etiquette and Customs


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