By Dr Michelina Andreucci
WHILE it is well we have a National School Pledge, there is a certain protocol that needs to be addressed and taught in schools.
The way we carry ourselves is culturally encoded, yet beyond our individual cultures is an etiquette that can be equated to having hunhu.
Respect, kindness, good manners and consideration for and towards others form the basis of our civility (hunhuism).
Rules of etiquette cover behaviour in talking, acting, living, sitting, eating, moving and all other interaction to help people get along with each other and avoid conflict.
Etiquette is the language of manners and hunhu.
One of America’s most influential writer on etiquette in the 20th Century, Emily Post, wrote: “Manners are made up of trivialities of deportment which can be easily learned if one does not happen to know them; manner is personality – the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude towards life.”
Although manners and etiquette go hand-in-hand, they are not the same. Manners are an expression of one’s inner character, while etiquette is a set of rules dealing with exterior forms of behaviour.
Manners are common sense; a combination of munificence of character and unequivocal understanding.
Rules of etiquette are the guiding codes of conduct that enable us to practise good manners towards each other.
The first known written guide for appropriate behaviour was written by Ptah-hotep, an Egyptian government official who is said to have recorded them for his son in 2500 BC.
Ancient Roman and Greek scholars, among them, Aristotle, Horace, Cicero and Plutarch, wrote several ‘guides of behaviour’.
The Chivalric Code in 13th Century Europe established the proper behaviour for knights regarding the Christian Church, country and their behaviour towards women.
Our indigenous people also had rules of civility.
King Lobengula’s ‘impi’ and ‘amabuto’ were highly regimented.
The Shona ‘machinda’ which now translates to boys or guys, but literally means a king’s foot soldier/bodyguard/messenger, were also well drilled in the codes of behaviour which were cultural, military, civil and diplomatic.
The term ‘etiquette’ originated in France during the reign of Louis XIV (1638–1715).
It is based on the French word ‘ticket’ to indicate the right paths for nobility to follow in the gardens of the Palace du Versailles, the seat of French Kings (1692-1789).
The rules of etiquette came to provide an exact daily list of functions related to times, places, proper dress and behaviour.
Thus, proper etiquette came to be associated with the aristocracy and those trying to emulate them.
Many books on etiquette, designed for the common person and schoolchildren as well as the aristocracy, were published during the 19th Century.
The popular Youth’s Educator for Home and Society published in 1896, survived even through to the 21st Century.
The book covered a wide variety of situations, besides the usual rules regarding personal hygiene, good behaviour, table manners, travelling, letter writing, social gatherings, weddings, parents and children, servants, included how to cycle in public.
Since the Second World War (1939–1945) and our own Chimurenga (1960s – 1979), society and manners have been revolutionised and are no longer only for the aristocracy to know how to behave correctly in a restricted society; society has become less formal.
Today, few people have to deal with running huge mansions, servants and elaborate entertainment, but still have to deal with difficult or unknown situations in business or the community in general.
Previously in the West and in African culture, it was not considered proper for a girl or woman to walk alone.
Etiquette delineated when she should be accompanied by another woman her age, by an older woman or by a man.
This is aptly summed up by Oliver Mtukudzi’s early hit: “Perekedza mwana zuva radoka” – (accompany the young girl home, it is after sunset).
The greatest change since the 1960s, however, has been greater equality and the relationship between men and women.
Today, proper etiquette also includes road and traffic etiquette, business etiquette, dress etiquette, public etiquette, diplomatic etiquette, military etiquette as shown by the discipline of liberation cadres, despite their lack of uniforms; proper computer ‘netiquette’, etiquette for use of cellphones and multi-cultural situations.
Good character (hunhu) is the quintessence of indigenous African moral systems.
Rules of decorum in African society are embedded in our ideas and beliefs regarding right or wrong, good or bad.
Organised, functioning African societies evolved ethical systems of moral values, principles and canons which were intended to guide its communities’ social and moral behaviour.
Insight into the moral thinking and ideas of indigenous African society is given through the languages.
The language of decorum for the formal announcements and presentation of a meal or parcel are accompanied by specific gestures and body-language which inform the recipient about the gravity or nature of the message.
For instance, an item cannot be handed directly to a person of senior status, but put on the ground; the ground acts as a witness to the transaction.
Decorum is emphasised when it is in the service of a ritual, such as meals, death or wedding.
Therefore, each set of cultural activities have specific categories of decorum associated with it which show how cultured indigenous people are.
Moral codes of decorum that were evolved by a particular society, while they may differ, concern everyone in as much as they respond to basic human needs, interests and purposes.
For Shona people, especially girls and women, etiquette and postures were a reflection of a righteous and moral upbringing.
Postures such as kupfunya chisero and kupfugamira vakuru were qualities that ensured women were adequately prepared to live in good stead in society and transmit apposite principles and values to future generations through our customs, traditions and rituals that have shaped our opinions and moulded and directed our lives.
Women are in fact the principle cultural purveyors of hunhu.
Men too were expected to be civil.
Embedded in behavioural structure are society’s beliefs concerning moral conduct.
These are articulated, analysed and interpreted by the moral thinkers of the society (vakuru vedare repamusha), in order to bring about social harmony and co-operative living, justice and fairness.
One of the biggest complaints in society today is that our children no longer have manners, which come with certain etiquette and hunhu.
Today’s misdirected ethos of wasara-wasara; mazvake-mazvake, humbimbindoga, (free for all), must be discouraged at all costs.
A greater part of Early Childhood Development (ECD) and junior/primary education should be devoted to gaining and establishing skills of civility (hunhu), manners, etiquette, communication, behavioural gestures, including the appropriate language for recognition and addressing different sects and strata of our society.
Schools need to take a special interest in it, especially considering the current breakdown of the family and the migration from rural to urban areas or the Diaspora.
Just as the French, the English, Italians, Japanese, among others brought their culture into official use, Zimbabweans need to make their culture and cultural postures official through the education system.
Beyond pure academia, there has to be a humanities education.
We are rearing children today who do not have a focus between themselves and their communities.
There is need for young children to be educated beyond the classroom walls.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian Researcher, Industrial Design Consultant and Specialist Hospitality Interior Decorator. She is a published author in her field.
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