I grew up with my grandma and she used different phrases from what I knew for everything. She used izihlonipho in isiXhosa – respectful, traditional phrases, not the more modern, sometimes slangy ones I used. She called hands, “Izamkeli”, which loosely translates to gestures of welcome. “Bamba indwendwe izamkeli Thandile,” she would say. For my whole childhood I understood hands to be a sign of welcoming, and shaking hands as making the guest feel welcomed.
I became a man, and as a Xhosa this sentiment was echoed, along with many others: “Never shake anyone’s hand sitting down; it’s disrespectful. Look them in the eyes, and have a strong grip as a show of your strength.” This was one of the spoken rules of handshakes.
IKasi is different from my ‘traditional’ learning of handshakes. There are different handshakes and they mean different things. The handshake can be a sign of your relationship; but it’s never talked about. If you get the fist bump without the dap, you’re probably just met the person and they are still ‘scouting’ you. The fist bump with the dap, means you’re familiar with the person but aren’t friends. The dap is reserved for the elders – the older group oo ta Mthura who think saying, “Sharp sharp, Ngqina!” is still cool. The dap up, firm grip, is for friends.
For those of you who don’t know, the dap is a form of hand shake where you palm slap, then interlock your thumb and index finger behind the thumb of the next person, and then disengage, pushing each others thumbs on the way out.
My friends and I dap up and embrace. We have never talked about it, but it’s a gesture we reserve for among each other. We never talk about feelings, but every time we part ways from whatever we’re doing – watching soccer, playing FIFA, or just a straight up banter session about nonsense, we dap and embrace. I might get up and go, “Mandiye majita – let me go.” I think the handshake is just our way of saying, “Goodbye, I l love you.”
We have a lot of unspoken rules, some rooted in love for one another that we don’t want to verbalise and, on the other hand, some in just the distrust there is; because in the hood nowadays you are always looking over your shoulder, so the greeting has subconsciously become part of that behaviour. You’re always always sussing out danger.
Depending on the company people keep, it’s seldom you get in much danger because of the handshake that establishes you as equals. But we are always aiming to not look weak; never give anyone the idea they can come at you!
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like Abafowethu here
Tell us: What gesture/ form of handshake do you use to greet those with whom you come into contact?