A Message from Dr. Chiquita T. Tuttle,
Coordinator, African American Pastoral Center
One of the very early things I learned from my parents was to always be polite and greet others with a “hello.” I learned to greet people with Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening - even if I didn’t know them personally. Those of you growing up in the South, know this to be a fact. I want to introduce you to a new greeting I learned that I believe is really amazing. It comes from the Zulu culture.
Sawubona is a Zulu greeting that literally means “I see you.” This greeting carries a deeper meaning beyond simple politeness, as it emphasizes the importance of recognizing and acknowledging the worth and dignity of each person.
It is a way of showing respect and extending a warm welcome to others. The term has become increasingly popular in recent years, as more people have come to appreciate the value of recognizing and honoring the humanity of everyone they encounter.
In essence, saying “sawubona” is a way of acknowledging the presence and inherent worth of another person, and it is a powerful gesture that can help to build connections and foster positive relationships.
The response to “sawubona” is Ngikhona (pronounced N-geek-hona) which translates to “I am here” (Google this to hear the actual pronunciation). One can also respond with “YEBO,” which means “I see you too.”
It is also important to note that the Zulu people place a lot of emphasis on the tone of voice, eye contact, and body language when greeting someone. A warm and friendly tone of voice, accompanied by a smile and direct eye contact, is considered a sign of respect, and shows that you are genuinely interested in the other person.
Sawubona seeks to promote precisely that moment in which we maintain a leisurely eye contact to be able to look and see, listen, feel, and understand. That moment when two souls touch. It is an invitation to participate in the life of the other. A way to share.
However, this Zulu greeting is not only a way of making the other visible to make the person feel that they part of something bigger, it also expresses radical acceptance. At the same time, when a Zulu responds: “Yebo, sawubona” (we see you too), they are trying to get rid of their prejudices in order to see the person in front of them for who they are. It is an attempt at appreciation without value judgments. An attempt to understand their reality without the prejudices that we normally drag into the relationship.
In fact, many of the problems in relationships begin precisely when we do not see the other, we do not recognize them for what they are but through our expectations, aspirations and stereotypes. That creates pressures and conflicts, dissipating any shred of empathy.
Sawubona invites us to connect from our essence and explore the possibilities of helping each other, from mutual acceptance and respect. It is a greeting to convey that we are there, with a genuine desire to understand the other. It means we want to witness their journey. That we want to know their needs, desires, sorrows, and wounds.
So, the next time you are greeting someone, combine the southern upbringing of Good morning, Good Afternoon and Good evening with the African roots of the Zulu culture by saying SAWUBONA, appreciating the humanity of the person you are greeting and actually “seeing them” for who they are.
What a wonderful world it would be!