This blog process has been extremely educational in a number of ways. Besides learning a significant amount about Swazi culture, I learned how to correctly conduct an interview and I now better recognize how other cultures are affected by and change because of Western cultures.
It was very interesting to receive insight into a culture that I previously had no knowledge about but, initially, I had difficulty asking the right questions. On one of the first blogs on culture I began the interview by asking, “what is your culture like?” Muhle immediately laughed. How could he even begin to describe the entirety of his culture that is so different than my own? After that interview I recognized how important it is to ask specific questions to the interviewee. By asking questions such as, “how do men typically propose to women?” rather than “tell me about Swazi marriages” the interview receives a more focused and informative answer. By altering my approach I was able to produce more interesting blogs and make the interviewing process more efficient and interesting.
Throughout the interviews a central theme remained: Swaziland is changing because of the influence of Western cultures. Because of Swaziland’s strong trade relations with the European Union, Swaziland is exposed to Western culture. Western culture has affected almost every aspect of urban Swaziland. From family relations to music and clothing, Swaziland has been changed indefinitely because of its trade relations with Western nations. I understand the concept of globalization and can see its affects everyday, but this interview project made it a bit more tangible because I was able to understand it from the point of view of someone who has seen his culture change. I now recognize how quickly cultures around the world have been losing their traditional customs due to globalization.
Ultimately, I have enjoyed the interview and blog projects because of the practical and cultural knowledge that they have afforded me. Throughout the semester I believe that I have improved in both interviewing and blog writing. I have also better understood some of the concepts that we discuss in class from an insider’s point of view. I have learned a lot about a new culture, interviewing, and the effects that my own culture can have on others.
Swaziland’s main export is sugar cane. Sugar cane is a vital part of Swaziland’s economy and is the country’s gate to the rest of the world. Sugar cane has opened the door for Swaziland to interact with other countries and cultures through trade. Because Swaziland mainly trades with members of the European Union, the small African country has become increasingly more Westernized. This week I spoke with Muhle about the effects that Western influence has had on his home country and found that Muhle experienced globalization the most within the relationships in his family.
In the last two decades Muhle has seen the disappearance of traditional family customs due to the now large Western influence in Swaziland. Traditional Swaziland has hundreds of specific customs regarding dating, marriage, and interfamily relationships. The engagement process that I wrote about in an earlier blog is a good example of these traditions. There are also important customs that young family members adhere to when interacting with their elders. For example, grandchildren are never to look their grandparents in the eyes when they talk to them and children are not allowed to join groups of adults in discussion unless they are asked to. Muhle, who was raised in a rural traditional family, follows these social rules but Muhle’s brother, who is seven years younger and was raised in a more urban environment, does not acknowledge these practices. When I asked Muhle why a seven year gap created such a large difference in culture he explained that his younger brother learned how to interact with adults in a much different environment than he did. His brother grew up in a very Westernize city and had more access to Western media and entertainment than Muhle did. Beginning in the 90’s, Muhle believes that kids were taught traditional family customs but because of the mix of Western culture and Swazi culture, the kids “choose to ignore the customs or their parents don’t enforce them” in their households because “difference influences came in and became more important than the traditional influence.”
I finished our conversation by asking Muhle if he intended to teach his children the traditional social family customs or if he would raise his children in a more Western environment. He told me, “if I have kids before my dad dies, I will teach them the customs because it is important to him.” Otherwise, Muhle believes that, because of the globalization and Western influence that sugar cane trade has brought to Swaziland, the traditional Swazi culture will soon “disappear.”
The largest ethnic group in Swaziland is the Swazi. The Swazi people, whom Muhle identifies with, are descendants of a larger group called Nguni. The Swazi, and other ethnic groups in Africa whose members are predominantly black, make up the majority of their country’s population but they are still discriminated against by the significantly smaller white African populations. Muhle cited the conflict between the white Africans and the black Swazis in Swaziland as the main ethnic conflict in his country.
While the Swazi group is derived from Swaziland, today many Swazi’s live in bordering South Africa. Likewise, there is a small population of “white South Africans” who have recently moved from South Africa into Swaziland. The white South Africans are openly prejudice towards the black Swazis and have “issues” when interacting with them. For example, white South Africans do not allow their children to “bring over their black friends” and do not “want their daughter to date black boys.” I asked Muhle if the South Africans’ racist views and practices affected their relationship with South Africa and he immediately shook his head, “they have all the better stuff!”
Because Swaziland enjoys their relationship with South Africa and its resources, the black Swazis do not address the issue of racism between the two groups. It is interesting to me that even though the white citizens in South Africa and Swaziland are significantly outnumbered in population, they still feel superior to the black Swazis.
Like the white South Africans, white people from Swaziland are also discriminatory toward the black Swazis but it is less severe. Muhle told me that in Swaziland the Swazis are “racist toward each other.” For example, if a white Swazi was to walk into a government office they would be “treated with more respect” than a black person would. Social interactions like this example are the extent of discrimination between the Swazis. There are hardly any hate crimes or violence involving race in Swaziland.
While Swaziland currently resembles the United States’ race relations in the 1960s and 70s, unlike the United States during that time period, there is hardly any violence. I believe that this is because while the white Swazis and South Africans feel superior to the black Swazis, they are inferior in size. Unlike the United States, the white African’s population restricts them from establishing segregation laws and practices. While the disparity between the two populations protect the black Swazi people, Swaziland’s dependence on South Africa will prevent Swaziland from addressing the racial problems between the two countries.
In Swaziland, gender roles are strictly defined. Muhle explained to me that because Swaziland is a predominantly Christian state, the country’s idea of what it means to be feminine is much more conservative than in Western states. Girls are generally “more feminine, emotional, and conservative” than boys and are not allowed to wear pants around older men. Girls are also expected to be “quiet and soft spoken, if anything at all” and must be more respectful to adults.
Boys on the other hand are expected to be “bigger, faster, and stronger” and are not held to as many expectations as girls. Where women must wear shawls over their jeans in public, men adhere to the motto “boys will be boys” and are free to run around in only shorts if they would like. There is a large disparity of privileges between the sexes regarding social behavior but ultimately, both sexes are required to obey their gender roles.
The Swazi people are extremely devoted to their gender roles because of their religious background. When I asked Muhle about the stigma of homosexuality and transvestites in Swaziland he immediately shook his head. Both of these practices are “abominations” and are looked poorly upon by society. While Swaziland does have a Gay and Lesbian Association, the society’s emphasis on traditional gender roles suppresses and discourages straying from typical boy and girl characteristics.
Muhle began our conversation by telling me that the United States and Swaziland do not differ much on our views of gender roles. The only differences he has seen in the United States are that girls are less conservative and they treat their elders with less respect. Other than these two things Muhle does not believe that our stigmas of males and females differ. While I do not completely agree with his opinions, I acknowledge that the gender roles of Swaziland are much like previous views of males and females held by Americans. Like other aspects of Swaziland’s culture, I believe that gender roles will soon begin to become more Westernized and that females will be allowed a bit more individuality but because of its deep Christian roots, negative views of homosexuality and transvestitism may take more time to modify.
In recent years Swaziland has become increasingly more westernized in its marriage practices. The country has begun to veer away from polygamy because the practice is no longer financially beneficial in Swaziland’s increasingly industrialized economy. Although some marriage customs have been abandoned, the engagement process continues to reflect traditional practices from Swaziland’s pastoral past.
Muhle and I recently spoke about his aunt’s engagement. As is custom in Swazi culture, a man who wishes to propose travels to the woman’s house in the middle of the night with an entourage full of family members and livestock. Because extended families in Swaziland usually live together in gated compounds, the prospective groom must wait outside the gate and yell to the family that he is there to propose. The woman’s family, who has been warned of his arrival, sends the smallest child in the family to the gate to tell the man that they cannot hear him. This shouting game continues for 5-10 minutes until the man and his entourage are finally allowed in. Once inside the compound, the man and his entourage are shown where they will be staying for the night. In the morning, the man offers the woman’s family a goat or cow, which they kill and share as “a sort of peace offering” before the “negotiations” begin.
To begin the proposal process, the man meets with the woman’s father and brothers to discuss the bride price. The man brings a matchbox with corn kernels in it “representing however many cows they are proposing” for the daughter’s hand in marriage. The father of the bride-to-be will then add kernels to the matchbox and negotiations will continue until both parties are satisfied with the price.
Muhle’s aunt was an “expensive bride” and required a high bride price because she has never been married before, does not have children, is a devote Christian, has a degree, has a good reputation, and raised her nieces and nephews. These characteristics make her a “desirable wife” according to Swazi culture. The bride price, which is usually paid in livestock, is paid to the father of the bride or, in the case of his absence, the closest male in her lineage. When I asked Muhle why the gifts were not given to the females of the family he explained that Swaziland is a patrilineal society and that the gifts go to the males who “made her the person that is worth this many [cows].”
Following the proposal both families celebrate together with feasts and parties to kick off the engagement period which usually lasts anywhere between a month and a year. This traditional form of engagement is completely unlike proposals in the United States. While it is considered respectful for the male to ask the female’s father’s permission to marry his daughter, normally there is no bride price. While other cultures around the world have practices similar to those of Swaziland, the United States does not have an engagement ritual that is followed as strictly.
I am excited to begin my exploration of Swaziland culture and exercise my love for conversation and writing. While working as a fieldworker I expect to learn characteristics unique to Swaziland and alter my own, most likely incorrect, views of modern day Africa. Thankfully my partner, Muhle, is a friend and fellow soccer player. Our friendship will ensure honest information and fun dialogue! I am not particularly scared or nervous about this project because I truly enjoy talking with people and learning about new traditions and different culture. I am a very social person and believe that my strengths as a communicator and writer will only enhance my fieldwork experience. While I am confident in these areas, I do not always listen well or retain information. I plan to work on this weakness by facilitating the conversations in a way that encourages Muhle to speak freely while I listen and record. I also plan on tape recording all of our meetings in order to best represent his culture and our conversations. Ultimately, I am excited for the challenges and new information that this fieldwork project is sure to bring and I can not wait to begin!