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.”