Congresswoman Marcia Fudge once said “We respect our elders. There is wisdom that comes from experience.” Often, this viewpoint gets overlooked as many cultures don’t hold a high level of respect for their elders. However, this is not the case in West Indian and Ghanaian cultures, as they have various ways and customs to respect their elders. In India and Ghana, elders are treated with the highest regard, but are respected through different means such as discrete customs, changes in language, and unique practices and traditions that reveal respect for elders. Indian traditions related to the treatment of elders are based on routine conventions that signify respect, whereas Ghanaian practices related to elders are based on the great number of important roles and expectations for elders within a family.
Although Indian and Ghanaian cultures differ in their practices related to elders, both cultures value and revere elders. In Indian culture, respect is shown to elders through habitual day-to-day practices. One of the facets through which members of the Indian community show this admiration is Charan Sparsh, meaning “touching the feet”. From personal experience, every day, the first time I see my grandparents, it is customary to touch their feet as a sign of respect and to take their blessings.
In addition, even when it may not be my own grandparents, whenever I see other Indian elders that I know, I’ve been taught to greet them by touching their feet as well. This custom of touching the feet of elders is a sign of respect and is not only practiced in the presence of grandparents, but any elders that deserve respect. Another convention in Indian culture is the change of language when speaking to elders. For example, in Gujarati, a language spoken in the state of Gujarat, people refer to each other with the word “tu”, which means “you”.
However, when speaking to elders or even anyone that is slightly older than you (such as an elder sibling), the word “tame” is used. Despite the fact that both words have the same meaning, the word “tame” is often used as a mark of respect and admiration for elders. In addition to all of these practices to show respect for elders, disrespecting elders has a “social stigma” in India. Talking in a rude manner, being hostile, and acting brash is looked down upon in Indian culture, whereas in many other cultures it is often the norm. In Indian culture, the habitual conventions such as touching the feet of elders and using different linguistic terms when addressing them are what show the respect and admiration that people within this culture hold for their elders.In Ghanaian culture, respect for elders is shown through important roles and expectations. The role of elders in Ghanaian culture is much more influential and key than in many other cultures.
According to an article called The Social Situation of Older Africans it is stated that elders in sub-saharan African cultures (including Ghana) are seens as “social guides for younger generations.” In an age where many elders are often given a minimal role in the lives of their kids, the fact that elders have such a high importance in Ghanaian culture speaks volumes to the amount of respect and deference is given to them. In addition, elders in Ghanaian culture also “settle disputes in the community” and “make major decisions affecting families.” The fact that elders have a role this crucial shows the extent to which the Ghanaian community values elders and their wisdom. Lastly, death is seen as part of the “natural rhythm of life” and is celebrated, as well as used as an opportunity to pay homage to the elder who passed away. Unlike Indian culture, Ghanaian culture doesn’t have any major routine conventions; however, the crucial role that elders play in Ghanaian society shows they are respected and revered just as much.
Overall, despite common practices such as sending elders to hospitals and nursing homes to remove them from the community, Indian and Ghanaian cultures have been able to maintain their respect for elders and have shown it through a multitude of different ways. While Indian traditions related to the treatment of elders are based on routine conventions that signify respect, Ghanaian practices related to elders are based on the great number of important roles and expectations for elders within a family. Despite these differences in the portrayal of respect, both cultures are widely recognized and commended for their admiration and respect for elders.