In all the years I’ve lived on this earth, I’ve never said ‘good morning’ to my mother. If I ever do I think she will die of shock. To my mother’s despair, the only language my brothers and I speak (fluently) is English. I can’t construct a sentence in Benin (paternal language) and all I can do in Urhobo (mother’s language) is greet and beg for keys and money. I’ll explain. As a teenager, in an attempt to frustrate me (why else would she do it) my mother would often demand that if I wanted something from her, I had to ask in Urhobo. The two things I always wanted were the keys to her room and money so I learnt to ask for both.
I’m not sure if it’s a Nigerian thing or if it’s specific to certain cultures but saying ‘good morning’ to an Urhobo person is like spitting in their faces. Sometimes I meet a friend of my mothers’ and unsure of their ethnicity, politely say, ‘good morning.’ If their eyes and nostrils widen, you know they are Urhobo. One of the first words to ever proceed from my mouth was degwo. It’s how you greet in Urhobo. It’s still one of the only words I know in the language but I thank the good lord that it’s as versatile as the oil its land produces. Degwo will get you very far. My friends Stinkus and CrawCraw are constantly ribbing me about this so you have them to blame for this Urhobo lesson.
Degwo means ‘I am on my knees’ and the response ‘Boma do’ means ‘stand up.’ Unlike other languages that literally translate the words, good morning, degwo is symbolic. When you greet an elder, you are expected to kneel as a sign of respect. Like my mother says, what’s the point of saying ‘I’m on my knees’ if you’re standing straight as a ruler?! Personally, I think the ground is too far from my knees for them to meet so I tend to curtsey. It drives my mother crazy.
“My friend, your knees are not touching the ground!”
I ignore her and we end up fighting. She thinks I’m rude, I think she’s ancient. She shouts, I space out. When I remember she’s my mother, I apologise and we let it go…till the next time.
Degwo can mean, good morning, afternoon or evening. It can also mean thank-you. It can mean whatever kneeling could signify. So Stinkus and CrawCraw, you have been educated. The next time I hear any jokes about this I will knock your heads together…AND I MEAN IT!
So tell me, how do you say good morning in your language and where are you from? Do you have to kneel or can you get away with sitting and greeting?