The daily rush presses us. It pushes us to run. No time for anything. No time to connect with the other. To be fully present. To look him in the eye. To figure out what’s wrong. Quick greetings are increasingly common, those “Hello, how are you?” that don’t really show an interest in each other and don’t even expect an answer, because they only serve as a mere lead into a quick conversation with their heads elsewhere.
However, in South Africa there is a beautiful greeting in isiZulu: “Sawubona”. It is the equivalent of our “hello”, but with a much deeper meaning. When Zulus greet each other with a “sawubona”, they are literally saying “I see you” or, to be more exact, “We see you”.
Full presence, full connection
When a Zulu wants to greet someone, he uses the word “Sawubona” (we see you), and that person will reply “Yebo, sawubona” (we see you too). Sawubona sums up a “I see you, you are important to me and I value you”.
Sawubona expresses the importance of directing one’s attention towards the other. That “We see you” implies becoming aware of his presence. Fully. It is, therefore, an invitation to focus on the here and now, on the person in front of us and what is happening. If we don’t see someone, we won’t be able to influence their world and therefore it is unlikely that we will be able to make a positive impression.
In fact, the Zulu community has always been aware of the importance of the group, but also of giving visibility to the individual in order to fully integrate them as an element of the community. That is why it has always promoted the need to see each person consciously and slowly.
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 him feel that he is part of something bigger, it also expresses radical acceptance.
Recognition and acceptance of personal complexity
The meaning of Sawubona goes beyond full presence and connection. In fact, it includes an important nuance: the “we”, that shared space that we create with others when we are fully present. That energy that is generated between two people who are connecting.
When a Zulu says “We see you”, it means that he is seeing not only the person in front of him but also his ancestors and his spiritual self, that complex inner world that we often overlook but influences our decisions, attitudes and behaviors.
Sawubona is not only recognizing the person, that monolithic “self” with which we usually identify ourselves in our day to day, but rather the complexity that is hidden at its base. It implies recognizing all the “self’s” that are part of us. All our traditions, beliefs and ways of thinking.
At the same time, when a Zulu responds: “Yebo, sawubona” (we see you too), he is trying to get rid of his prejudices in order to see the person in front of him for who he is. It is an attempt at appreciation without value judgments. An attempt to understand his 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 him for what he is 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 witnesses his journey. That we want to know his needs, desires, sorrows and wounds.
Who wouldn’t want to be seen this way?
Maybe we need to see each other more. But, really!
Sawubona to all of you!