Hand Gestures and Road Rage
Sign language is arguably the only platform that fully appreciates the value of human hands.
It does not confine them to brushing teeth, taking showers, cooking, opening and closing doors, driving and caressing mobile phones.
The language also expresses emotion that can be high voltage like ten foot waves, or muted waves on the beach, taking a break before going back to the sea.
The starting point for sign language is how we interpret hands universally, like the baby is sleeping, I’m tired, hungry and asking what time it is.
A short course in sign language will be a revelation because it reflects the way we do things. Have you ever wondered how you sign socks or sweating?
Sign language also concentrates on the source of feelings. You can say you are mad or happy, but sign language expresses that in such a way that hearing people get the point.
In 2014, Deaf Film Camp for 13-16 year-old deaf and hard-of-hearing aspiring filmmakers, shot a video of Pharrell Williams’ song Happy, from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack album. Here is their rendition.
We can also assume that joined hands are safe or harmless. There is no room to hold a gun, hand grenade or a machete. People shake hands, greet or say ‘thank you’ with joined hands. Most religions join hands when praying.
Then comes culture. Cultures of the world use hands to relay certain messages. Indians in India and abroad greet with Namaste, a gesture of folded hands that is now appreciated globally because of Bollywood films and proud Indians such as film actor and producer Amitabh Bachchan.
This is how the Deepak Chopra Center explains Namaste: Bringing the hands together is a highly symbolic gesture. According to tradition, the right hand represents the higher self or the divine within, while the left hand represents the lower, worldly self.
Touching someone’s feet in India, is also a sign of respect for parents, in-laws, and other people the individual holds in high esteem. For example, younger Bollywood actors usually touch the feet of older actors and directors they admire.
Hands in African Culture
In southern Africa, when people lived off the land, kids were taught to accept food, gifts, anything with both hands. Taking something will one hand was tantamount to grabbing.
We cannot assume that still happens, because culture loses some of its limbs when it moves from its land base, and migrates to cities. This reminds me of what a friend told me.
He gave his nephew a gift and he took it with one hand. The father reprimanded him and told him to accept it with both hands. His nephew said, ‘It is not heavy.’ The father saw it as disrespect, but his son did not.
When a mother puts hands behind her ears, children know that they have not been listening or were plain disobedient. I think the hands behind ears also applies in India, judging by Bollywood films.
Women in Africa put their hands on their heads and cry when a loved one dies. That is why parents scold kids when they put their hands on their heads. ‘What is wrong? Did someone die?’
It is also common in the continent to see mourners washing their hands outside the deceased’s home. It is a symbolic way of washing away the sad feelings generated by burying somebody six feet down.
Washing hands at the gate before going into the house for lunch, is a renewal of some sort and the acceptance that loved ones die, but life goes on.
Nigerian movies and Yoruba movies in particular indicate that hands still play an important part in depicting respect.
These movies also indicate that rubbing hands to ask for forgiveness while kneeling is also common in Yoruba. It is also interesting how you placate someone who is mad.
Characters also brush down their chests with both hands, a symbolic way of telling someone to cool down.
In some movies, the men do not prostrate fully, but just bend and touch their legs as a show of respect for parents and people in authority. Either way, hands seem to be still important in showing respect and humility, despite colonialism and other outside influences.
Hands in Modern Society
Cities or urban areas do not have monolithic cultures.
Behaviour is determined by a multitude of factors including economic circumstances, peer pressure, popular culture like music especially visual images such as videos and people that control the streets.
That behaviour might end up being the national trait or international even. The finger is a good example of negative behaviour that is now used all over the world.
This is in contrast with ‘thumbs up’ also used internationally and has a positive message to indicate that things are ready to go, or that everything is well and good.
Basically, road rage is caused by judgement. One driver decides that the other driver is not following the law of the road. He can ignore him by slowing down or speeding away to avoid the foolishness or decide to be the judge and show his displeasure.
The finger is one of the contributing factors of drivers fighting with their toys of steel on the nation’s tarmac. The exchange of fingers and insults sometimes leads to death because eyes are no longer on the road.
Road rage is also triggered by the rage within ourselves. We are unhappy, unloved, broke, and do not like the skin colour god gave us. Unfortunately, that rage finds an outlet on other drivers.
Hands and Hollywood
Film and television are also a contributing factor in what hands do or do not do in modern society. Contrary to popular opinion, the Rambo films, featuring Sylvester Stallone had a large fan base.
Rambo is mean and bad and wields fierce armory. John Wayne and other actors of his generation had guns and knew how to use them. Buck (Sidney Poitier) stole the preacher’s rabbit in the film Buck and the Preacher because he had a gun. The preacher (Harry Belafonte) had a gun in his bible.
The Bond films put in agent 007’s hands all kinds of guns and gadgets to help him in international espionage.
Hands with guns projected an image of masculinity which attracted women and led to riches. That perception still lives in the minds of some boys and girls.