Respect as the main lay care activity among the Bena in Ilembula village in Tanzania


Assistant Professor Merja Nikkonen, Department of Nursing and Health Administration, Kasarmintie 4, PB 5300, 90014 University of Oulu, Finland. Email:


The aim of this ethnographic study was to explore the cultural care practised among the Bena in the Ilembula villages in Tanzania. The purpose was to describe the cultural norms of the social and familiar relationship practices among the Bena for improving and maintaining health in terms of lay care. The data were collected through interviews, participant observation and personal working diaries in the Ilembula villages. Sixty-one villagers were interviewed. The findings show that respect has two main functions: it confirms unity and ensures well-being. Unity is important, and any violation against it is expected to be followed by a punishment, usually in the form of health deterioration. The main respective activities ensuring unity are observed in communication patterns, obedience, sharing the hardships of life and innocence. Rituals focus on the living-dead ancestors and serve both to confirm unity and to ensure well-being. Adult individuals guarantee their own and their descendants’ well-being by taking care of their parents’ basic needs and taking care of them when they are ill. The parents ensure their children's well-being by teaching them the Bena cultural beliefs and taboos. Respect is based on the world view of the Bena, which pivots on harmonious unity between individuals, supernatural forces and the kinship system.