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Home » Child/Adolescent Mental Health » Who’s At Risk? » Refugees » Democratic Republic of Congo » DRC Refugee Cultural Considerations

DRC Refugee Cultural Considerations

  • There are more than 200 distinct African ethnic groups in Congo.  The Bantu group account for the majority (80%).
  • Congolese are considered courteous and friendly and careful not to offend.
  • In the Congolese culture, time is elastic.  Lingala  – the Congolese language  – uses the same word for both “yesterday” and “tomorrow.”  People are considered more important than schedules and appointments.
  • Upon entering a room for the first time, a person shakes hands with each individual.  Friends great each other with a handshake, followed by a hug and three alternating kisses to the cheek.  Men and women generally shake hands, smile and greet each other verbally. Some rural women greet men by clapping their hands a few times and bowing slightly.
  • Pointing directly at a person with the index finger is considered impolite.
  • Objects are heldwith the right hand or with both hands, never with the left hand alone.  The left hand is reserved for hygiene purposes.
  • Family and friends often stop by to visit with each other unannounced.  However, strangers are expected to make arrangements prior to visiting.  A visitor must never enter a home or sit down unless invited.
  • Guests are expected to initially decline an offer of food or sharing a meal but should ultimately accept the invite.  Declining an invitation, especially the offer of food, is considered rude.  The Congolese often judge guests’ sincerity by the way they eat.
  • In western Congo, families are mostly matriarchal; the mother’s brother, rather than her husband, is the male with the greatest authority in the family.
  • In other areas families are patriarchal and may be polygamous.
  • Children take on chores early in life and older girls help their mother with most daily tasks.
  • The Congolese value education and work hard to find a way to pay for their children’s schooling.  However, the education system lost facilities and staff in the civil wars, and cureent enrollment levels are low.
  • Political chaos and neglect have left Congo’s economy in ruin.  Most of the population lives in dire poverty.
  • In some areas, adequate supplies of food are hard to find.  Malnutrition affects large segments of the population.
  • Inadequate health care is a serious problem, especially in rural areas where supplies and  physicians are few.  Disease epidemics are common.  Due to limited resources patients are often required to pay for treatment and medicines.
  • The Congolese do not usually consult specialists in the field of psychiatry.