Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Congolese Head-Bump Greeting

In America, we do ho-hum things like handshakes, hugs, and, sometimes, the single kiss on the cheek. Here, we have the Congo-Head-Bump. The head-bump is a little more cozy.

The head-bump is sort of like a forehead nuzzle between two men (I have only seen men do it. Although, admittedly, I am not the best source of information). Here is the rundown:

Step 1: See someone you know.
Step 2: Lean forward and press one side of your forehead to the opposite side of your buddy's forehead.
Step 3: Alternate to the other side of the forehead.
Step 4: Alternate yet once more.

Presumably, more often than not, one does the head-bump with someone who knows the drill. Otherwise, as experience has shown, you might end up standing there alarmed and confused. Ironically, for a relatively homophobic country, men here are very comfortable with the man-on-man contact. It is not unusual to see Congolese men holding hands while they walk or cross the street.

In addition to the head-bump, another standard greeting here is the triple cheek kiss. Most people follow this convention, but with such a diverse international community in Kinshasa, you never know for sure what you are going to get.


  1. Nice post :) The men holding hands with men is typical of a place (see also: the Middle East) where it's just normal platonic affection. (Women too are very affectionate with each other, which I learned eventually when I was living in DRC.)

    The head bump, you're right, is usually between two men, but it's not adhered to necessarily very strictly; it's not taboo for a man to head bump a woman, for example-- After I (a woman) became quite close friends with one man, we would greet each other with a head bump rather than kisses. And the bumps I participated in and saw were right temple, left temple, and then the middle of the forehead.

    Don't assume hugs are ho-hum-- people I greeted this way in DRC were struck by it, as the way we hug in the US, including between to men, is strikingly similar to the way the Banyamulenge greet each other. :)

  2. Hi,

    Any idea regarding the origin of this greeting? Almost exactly the same in Turkey among nationalists & religious conservatives, relatively a new custom surfaced circa late 1990's. I came across the same greeting at the new Netflix TV series, Marseille S01E01 https://twitter.com/cargun/status/785574651980283904 between two young guys one Muslim the other Christian...