In this part of the world, Men hold hands with men; women hold hands with women. Personally, I'm still caught by surprise when another man reaches out to hold my hand. But holding hands in this context is a tender act of friendship - it's a small practice that expresses big sentiments like closeness and unity.
What is much rarer to see, though, is men and women holding hands. Our older Mozambican friends would be scandalized to see a man and woman holding hands because, according to this traditional culture, only couples having an illicit relationship would do that.
When our family moved to Mozambique over a decade ago, we began the long (and still ongoing process!) of learning the Makua-Metto culture. And in order to act appropriately in this context, Rachel and I stopped holding hands in public.
But over the past few years, we've noticed an increase in the number of young men and women who hold hands as they walk down the street. It seems that as more and more people have been exposed to Western movies, many of the Makua-Metto, especially those in the more urban areas are overcoming the shock of cross-gender hand holding.
In reflecting on the fact that we're seeing more young people holding hands, it hit us that this practice should not be the "property" of young people in illicit relationships - what if it was "owned" by committed couples instead?
So, Rachel and I have started holding hands in public. It isn't often that the two of us get to walk anywhere alone, but when we do, we're hoping that maybe this small act can communicate something different about the friendship and unity found in a committed marriage relationship.
So, while there is a time to be culturally relevant/sensitive, there is also a time to be counter-cultural - a time to try to reshape prevailing perceptions of a given practice. Maybe holding hands can be a missional/counter-cultural/protest-statement-of-love kind of act. And that's why we're holding hands in public again.... well... and because it's fun. :)
Grace and Peace,