People & Communities
Introduction To The Community
Covering about 22 per cent of the world’s total land area and
having 54 nations, Africa
is the world’s second
largest continent, with an enormous variety and diversity of
languages, cultures, people and religions. This section refers to
some of the groups who have migrated from Africa to areas of the
and people from Ghana
are the two significant groups of people from West Africa. Nigeria
has one of the largest populations in Africa, estimated at almost
120 million in 1995 and there are more than 250 ethnic groups.
Although English is the official language many Nigerians are not
fluent and are likely to speak Hausa, Yoruba, and Ibo. They are
likely to be either Muslims or Christian. Almost all
belong to one of about 100 black African
ethnic groups, each with its own cultural heritage. English is
still the official language of Ghana and is used in schools,
business, and government. English is also the Language used to
communicate between ethnic groups. Twi, an Akan language with many
dialects, is spoken by about two-fifths of the population.
Mole-Dagbani, Ewe, Ga-Adangbe and Hausa are also spoken. As a
result, most Ghanaians are at least bilingual. Traditional African
beliefs are held by many and play an important role in the lives of
the people of Ghana, whilst the majority of other Ghanaians are
either Muslims or Christian.
is a country in the Horn of Africa that
has been occupied by the Somali people for over 1,000 years and
more than 95 per cent of the Somali population is composed of a
single ethnic group. Somali, the official language, is spoken by
almost all Somalis and belongs to the Cushitic family of languages.
Nearly all Somalis are Sunni Muslim.
There are approximately 60,000 Somalis in the UK, who tend to be
either the established Somali community of sailors and their
families or the more recent asylum seekers and refugees (many of
whom have arrived in Britain from refugee camps).
Africa is a huge continent with many ex-colonial countries. For
many people, English may not be the spoken language of their
Many Africans are of the Christian faith, although the majority of
people from northern Nigeria follow the faith of Islam, as do
smaller numbers of people from Morocco and Algeria (North Africa),
Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. People from East
Africa are predominantly of the Christian faith, however Somalis
These would vary considerably, based upon the country of origin and
the individual’s own religious belief.
Dress would largely depend on a person’s country of origin as well
as their faith.
This would vary considerably, based upon the country of origin and
the individual’s own religious belief.
Traditions associated with the birth of children, would differ
depending on the country of origin and a person’s religious
Religion and colonialism have transformed traditional African
naming practices. Many people across Africa have adopted Christian
or Muslim personal names. Administrative requirements have led to
the introduction of surnames, usually African style, e.g. Robert
Mugabe. Some people however, will have both African personal and
family names, e.g. Jomo Kenyatta. Because of these influences most
African people in Britain will have a personal, or in some cases
two personal names, followed by a family name.
Under the West African naming system, women are likely to retain
their own names on marriage due to their importance in property
ownership, trade, ancestry and inheritance often following the
female line. Because of this, husbands and wives may not
necessarily have any names in common. Also, many West Africans have
at least four personal names, which may include a Christian or
Muslim name, a name given after a relative or friend, a birth order
name and a day name.
A Somali name will consist of a first name, followed by their
father’s name, then that of the grandfather. Usually, a Somali is
known by the combination of these three names. The naming system is
the same for both genders. Traditionally, women retain their own
names on marriage although in Britain a Somali woman may take her
husband’s family (grandfather’s name) on marriage.
Attitudes to marriage will largely be dependent on people’s country
of origin and their faith.
Attitudes to death will largely be dependent on people’s country of
origin and their faith.
Visiting A Home
It is difficult to offer any advice on this issue, as the nations
and faiths that fall within Africa are so varied. As a general
rule, personnel should be guided by their own common sense and the
information listed under faiths elsewhere in this document.
Attitudes to medical treatment will largely be dependent on
people’s country of origin and their faith.
Notes To Personnel
In African culture men and women have equal respect, but believe
that both genders have specific roles and responsibilities to
fulfil. The man is traditionally the head of the family, whereas
the wife is the nucleus of the family and is given great respect.
Many Somali women who are recent refugees tend to work outside the
In Africa, respect and status are gained through age and therefore
parents tend to have unquestioned authority over their children.
Families who do not take responsibility for their children are not
considered good members of their community.
To gesture with a finger as a way of beckoning or asking someone to
come to you can be offensive to a Somali. In Somalia this gesture
is used only for dogs and not for humans.
Khat (pronounced Cat) is a plant-based drug, imported fresh in
bundles, mainly from Kenya, Ethiopia and the Yemen. It is currently
legal unless in resin form and is normally chewed, thus acting as a
stimulant. Traditionally it is used for socialising (predominantly
among Somali men), although its popularity is spreading. There is
concern that Khat is contributing towards mental health problems
among the Somali refugees, especially when compounded by social and
economic deprivation that some of them are facing in the UK.
Introduction to the
The Caribbean Islands are made up of three main island chains
extending in a roughly crescent shape from the Yucatán Peninsula
and Florida to the coast of Venezuela. Most of the
African/Caribbean people in the UK are from the
West Indian Islands and because of colonialization and slavery have
a strong identity with Britain, viewing it as the Mother Country.
The islands have been heavily influenced by the British way of life
in education, politics and social systems. Approximately 60 per
cent of the African/Caribbean people who have migrated to the UK
come from Jamaica, with smaller numbers of people from Dominica and
Barbados, Trinidad, St Lucia, St Vincent and Guyana (located on the
mainland of South America).
African/Caribbean people began arriving in Britain in large numbers
in the early 1950s as a result of the post-war economic boom, which
had left many jobs vacant. Also at this time, the USA passed the
McCarren Walter Act that restricted the numbers of immigrants from
65,000 to 800 per year.
On coming to the UK, they settled in and around the large towns and
cities that could offer job prospects, such as Derby with its
growing heavy industry at Courtaulds, Rolls Royce and British Rail.
A number of workers were attracted to Shropshire because of
prospects at GKN Sankey and the coal mines, hence the local
African/Caribbean population in the Hadley (Telford) area.
Because of colonialization many African/Caribbean people speak
English, although the character and accents will vary much from one
island to another, with many younger black people speaking a
combination of street language, patois and local dialects.
African/Caribbean people are predominantly
Christian in their beliefs, with a small number of
Muslims, Hindus and other religions. There are
also a substantial number who embrace
Rastafarianism, which is not essentially a
religion. (For further information on faiths, see Section 3.)
Music, dancing and carnivals are central to the social lives of the
Caribbean islands. Carnivals are religious in origin, but will
normally have grown up around local events on each island. Music
has often served as a vehicle of protest about social and economic
Most African/Caribbean people wear western dress, but some groups
are influenced by a growing awareness of their African history,
which can be reflected in the colour and style of their
The African/Caribbean diet is varied and includes foods such as
plantain, rice, sweet potato, yams and black-eyed beans.
A matriarchal culture has existed for generations, with women being
considered the bedrock of the community in which (through the
extended grandmothers, mothers and aunts have always played a key
role in the upbringing of children.
As a result of the slave system and the influence of Christianity,
most African/Caribbeans from the once-named British West Indies
will probably follow the British naming pattern. Whilst in most
cases the family name is passed from the husband to the children,
for some the family name is inherited from the mother. This may
reflect the woman’s family status, which has tended to be stronger
than in Europe.
Greater diversity in personal names may also be found among
African/Caribbean families because of the greater use of biblical
names such as Moses, Esther etc and a more recent tendency towards
creating novel and original names, e.g. Delroy.
Marriage is traditionally held in high regard in most
African/Caribbean communities and it should only be considered when
a personal commitment and a person’s economic basis are
In the UK there have tended to be a higher number of formal
marriages (possibly due to greater economic security), although as
with other communities, there are also a growing number of
Attitudes to death will be influenced largely by religious
Notes To Personnel
African/Caribbean people enjoy close family relationships and a
great sense of community, with men and women playing distinctly
different roles within their communities. Within the traditional
context of Rastafarianism the role of men and women is similar to
that of some parts of Judaism and Islam, with women having some
As with other cultures, weddings and funerals are treated as
opportunities for the community to come together.
Often when speaking to African/Caribbean men (particularly in an
atmosphere of conflict), the man may bring his face very close to
that of the other person. This is NOT a gesture of threat in every
case. Usually it is because the African/Caribbean perception of
personal space is much less than that of a white European.
Likewise, African/ Caribbeans are generally more animated in
Attitudes to medical treatment are likely to be influenced by
Introduction to the
The Chinese have one of the oldest civilisations, with a population
that is the largest of any country in the world. It has a
population (estimated 1995) of more than 1.26 billion.
75–80 percent of Chinese people in the UK come from Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s population is predominantly
Cantonese, coming from the Chinese province of
Kwang Tung. Other elements in the urban population may include the
Hakka and Fukien cultures.
Chinese people share a written language that is over 2000 years
old, that has over 16,000 characters, each standing for an entire
word. Traditionally, Chinese is written vertically, but in
contemporary Britain it has been changed to read from left to
right. Most Chinese people (regardless of their spoken dialect) can
read the written Chinese language.
Mandarin is both the official and spoken language
of China, but in the United Kingdom, Cantonese and
Hakka are more commonly used.
While the Communist government officially encourages atheism,
people may exercise religious beliefs within certain boundaries.
Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Christians all practise their
religions, and temples, mosques, and churches are open to the
Many Chinese see Buddhism as a way of life – the process of
birth, ageing, illness and death. It is believed that
through prayers, purification and virtuous conduct a Buddhist can
attain a good present life and also reincarnation to a better one.
(For more information, see the separate entry on Buddhism in
Section 3 of this guide.)
Taoism sees life as compared to a balance of water, fire, earth,
metal and wood. Illnesses and bad luck occur when there is an
imbalance and the treatment restores the balance.
This practice places emphasis on law and learning. It is an ethical
system that preaches respect for authority and sees law as
essential to making life possible.
Yuan Tan (the Chinese New Year) is the most popular festival, as it
marks the beginning of the lunar year. It usually occurs between
mid-January and mid-February and is usually a three-day
celebration. Other celebrations include Ching Ming (ancestor
remembrance) and the Dragon Boat festival.
Many Chinese people wear western clothes, although traditional
clothes are still worn by some communities, particularly on special
occasions such as weddings and for the New Year celebrations.
This is influenced by Chinese cultural beliefs. There are few
dietary taboos, but cold food is usually avoided and fresh food is
encouraged. Chopsticks are used for all meals in China, with food
(which may include more than one type of main dish) placed at the
centre of the table to be eaten with rice.
Traditionally, families hold a celebration a month after the birth,
to which families and friends are invited.
Traditionally, the family name comes first, followed by the
personal names that are normally made up of two Chinese characters
It is becoming common for a married woman to add the husband’s
family name as a prefix. Thus, Cheung Lan – Ying would become Lam
Cheung Lan – Ying.
As people become more westernised some Chinese are also adopting
the European way of having their family name last, which can cause
Although arranged marriages are not common within the Chinese
community, matchmaking is a common practice. Horoscopes are
sometimes used to select favourable wedding dates.
Traditionally, a married couple would continue to live within an
extended family arrangement of a number of generations and would
pool their earnings for the good of the family. However, UK houses
are smaller and this practice is often not possible, being replaced
by what has become known as the ‘nuclear family unit’.
The colour white is synonymous with mourning for the Chinese and
therefore is not worn for any celebratory occasions. As with other
communities, the family undergo a period of mourning following the
Traditionally, family and friends subscribe to the cost of the
Burial or cremation is acceptable and sometimes the ashes are sent
to China to be included in their ancestor’s graves.
Visiting A Home
As with most communities, it is considered polite to address
Chinese people by their title and family name e.g. Mr Cheung.
The Chinese nod politely or bow slightly when greeting another
person. A handshake is also acceptable, especially in formal
situations or to show respect.
Although the extended family unit may have all but disappeared,
elderly people are still respected, as according to an old Chinese
proverb… “Having an old family member is like having a treasure in
the home”. Due regard should therefore be paid to any elderly
people that you come across when visiting.
There may be reluctance by some Chinese people to accept western
medical help. Homeopathic medicine was largely developed by the
Chinese and still plays a major part in their everyday treatment of
illness and ailments.
Notes To Personnel
Cultural stereotypes about Chinese people predominantly working in
the catering trade are still valid, with a large proportion of
young people continuing to enter this type of work, for a variety
of reasons. The 1985 Home Affairs Committee Report estimated that
90 percent of the Chinese community were in catering related
Eastern European People
Introduction to the
Many Eastern European people are here as a result of conflict. They
include people from Poland, Ukraine and former
Yugoslavian countries i.e. Bosnia,
Herzegovina, and also Romanies.
They have migrated to Britain at various times in the past, but
numbers increased dramatically following the end of World War II
when the families of many Polish soldiers who found themselves
fighting under British command were displaced to refugee camps in
Tehran and southern Africa, where they stayed until 1948. There
were also Polish and Ukraine people during this period, who having
been deported to German labour camps decided to come to Britain as
The war in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, between
Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and
Croats, brought a second wave of immigrants to the
UK in recent years. Many of the Bosnian people in the UK are here
on a temporary basis. Whilst all groups reflect a strong family
ethos, Whilst all groups reflect a strong family ethos,
Bosnian people in particular prefer to live in
extended family units that maintain a very strong community
Romanies take this ethos even further by working
also as a family unit. This includes children who work as soon as
they are able. Men govern Romany society, whilst women dedicate
their lives to their children. Romanies are multi-skilled and adapt
to changing times, seasons and the economy. Their average life span
is 20 years less than the European average and they have one of the
highest child mortality rates. This is largely due to poor
pre-natal care and the fact that many Romanies live below the
poverty level. (For further information on Romanies see Section 2
of this guide – Gypsies & Travellers.)
Many of the Eastern European people coming to Britain do not speak
English. This is particularly so for older people. This means that
Polish and Ukraine people predominantly rely on their own native
tongue, whilst Bosnian people speak Serbo-Croat
(now called Bosnian).
Although Bosnian Romanies speak Serbo-Croat, they
prefer to communicate in Romani, which has many dialects.
Most Polish and Ukraine people are Catholic or Orthodox but
traditionally celebrate Christmas Day on 7 January each year.
Easter is also celebrated later than in the UK.
The main religions practiced in Bosnia and Herzegovina are Islam
along with Catholic and Orthodox forms of Christianity. The Islamic
population (including most Romanies) is predominantly Sunni
Many Eastern European people are intensely proud of their heritage
and form local groups and societies to keep their traditions alive.
They tend to be deeply religious and festivals relating to their
own faith i.e. predominantly Christian and Muslim will be an
important part of their lives. (For further information on faiths,
see Section 3.)
The wearing of national costume tends to be reserved for special
The Eastern European diet is one that is based upon meat and
vegetarians are uncommon.
Many dishes e.g. stews made from differing meats and vegetables,
are cooked for long periods. Other foods include pies, pastries and
dairy produce, with bread eaten at most meals. Turkish coffee is
popular, but particularly with all Bosnians.
Some groups follow the practice of extended families caring for the
child and mother for an extended period, after the birth.
Traditions from their former countries and/or religious beliefs
continue, as families are likely to hold on to their cultural
Traditional marriages were very much a case of the family helping
individuals to find a suitable partner. Before the recent Bosnian
war, there were often examples of mixed marriages between people
from different ethnic groups. These couples were forced to flee
their homes and communities as a result of the conflict.
Attitudes to death will mostly depend on their religious beliefs.
For relatives of the deceased, who only have a temporary status in
the UK, the decision as to where the body should be buried is
Visiting A Home
Because many of the Eastern European people came to the UK under
difficult circumstances, they often arrived with few possessions.
As a result, they are often very proud of those possessions, as
they relate to their cultural background.
There are generally no difficulties associated with providing
Notes To Personnel
Although many refugees will have learned English, communication
with the elderly and the newly arrived may prove
Introduction to the
The historical past of the Gypsies is less than
clear, but many people believe that true Gypsies belong to a race
that originated in Northern India and entered Europe in the 15th
century. According to legend, they were ousted from India by
Islamic armies and have been forced to travel ever since.
They refer to themselves as Rom or
Roma and all non-Gypsy people as Gorgios
Early travellers sometimes said that they were from Egypt in order
to be more easily accepted, and having dark skin and hair, and also
leading a nomadic way of life they were first known as
Egyptians and latterly as
The first official record of travelling people in Britain is of a
group of Gypsies who presented themselves to the court of King
James IV of Scotland in 1505.
As Gypsies spread through Western Europe, they faced discrimination
and persecution in many countries throughout the ages. As with the
Jews, Gypsies were also hated by the Nazis, who exterminated over
500,000 of them during World War II.
Traditionally, Gypsies have pursued occupations that allow them to
maintain an itinerant life, on the perimeter of society.
In 1988 the English Court of Appeal ruled that Gypsies were an
ethnic minority, as recognised under the Race Relations Act 1976
because they have a long, shared history, a commonplace
geographical origin and are regarded as a distinctive group, by
Present-day Gypsies & Travellers who visit Shropshire, can be
divided into the following groups…
Known as Rom or Roma Gypsies (other information can be found in
Section 2 – Eastern European people).
Some of whom only travel at certain times of the year.
Scottish & Welsh
Who may refer to themselves as Gypsies.
Including the Showman’s Guild (circus people).
Modern day hippies.
The worldwide Gypsy population is estimated to be 10 million, with
the largest European group being Spanish. It is estimated that
there are perhaps 90,000 Gypsies living in Britain. This number
includes refugee families from Eastern Europe.
There is a strict family/tribal culture, with the head of the group
being elected as their Elder for life. This office
is not inherited.
In Europe the head of Gypsy tribes governs through a
Council of Elders that also consults with the most
senior woman of the band. A code of conduct that includes fidelity,
cohesiveness and reciprocity, binds all Romani Gypsies and is
maintained through the Kris (a gathering of the
Elders). The senior man is called the Krisnitori. Disputes are
usually settled by the payment of a financial penalty.
Gypsy trades carried out in Shropshire are predominantly paving,
roofing and landscaping. Traditional crafts/trades such as peg
making, selling white heather, fortune telling and farm work is no
longer commonplace, although some farm work is still done.
In some cases the distinction between Gypsies
& Travellers is not easy to make, as some
Gypsies marry into Traveller families and vice versa.
The obvious exception is that of New Age
Travellers, a term that is used by people who dropout of
society, to follow a simpler lifestyle.
Many Travellers are forced to camp illegally because the Criminal
Justice & Public Order Act 1994 removed the statutory
obligation for local authorities to provide permanent sites for
travellers. A requirement previously provided for under the Caravan
Sites Act 1968.
Irish Travellers have a totally different past
from that of other Gypsies & Travellers. Historically they were
forced to lead an itinerant lifestyle through poverty, evictions
and famine, eventually leading to metalworking becoming one of the
first trades. The word Tinker is derived from the
noise of their hammers striking metal. Despite the close links and
cultural similarities with English Travellers, the
two groups sometimes do not get along.
Shropshire has historically been a place of stopping for Gypsies
& Traveller families for many years, because of its location on
the Holyhead to the West Midlands and Liverpool to the West
There are a number of official and private sites, and also many
unauthorised sites in the county that are used by Gypsies &
Travellers. The Telford & Wrekin and Shropshire County Councils
(who charge a weekly rent for use of facilities), manage the
In Telford there are two permanent sites that are managed by the
Traveller Management Unit (TMU), based in Darby
House at Telford Town Centre. They are…
- Lawley Furnaces - with 20 plots
- Donnington Wood - with 16 plots.
The TMU is a small team, with a fulltime police sergeant seconded
to the Unit from the West Mercia Constabulary.
In the rest of Shropshire there are 5 permanent sites that are
managed by the Traveller Liaison Group (TLG),
based in the Shirehall at Shrewsbury. They are at…
- Craven Arms
- Cross Houses
Between these five sites, the TLG operate 45 plots. There are also
a number of private sites throughout the county that are used by
Gypsies & Travellers, which vary in size from a single caravan
to up to 20 pitches.
Most of the Gypsies & Travellers who visit Shropshire do not
use the permanent or private sites (for various reasons). Instead,
they camp on car parks, play areas, leisure areas, farmland and
factory units etc. Much of the ongoing work carried out by both
council offices involves responding to this situation.
There is no written Gypsy language and few people are literate
because formal education is not seen as a requirement for the
As well as those who speak English, most Gypsies speak in
Romani, which has its roots in many of the Indian
languages. Irish Travellers often communicate using languages known
as Shelta or Gammon.
The Roma do not have their own religion. Historically, their
beliefs revolve around a good and evil force, along with an
indefinite number of entities or presences that are there at
In general however, most Gypsies adopt the dominant religion of
their host country, with some becoming Pentecostal followers in
Religious and cultural festivals would largely depend on the
country of origin and religious beliefs.
Gypsies & Travellers mostly adopt the dress of the country that
they live in. However, traditional women prefer to wear clothes
that are not figure revealing and older ones may wear aprons.
The wearing of gold jewellery is common practice and is a statement
of status for Gypsies, by literally carrying their wealth with
them, wherever they go.
Gypsies & Travellers mostly adopt the food of the country they
live in and what is locally available.
As with most communities, births are celebrated and children are
cherished within the Gypsy & Traveller community.
Children are often named after relations, thus some archaic names
have been passed down through generations. A couple may use either
of their parent’s surnames dependent upon the situation. Some
children are named after film or pop stars and nicknames are
commonly used. Visitors should be guided by an individual’s
self-ascription as to how they would like to be known.
Marriages tend to occur within the same group or sub group of
people, although a Rom man can marry a non-Romani, providing the
woman adopts the lifestyle. Dowries are still paid, according to
tradition. Although family is important, they do not necessarily
live in an extended family group, although many do. A typical
nuclear family will consist of a married couple and their unmarried
children, who make a financial contribution to the group from an
When death occurs, mourning tends to be for an extended
Traditionally, when a Gypsy died, their caravan would be burnt.
However, today it is more likely that the caravan would be sold to
a non-gypsy family and the money given to the deceased’s
Visiting A Home
As with any home, visitors should always wait to be invited into a
caravan/trailer by the occupant, as they may prefer to talk outside
the family home. Visitors of the opposite sex to the occupant
should be aware that Gypsies & Travellers prefer to speak to
people of the same sex as themselves. They should avoid any mention
of anything at all sexual, related to reproduction, or bodily
If tea is offered, it should be accepted, as it is seen as your
acknowledgement of the family’s cleanliness and their acceptance of
you as the visitor. Cups should not be placed on the floor, as it
is considered to be unclean.
Traditionally, there are no sinks or toilets in caravans/trailers.
Instead, separate bowls are kept for different functions.
Many people keep dogs and they are usually kept out of trailers.
They should not be touched because they may bite, but they are also
considered to be unclean.
Overall, keep reminding yourself that Gypsies & Travellers
often believe that non-Travellers do not trust them and history
(particularly their suffering during the Holocaust) makes them very
cautious in such encounters. Outsiders are often associated with
forcible evictions and therefore you may be viewed with extreme
However, once accepted, Gypsies & Travellers will make you
welcome. They are an interesting, challenging and friendly
community, and a modern worldwide people that deserve the same
recognition and respect as any other community.
Gypsies in particular, have a history of self-reliance and are
likely to look to their own remedies rather than ask for
Notes To Personnel
Written communication may be problematic, because not all Gypsies
& Travellers have had an opportunity for schooling and those
that have, may have had limited education. This often means that
there are high levels of illiteracy amongst groups, with some
people not able to even tell the time.
As a result of labour intensive farming practices being introduced
into the UK during the last 30 or so years, many farmers do not
need help from Gypsies & Travellers and therefore no longer
tolerate encampments on their land. This situation has meant that
more families now travel into the towns and cities looking for
alternative work, setting up camp on any piece of available
Introduction to the
The term South Asia (as used here) includes India,
Bangladesh and Pakistan. It can also
include people from East Africa, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the state of
Bhutan. India has the second largest population in the world after
China, with 1,018 million people (2000 Estimate).
Sikhs and Hindus are predominantly from India and Bangladesh,
whilst Muslims are from either Pakistan or Bangladesh and to a
lesser extent India.
Many South Asian people came to England after the Second World War
and particularly following the independence of India and Pakistan
in 1947, in response to labour shortages in Britain, but also
because of a variety of social, economic and political reasons. The
construction of the Mirpur Dam in the early 1960s uprooted whole
communities, who were given priority to migrate to England.
For most South Asians, coming to the UK was not seen as a permanent
arrangement, as they and their families believed that having
acquired wealth they would return to their country of origin.
In the beginning, a command of English was not common (particularly
for women in the communities) and this led in many cases to people
finding it difficult to settle.
Having been promised a warm welcome and good employment prospects,
they were faced with isolation and suspicion because of their
different looks, dress and traditions. They faced problems in terms
of education, housing, employment, health-care, benefits and social
services (and still do in many cases).
Second and third generations of UK South Asians are showing many
changes to their lifestyles in terms of dress, socialising and
marriage. Whilst some elders may perceive these changes as
negative, younger generations see them as positive and are moving
and adapting to the contemporary environment.
Hindi is the national language of India (spoken by
at least 30 percent of the population), but the constitution
recognizes another 17 languages, including Bengali, Tamil, Urdu,
Punjabi, Telugu and Sanskrit. English is important for business and
government and is the language of national communication.
Pakistani people predominantly speak
Urdu (although there are many other languages),
which is approximately 200 years old. The written language is also
Urdu, but many first generation people may not be literate.
Sikh people usually speak
The main religions found in South Asia are Islam, Sikhism,
Hinduism and Buddhism, although India in
particular is very tolerant of all religions.
(For more information, see the separate entries in Section 3 of
Traditional images of South Asian communities are of extended
families, arranged marriages, a traditional women’s role, a
particular diet, traditional clothes (particularly for women) and
religious devotion. Physical contact between the sexes (other than
for close family members) has traditionally been avoided,
especially when in public.
These images or cultural representations are not static however and
are subject to constant change, influenced by political, social and
economic factors in the UK as well as in their country of origin.
For example, the extended family no longer offers the infallible
support that tradition dictated.
There are many festivals, most of which coincide with a religious
event relating to their own beliefs. These are referred to in
Section 3 of this document under Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and
Traditional dress is likely to be determined by the person’s
country of origin and their own faith. Most UK South Asian men wear
Many South Asian women still wear the Shalwar and
Kameez (a form of trouser suit, particularly
favoured by Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim women to maintain
their modesty in accordance with the Quran), accompanied by a scarf
called a dupta, or a hijab (a
one-piece garment covering the entire body, with the exception of
the feet). Pakistani and Bangladeshi men are likely to wear western
clothes accompanied by some form of cap/hat (particularly during
times of religious observance), but may wear a loose cotton garment
called a lungi when at home, instead of
The Shalwar and Kameez are also worn by women from India, who might
also wear the Sari (a one-piece garment, wound/folded around the
lower body), in conjunction with a blouse and petticoat. The
Sari is also likely to be worn by Bangladeshi
The Turban is synonymous with Sikhism, but there are other forms of
the turban that are worn by people belonging to other groups.
Foods vary widely in the region, depending on the culture and
region. For example, rice is a staple food in the south, while roti
(wheat bread) is a staple food in the north.
Irrespective of their religion, most people are vegetarian,
although not exclusively.
As with other communities, children are viewed as a gift from God.
Traditionally South Asian families were larger than UK families to
enable them to achieve financial stability, by many people
contributing to the household.
The process of naming can differ for each group, with many
traditional practices being influenced by western culture. (Further
information is available in Section 3.)
Many South Asian families use a system of arranged marriages that
goes back to a time when a person’s average life expectancy was
between 30 and 35 years. As a result, it was necessary for couples
to marry very young and at a time when their wisdom in choosing a
partner might be impaired. Accordingly, family heads chose their
partners for them… usually very successfully.
People’s attitude to death differs, depending on their religious
Visiting A Home
Although there may be some difficulty with a man visiting a home
where there is a lone woman (because of cultural differences),
there are unlikely to be any other problems. In general, personnel
are likely to be as welcome in a South Asian home as they are
All medical treatment, such as blood transfusion, surgery or
administering of drugs is allowed and life-saving considerations
take precedence over any religious duties.