To what extent is African culture influenced by the philosophy of ubuntu
The behaviour, acts and personalities of African people are influenced by several factors including language, occupation, religion and historical experience. The philosophy of ubuntu is one of influencing factors and one the several approaches to a comprehensive understanding of the processes of cultivating cohesion and positive human interaction with one another with the creation in daily life. Culture is defined by (Broodryk, 2006) as elements of a given society that people consider important, give credit to and strive to achieve. Cultural habits, however, are patterns of behaviours observed in a culture that are necessarily valued, because they are considered acceptable norms of behaviour (Nussbaum, 2003). The Africans have a diverse and rich culture that promotes love and forgiveness, as a code of ethics. This then makes Ubuntu which is the capacity in African culture to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, harmony and humanity in the interests of building and maintaining community with justice and mutual caring deeply embedded in the African culture hence influencing the culture to a greater extent.The Ubuntu application is universal in almost all parts of the African continent, hence, the Ubuntu philosophy is largely integrated and interwoven into all aspects of day-to-day life throughout Africa and is a concept shared by all tribes in Southern, Central, West and East Africa amongst people of Bantu origin (Nussbaum, 2003). Although the Bantu languages have evolved since the concept was first formulated, the meanings and principles of Ubuntu are the same in all these languages. But, despite their diversity, some common features of African cultures emerge. Cultural patterns such as respect for elders, consensus decisions, and respect for authority, family orientation and collectivism appear to characterize most African countries.
Ubuntu, speaks to our interconnectedness, our common humanity and the responsibility to each other that flows from our deeply felt connection (Msengana, 2006). Ubuntu is consciousness of our natural desire to affirm our fellow human beings and to work and act towards each other with the communal good in the forefront of our minds. This is evident in the African culture where they promote the need for oneness, collective effort in doing things i.e. group solidarity, as central to the survival of an African community’s. In this context there is the common view of the ‘community child’ where they agree that it takes the whole community to raise a child and that it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure they drive that child towards good and impart them several skills that he/ she can’t obtain from being confined to one family. Group solidarity is emphasised in African idioms for example one reads that it takes a no one log can maketh a fire but a collection of several logs. Ubuntu clearly defines that community-based approaches help to build synergies where the whole is more effective than the sum of individual parts (Boele Van Hensbroek, 2001). This promote the need for teamwork and co-operation among the people.
In the Shona society they are strong condemnation of individualism (Umbimbindoga) and thorough emphasis of collective effort for instance the phrase “kuwanda huuya; kutsva kwendebvu varume vanodzimurana” to guard against that spirit. Ubuntu dictates sharing of burdens during hard times, because by doing so, suffering is also shared and diminished (Boele Van Hensbroek, 2001). In the African community it is believed that a problem shared is a problem solved and hence no one must suffer on their own but should reach out to their colleagues and relatives for help and this is very common in the African culture. In a hostile environment, it is only through such community solidarity that hunger, isolation, deprivation, poverty and any emerging challenges can be survived, because of the community’s brotherly and sisterly concern, cooperation, care, and sharing (Van Binsbergen, 2002). The community offers platforms for problems such as the ‘Dare’ and ‘China’ where men and women gather respectively to share problems, experiences and solutions with the former being for men and the latter for women. Through these platforms collective effort to problem sharing will bring about the best solutions hence the significance of ubuntu in the community.
The word Ubuntu is derived from a Nguni aphorism Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu, which can be translated as “a person is a person because of or through others” (Moloketi, 2009). The philosophy poses as a philosophy of tolerance, respect and compassion relating to the art of being human (Koka, 2002). The concept promotes a non-racial philosophy or value system through which all people are regarded and treated as human beings, or rather that mankind is one integrated whole comprising of varied racial groups. This is relatable in the African culture where from an early stage people are taught to show kindness to everyone, appreciate and love people. The discrimination of others and choosing between people is largely denounced, one Shona idiom reads ‘hama haipiwe munhu’ loosely translates to promote loving those close to you family, friends, acquaintances and all regardless of their position in the society.
One of the most distinctive thing about the Ubuntu philosophy is the premise of a short memory of hate (Nussbaum, 2003). Africans teach children to communicate effectively, reconcile, find ways to cleanse and let go of hatred and give the children skills to do so. The Ubuntu approach to life have enabled African people to express continued compassion and perseverance within communities and institutions. It has been noted by Msengana (2006) that the non-violent revolutions that occurred in Africa would not have been possible if those who for so long had been suppressed by the colonial regimes had not practised the ethic of Ubuntu. The ubuntu spirit in the African people promote the need for dialogue rather than resorting to violence ‘nyaya haipedzwi nekurwa’ a common shona saying that advocate for peaceful resolution to conflict. As aforementioned due to the influence of ubuntu Africans from a tender age are nurtured on conflict management skills, reconciliation and effects of holding grudges. This have manifested in the African culture where u find that after years of colonial rule, murders of their kin and folks they managed to forgive, reconcile and live with their oppressors (Mandela, 1997). This is also witness in African kangaroo courts and traditional courts where conflicting parties are made to reconcile and bury the hatchet so that they wouldn’t be victims of avenging spirits and curses. Africans have seen ethnic rivalries and conflicts being resolved through decent justice where they engage into dialogue and agree on terms of amends to right the grievances brought forward for examples the Hutu and Tutsi of Rwanda and the Zimbabwean gukurahundi victims seeking justice via the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC).
The Ubuntu optimizes the African philosophy of respect and human dignity that is fundamental to being able to transcend ethnic divisions by working together and respecting each other. Since the dawn of time Africans have always been very social beings that are in constant communion with one another due to their mobility and nomadism (Van Binsbergen). To foster for safety of those travelling from one region to another the ubuntu philosophy have cultivated an environment where a human being is regarded as a human being and friend only by being a human. This have facilitated lack of discrimination and the accommodative personality of the Africans and have seen Africans desisting from racism and finding common ground with ethnic rivals for example (disregarding politically motivated activities) the Ndebele and Shona have managed to co-exist in Zimbabwe although the Shona were once terrorised by the Ndebele. This have allowed interaction between Zimbabweans to be smooth and full of respect for each other. Through this Africans have recognize other humans as equal and give them unconditional trust and respect with ubuntu teaching about reciprocating the trust and respect. Africans culture teaches that it is necessary to trust and respect each human for who they are, and not for what they accomplish or do not accomplish.
In the modern age it is seeming that people respect the wisdom of an individual more than his chronological age however in the African culture there is a strong correlation between age and wisdom. In a culture dominated by oral tradition, the elders are those who have accumulated a lot of experience and age is the observable referent (Broodryk, 2006). Respect for elders implies a reciprocal relationship and also includes codes of conduct, which regulate the behaviour between genders and between age groups (blatant disrespect toward elders, overburdening under-age children, committing incest, and murder, etc.). The advocacy of respect by the African culture demonstrate the key feature of ubuntu of generational respect provides for bearing the respect of authority in the society.
African culture is embroiled in the context of family as a sign of wealth and this have resulted in the issue of extended families and polygamous families. In such families where there are a lot of people and some whom compete for attention and favours, the general principles of ubuntu have proved to be a far more effective tool in this kind of situation, and far better and lasting relationships are achieved. Thus, these relationships which could inherently be hostile have included human dignity, respect, and sincere affection. This lack of affection among individuals especially in marriage promises disaster and a downfall of society but the spirit of ubuntu binds the people together hence they can live in harmony.
However, to a lesser extent the African philosophy have been influenced by other factors such as Conclusively, ubuntu emphasizes respect for nonmaterial order that exists in us and among us. It fosters man’s respect for himself, for others and for the environment. The philosophy of ubuntu among Africans has been the invisible force uniting Africans worldwide allowing them to remain non-racial, accommodates other cultures and it is seen as the cornerstone of all good living. Industrialisation, however, created a situation which caused people not to understand each other. It was responsible for a situation of fear, which developed among people of all races, as a result of which racial battles were and continued to be fought, culminating in hatred and the killing of one another. As a result, Ubuntu start to disappear and continues to fade away even in the present day.
Broodryk, J. (2006) “Ubuntu African life coping skills: theory and practice”, in Recreation Linkages between Theory and Praxis in Educational Leadership, the Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration and Management Conference South Africa.
Van Binsbergen , W.M.J (2002): “Ubuntu the globalisation of the Southern African thought and society”, An African Journal of Philosophy, 16, 3-5, 2002: pp 21-26
Boele Van Hensbroek, P, (Ed) (2001) African Renaissance and Ubuntu Philosophy, special issue of Quest: An African Journal of Philosophy, 15, 1-2, 2001: pp 101-126
Msengana, W.N (2006) The significance of the concept ‘ubuntu’ for educational management and leadership during democratic transformation in South Africa.
Nussbaum, B (2003) African Culture and Ubuntu Reflections of a South African in America: Rekindling the Human Spirit in Business Volume 17, Issue 1. World Business Academy