Ubuntu (Zulu/Xhosa pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼú]; English: /uˈbʊntuː/ oo-BUUN-too) or "uMunthu" (Chichewa) is an African ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people's allegiances and relations with each other. Some believe that ubuntu is a classical African philosophy or worldview whereas others point out that the idea that ubuntu is a philosophy or worldview has developed in written sources in recent years. The word has its origin in the Bantu languages of southern Africa.
Ubuntu: "I am what I am because of who we all are." (From a translation offered by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee.)
A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.
Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008:
One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?
Ubuntu is recognised as being an important source of law within the context of strained or broken relationships amongst individuals or communities and as an aid for providing remedies which contribute towards more mutually acceptable remedies for the parties in such cases. Ubuntu is a concept which:
- is to be contrasted with vengeance;
- dictates that a high value be placed on the life of a human being;
- is inextricably linked to the values of and which places a high premium on dignity, compassion, humaneness and respect for humanity of another;
- dictates a shift from confrontation to mediation and conciliation;
- dictates good attitudes and shared concern;
- favours the re-establishment of harmony in the relationship between parties and that such harmony should restore the dignity of the plaintiff without ruining the defendant;
- favours restorative rather than retributive justice;
- operates in a direction favouring reconciliation rather than estrangement of disputants;
- works towards sensitising a disputant or a defendant in litigation to the hurtful impact of his actions to the other party and towards changing such conduct rather than merely punishing the disputant;
- promotes mutual understanding rather than punishment;
- favours face-to-face encounters of disputants with a view to facilitating differences being resolved rather than conflict and victory for the most powerful;
- favours civility and civilised dialogue premised on mutual tolerance.
In the Tswana language the same concept exists. It is called botho, and the phrase that a person is a person through other people translates to motho ke motho ka batho. Botho is one of Botswana's five national principles (the others being Democracy, Development, Self Reliance and Unity). Botswana's Vision 2016 states: Botho defines a process for earning respect by first giving it, and to gain empowerment by empowering others. It encourages people to applaud rather than resent those who succeed. It disapproves of anti-social, disgraceful, inhuman and criminal behaviour, and encourages social justice for all.
In Malawi, the same philosophy is called "uMunthu". Malawian philosophers have been writing about uMunthu for years. According to the Catholic Diocese of Zomba bishop Rt. Rev. Fr. Thomas Msusa, “The African worldview is about living as one family, belonging to God”. Msusa noted that in Africa when “We say ‘I am because we are’, or in Chichewa kali kokha nkanyama, tili awiri ntiwanthu (when you are on your own you are as good as an animal of the wild; when there are two of you, you form a community).” The philosophy of uMunthu has been passed on through proverbs such as Mwana wa mnzako ngwako yemwe, ukachenjera manja udya naye (your neighbor's child is your own, his/her success is your success too). Some notable Malawian uMunthu philosophers and intellectuals who have written about this worldview are Augustine Musopole, Gerard Chigona, Chiwoza Bandawe, Richard Tambulasi and Happy Kayuni. This includes Malawian philosopher and theologist Harvey Sindima’s treatment of uMunthu as an important African philosophy is highlighted in his 1995 book ‘Africa’s Agenda: The legacy of liberalism and colonialism in the crisis of African values’.
Rwanda and Burundi
In Kinyarwanda and Kirundi, the national languages respectively for Rwanda and Burundi, ubuntu means, among other things, 'human generosity' as well as humanity (as above). In Rwanda and Burundi society it is common for people to exhort or appeal to others to "gira ubuntu" meaning to "have consideration and be humane" towards others; thus it has the extended meanings of 'generosity' and 'free, given at no cost'. It also has the general meaning of "human's essence", which also include the other meanings of the word, as it will be said of a person who shows no mercy nor consideration to others that he is an animal ( igikoko, inyamaswa).
Uganda and Tanzania
In Kitara, a dialect cluster spoken by the Nyankore, Nyoro, Tooro, and Kiga of western Uganda and also the Haya, Nyambo and others of northern Tanzania, obuntu refers to the human characteristics of generosity, consideration and humane-ness towards others in the community. In Ganda, the language of central Uganda, obuntu bulamu means being humane, showing kindness and refers to the same characteristics.
In Kiswahili, a language spoken throughout the coast of East Africa and most of Kenya, the word may refer to "utu", which means humanness. It is a concept that condemns acts and deeds that seem unfair even in the slightest. The Bantu speakers of East Africa are believed to have originated from the Congo basin and in precolonial times "utu" was the main philosophy governing them. It meant that everything that was done was for the benefit of the whole community. In Kikuyu, Kamba, Meru and Kisii languages, spoken mainly in the Central, Eastern and Nyanza provinces of Kenya, the "umundu" stands for humanness or the act of being humane to other human beings and to nature in general.
In the Shona language, the majority spoken language in Zimbabwe after English, ubuntu is unhu. The concept of ubuntu is viewed the same in Zimbabwe as in other African cultures, and the Zulu saying is also common in Shona: munhu munhu nekuda kwevanhu.
Stanlake J. W. T. Samkange (1980) highlights the three maxims of Hunhuism or Ubuntuism that shape this philosophy: The first maxim asserts that 'To be human is to affirm one's humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish respectful human relations with them.' And 'the second maxim means that if and when one is faced with a decisive choice between wealth and the preservation of the life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of life'. The third 'maxim' as a 'principle deeply embedded in traditional African political philosophy' says 'that the king owed his status, including all the powers associated with it, to the will of the people under him'.
While sharing is incorporated within "unhu", it is only one of the multiplicity of virtues within "unhu". In the "unhu" domain, visitors do not need to burden themselves with carrying provisions – all they need is to dress properly and be on the road. All visitors are provided for and protected in every home they pass through without payment being expected. In fact, every individual should try his or her best to make visitors comfortable – and this applies to everyone who is aware of the presence of a visitor within a locality.
Other manifestations of ubuntu are that it is taboo to call elderly people by their given names; instead they are called by their surnames. This has the effect of banishing individualism and replacing it with a representative role, in which the individual effectively stands for the people among whom he comes from at all times. The individual identity is replaced with the larger societal identity within the individual. Thus, families are portrayed or reflected in the individual and this phenomenon is extended to villages, districts, provinces and regions being portrayed in the individual. This places high demands on the individual to behave in the highest standards and to portray the highest possible virtues that society strives for. "Unhu" embodies all the invaluable virtues that society strives for towards maintaining harmony and the spirit of sharing among its members.
A key concept associated with "unhu" is how we behave and interact in our various social roles, e.g., daughters-in-law traditionally kneel down when greeting their parents-in-law and serve them food as a sign of respect and maintain the highest standards of behaviour that will be extended or reflected to her family and all the women raised in that family. The daughter-in-law does this as part of the ambassadorial function that she plays and assumes at all times. However, this does not apply only to daughters-in-law but to all women in general, even among friends and equals such as brother and sister, and this does not imply that the woman is subordinate to the man, or sister to brother. It is all essentially considered to be a characteristic of having "unhu" and a social interaction within the context of "unhu". The demands imposed upon men within the context of "unhu" are more physically demanding than that placed upon the woman.
Under "unhu" children are never orphans since the roles of mother and father are by definition not vested in a single individual with respect to a single child. Furthermore, a man or a woman with "unhu" will never allow any child around them to be an orphan.
The concept of "unhu" also constitutes the kernel of African Traditional Jurisprudence as well as leadership and governance. In the concept of unhu, a crime committed by one individual on another extends far beyond the two individuals and has far-reaching implications to the people from among whom the perpetrator of the crime comes. Unhu jurisprudence tends to support remedies and punishments that tend to bring people together. For instance, a crime of murder would lead to the creation of a bond of marriage between the victim's family and the accused's family in addition to the perpetrator being punished both inside and outside his social circles. The role of "tertiary perpetrator" to the murder crime is extended to the family and the society where the individual perpetrator hails from. However, the punishment of the tertiary perpetrator is a huge fine and a social stigma, which they must shake off after many years of demonstrating unhu or ubuntu. A leader who has unhu is selfless and consults widely and listens to subjects. Such a person does not adopt a lifestyle that is different from the subjects and lives among them and shares property. A leader who has "unhu" does not lead, but allows the people to lead themselves and cannot impose his will on his people, which is incompatible with "unhu".
The concept of ubuntu traditionally runs counter to the creed of individualism of Western and US society. At times, however, it is voiced in the public sphere.
Baron d'Holbach, a French-German author, philosopher, encyclopedist and a prominent figure in the French Enlightenment, wrote in 1770 in his two-volume System of Nature of the virtue of a person's seeing himself as interacting with others both for his own happiness and the betterment of the community. He wrote: "[A person] perceives that it is other people who are most necessary to the welfare of man: that to induce others to join in his interests, he ought to make him find real advantages in recording his projects: but to procure real advantages to the beings of the human species, is to have virtue; the reasonable man, therefore, is obliged to feel that it is his interest to be virtuous. Virtue is only the art of rendering himself happy, by the happiness of others. The virtuous man is the man who communicates happiness to those beings who are capable of rendering his own condition happy; who are necessary to his conservation; who have the ability to procure him a happy existence." Chapter 15, Part I.
Republican US president Theodore Roosevelt alluded to the underlying principle of ubuntu in a speech in 1903: "It is all-essential to the continuance of our healthy national life that we should recognize this community of interest among our people. The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us, and therefore in public life that man is the best representative of each of us who seeks to do good to each by doing good to all; in other words, whose endeavor it is not to represent any special class and promote merely that class's selfish interests, but to represent all true and honest men of all sections and all classes and to work for their interests by working for our common country....”
Likewise, in June 2009, in her swearing-in remarks as U.S. Department of State Special Representative for Global Partnerships, Global Partnership Initiative, Office of the Secretary of State (served June 18, 2009 – October 10, 2010), Elizabeth Frawley Bagley discussed ubuntu in the context of American foreign policy, stating: "In understanding the responsibilities that come with our interconnectedness, we realize that we must rely on each other to lift our World from where it is now to where we want it to be in our lifetime, while casting aside our worn out preconceptions, and our outdated modes of statecraft."
She then introduced the notion of "Ubuntu Diplomacy" with the following words:
In 21st century diplomacy, the Department of State will be a convener, bringing people together from across regions and sectors to work together on issues of common interest. Our work no longer depends on the least common denominator; but rather, we will seek the highest possible multiplier effect for the results we can achieve together.
We will also act as a catalyst, with our Foreign Service Officers launching new projects in tandem with those NGOs, philanthropies, and corporations at the front lines of foreign affairs to discover untapped potential, inspire fresh ideas, and create new solutions.
And we will act as a collaborator, leading interagency coordination here in Washington and cross-sector collaboration in the field, with our Ambassadors working closely with our non-governmental partners to plan and implement projects for maximum impact and sustainability.
In the same way that Secretary Clinton has often said that ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ we are now realizing that we must apply a similar approach worldwide. It takes a shared, global response to meet the shared, global challenges we face. This is the truth taught to us in an old South African principle, ubuntu, or ‘A person is a person through other persons.’ As Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes this perspective, ubuntu ‘is not, “I think therefore I am.” It says rather: “I am a human because I belong. I participate. I share.”’ In essence, I am because you are.
We are truly all in this together, and we will only succeed by building mutually beneficial partnerships among civil society, the private sector, and the public sector, in order to empower the men and women executing our foreign policy to advance their work through partnerships.
This is Ubuntu Diplomacy: where all sectors belong as partners, where we all participate as stakeholders, and where we all succeed together, not incrementally but exponentially.
In popular culture
Ubuntu was a major theme in John Boorman's 2004 film In My Country. Former US president Bill Clinton used the term at the 2006 Labour Party conference in UK to explain why society is important. The Boston Celtics, the 2008 NBA champions, have chanted "ubuntu" when breaking a huddle since the start of the 2007–2008 season.
At the 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), there was an Ubuntu Village exposition center. Ubuntu was the theme of the 76th General Convention of the American Episcopal Church. The logo includes the text "I in You and You in Me".
In October 2004 Mark Shuttleworth, a South African entrepreneur and owner of UK based company Canonical Ltd., founded the Ubuntu Foundation that is the company behind the creation of a computer operating system based on Debian GNU/Linux. He named the Linux distribution Ubuntu.
In November 2010, UbuntuDeal.co.za, a South African group buying website, opened, using the term to describe how people can work or buy together to purchase products or services at highly reduced prices.
- Hakuna matata
- Ahimsa, important tenet of the Indian religions
- Ethic of Reciprocity (The Golden Rule)
- Fihavanana, Malagasy concept of kinship, friendship, goodwill between beings
- Harambee, a Kenyan tradition of community self-help events, literally meaning "all pull together" in Swahili
- Hillel the Elder
- Humaneness (rén) in Confucianism
- I and Thou
- Master-slave dialectic
- Mitakuye Oyasin
- Ohana in Hawaiian culture, ʻohana means family in an extended sense of the term including blood-related, adoptive or intentional
- Proletarian internationalism
- Sarvodaya, a term coined by Mahatma Gandhi, meaning 'universal uplift' or 'progress of all'
- Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, a Sanskrit phrase that means that the whole World is one single family
- No man is an island
- Non nobis solum
- Spirituality.org.za (Dion Forster 2006a:252)
- Gade, C.B.N. 2011. "The Historical Development of the Written Discourses on Ubuntu", South African Journal of Philosophy 30(3), 303-329.
- Tutu, Desmond (1999). No Future Without Forgiveness. Image. ISBN 0-385-49690-7.
- "Ubuntu Women Institute USA (UWIU) with SSIWEL as its first South Sudan Project". http://www.ssiwel.org/ [Note: This web page no longer exists.]: Ubuntu Women Institute USA. Retrieved 2011-04-20.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008. “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.
- File:Experience ubuntu.ogg Experience Ubuntu Interview
- Jackson, Tim (2010-07). "Tim Jackson's Economic Reality Check". Speech. TED. Retrieved 2010-12-09. Check date values in:
- Afri-Forum and Another vs. Malema and others, South African Legal Information Institute 23 (The Equity Court, Johannesburg 2011).
- Speech, New York State Fair, September 7, 1903
- U.S. Department of State. Ubuntu Diplomacy
- The New York Times, March 25, 2005
- Coughlan, Sean (2006-09-28). "All you need is ubuntu". BBC News Magazine. BBC. Retrieved 2006-09-29.
- Kiszla, Mark (2007-11-07). "New Big 3 dream in green". The Denver Post. Denver Post. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- World Resources Institute. The Success and Failures of Johannesburn: A Story of Many Summits. WRI.org
- General Convention 2009, EpiscopalChurch.org
- Ubuntu Documentation: About the Name
- UbuntuDeal Group Buying website opens | 2010
- Ambrose, David. (2006). 'Your Life Manual: Practical Steps to Genuine Happiness': Revolution Mind Publishing, 37–40.
- Bagley, Elizabeth Frawley. Remarks at Swearing-in Ceremony of Special Representative for Global Partnerships Bagley: Opening Our Doors to the Private Sector U.S. Department of State, Global Partnership Initiative.
- Battle, Michael. (2007). Reconciliation: The ubuntu theology of Desmond Tutu. Pilgrim Press. ISBN 978-0-8298-1158-2
- Eze, Michael Onyebuchi. (2010). Intellectual history in contemporary South Africa. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-62299-9.
- Forster, Dion. (2006a) Self validating consciousness in strong artificial intelligence: An African theological contribution. Pretoria: Doctoral Dissertation, University of South Africa / UNISA, an extensive and detailed discussion of ubuntu in chapters 5–6. Dion Forster
- Forster, Dion. (2006) * Identity in relationship: The ethics of ubuntu as an answer to the impasse of individual consciousness (Paper presented at the South African science and religion Forum – Published in the book The impact of knowledge systems on human development in Africa. du Toit, CW (ed), Pretoria, Research institute for Religion and Theology (University of South Africa) 2007:245–289).Pretoria: UNISA. Dion Forster
- Gade, C. B. N. (2011). The historical development of the written discourses on ubuntu. South African Journal of Philosophy, 30(3), 303-329 .
- Kamwangamalu, Nkonko M. (2008). Ubuntu in South Africa: A sociolinguistic perspective to a pan-African concept. In Molefi Kete Asante, Yoshitaka Miike, & Jing Yin (Eds.), The global intercultural communication reader (pp. 113-122). New York, NY: Routledge.
- Louw, Dirk J. 1998. "Ubuntu: An African Assessment of the Religious Other". Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy.
- Matshe, Getrude. Born On The Continent – Ubuntu. (self-published)
- Metz,Thaddeus 2007, “Toward an African Moral Theory” (Symposium)S. Afr. J. Philos. 2007, 26(4)
- Hunhuism or Ubuntuism: A Zimbabwe Indegenous Political Philosophy. By Stanlake J. W. T. Samkange and S. Samkange. 106pp. Graham Publishing, Harare, 1980. ISBN 0-86921-015-7. Paperback
- Ramose, Mogobe B. (2003). The philosophy of ubuntu and ubuntu as a philosophy. In P. H. Coetzee & A. P. J. Roux (Eds.), The African philosophy reader (2nd ed., pp. 230-238). New York/London: Routledge.
- Samkange, S., & Samkange, T. M. (1980). Hunhuism or ubuntuism: A Zimbabwe indigenous political philosophy. Salisbury [Harare]: Graham Publishing.
- Swanson, D. M. (2007). Ubuntu: An African contribution to (re)search for/with a “humble togetherness.” Journal of Contemporary Issues in Education, 2(2), University of Alberta, Special Edition on African Worldviews. [Online] Available: http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/JCIE/issue/view/56
- Swanson, D. M. (2009, August). Where have all the fishes gone?: Living ubuntu as an ethics of research and pedagogical engagement. In. D. Caracciolo & A. Mungai (Eds.), In the spirit of ubuntu: Stories of teaching and research (pp. 3–21). [In book series: Transgressions: Cultural Studies and Education, Series Ed. Shirley Steinberg.] Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publications. [See https://www.sensepublishers.com/files/9789087908430PR.pdf]
- Swanson, D. M. (2010, July). Value in shadows: A critical contribution to values education in our times. In T. Lovat & R. Toomey (Eds.), International research handbook on values education and student (pp. 137–152). Wellbeing, NY: Springer Press. Swanson, D. M. (2010, July). Value in Shadows: A critical contribution to Values Education in our times. In T. Lovat & R. Toomey (Eds.), International Research Handbook on Values Education and Student Wellbeing, (pp. 137–152). NY: Springer Press.
- See Dr. Dalene Swanson http://www.ualberta.ca/~dalene/index.html
- Tutu, D (1999) No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Random House).
|Look up ubuntu in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Ubuntu – African Philosophy
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- Ubuntu Republics of Africa A unique blog created by PanAfricani author, Filmmaker and Blogger - A. Onomen Asikele
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