Ubuntu (philosophy): Wikis

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Experience ubuntu.ogg
Nelson Mandela explains the concept of Ubuntu

Ubuntu is an ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people's allegiances and relations with each other. The word has its origin in the Bantu languages of southern Africa. Ubuntu is seen as a classical African concept.[1] The Ubuntu operating system was named for this principle.[2]

Contents

Meaning

Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered a longer definition in a 1999 book[3]:

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has 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.

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.

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.

Louw (1998) suggests that the concept of ubuntu defines the individual in their several relationships with others, and stresses the importance of ubuntu as a religious concept. He states that while the Zulu maxim umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu ("a person is a person through (other) persons") may have no apparent religious connotations in the context of Western society, in an African context it suggests that the person one is to become by behaving with humanity is an ancestor worthy of respect or veneration. Those who uphold the principle of ubuntu throughout their lives will, in death, achieve a unity with those still living.

Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu as follows:

A traveler 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?

Change in South Africa

Ubuntu is seen as one of the founding principles of the new republic of South Africa, and is connected to the idea of an African Renaissance. The concept of ubuntu is used in the political sphere to emphasize the need for unity or consensus in decision-making, as well as the need for a suitably humanitarian ethic to inform those decisions.

An interpretation of the concept of ubuntu is illustrated in the film In My Country, about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche. This interpretation inspired the title of the documentary film I Am Because We Are directed by Nathan Rissman and produced by Raising Malawi founder Madonna.

Zimbabwe

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 which 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 their best to make visitors comfortable — and this applies to everyone who is aware of the presence of a visitor within a locality. This explains how David Livingstone survived on his journeys in Southern Africa especially among ubuntu-oriented societies of the time.

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 him 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, crimes committed by one individual on another extend far beyond the two individuals and has far-reaching implications to the people among whom the perpetrator of the crime comes from. Unhu jurisprudence tend 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 his subjects. He or she does not adopt a lifestyle that is different from his subjects and lives among his subjects and shares what he owns. 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".

Rwanda and Burundi

In Kinyarwanda, the mother tongue in Rwanda, and in Kirundi, the mother tongue in 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. in Kinyarwanda ubuntu has two meanings: 1. 'human generosity' as well as humanity (as above) 2. Free, given at no cost

Uganda and Tanzania

In Runyakitara which is the collection of dialects spoken by the Banyankore, Banyoro, Batooro and Bakiga of Western Uganda and also the Bahaya, Banyambo and others of Northern Tanzania, "obuntu" refers to the human characteristics of generosity, consideration and humane-ness towards others in the community. In Luganda, the language of the Baganda in Central Uganda "obuntu" means being humane and refers to the same characteristics.

United States of America

On June 18, 2009, in her swearing-in remarks as U.S. Department of State Special Representative for Global Partnerships, Elizabeth Bagley discussed ubuntu in the context of American foreign policy, stating that “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.[4]

In popular culture

Ubuntu was a major theme in John Boorman's 2004 film In My Country.[5] Former US president Bill Clinton used the term at the 2006 Labour Party conference in the UK to explain why society is important.[6] The Boston Celtics, the 2008 NBA champions, have chanted "ubuntu" when breaking a huddle since the start of the 2007-2008 season.[7]

At the 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), there was an Ubuntu Village exposition center.[8] Ubuntu was the theme of the 76th General Convention of the American Episcopal Church.[9] The logo includes the text "I in You and You in Me".

See also

Notes

  1. ^ http://www.spirituality.org.za/files/D%20Forster%20doctorate.pdf (Dion Forster 2006a:252)
  2. ^ Ubuntu Documentation: About the Name
  3. ^ Tutu, Desmond (1999). No Future Without Forgiveness. Image. ISBN 0-385-49690-7.  
  4. ^ U.S. Department of State. Ubuntu Diplomacy
  5. ^ The New York Times, March 25, 2005
  6. ^ Coughlan, Sean (2006-09-28). "All you need is ubuntu". BBC News Magazine (BBC). http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/5388182.stm. Retrieved 2006-09-29.  
  7. ^ Kiszla, Mark (2007-11-07). "New Big 3 dream in green". The Denver Post (Denver Post). http://www.denverpost.com/nuggets/ci_7389312. Retrieved 2007-11-09.  
  8. ^ World Resources Institute. The Success and Failures of Johannesburn: A Story of Many Summits. [1]
  9. ^ General Convention 2009 http://www.episcopalchurch.org/gc2009_96805_ENG_HTM.htm

References

Further reading

External links

This audio file was created from a revision dated 2006-08-03, and does not reflect subsequent edits to the article. (Audio help)
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