Ubuntu: Afrikan Humanism (and my Further Thoughts) *bump*

I posted the following essay on my original blog waaay back on November 28, 2007. I was thinking a lot about the Congo this morning before work and came back to this piece, which compels me to conclude that thoughts we’ve had at earlier phases in life are sometimes more clear and articulate than our current thoughts. And I doubt anyone really looked at this back at the time, so here it is bumped up (with some fresh edits) for your current review. Would seriously like your feedback on ideas in this little philosophical tract. Talk about it!

Towards BUMUNTU! Towards KIMUNTU! Towards UBUNTU! Towards the end of hate and the culture of violence! Towards sisterhood and brotherhood between black folks, and no more horizontal violence in the streets or in Afrika! Rasta nuh chat Rasta! I’m talking about human beings, trying to be humane, just, fully realized, cooperative and free!!!

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

What is Ubuntu? It is the notion, expressed in Zulu and present in other Bantu languages, that “a person is a person through other people.” It is the notion that an individual is born into the community and will always be a part of the community. It is a statement of interdependence and communalism, that the welfare of the individual is dependent upon the welfare of the community, and vice-versa. I claim Ubuntu as a guiding philosophy of mine, inasmuch as it is obvious that I am because we, as Afrikans, are. Having once been a serious student of Buddhism, one reads in the notion of [inter-]dependent co-arising and the “interbeing nature of things” that, in acheiving awareness of anatman or not-self – the absence of any independently existing entity of a “self” – one fully understands that he or she does not belong to his/her supposed “self.” Our physical bodies are little more than compilations of stardust animated by the life-force, genes and cells given us by our parents and all of their ancestors. Everything in the world and in us can only exist because of everything else, and if the forest which provides the wood for the table, or the food that the table-maker’s parents ate before they even thought of conceiving the table-maker, are removed from the table, the table cannot exist. Likewise, humans cannot exist without all the elements that precede us, all of our ancestors, all the elements of nature and the world that permit being, and so on. To live symbiotically with the world and with the community we are born into only makes perfect logical sense. Ubuntu, interdependence and Afrikan humanism, must therefore be more than mere positions on how to animate and organize a society, for they emerge from deep scientific truths. Interdependence with the elements of the natural world to perpetuate a sustainable and balanced life-cycle is called deep ecology in some circles, a radical and proper conclusion based on an understanding of the symbiotic form that living in the world should assume. Ubuntu is practiced in the very same vein, based on a fundamental understanding of how reality works and what beings like us bring into this universe as we come and go.

In his book African Cosmology of the Bântu-Kôngo, Dr. Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau discusses African communalism in Bantu societies and how that concept, which he derives from his native BaKongo context but which is clearly analogous to the Ubuntu practice, is applied in the organizing and governing of a community. In doing this he shares an aphorism which is often recited by some traditional BaKongo peoples (in KiKongo) before community meetings of social, political, economic or judicial significance:

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mputu

There is no room for poverty

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mvwâma

There is no room for ill obtained wealth

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mpofo

There is no room for blindness

Mu kânda

Within the community

Ku mukadi mfumu

There is no room for “order-giver”

Bobo mfumu na mfumu

All are masters, and only masters

Bobo ngânda na ngânda

All specialists, and only specialists

Mu kânda

Within the community

Bilesi

Young generations

Mu kânda

Within the community

Mwâna mfumu

Ancestors’ sons

Mu kânda

Within the community

Busi/ nsâng’a kânda

A sister, the community shoot

Mu kânda

Within the community

Nkasi a kânda

A brother, a future leader

Mu kânda

Within the community

Kinenga ye dedede

Equilibrium and equality

Mu kânda

Within the community

Kingenga/ kimpambudi nwânana

There is no room for separatism/ privacy

Mu kânda

Within the community

Sèkila kumosi

All sleep at once

Mu kânda

Within the community

Sikamana kumosi

All wake up at once

Mu kânda

Within the community

Mbèni ku mbazi

Enemies stand out

(Fu-Kiau, 80-82)

These aphorisms reflect the extremely advanced, deliberate, sophisticated, and humane philosophy that we Afrikans developed to survive and thrive in pre-colonial times and which are the birthright and inheritance of all Afrikans today. It is our responsibility, indeed our necessity if we are to survive on this planet, the only world we’ve got, to live this. All we need do is continue our organically humanistic lifestyle and reconstitute a truly humane, progressive, democratic, tolerant, gender-equal and open society for the Afrikan, in which our economic life never fails to meet human needs and where land and the means to produce are commonly owned with no private property in the hands of the few to disfranchise and exploit the rest. Fu-Kiau, in this very important and recommendable text, informs us that in the world-view of the Bakongo, “individual wealth is an abominable crime” (Fu-Kiau, 76):

“Individual wealth of all kinds above the accepted standard of necessary goods, is considered a crime. One says that this kind of wealth could not be accumulated without  exploiting [wuka/ yiba] other members of the community. In that case, the wealth itself  is called kimvwâma kia muyeke, wealth that betrays, yekula, the community and its members. The owner of such excessive properties was often killed or hoodooed [lokwa]. African communities believe strongly that the individual accumulation of property has  always had negative effects on the traditional social structure and on policy- making institutions.”

Afrikans need to think critically about the way of life into which we have been socialized under the contemporary regime of capitalism, neo-colonialism, and the myth of individualism. This regime has removed us from what living reality otherwise would make clear – that we cannot exist apart from or at the expense of our world or our communities, and thus ought naturally to seek to live in harmony with nature and our communities. For Afrikans, the practice of Ubuntu must begin at home, amongst Afrikans. May Afrikans practice Ubuntu with other Afrikans and across the third world, and exclude from Ubuntuist Afrikan communities all those capitalistic, bourgeois aspirant, individualistic, reactionary, intolerant, narrow-minded, knuckle-headed, selfish, greedy and malevolent negroes.

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Bonus video: Rasta Nuh Chat Rasta by Queen Ifrica. Enjoy and Learn!

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