UBUNTU/HUNHU is a traditional African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation to the world.
It is a unifying vision or worldview enshrined in various African proverbs, which all emphasise the interconnectedness of people. For instance, the Zulu maxim from South Africa: ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’, and the Shona proverb from Zimbabwe: ‘Munhu munhu nevanhu’, both literally mean that a person is a person through other persons.
This article explores the profound meaning behind the proverb: ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’, and its connection to the ubuntu/hunhu philosophy.
The ubuntu/hunhu philosophy
Ubuntu/hunhu is a term found in various languages in Southern Africa, including Nguni Bantu, meaning ‘humanity’.
It is often translated as: ‘I am because we are’, emphasising community, unity and the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. This philosophy, also known as Ubuntuism/hunhuism, is not exclusive to one language or region, but is a common thread that runs through many African societies.
The philosophy of ubuntu/hunhu manifests itself through various human acts, clearly visible in social, political and economic situations, as well as among family. It is a reminder of our shared humanity and the importance of community in our lives.
‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’
This African proverb means that an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. The villagers look out for the children.
This communal responsibility in raising children is a reflection of the African values of co-responsibility and interdependence.
The proverb represents a metaphor for describing the importance of community involvement in all aspects of a child’s upbringing. It recognises the role of extended family, friends, neighbours and the community at large in shaping and caring for the child.
The connection between ubuntu/hunhu and the proverb
The proverb: ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’ and the philosophy of ubuntu/hunhu are deeply connected. Both emphasise the importance of community and shared responsibility in shaping the individuals within that community.
In the context of ubuntu/hunhu, the child is a communal being, and his/her upbringing is a communal responsibility.
The child’s welfare is the concern of everyone in the community, and his/her behaviour is shaped by communal values and norms.
The ubuntu/hunhu philosophy and the proverb: ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’ remind us of our interconnectedness and the shared responsibility we have towards each other.
They teach us that we thrive in the community and that our actions affect those around us.
By embracing these principles, we can create more supportive, understanding and compassionate communities.
Embracing ubuntu/hunhu is not just about valuing others but also about affirming their worth and creating space for mutual support and growth.
It’s about recognising our common human dignity and ensuring that everyone has a place in the circle.
As we navigate through the complexities of modern life, the ubuntu/hunhu philosophy serves as a guiding light, reminding us of the fundamental human values of empathy, respect and community.
The ubuntu/hunhu philosophy is expressed in different ways in different African languages.
Here are some examples of how the concept of ubuntu/hunhu is articulated in various languages:
South Africa: (Zulu) ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’;
Zimbabwe: (Shona) ‘Munhu munhu nevanhu’;
Botswana: (Setswana) ‘Motho ke motho ka batho’;
Namibia: (Oshiwambo) ‘Omukwiyu gwomwe oshi li ngandjila’;
Zambia: (Bemba) ‘Umulomo umwibala alya mwibala’;
Malawi: (Chichewa) ‘Munthu ndi munthu ngati mtedza’
Uganda: (Luganda) ‘Muntu ye muntu nga bw’ayogera’;
Congo: (Lingala) ‘Muntu muntu mbi’ and
Angola: (Kimbundu) ‘Umunhu umu’.
— Source: GogoAfrica.ART