Simon of Cyrene: An act of hunhu


AS the Christian world commemorated the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ earlier this month, a small seed was planted in my mind that kept on growing until, finally, I felt I had to share it with The Patriot readers.
Was Simon of Cyrene’s act of charity, when he assisted Jesus Christ to carry his cross, a natural act of indigenous African hunhuism?
April is also the month The Patriot family lost the guiding force of our late inspirational mentor Alexander Kanengoni; and I am reminded how he would often tell us to: “Tell your story” ; “Keep it simple, … tell your story.”
Cyrene, at that time, was a city situated in modern-day Libya, on the northern Mediterranean coast of the African continent.
It was the chief city of the region known then as Cyrenaica that bordered Egypt on the west. Cyrene itself lay about 720km west of Alexandria, now the capital of Egypt. The people of Cyrene were African people. In 630 BC, Cyrene was settled by the Greeks and later assimilated a significant Jewish population.
Cyrene was the capital of the Roman district of Cyrenaica at the time of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, by which time it was home to a large number of Greek-speaking, or Hellenistic Jews.
Among the frenzied, terrified human throng were the women of Jerusalem who wept bitter tears for Jesus as he struggled laboriously along the stony way – the Via Dolorosa (road of suffering), with his heavy cross.
Walking slowly behind Jesus was the Blessed Virgin Mary – his mother.
Around them were officials, centurions and infantry riding on horseback, directing and thrusting the multitude of people ever forward. Suddenly, a Cyrenian, coming from the opposite direction, is signalled out and ‘pressed into service’ by the Roman guards.
Why was this?
Mark, Matthew and Luke in the New Testament state that he was Simon of Cyrene who was selected by the Roman soldiers to help carry the cross of Christ. According to Mark 15:21 “… They pressed into service a passer-by, …who was coming in from the country, … to carry his cross”.
Was it because the soldiers feared that Jesus would not be able to make it to the place of execution without assistance, due to the beating he had already endured, and looked for help in the crowd; or was it remorse?
As a consequence, Simon of Cyrene was pulled from the crowd and commanded to help carry the heavy cross of Jesus up to Mount Calvary.
What was it about Simon that caught the attention of the Roman guards?
Could it have been the colour of his skin?
Like Simon of Cyrene, Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark, was also a North African Jew from Cyrene.
This has led many to wonder if Simon was of African descent (and therefore black), or if he was simply born there as were many others of Greek, Roman and Jewish descent.
Simon and his people were descendants of Put (Phut), the third son of Ham, the ancestral father of Africans. Ham was Noah’s youngest son (Gen. 9:19, 10:1-20).
Though his ethnicity is said to be unknown for certain, many have suggested that Simon was a ‘dark-skinned’ African man who had gone to Jerusalem to worship during the Passover.
Cyrene was an active centre of evangelisation in the early decades of Christianity.
Luke, in Acts 2:10, records men from Cyrene being among those converted at Pentecost. After the martyrdom of Stephen, believers from Cyrene were among the first to be scattered by the persecution in Jerusalem; arriving in Antioch, where they preached to the Gentiles.
Simon of Cyrene is mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Though Matthew only records his name and place of origin, Mark and Luke wrote that he was “…on his way in from the country”.
After recruiting Simon, Roman soldiers led him to the Nazarene and “…. after laying the cross on him, made him carry it behind Jesus” (Luke 23:26).
Mark, an African Jew, was a disciple of Peter, one of Jesus Christ’s three closest apostles — Peter, John, James.
His gospel, the Gospel of Mark, is believed by Bible scholars to have been the first gospel written — about 50 AD
In a previous article in The Patriot, I wrote that Jesus was a ‘black’ African man. Many readers could not accept this, yet the proof is there.
The Bible, in fact, records that there were many people of African descent in the geographical space where the events recorded in the bible occurred.
The New Testament refers to a number of other ‘black’ people besides Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus’ cross: They include Mark a fellow North African, the Ethiopian eunuch, the emissary of Queen Candace (Kandake), who is thought to be one of the first non-Jewish people baptised after Jesus’ crucifixion. (Acts 8:26-40)
The question in my head is: Had Simon of Cyrene been forced to carry the cross or was he simply practicing hunhu/ubuntu as any African man is expected to?
Unless he was an African, what was his reaction to this incredible involvement in the march to Golgotha?
Was he surprised like: Why has this happened to me?
Was he reluctant, embarrassed?
Or perhaps was he annoyed, since his plans, dreams, life were put into disarray?
I believe none of the above. As an African man, he was practising ubuntu.
We know the event took place in North Africa, no doubt with a predominant African population.
Why was Simon singled out?
Or did he volunteer?
Hunhu/ubuntu is the ability to control overpowering urges in one’s physical being. Every person’s greatest desire is to live in a society where people respect human dignity, liberty, justice, fairness, equity and other aspects of human rights.
There is a common tendency for African people to demonstrate a strong desire to live a life governed by hunhu/ubuntu principles.
Ubuntu is seen as the foundation of African people’s cultural and communal life.
In addition, it is seen as something that works and reinforces the nature of a person’s being human.
Ubuntu, action-oriented as it is, celebrates the people’s lived experiences and their human potential.
Hunhu/Ubuntu lies at the heart of the African way of life and impacts very aspect of indigenous African people’s wellbeing; it was the force that motivated Simon of Cyrene to help another fellow African.
The philosophy is pan-African and is present throughout Africa, whether it is ‘hunhu’ in Shona; ‘abantu’ in Ugandan; or ‘ubuntu’ in Zulu; or is known in Sesotho as ‘botho’; ‘ajobi’ in Yoruba; ‘numunhu’ in Shangaan; ‘vhuthu’ in Venda; ‘bunhu’ in Tsonga; ‘umuntu’ in Xhosa or ‘utu’ in Swahili.
This pan-African philosophy can be regarded as the force of humanity that motivates almost every facet of societal life in African societies.
I believe Simon’s act of charity towards Jesus Christ as he laboured to heave the wooden cross along the cobbled Via Dolorosa was at the heart of his actions.
In African culture, hunhu/ubuntu is the capacity to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, harmony and humanity in the interests of endowing, building and maintaining African communities with justice and mutual caring.
Hunhu/ubuntu expresses our inter-connectedness and our common humanity and responsibility to each to other that flows deeply from our profoundly felt connection.
The bond of hunhuism tempers human development and transforms human behaviour from mere instinctual actions into conscious spiritual actions imbued with the values of moral and ethical purposes outlined in the teachings of our African ancestors.
What is your opinion?
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and post-colonial heritage studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and Corporate Image Consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher. E-mail:


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