Today we remember the words of our beloved Arch on his Birthday
Before colonization, most Africans lived in societies that were almost closed systems. Any material goods, energy, love that you gave ‘away’, never really went ‘away’, they built up the community that protected you, comforted you, counselled you, corrected you, mourned and celebrated with you.
People living in that time were acutely aware that physical survival and a human identity were not possible as individuals. Humans don’t survive or thrive as individuals. When hard times came, as they surely do in Africa, when drought gripped the land, and fire consumed the plains, it was groups of people that searched together for food, for water, for grazing. It was a few families, a clan, and a tribe that survived together, or perished. Ubuntu acknowledges what we are, biologically. We are not individual beings; we have evolved as social organisms. This is the literal meaning of the expression which defines Ubuntu; Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu – “A person is a person through people”.
As we grow in awareness we see how we are linked to all living beings by flows of matter and energy, how we breathe the same air, drink the same water. Shouldn’t we extend Ubuntu beyond people to all other living beings? Ubuntu arose as relatively small groups of people cooperated to survive in a challenging environment, in an ecology that was often dry, hard, thorny and hot, periodically scorched by fire, permeated by diseases, parasites and venomous creatures, not to mention larger creatures with teeth, claws, hooves and horns.
We are in the midst of the sixth great extinction event, facing planetary crises of climate change, water availability and pollution. This suggests a need for a change in our relation to the web of life, for a new gentleness and appreciation. We are human because a lion is, because a snake is, because a mountain is, because rain and drought are. We are totally dependant on the ecosystems which support us, so to see those ecosystems as ‘us’, as a system that we are embedded in, as an extension of our being is pragmatic, and accurate. As is the traditional practice of Ubuntu.
If Ubuntu encourages us to cultivate and care for ourselves, for our families and our brethren, so too should we care for our larger, extended body –the veld, bush, soil, air, water, and the wetlands. We need to widen the circle of our Ubuntu as we become aware of the totality of what we are. Our bodies extend into the soil, into the air, into the rivers and oceans. .
Let us practice planetary Ubuntu, widen and deepen the circle, act with love to all that we are, to our entire community, to our extended planetary being.
I am because you are
We are because the planet is
Archbishop Emeritus Tutu
icon Bob Mash