Ubuntu as the Philosophical Background for the Kasàlà
Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu
"A Person is such thanks to the others" (Zulu proverb)
In classical African philosophy, the significance of the Human Being is found in the fact of “Being, Becoming and Belonging”.
The human being is an emanation of the Primordial Energy and therefore, is energy. A fundamental law of this energy is simply “To Be” and in being, one is the “creative cause” which makes humans divine.
This divine law is, in turn, translated into an enduring moral mandate which states that “To Be” is permanently guaranteed by the human instinct “To Become”.
The moral mandate of African Humanity is, thusly, “to become and in becoming”, humans reveal their “belongingness” to God(liness).
The process of being and becoming is accomplished through “an alchemical process of transformation to perfectibility” called Initiation.
In Being, life is characterized by three basic attributes : Desire, Thought and Action.
These attributes are also subject to transformation and thereby “perfectible”. Hence :
- Desire when “perfected” or transformed becomes pure love.
- Thought when “perfected” becomes clear understanding.
- Action when “perfected” becomes acts of sacrifice or service to benefit all or the whole.
In becoming, one’s basic beingness is transformed to a more perfect being.
Hence, through the experience of right living one is transformed from being a lesser material (animal) being into a greater spiritual (Godlike) being.
The person is a “process” characterized by the divinely governed laws of appearing, perfecting and compassion which are revealed within or through ones destiny.
The term “authenticity” refers to the condition or quality of being “authentic” or “genuine”. To be “authentic” is :
- To possess the condition of actually being what one claims to be. It is to be “real.”
- To have an undisputed origin that is directly connected to the producer or creator.
- To be “genuine”, original.
The “gen” in “genuine or generate means to produce, to bring into existence.
Hence, the deeper meaning of “human authenticity” is to be indisputably connected to that which brought you into existence.
The search for human meaning is the search for the “authentic core” which gives one a sense of essence and drives the proper response to the demands of experiencing life
The notion of “authenticity” is a better concept to represent the unity that underlies the diversity of African people.
- The birth of a child is perceived by the Kongo people as the rising of a “living sun” into the upper world.
- To be human is, therefore, to be a “being” who is a “living sun” possessing a “knowing” and knowable” spirit (energy) through which one has an enduring relationship with the total perceptible and ponderable universe.
- The person as energy, spirit or power is, therefore, a phenomenon of veneration and praise.
- The person is both the container and instrument of Divine energy and relationships.
- Spirituality pertains to having the quality of being spiritual.
- To be human is to be a spirit.
- Spirit is the energy, force or power that is both the inner essence and the outer envelope of human beingness.
- “Spiritness,” rather than spirituality, pertains to the condition of being a spirit.
- As energy, spirit becomes “Spiritness” and therein serves to ignite and enliven the human state of being.
- Human beings experience their “Spiritness” simultaneously as a metaphysical state and an ethereal extension or connection into and between the supra world of the Deities, the inter world of other beings and the inner world of the self.
Harmony and balance between/within the supra, inter and intra worlds of the person are key to “human beingness.”
The Umuntu or Human Being
The concept of Human Being can be summerized as follows :
The central teachings of the Buntu is that all things originated from UQOBU and evolve in response to the challenge of their nature.
The Zulu ideal emphasized the primacy of the person and the creation of a society which equipped, enabled and ensured that the person would realize the promise of being or becoming human (Ukuba Ngumuntu).
• As an emanation of Onyame (trancendance), he is energy
• Okra (innermost part, linked to honhom, the breath) ; Chi (living soul)
• Sunsum : activating principle of the person
• Body or Honam
The Okra manifests itself in the world of experience through the Sunsum.
Hence, the person is made up of two principal components :
the immaterial/spiritual (Okra & Sunsum) and the material/physical (Honam).
Spirit, word, thought, creativity are forms of energy.
Hence, the person is a homogeneous entity or value.
For the Lebou : To be a person, one must also possess and cultivate the qualities of Yel (intelligence) and Sago (reason).
• Tools (he receives tools and has the power to make tools. Kasàlà is such a tool
• Desire for change, improvement, wisdom
• Ubuntu : the art or skill of being human
The morphology of Bantu languages makes it possible to name through this word all the values that take care of relationship and express a particular world view :
The umuntu is connected to otherness, that is :
• other human beings
• the natural environment which, he knows, is animated
Hence, to be is to be in relationship
In Kiswahili they say : Mtu ni utu (a person is defined by their ubuntu)
An African proverb says : "While walking, do stop from time to time, in order to allow your soul to catch you up"
Ubuntu is a generic Bantu term regrouping a variety of concepts that express a fundamental aspect of African spirituality, namely the necessary conditions for a good relationship with our fellow human beings, with the environment and with the transcendence. In other words, it expresses the art of being human.
The word is attested in Zulu, Xhosa, Bemba, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, etc.
Variant forms are found in other Bantu languages. Ex. :
Unhu or hunhu in Shona
Umunthu in Chichewa
Buumùntù in Cilubà
Bumuntu in Kilubà
Bomoto in Lingala
Utu in Kiswahili
A few equivalents of Ubuntu in non Bantu African languages
Imani in Hausa
Eniyan in Yoruba
Umunna in Igbo
Nitte in Wolof
A few related forms are :
Harubuntu (Kirundi) : Where there is Ubuntu or worth
Umuntu, muntu : A human being
Ibuntu : Where Ubuntu blossoms
I AM UBUNTU
I am Ubuntu
Good inside and a Gift outside
My name is Ubuntu
You can't speak of Man
You can't speak of Life
Without speaking of me
I am Compassion
That sympathizes with the other
I am Empathy and I suffer with her or him
I also rejoice for their successes
Generosity Gratitude and Respect
Hospitality Fraternity and Humanity
Benevolence Sollicitude and Welcoming
Presence Pardon and Reconciliation
Patience Listening and Attention
In short I am Wisdom
I am the Horizon for
The good woman and the good man
I am the supreme Value
I invoque the person
I remind her or him their nobility
Through their strong names
I am Celebration
I celebrate the essentiel
That is, life energy and beauty
In other words life in the person
I talk to their core called chi
I invite them to honor their dignity
And to use the available tools
To take their legitimate chair
Nobody is worth less or more
Than their fellow men !
I am Master of my mouth
I know the strength of the the word
I do not shoot my mouth off
I know the value of silence
I am perfect Discretion
I can step aside
So the other can pass
I am a Renewed Person
I share my space my time
I share my food my happiness
Senghor the Admirable rightly said
I feel the other I dance the other
Hence I am
A sentence summerises me :
Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu
This means in ordinary language :
The human being is first of all relational
They only exist thanks to the others
My life gets its sense only through the others
The other as a condition of my emergence
The other as a mirror that allows me
To be aware of myself
To awake to life
Kasàlà as Power
Words have psychological transformative power in that they are capable of legitimizing the material manifestation of phenomena.
Ofo Ase is a Yoruba term meaning the power of the word or the power of the word to evoke or call into existence that which it represents.
It is therefore implied that when the theories of African thinkers are guided by an African discourse, then new and more appropriate ideas, concepts, notions, etc. will become part of the scientific enterprise.
Through a special discourse humans are able to attain authenticity, obtain historical place, and establish engagement as human subject and agent.
- The instrument or spirited poetic discourse that names the Being-as-a-process (me, you or her/him), and makes them real.
- The Fire that makes the transformation or perfectibility possible and brings the speaker to authenticity.
- The ladder that leads to Ubuntu. Therefore, it is wisdom.
- The art of taking care of Ubuntu in people and in communities.
For the Kongo : As a spirit, the person is a phenomenon of “perpetual veneration.”
For the Zulu to be human is to be able to say what and who one is and to be able to define oneself as a value
For the Mende : The person’s name is closely associated with his Ngafa (psychic constituant, human spirit).
A person can be revived or awakened when one’s name is called repeatedly.
The person’s name may be the component that wakes up the Ngafa.
A healthy spirit (Ngatha) produces a state of Guhun (total well-being).
Kasàlà of Self
There is a particular poetic genre in African oral literature, based on self-praise. Self-praise poetry is built on proper names and formulas, with the metaphor and hyperbole as major figures of style. However, the concept "kasàlà of self" (or "izibongo of self") should not merely be translated by self-praise. There exist specific words to express the idea of self-praising. In Cilubà, kudìtùmbisha means "to praise oneself", kudìtàmbisha "to brag, to boast", while kudìsènga or kudìsanzula mean "to celebrate oneself".
The genre is very ancient on the African continent, as we can see from the Egyptian literature. In “the Book of Knowing the Evolutions”, f.i., Ra, the creator God, Neb-er-tcher, states :
I am he who evolved himself under the form of the God Khepera.
I, the evolver of the evolutions evolved myself,
after many evolutions and developments which came forth from my mouth.
No heavens existed, and no earth, and no terrestrial animals or reptiles
had come into being.
I formed them out of the inert mass of watery matter,
I found no place whereupon to stand.
I was alone.
There existed none other who worked with me.
I laid the foundations of all things by my will,
and all things evolved themselves therefrom.
I sent forth Shu and Tefnut out from myself.
Shu and Tefnut gave birth to Nut and Seb,
and Nut gave birth to Osiris, Horus-Khent-an-maa, Sut, Isis and Nephtys.
At one birth, one after the other, and their many children multiply upon this earth.