Ubuntu orality as a living philosophy.

Author:Mucina, Devi Dee
Position::Essay
 
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The starting point for orientation is the point from which the world unfolds ... Orientations are about how we begin; how we proceed from "here," which affects how what is "there" appears, how it represents itself (p. 8). So what is "East" is actually what is east of the prime meridian, the zero point of longitude. The East as well as the left is thus oriented; it requires its direction only by taking a certain point of view as given (p. 14). The direction we take excludes things for us, before we even get there (p. 15).

--Sara Ahmed (2006, pp. 8, 14, 15)

If orientations are about how we begin then I want to point out that in my decolonizing process I purposefully take Ubuntu theory as the given starting point that shapes how my storytelling gives us a more culturally situated picture about the Ubuntu worldview. As part of centering Ubuntu, I use a discursive theoretical framework because it allows me to engage my many political arenas. A good example of this is highlighted in the way that I use the anti-colonial theory of Aime Cesaire to highlight what colonialism is in the Ubuntu context, which then allows me to enter the Ubuntu worldview in a more meaningful way. The key concepts that I use to address the Ubuntu worldview are Ubuntu as a people; Ubuntu as a theory; Ubuntu epistemology; Ubuntu honouring theory and Africana phenomenology theory.

Aime Cesaire's anti-colonial theoretical work, entitled Discourse on Colonialism, serves to illustrate how the colonial institutions were justified and how this justification continues to be perpetuated. The most important function of his work is that it serves to deconstruct the false memory that colonialism is still trying to impose on me. Cesaire reminds me what colonialism is with this poem:

My turn to state an equation: colonization = "thingification." I hear the storm. They talk to me about progress, about "achievements," diseases cured, improved standards of living. I am talking about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent artistic creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out. They throw facts at my head, statistics, mileages of roads, canals, and railroad tracks. I am talking about thousands of men sacrificed to the Congo-Ocean." I am talking about those who, as I write this, are digging the harbor of Abidjan by hand. I am talking about millions of men torn from their gods, their land, their habits, their life--from life, from the dance, from wisdom. I am talking about millions of men in whom fear has been cunningly instilled, who have been taught to have an inferiority complex, to tremble, kneel, despair, and behave like flunkeys. They dazzle me with the tonnage of cotton or cocoa that has been exported, the acreage that has been planted with olive trees or grapevines. I am talking about natural economies that have been disrupted--harmonious and viable economies adapted to the indigenous population--about food crops destroyed, malnutrition permanently introduced, agricultural development oriented solely toward the benefit of the metropolitan countries; about the looting of products, the looting of raw materials.

They pride themselves on abuses eliminated. I too talk about abuses, but what I say is that on the old ones--very real--they have superimposed others--very detestable. They talk to me about local tyrants brought to reason; but I note that in general the old tyrants get on very well with the new ones, and that there has been established between them, to the detriment of the people, a circuit of mutual services and complicity. (Cesaire, 2000, p.42-43)

In this short, accessible, clear poem, Cesaire makes plain what so many theories and academics have failed to communicate in clear accessible language. In the Black context, Cesaire communicates to all that colonialism is the gaining of power through Black dispossession. Black dispossession was hidden and silenced by White concept of discovery, as is illustrated in the case of Cecil John Rhodes who in colonial society "created" Rhodesia after "discovering" the territory. How did Cecil John Rhodes accomplish such a feat? How did he make so many nations and people disappear so that he could claim discovery of a country using the concept of terra nullius? How could Cecil John Rhodes claim terra nullius when he had to contend with the resistance of our ancestors? To get African lands he had to use trickery, bribery, outright theft and killed our ancestors without fear of consequence because he and his countrymen had convinced themselves that they were dealing with primitive people. Curtis Cook and Juan D. Lindau, in Aboriginal Rights and SelfGovernment: The Canadian and Mexican Experience in North American Perspective, convey how the principal of primitiveness was conceptualized in Rhodesia as a colonial tool of dispossession that used vague and arbitrary standards:

By the second decade of the twentieth century, British colonial law had come to rely on a presumptive division of the world into "civilized" and "primitive" in order to justify unilateral assertions of sovereignty by colonists. Seminal for this version was the 1919 decision in Re: Southern Rhodesia of the Law Lords of the Privy Council of Great Britain, the highest judicial authority in the Empire. (2000, p. 151) Curtis Cook and Juan D. Lindau show that the White colonizers developed their tools of colonialism and conquest among a specific Indigenous people in a specific geographic location and then transported those colonial techniques to other geopolitical locations. The White colonizing techniques were always being refined before being passed on to their kith and kin. Cesaire reports how White colonialists eased their conscious about the evil things they did to Black people by saying that our "good backward nature" was somehow responsible for encouraging them to colonize us. Cesaire captures this point when he makes the following reference:

Since, the Rev. Tempels notes with obvious satisfaction, 'from their first contact with the white men, the Bantu considered us from the only point of view that was possible to them, the point of view of their Bantu philosophy' and 'integrated us into their hierarchy of life forces at a very high level'. (2000, p. 59) Rev. Tempels generated his racist remarks by distorting Ubuntu philosophy and making it seem like Black people could not distinguish between White people and Gods. To adequately address the racist distortion created by the Rev. Tempels, let me use Ubuntu theory. The Ubuntu philosophy teaches us that we should treat a stranger like a god because we will never know when we may find ourselves in their territory. It is hoped by treating a stranger like a god, one will receive the same treatment when away from home. So Ubuntu courtesy and hospitality became the marker of Ubuntu ignorance in the eyes of the colonizers and today this legacy still haunts us. Fearing being labelled as backward and primitive, we have abandoned our Ubuntu ways but, if we are to know ourselves as Ubuntu, we must take our power (Ubuntu) and use it to struggle to determine who we are and where we are going. All Ubuntu life is connected by the cycle of reciprocal relationships; no relationship is greater than the other. I value my relationship with my family in the same manner I value the trees, waters, rocks and other animals. Each relationship I have sustains my life in a balance that is beyond my creation. Sankofa, Sankofa, Sankofa, I am going back to reclaim my past so I can go forward. Brothers and Sisters will you take this journey with me? So let us engage who the Ubuntu are as a people.

Ubuntu as a People

The term Ubuntu has a linguistic history among Black people in Africa. Yet not all Black people identify as being Ubuntu. This I believe shows that Ubuntuness is a reflection of one contextual expression of Blackness and does not undermine other expressions of Blackness. The amaZulu of South Africa refer to a person as Muntu and people as Ubuntu. The Shona people of Zimbabwe call a person Munhu and they refer to people as Vanhu. The Chichewa people of Malawi refer to a person as Munthu and people as Watu. I highlight these three examples as a way of showing that Black people have been self-identifying as Ubuntu since time immemorial. The Zulu high priest, Credo Vusa'mazulu Mutwa (1969) in My People, My Africa, tells us that:

The Black people of Africa called themselves, and any other people on earth, the Bantu, Watu or Abantu. This loosely means "people" or "human beings". People of Europe and parts of Asia are called Abantu abamhlope, meaning literally "human beings who are white", while we ourselves Abantu abansundu, or "human beings who are dark brown." (1969, p. 18) Mutwa also informs us that the contraction ntu in Ubuntu or Muntu has its roots in the word "ntu-tu-ut, which is an onomatopoeic word to describe the steps of a creature walking on two legs instead of four legs" (1969, p. 19). In my 2006 MA thesis, Revitalizing Memory in Honour of Maseko Ngoni's Indigenous Bantu Governance, I address our roots in a chapter, which I titled Origins of Our Ancestors. In an effort to clearly show how Ubuntu history is Black history, I will revisit some of the points that I made while adding new information.

Stories of sacred memories and modern scholarship are in agreement on the point that the Ubuntu people migrated from a northern direction towards southern Africa. Donald R. Morris, in The Washing of the Spears, accepts that the Ubuntu were in Egypt and other parts of north and west Africa but has concluded thus: "No one knows from whence the Bantu came, and by the time modern man turned scientific scrutiny on the problem a century ago, the layer of evidence were irrevocably tangled" (1965, p. 27). On the question of the Ubuntu origin, Donald R. Morris makes the following point: "The origin of the Negroes has...

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