Ubuntu: The African Way Of Finding Self Through Others


Ubuntu is often described as humanism from the African perspective. I am, because we are is the basic principle of this philosophy, which exudes that our sense of self is shaped by the relationships we share with others. We may believe that this concept rose with the everyday African lifestyle; community is one of the strongest pillars the country is built on. 

Ubuntu: The African Way Of Finding Self Through Others

The word “Ubuntu” comes from the languages of Zulu and Xhola. It can be loosely translated to “humanity towards others” and “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.”

According to Stanlake J. W. T. Samkange, who was a Zimbabwean historiographer, educator, journalist, author, and African nationalist, there are three maxims of ubuntuism. The first maxim says that to be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish respectful human relations with them. The second maxim dictates that when one is faced with a decisive choice between wealth and the preservation of the life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of this life. The third maxim is a political philosophy that says the King owed his status, including all the powers associated with it, to the will of the people under him. It suggests an appreciation for traditional beliefs, and a constant awareness that an individual’s actions today are a reflection on the past, and will face the consequences in the future. A person who follows Ubuntu knows their place in the universe and is consequently able to interact gracefully with other individuals.

Ubuntu: The African Way Of Finding Self Through Others

There are several words in the English language that can be used to expand on this concept, but barely any to grasp the true meaning lost in translation.  Sympathy, compassion, benevolence, solidarity, hospitality, generosity, sharing, openness, affirming, available, kindness, caring, harmony, interdependence, obedience, collectivity and consensus are a few of the terms we can relate the philosophy to. It values life, dignity, compassion, humaneness, harmony and reconciliation

A key aspect in Ubuntu deals with the behavior and interaction in the context of various social roles. For example, a daughter-in-law traditionally kneels down when greeting her parents-in-law and serves them food as a sign of respect. She must maintain the highest standards as her behavior is a reflection of her family. In Ubuntu, a child is never an orphan; an individual who follows philosophy will never allow a child around them to be an orphan. In Ubuntu, all the visitors and guests are protected in every home they pass through without the expectation of payment. Every individual who is aware of the presence of a visitor within a locality should try their best to make that visitor comfortable.

Ubuntu: The African Way Of Finding Self Through Others

While initially the philosophy of the blacks of Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, its application is now universal. The computer software Ubuntu is based on the sharing tenet of Ubuntu philosophy. At another time, as a reflection of Ubuntu influence, Madonna named her film on Malawi orphans. I am because we are. Ubuntu diplomacy has also been introduced by the US government to bring people together from various regions and sectors across the country to work together on issues of common interests. The 76th American Episcopal Church Convention was based on the Ubuntu theme. 

Ubuntu: The African Way Of Finding Self Through Others
Still from I Am Because We Are

Ubuntu makes every aspect of life humane. Therefore it’s very important for social work. It uses humane methods to achieve human goals. Social workers have a twin responsibility of embracing Ubuntu and using the values to influence their peers and clients.

You’ll also like Gemütlichkeit, the German lifestyle.


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