Sunday, 17 April 2011

Network Traning Free

Ubuntu and religion

The first important overlap between Ubuntu and a decolonising assessment of the other, has to do with a fundamental presupposition of such an assessment in cases where the other happens to be religious, viz. the fact that Ubuntu respects the religiosity or religiousness of the religious other. While many strands in Western Humanism tend to underestimate or even deny the importance of religious beliefs, Ubuntu or African Humanism is resiliently religious (Prinsloo, 1995:4; 1998:46). For the Westerner, the maxim "A person is a person through other persons" has no obvious religious connotations. S/he will probably interpret it as nothing but a general appeal to treat others with respect and decency. However, in African tradition this maxim has a deeply religious meaning. The person one is to become "through other persons" is, ultimately, an ancestor. And, by the same token, these "other persons" include ancestors. Ancestors are extended family.[1] Dying is an ultimate homecoming. Not only the living must therefore share with and care for each other, but the living and the dead depend on each other (Van Niekerk, 1994:2; Ndaba, 1994:13-14).

This accords with the daily experience of many (traditional) Africans. For example, at a calabash,[2] which is an African ritual that involves the drinking of beer (cf. Broodryk, 1997a:16), a little bit of beer is often poured on the ground for consumption by ancestors. And, as is probably well known (yet often misunderstood), many Africans also belief in God through the mediation of ancestors (Broodryk, 1997a:15). In African society there seems to be an inextricable bond between man, ancestors and whatever is regarded as the Supreme Being. Ubuntu thus inevitably implies a deep respect and regard for religious beliefs and practices (Teffo, 1994a:9).[3]

In fact, even the faintest attempt at an “original”[4] or indigenous understanding of Ubuntu can hardly overlook the strong religious or quasi-religious connotations of this concept. According to traditional African thought, “becoming a person through other persons” involves going through various community prescribed stages and being involved in certain ceremonies and initiation rituals. Before being incorporated into the body of persons through this route, one is regarded merely as an “it”, i.e. not yet a person. Not all human beings are therefore persons. Personhood is acquired. Moreover, initiation does not only incorporate one into personhood within the community of the living, but also establishes a link between the initiated and the community of the living-dead or ancestors (Ramose, 1999:81, 88). Through circumcision and clitoridectomy blood is spilled onto the soil, a sacrifice is made which binds the initiated person

[1] For an explanation of the Ubuntu conception of "extended family", cf. Broodryk (1997a:14; 1997b:70f; Shutte, 1998a:18).
[2] The word “calabash” is also used to refer to the beer container.
[3] Ubuntu is often defined in religious terms. Cf. for example Koka (1996:2-3).
[4] As Ramose (1999:133-134) rightly points out, it is impossible to restore the so-called “original” version of Ubuntu. Our understanding of Ubuntu can at best be an innovative reconstruction of traditional conceptions. But, whatever traditional understandings and applications of Ubuntu might have been (or still are), surely the more important question has to be: Given the current call and need for an African Renaissance, how should Ubuntu be understood and utilized for the common good of all Africans, and of the world at large? (cf. Ramose, 1999:163-164; Shutte, 1998a:20).

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