Please welcome guest blogger, Lon Garber  aka: "hubby"

We are often asked about cultural challenges while living in Africa.  The item that immediately comes to mind is in African culture the group is far more important than any individual in the group. Family, village, and tribal concerns highly influence individual behaviors and decisions. In Southern Africa, this strong sense of community is called Ubuntu.

 Sharing is central to Ubuntu. The person earning an income must help others in the group less fortunate. The concept of "group" includes extended family, friends , and often anyone of the same village or tribe. The person with a house is expected to provide lodging for other group members for as long as the visitor needs it.  Anyone who shows up is free to partake of any meal, explaining many unannounced visitors at lunch time. We once hosted a visitor no one knew. We all thought it was someone else's guest.

When anyone acts outside the perceived interest of the group, the group enforces both formal and informal compliance to bring the violator back in line with group wishes.

Ubuntu embodies a strong respect for authority. Children are taught to respect all adults and to obey them without questioning. Children must leave the room when adults are talking, to give up their seats to older persons, and to offer to carry items for anyone older. It's nice growing old in Africa.
Special respect is given to parents, grandparents, tribal elders, and government officials.

As with all social systems, Ubuntu can be applied both positively and negatively. At it's best, Africans take care of each other without need for government assistance. At it's worst, personal success is discouraged since others will reap most of the benefits of personal initiative.

Learning that a singular act of kindness caused us to be included in the recipient's group was one of our biggest shocks of Ubuntu. From then on, you are expected to help with even greater needs! From a Western perspective, such expectations feel like ingratitude; from an African perspective , it's just life.

You can read more about African culture, and our ups and downs of living in Africa by reading Lon's new book The Leap: living the life you dream about.  It's available online at:


Monique (A Half-Baked Notion) said...

One of your statements stands out for me in a particular way:

"When anyone acts outside the perceived interest of the group, the group enforces both formal and informal compliance to bring the violator back in line with group wishes."

I have always been interested in alternative/restorative justice systems. The socially-based African "enforcement" sounds like a parallel of aboriginal sentencing circles employed here in Canada and in Australia amongst native groups. It seems the antithesis of the Western manner, which consists of locking away an offender, out of sight and reach of the larger community, and with few options for real "rehabilitation".

"Ubuntu" also sounds like one of the reasons I hear many Canadian workers, returning from a stint in Africa, complain about "theft". What the African considers sharing of goods is viewed very negatively by outsiders.

Thank you, Val and Lon, for shedding light on a poorly understood part of our world.

Work Of Our Hands said...

Ah yes that reminds me of the frustration of always hunting for the items I purchased for my ladies in the clay room.......They were there, and someone needed them ! That's not stealing, it's sharing. One time I complained and was told" In Africa we share:" :)

Also good point about the justice system Monique !