Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Aristide talks on ubuntu



date: Wednesday January 26, 2005
Time: 15H30 FOR 16H00
venue: SUNNYSIDE CAMPUS: BUILDING 2 CONFERENCE HALL President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, democratically elected president of the Republic of Haiti - Lecture on the theme:

Psychology of Ubuntu: Promoting African Renaissance

President Aristide holds post graduate degrees in psychology, theology and philosophy. After studies in Israel and Canada he returned to Haiti where he taught in these fields. Fluent in several different languages, such as Italian, Spanish, French, Creole, with reasonable knowledge of IsiZulu. In 1991 he became Haiti’s first democratically elected president. After his re-election in 2000 he founded the country’s largest university campus. Education, literacy and health care remained priorities during his second administration. After the violent coup d’etat that struck the country in February of 2004, President Aristide has been living in South Africa where he is a Research Fellow at the University of South Africa.

Venue: University of South Africa, Sunnyside Campus
January 26, 2005
Presentation by
I thank you for being here this afternoon and commend Prof Gutto and the Centre for African Renaissance for organising this monthly lecture series. To promote African Renaissance we must engage in debate and reflection on issues of great importance like the psychology of ubuntu.
Our explanation of ubuntu is grounded within the framework of social psychology. This approach tends towards the nature and the causes of human social behaviour. In fact, social psychology tries to understand groups themselves as behaviour entities. Does ubuntu refer to some particular groups in our society? Can ubuntu help address issues like narcissistic behaviour, schizoid disorder, obsessive neurosis, pathological narcissism, and autistic cultures through social groups? What do we mean by psychology of ubuntu?
Ubuntu generates a psychological Self which is quite different from the Premium or the Self of social psychologist, Gordon Allport (1897-1967). Elaborating on human being’s motivations, Allport said that the Premium or the Self has seven functions which in some manner affect how we interact:
1- Self related to the sense of body2- Self-identity3- Self-esteem4- Self-extension5- Self-image6- Self related to rational coping7- Self related to appropriate striving
To that list, I will add another Self in relation with ubuntu: this is the collective Self. Embedded in a collective Self or a collective Ego, the psychodynamic of ubuntu goes straight to the community’s wellbeing. Self-interest and common interest are inextricably linked. Amathe nolimi. In others words, ubuntu generates a social love story rooted in brotherhood.
While archeologists journey through the 7 million-year-old landscape of the human past, social psychologists look for this collective Self’s dynamic through the behaviour of groups and evolution in or outside of Africa, the cradle of humankind.
The earliest human settlement in Asia dates soon after 2 million years ago, while the earliest settlement of temperate Europe itself took place about 800,000 years ago.
Here, in Africa, our ancestors shared a community life which empowered their villages to resist colonialism. By 400 BC it was said that North African granaries fed Rome’s masses for nine months out of the year, Egypt’s for four. Emerging as a State after 3100 BC, Egypt flourished through a remarkable civilisation. But it would fall to Roman rule in 30 BC. “The revelation of navigators from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, provides positive proof that Black Africa, which extended south of the desert zone of the Sahara, was still in full bloom, in all the splendor of harmonious and well-organized civilizations.”
What are the reasons behind colonialism? Obviously, ubuntu and colonialism oppose each other. Could it really be the case of “good people” coming to civilise “savage groups” as it is so often depicted?
As Cheikh Anta Diop notes: “It would be incorrect to say that civilization was born of racial mixture, for there is proof that it existed in Black lands well before any historical contact with Europeans. Ethnically homogeneous, the Negro people created all the elements of civilization by adapting to the favorable geographical conditions of their early homelands. From then on, their countries became magnets attracting the inhabitants of the ill-favored backward lands nearby, who try to move there to improve their existence.”
Worldwide, gold, oil and natural resources constitute a permanent pole of attraction. Groups that behave as colonialists possess a fertile psychological field for the growth of narcissistic tendencies. The colonialist mind reflects infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of others. Self-interest is placed at the core of actions. So, violence, crime, genocide and all necessary means are used in the name of self-interest. Such pathological behavior, as a result, paves the way for anomic societies, disruptive socialisation processes, social exclusion, a sustainable development of schizoid cultures – instead of sustainable human development. The continued marginalisation of the world’s poor reflects new patterns of colonialism. Economic globalisation empowers those reinforcing the structures of exclusion. More and more rich but less and less sensitive to the human suffering, the neo-colonialists fall in love with their own neoliberal agenda. It is worse than the case of Narcissus, the handsome youth who, Greek mythology tells us, was condemned to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus pined away and was ultimately transformed into the flower that bears his name.
From the primary to the secondary level of narcissism, we reach a pathological level where all is exclusive and all-pervasive. The exaggerated self and the pathological super ego become so arrogant and violent that it leads necessarily to a dysfunctional society.
On the other hand, people motivated by ubuntu’s spirit try to extend the wealth of possibilities to all people.
Healthy-minded people understand that poverty generates suffering. Our determination to promote African Renaissance necessarily implies the eradication of poverty through equitable growth.
- We must build strong and deep forms of democratic governance at all levels of society in which poor people have political power too.
- Healthy-minded people understand that social justice and global solidarity must ensure that benefits are shared equitably.
- Eradicating poverty everywhere is more than a moral imperative - it is a practical possibility. That is the most important message of the Human Development Report of 1997. The world has the resources and the know-how to create a poverty-free world in less than a generation.
- Here is an historic challenge for healthy-minded people of this 21st century.
To move faster towards that goal, we need to scrutinise ubuntu during a unique historical period which I call: THE FIRST AFRICAN TSUNAMI. Ubuntu and the first African tsunami
From 1451 to 1870, hundreds of thousands of African bodies disappeared in the seas. These same seas that are as much as 500 million years old, seas that connect to oceans which cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface with depths estimated at 3,790 meters.
Last month we witnessed the sea rushing towards the Asian people. But in 1471, it was the opposite: the Africans rushed towards the sea and jumped in, preferring death to slavery. Of the 11 to 12 million Africans transported from the continent during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, two-thirds were male, perhaps 27% were children. They left Africa in groups that averaged close to 320 per ship. An estimated 13% died in transit. Eyewitness accounts of Africans of the trauma suffered by Africans upon their capture into slavery and during the middle passage at sea are a powerful testament of pain. Historian Verene Sheperd captures these voices.
- “Women, some with three, four or six children clinging to their arms, with the infants on their backs and such baggage as they could carry on their heads, running as fast as they could through prickly shrub.” Wrote one kidnapped slave.
- Another wrote: “One day when we had a smooth sea …two of my countrymen who were chained together preferring death to such a life of misery, somehow made through the nettings and jumped into the sea…many would very soon have done the same if they had not been prevented by the ship’s crew.”
- In the published account of a slave who survived the middle passage it was written: “I have known ships in which 750 slaves had been embarked (but) not more than 400 arrived alive.”
- “It was not a rare circumstance for the captain to order such poor slaves as were evidently dying to be thrown overboard during the night,” testified another surviving slave.
These are the voices of slaves.
Once on land the suffering intensified. Slave codes of the time allowed judges to sentence slaves to be burnt alive, broken on the wheel or to be dismembered. The crime of raising a hand against one of the children of the mistress was to have the slave’s hand cut off and to be hanged.
- Whipping, and the pouring of salt, pepper or hot ashes into the bleeding wounds, was common.
- Boiling wax, oil or sugar was poured over the naked body.
- Iron devices around hands and feet, wood blocks to be dragged behind, iron collars, and tin plate masks especially designed to prevent the slaves from eating sugar cane, were employed.
- Slaves were buried up to their necks and their faces smeared with sugar to be eaten by ants and flies.
- Others were burned or roasted alive.
The instructions that one slave master gave his plantation manager in 1775 reveal the barbarity to which women were subjected. For a live birth, the slave master ordered that the midwife be given 15 livres and the woman who delivered the baby, cloth. If the child died at birth both women were to be whipped and the one who lost the child placed in iron collars until she became pregnant again.
Incredible behaviour of the colonists! Incredible suffering of the slaves! Incredible as it may seem to the modern observers, these tortures appear not to have been isolated cases but rather, as is well witnessed, part and parcel of daily plantation life.
In the face of this trauma endured by the slaves how did they react? From a social psychological perspective, how could we describe their behaviour?
African descendants did not lose the collective self of ubuntu. They fought to protect life. Freedom was equated to life. Hence, the rallying call of the Haitian revolution: Freedom or death! As a result, Haiti, the daughter of Africa, became the Cradle of Liberty in 1804 when it emerged as the world’s first black independent republic.
Haiti drew from ubuntu and rich African traditions and knowledge systems to protect life, even in the physical disposition of their homes. The Haitian “lakou” mirrors the traditional Zulu kraal: we find almost the same geographic disposition of the houses linking different branches of the same family: father, mother, brothers, sisters, grandfathers, gogos, cousins. Food is shared among all. “Vwazinay se fanmiy.” Abamakelwane bami bafana nabazali bami.
The behaviour of African descendents reflects ubuntu or life through a culture of joy, happiness and goodness: the victims offer compassion, reconciliation to former masters, smile with a sincere heart and always cultivate a deep sense of warm hospitality. Generally the best is offered to national and international guests by the peasants – not because they are naïve, but simply because they are true descendants of Africa.
Here in South Africa, we are experiencing this same spirit of ubuntu. As researchers, we discovered it abroad, now, at the source. Throughout the African diaspora, no country can be as African as Haiti.
The behaviour of African descendents reflects ubuntu or life through a profound sense of respect – hlonipa – for people, whether alive or who have passed on to death. By that I mean the Ancestors. In Haiti when you knock on the door to someone’s house you say: Honour! And from inside the house, a voice will reply: Respect!
Both sides express this same hlonipa as a symphony. In the same way descendants of Africa and Africans hate to abandon their parents in old age homes. Some consider these homes as a “garage for old people.” They prefer to live together, even after death. In the countryside, it is customary for loved ones to be buried close to the house.
From the drops of coffee sprinkled to the ground and food offered to the spirits of the ancestors to Ukubuyisa, we find a clear demonstration of this communion, both in Haiti and in Africa. How can a dead person continue to protect or punish someone who is alive? The issue is complex. It is not a question which lends itself to a “true or false” answer. The response lies within the person who believes and how this belief can affect that person’s life. Ubuntu’s psychodynamic cannot deny the world of the amadlozi or amathongo.
According to Diop, “While the most distant ancestors are detached in some manner almost like a vapor to reach the heavens, the nearest ones, those who have just died and whose memory is not yet vague enough for them to be the forebears of an entire people, these closest ancestors are only family demi-gods.”
Ancestors, many generations back, still play an active role in the life of their descendants and are honoured at festivities, as it is believed that no good can be derived from an ancestor who has been forgotten.
An understanding of ubuntu’s amadlozi and any belief system require research; scientific research that must be objective. Scientific contributions from the West should not be accepted as dogma. But clearly, concepts of Western psychology can be applied to achieve a greater understanding of religious rituals, Ukubuyisa, meditative states, trances, group behaviours, etc… .
Psychologist Roland Fisher developed a cartography that explains the ecstatic-Self through the ERGOTROPIC –TROPHOTROPIC balance. In other words Fisher: “suggests that ecstatic and meditative states can be placed on a circular continuum representing varying states of subcortical arousal. Movement in one direction on the continuum reflects ERGOTROPIC AROUSAL, which is marked by increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system (which mobilizes the body during stress), greater frequency of saccadic or rapid scanning movements of the eyes, and diffuse cortical excitation.
" The other direction indicates TROPHOTROPIC AROUSAL, which is hypoarousal or reduced stimulation, and consists of increased parasympathetic discharges, decreased saccadic frequency, reduced cortical activity, and muscular relaxation. Increased ergotropic arousal is characteristic of creative, psychotic, and ecstatic state, whereas trophotropic arousal occurs in conjunction with various forms of meditation, including zazen and yoga."
It is obvious that such a cartography goes beyond ethnic groups or religions. “The schizophrenic is not necessarily a candidate for mystical ecstasy attaining the ecstatic Self – nor is the mystic necessarily a schizophrenic although both may be subject to hallucinations,” Roland Fisher noted.
Were the colonists subject to hallucinations when they declared the Negro “half-animal,” a piece of merchandise? No. It was clearly a cynical attempt to justify what cannot be justified: slavery.
Healthy-minded people, inspired by ubuntu, promote life and peace to the community: Haiti’s founding forefather Toussaint Louverture demonstrated this in the Constitution of 1801 in which he proclaimed life, freedom and peace for every human being. President Mbeki’s sacrifices to bring life and peace to Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and the entire continent through the implementation of the African Union’s vision, is another example.
Four weeks ago in the town of Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, how beautiful it was to discover men and women committed to protecting their community as peacekeepers! Inspired by ubuntu they moved from being peacemakers to peace keepers. Isn’t that great? Yes, it is! This behaviour at a local level reflects what we need in promoting African Renaissance. Despite the psychological consequences of the first African tsunami, despite the traumas suffered by victims of colonisation and the continuing suffering caused by neocolonialism, the spirit of ubuntu is still alive! Sisaphila! Siphile saga! Sisawadla amabele!
Ubuntu is at the root of African civilisation and offers a way towards a civilisation of peace.
As we well know, the earliest humans, the very first Homo sapiens, were “Negroids.” But the racist superego, unwilling to admit the possibility that there could be even a drop of negroid blood in his genealogy, never accepted Egyptians as both black and at the origin of civilisation.
We fully agree with Diop who wrote that: “Egyptians themselves – who should surely be better qualified than anyone to speak of their origin – recognize without ambiguity that their ancestors came from Nubia and the heart of Africa.”
In his remarkable book Black Athena, Prof Martin Bernal notes that with the intensification of racism in the 19th century, Egyptians were no longer seen as the cultural ancestors of Greece neither the father of philosophy.
Nevertheless, we know that embracing the spirit of ubuntu leads absolutely to the roots of an African civilisation that excludes any solipsistic attitude. As archetype of psychic harmony, balance and wholeness, the collective self of ubuntu opens ways towards a civilisation of peace, love and respect for every human being. There is neither a superiority or an inferiority complex.
“We are well aware of the various White invasions of Egypt during the historical period: Hyksos (Scythians), Libyans, Assyrians, Persians. None of these brought any new development in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, medicine, philosophy, the arts, or political organization.” All the elements of Egyptian civilisation existed well before these invasions. We must spread this historical truth. Ubuntu requires both: truth about our collective history, and truth about the collective Self.
In addition to the seven functions of the Self, Allport articulated four traits or dispositions, by which he meant: “a generalized neuropsychic structure with the capacity to render many stimuli functionally equivalent, to initiate and guide consistent forms of adaptive and stylistic behavior.” Allport’s four traits are characterised as: common, central, secondary and cardinal.
Based on our observations, we can certainly classify ubuntu as a common trait of the African culture.
So whenever someone says: Homo homini lupus, we reply: Homo homini ubuntu.
While Descartes said: Cogito ergo sum. (I think, therefore I am), today we say: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.
That is why, in conclusion, you will allow me to pay a special tribute to Okhoko bami:
Okhoko bami bazalelwa lapha eAfrika..Mina, angizalelwanga lapha,Kodwa nginegazi laseAfrika emzimbeni wami.I-Afrika iyizwekazi elingumama wethu.Yebo! Okhoko bami bazalelwa lapha eAfrika.
Bathengwa njengezigqila batunyelwaEAmerika, naseHaiti...Lokhu kwaqala ngo-1451.Kwathenga phakathi kwezigidi eziyishumi nambili neziyishumi nanhlanu zezigqila.
Okhoko bami bayizigqila zaseAfrika.Ngiyaziqhenya ngaboNgoba balwela inkululeko.
Ngasikhathi sonke babeye bathi:INKULULEKO NOMA UKUFA.Ngasikhathi sonke babeye bale ukuba yizigqila.
Ngo-1804 i-Haiti yakululeka.I-Haiti yaba izwe lokuqala Labamnyama elizimele emhlabeni.Ababili kwabathathu ababeyizigqilaAbakhulula i-Haiti,Babezalelwe lapha eAfrika.
Lalela! Lalela! Kusemqoka lokho!Ngenxa yegazi labaseAfrika nabaseHaiti,Namanye amazwe athola inkululeko;Njenge United States, Venezuela, Colombia, Equador….
Sinomoya wobaba bethu baseAfrika Ezingqondweni zethu.Lomoya awuzange ufe Ngoba umgumoya wUbuntu,wEnkululeko nowothando lwenkululeko.
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08/02/2005 time 00:31. page last updated

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