I read one of those feel good stories on Facebook recently. It is a story, purportedly of the Ubuntu or possibly the Himba people of Africa. I’ve since found the story in a few other places, including this one. It goes a little bit like this:
When a woman of the Himba African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes to the jungle with other women, and together they pray and meditate until they find The Song of the Child. When a child is born, the community gets together and they sing the child’s song. When the child begins it’s education, people get together and the child sings their own song. When they become an adult, the community gets together again to sing it. When it comes to your wedding, you hear your song. Finally, when their soul is going from this world, family and friends are approaching and, like at their birth, sing their song to accompany it in the journey.
In the Himba tribe, there is another occasion when people sing the song. If at some point the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, they take the offender to the center of town and the people of the community form a circle around them. Then they sing you your song. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment, but is the love and memory of your true identity. When we recognize our own song, we have no desire or need to hurt anyone.
Your friends know your song. And sing when you forget it. Those who love you can not be fooled by mistakes you have committed, or dark images you show to others. They remember your beauty as you feel ugly, your total when you’re broke, your innocence when you feel guilty and your purpose when you’re confused.
attributed to: Tolba Phanem, African poet
I don’t wish to get into an argument about the veracity of this legend. I have been unable to figure out for certain from a brief troll around the ‘net whether or not it is a correct interpretation of a cultural behaviour, a correct representation of a real tradition. However, the feeling, the intent, of the tale is one that I really like. It says: before you arrive in the land of the living, on this earthly round, in this earthly body – your family, while they wait for you, meditate and pray to connect with the deepest soul of the person you will be.
This legend, or myth as you might prefer to think of it, says that at certain special, probably pivotal times in your life – your tribe, your family, your community, will sing to you – to remind you of who you are, at the core of yourself. This tale also tells us that when we behave in a socially aberrant way, it is because we have lost sight of who we truly are and that the best way to assist us to be rerouted onto our true course, which will naturally be a good one – will be to remind us strongly of who we are.
It’s such a beautiful concept. For me, one of the most special parts of the description is that last paragraph:
Your friends know your song. And sing when you forget it. Those who love you can not be fooled by mistakes you have committed, or dark images you show to others. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly, your total when you’re broken, your innocence when you feel guilty and your purpose when you’re confused.
I was fortunate enough to be touched by a small dose of an experience like that just recently. I’ve been feeling quite despondent about my work. I won’t go on about it any more than that because I get to sounding like a broken record about my dislike of my commute and blah-de-blah so often that I get tired of typing the words! Anyhow, I was having a little whine about precisely my commute, recently on Facebook and shortly afterwards I received a message from one of my fellow students from the last year or so of my university studies.
The message my friend was sending to me was: Allirah, you stood out to me during our studies as someone with a good and sharp mind and some really great potential. Why are you engaging in work that doesn’t truly excite you and why are you not using your mind to your fullest capacity? Go contact a University near you and re-visit your options for both work and postgraduate studies!
This fellow student friend, who I have been wise and fortunate enough to keep in touch with, was reminding me of who I really am. He was singing some of my song back to me. I was truly touched. I felt so incredibly grateful. His message made me stop in my tracks and think: what the hell am I doing here, really? What is my path and why am I treading it? What gods am I serving? What good do I bring to this world, and where is my joy? These are thoughts that are gathering force and which ring ever louder in the centre of me. To get to where I need to go – I’m going to need to have my song sung back to me some more.
I’ve talked before in a post where I referred to Spaces of Peace, about going to the well. About going to those places from which we can drink of the essence of the life which we were born to live. I’ve talked about going within, to search for ourselves. Yes – that too – I need to do that too. However, I do think there is something to be said for that old adage: sometimes our friends know us better than we know ourselves.
That thought has been leading me to ponder a little this African concept of Ubuntu. Another friend of mine recently wrote a post about the concept, from a retelling of another tale that kicks around the ‘net on a fairly regular basis. You could find it in many places, one of those being in Peter Hanley’s True North blog. It’s a concept that gets some airplay, on a lot of levels. I found some great mentions of it on an African Safari website as well:
One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. when you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
What a true and truly brilliant concept. So by a similar token, perhaps we should consider that if we fail, we fail not only ourselves, and not only our immediate families – we fail the world. We owe the world, our country, our community, our family, our partners and ourselves, to be the absolute best that we can be. Because we are human, we should strive for brilliance. Not anybody else’s version of brilliance, just our own. We should own ourselves, but owe our community, and just as we owe our community, to a degree it owes us. Especially, it owes us reminders of who we are and just how we can shine. It’s up to us to tread our paths, but it’s up to our friends and family to cheer us along, and to whisper our own names in our ears when we are on the verge of forgetting them. When we wander, if we are lost, we rely on our community, our safety nets of friends and loved ones to call us back to ourselves, and into the fold of being truly human. To be truly human is to be as compassionate and loving and kind and as giving and forgiving as it is in us to be.
Friends, if I stray – sing my song back to me!