One of the first lessons we learn in life is the importance of family. In a conversation with one of our amazing guest bloggers, he pointed out to me that the concept of a nuclear family is a western idea. When I thought about it I realized he was right. The geographical, economic and social layout of Africa is historically communal and family-based at its core. From the outside it might be hard to see how something so large can constitute family, but from the inside, everyone has a pivotal role and stays true to it. This concept largely still exists in different ways in black communities throughout the world.
A family is like a forest, when you are outside it is dense, when you are inside you see that each tree has its place. ~ African Proverb
I’m on month three in South Africa and recently took a trip to visit Livingstone, Zambia. Between food that might rival your momma’s, beautiful people and the truly breathtaking nature, I was all in. We whitewater rafted, did a booze cruise, walked alongside of Victoria Falls, got caught in its mighty spray, bike-toured the community and did Chobe Safari in Botswana. Each activity was one for the books, but the common factor as to why they were great, was the people. Not just the people who got paid to ensure we had a good time, but the people we met and conversed with. This has been the case since I arrived on this side of the globe.
Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you. ~ African proverb
While whitewater rafting in the 100-meter-deep waters of the Zambezee River, our rafting guide, Boyd, had jokes for days about making sure that we capsize in the water with the crocodiles and have a good time….well, I thought they were jokes. I made it clear to him that I was NOT aquatically prepared for the intensity of this river. Boyd, sat me by him and repeated countless times, “I’ve got you my sistah, no worries.” We capsized twice and he did in fact hold a sister down (aka rescued me from being stuck underneath the boat when we did capsize!). After that we freshened up and transitioned to the sunset cruise where the captain of the cruise cracked on me almost drowning. When I told him he reminded me of my uncle, his response, “Well then go ahead and call me uncle.”
Home is not where we live, home is where we belong. -African Proverb
Over the past 3 months I’ve gotten “adopted” into families by enough people that it got me thinking. Whether I’m in South Africa, Zambia or where my roots are in Ghana, genuine kindness is not just reserved for the nuclear, because everyone is family. “It takes a village to raise a child” is a famous African proverb because of how relevant it is whether you’re in Botswana or Boston. The village is family. In Zambia, all elders are referred as ‘parents’ for that reason. Having also had a recent trip to India, where my status as a foreigner was undeniable, it heightened my awareness of the sense of community that I experience on this continent. When I am here, I am greeted as sister, sis or “sisi” by friends and strangers and a sense of warmth comes with that.
This feeling exists within black communities in America as well. We are reaching right back home when we identify as “brothers” and “sisters,” when we refer to the homies as fam, when we walked into those Black Student Union meetings and felt at home, when we spent weekends at our play cousins’ house, summers with grandmothers playing the role of mom, when it wasn’t till later in life that we realized that all of our aunts and uncles weren’t biologically related, when those same aunts and uncles stepped in to make sure we had a ride to school and a place to while our folks were working late.
It’s refreshing to reflect on the fact that the core African value of family has endured the traumas of the Atlantic. To know that whether you are in Namibia or New York, you are someone’s sister or brother and therefore someone is looking out for you. To know that if you end up in a river with crocodiles, you have a brother coming in to save you and an uncle waiting to laugh at you about it (and tell you all the water went to your fivehead.) My nuclear family is my rock and forever comes first, but I won’t let that disqualify the importance of everyone else God has put on this path for us to look out for. While many black communities in America already operate this way, the truth is we could all use the reminder from time to time. Africa is home of the idea, “I am because you are” and every now and then I have to remind myself to “go back and get it.”
Ubuntu & Sankofa: Community; go back and get it.
By: Naa-Shorme, Creator of Write to Live