Tag Archives: Xhosa


In the Xhosa Culture, "I am because we are "

You might already be familiar with this well circulated image and story but I have to share it again because it’s still on my mind after only seeing it for the first time the other day. Not only is it a true and beautiful story, it also makes us really think about things. The story goes…

An anthropologist suggested the following game to a group of children in a tribe in Africa: He placed a basket full of fresh fruits under a tree. He then said that whoever reached the basket first in a race would be the winner of all the fruits. As he gave the signal to begin the race, the whole group held hands, ran bonded together and then sat and enjoyed the prize together. When he asked why they had done such thing, when he had offered the possibility to one to be the ultimate winner. They replied: ” UBUNTU”– how could one of us be happy (feel happiness) while the rest are in despair, unhappy?

UBUNTU in the Xhosa culture means: “I am, because we are.”

Amazing hey? Such a stark contrast to our current culture anyway. Sometimes I get to the end of the day and realise I have just spent 99% of my day thinking about things related to myself and to be honest, it isn’t even as fulfilling or productive result as it should be, given the amount of time devoted to it. Instead, it often just serves to give more impetus and reason to commit time to what I want or need to be/have/do, to the point that it’s a seemingly inescapable self-perpetuating cycle. Many of you may feel this yourselves, coupled with the constant pressure applied by society to achieve accordingly as an individual.

All this is definitely not about delving into the intricacies of the capitalism versus communism debate, collectivism versus individualism theories or  developing versus developed nation paradigms. And it is extremely important that we don’t kid ourselves and look over the fact that most of us reading DO live in a dog eat dog kind of world which encourages individual achievement, so there’s no point deluding ourselves of this reality.

This is also not a case of condoning tall poppy syndrome where we can’t celebrate those who excel in their field. Conversely, I firmly believe that we all have God-given callings and responsibilities to fulfil in our time on earth and some of those calling will often require people being leaders who stand tall in their area of expertise or gifting.

However, there is definitely a lesson that the Xhosa people can teach us – we are who we are because of those around us. I know this also from our very good friend from Papua New Guinea who often tells us this is exactly how it is where he came from – no one goes without because there are always friends and family around to share and support the  ones in need. And of course, we don’t have to look far from the news reports of celebrities to find evidence that even those who have every reward on earth they can acquire, don’t find it sufficient to stop them from taking their own lives.

May we extend our thinking and actions beyond our own worlds on a more regular basis and know that:

1. We aren’t an island unto ourselves, or a self-made man/woman – others have and will continue to help us get where we’re going; and

2. Any reward gained is much sweeter shared than gorged alone.


Better a bread crust shared in love, than a slab of prime rib served in hate: Proverbs 15:17 (MSG)

A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgement. Proverbs 18:1 (NJKV)

*Acknowledgements: Original image is the property of Susan Fassberg.

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