Life Lessons – Ubuntu

By Louise Irvine

Life Lessons are being explored during Museum Week (June 13-19) and at WMODA we are advocating the South African spirit of Ubuntu. When I first met Fée Halsted and visited the Ardmore Studio in Kwazulu-Natal, I began to realize the importance of this philosophy of communal existence in practice. Ardmore’s community of artists interprets Ubuntu as “We are because of others”, and the powerful words are the subtitle of the book about their story.

Ubuntu is a Nguni term meaning humanity which the Zulus translate as “I am because we are.” The Xhosa peoples interpret Ubuntu in a more philosophical sense believing in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. In a word, Ubuntu means interdependence according to Professor James Ogude from the University of Pretoria. His inspirational video for the BBC helps us to understand these traditional African moral values. He believes that the answers to the future always reside in the past and that the spirit of Ubuntu is very relevant today. 

Developing a consciousness and social awareness of others is fundamental to Ubuntu. We need to recognize how much we rely on other human beings. Cultivating individuality allows us to express our independence and our unique personal characters in contrast to individualism which is self-referential and about overinflated egos. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to others especially the more vulnerable in society. Mother Theresa claimed that compassion is useless without action - if you care go out and share. 

As humans, we do not live in isolation and we have a responsibility to the world around us to sustain a balanced biodiversity. Professor Ogude cites the statistic that 30% of the world’s food crops need cross-pollination from bees so if we kill these important insects we are ultimately destroying ourselves. Humans and animals are implicated in each other’s lives and the totality of the environment. 

An old African proverb also teaches us an important life lesson. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”


Museum Week 2022

Watch Professor Ogude

Read about the importance of bees

Read more about Ardmore and the Safari for the Soul exhibit

It Takes a Village