Know Thy Mothers: Know Thyself
Updated: May 12
By Dr. Gloria J. Latimore-Peace
Presented by Omni-University
"Mother is the name for God on the lips and in the hearts of little children." 1
Exodus 20:12 (KJV) "Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."
In the foregoing scripture, we are admonished to "honor our mothers and our fathers that our days may be long…" Yet, in America, only 2 out of 365/366 days- one for Mothers and one for Fathers- are set aside to "honor" them. And were it not for Ann Jarvis, who is said to have originated it on May 12,1907 and President Woodrow Wilson, who made it a national holiday in 1914, there may never have been a MOTHER'S DAY Celebration here.
In contrast to the Western practice, wherein the acknowledgment of "mothers" is restricted to a single day and "motherhood" is only assigned to females who give birth, African kinship groups do not limit the concept of motherhood to time, biology, gender or marital status. This is undoubtedly because of their understanding that the primary purpose and function of mothers is to nurture the children.
There is an African Proverb that declares: "Children are the reward of Life". Hence, the nurturing of children is highly valued. It follows, therefore, that "giving birth" is not the only means by which one becomes a mother and it is, therefore, not the final determinant of "motherhood". According to ancient African traditions, both the female and male siblings of the "birth mother"- who are now regarded as the aunts and uncles - are also recognized and related to as mothers ( (nurturers). In fact, this principle applies to every generation: Grand Aunts/Uncles, Great-Grand Aunts/Uncles, Great-Great GrandAunts/Uncles,etc., ad infinitum.
According to Ancestor Dr. Elkin T. Sithole, a member of the Zulu kinship group of South Africa, there are not only female mothers but there are also female fathers, who are called Babekazi*". In addition, there are male mothers, who are referred to as "Malume*". Each "Malume" serves as a mother to the children of their sisters. At the same time, they are fathers/Baba(s) to their biological children. Simultaneously, Babas are also regarded as fathers of their brother's children. The same principle applies to the members of their age-grades (those with whom they were initiated) in their relationships with each other's children. They are regarded--and treated the same- as the brothers and sisters who are joined by ties of blood. These "social brothers and sisters" are also seen as mothers and fathers of the children of their peers. In other words, all of the children belong to all of the adults in the family/community and all of the adults have a duty to care for all of the children in the family/community.
The concepts of "half- brothers or step-sisters, an "outside" bothers or sisters, "only" or orphaned children are anomalies to the African mind. In the original African family organization, the functions of Mothers and Fathers were all- encompassing. It was because of the omnipresence of parents in the African family that it was impossible to be, or to have, a "motherless child". Imagine- if you can- the trauma experienced by African children who were stolen from their Mamas and Malumes, Babas and Babekazi and transported, like cargo, to a "new world" in which they were forced to live like "a motherless child a long way from home". African people, throughout the diaspora are still suffering from what Ancestor, Dr. Patricia A. Newton termed, Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder /PTSD.
The African family is a kinship group, comprised of people who are the descendants of a common human Ancestor. It is important to note that animals do not have families. They have herds and flocks and packs, etc. We are blessed to have been given this precious birth into human families. The African concept of family is thus based on a human family model.
The "nuclear family",which is limited to a kinship group composed of two parents and their children who occupy a single-family residence or household, is a European idea of family. So, also, is the sociological appellation- "extended family "- that is often mis-used to label non-European families . In the African way of looking at the world, the term "extended family" is an oxymoron- a compound word composed of mutually exclusive terms. It is the consequence of viewing the family from a European frame of reference. The African family cannot be "extended" because there is no one outside of it to be added. Everyone in the kinship group is already included in the family, i.e. the entire kinship group is the Family.
The African proverb that "It takes a village to raise a child" was not, nor could it ever have been intended to be, a book title or an unsubstantiated slogan. It is an ages-old value inherent in the African worldview, one which was inextricably woven into the fabric of the African way of life. Therefore, it is the sacred duty of all of the children, young and old, to honor all of our Mothers, including the sisters and brothers of our biological and "social" mothers: Godmothers,"surrogate" mothers,"adopted "mothers, "play" mothers... the Living, the Dead, and the Yet-Unborn. Let us reclaim our African heritage so that we can rebuild and, thus, reunite the African Family: the first and best human family model ever created on Planet Earth.
*There are a number of words for both female and male mothers in the languages spoken by the Zulu kinship group.
1. William Makepeace Thackeray in "Vanity Fair"
2. Editors, " Encyclopedia Britannica"
Ancestor Cheikh Anta Diop, "The Cultural Unity of Black Africa"