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The H3O/Art of Life Blog

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Know Thy Mothers: Know Thyself

By Dr. Gloria J. Latimore-Peace

Presented by Omni-University

"It takes a village to raise a child." African Proverb

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, here 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  assigned only  to females who give birth, African kinship groups do not limit the concept of motherhood to biology, sex, marital status, or time. This is undoubtedly because of their understanding that the nurturing of children is the primary purpose and function of mothers . 

There is an African Proverb that asserts: "Children are the reward of Life." Hence, the nurturing of children is a priority among African kinship groups. It follows, then, that "giving birth" is one- but not the only means- by which one becomes a "nurturer," i.e.,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 called  "aunts" and uncles" in this society- were also recognized and related to- as mothers, i.e., nurturers. In fact, this principle applies to every generation. These so- called aunts and uncles, Grand "aunts/uncles," Great-Grand "aunts/uncles," Great-Great Grand "aunts/uncles," etc., are really Grand-, Great Grand-, and Great Great Grand AUNT /MOTHERS and UNCLE/ MOTHERS as well as UNCLE/ FATHERS and AUNT/FATHERS in actuality!

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," i.e., male mother, serves as a mother/nurturer of the children of their sisters. At the same time, they are fathers/Baba(s) of their own 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.

In the original African family organization, the functions of Mothers and Fathers were all-encompassing. The concepts of "half-" or "step-" brothers or sisters, or "outside" children, or "only" or "orphaned" children, or "childless couples" are anomalies to the African mind. In fact, since in the African tradition, families marry families-rather than individuals  marrying individuals- there was no such thing as a "couple," per se. Rather than losing a daughter,  the bride's family not only gains a son but also the groom's entire kinship group. Of course, the same applies to the groom's family, who gains a daughter and her kinship group, as well.

It was because of the uniting of families that it was impossible to be, or to have, a "motherless child." Imagine- if you can- the trauma experienced by the African children who were stolen from their Mamas and Malumes, their Babas and Babekazis; who were transported-as "cargo"- to a "new world" in which they were forced to live like "motherless child[ren], a long way from home." African  descended people throughout the diaspora are still suffering the effects of  those inhuman practices-from what Ancestor, Dr. Patricia A. Newton termed, Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder /PTSD.

Linnaeus, the "Father of Animal Classification" categorized humans as part of the Mammal, i.e., animal class. However, according  to Ancestor Dr. Llaila O. Africa [1], Africans place themselves  in a separate-Human- class which Linnaeus's System of Animal Classification does not include. It is important to note that animals do not have families,per se. They have herds and flocks and prides and packs, and kids, etc. However, African people do not regard  themselves as a part of the animal kingdom as defined by Linnaeus[1]. The African family is a kinship group that is comprised of people who are descendants of a common HUMAN Ancestor. We  recognize that it is a blessing to have been given this precious birth into the Human family. Therefore, the African concept of family is grounded in the Human family model

There is a significant difference between the African "Human" family organization and the Euro-American "nuclear" family. The latter model is limited to a kinship group  that is composed -ideally-of two parents and their biological or adopted children  who occupy a single-family  household. The sociological appellation, "extended family" is used when other members of the family live "under the same roof." This term is often   erroneously applied to the African family . However, in the African way of looking at the world, that term is an oxymoron- a compound word composed of mutually exclusive terms. Its use is the consequence of viewing the family from an 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 limited to, a book title or a slogan to which only lip-service is given. 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, etc.... - 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 Family and best Human family model ever created on Planet Earth.


[1] Ancestor Dr.Llaila O. Africa. African Holistic  Health.

*There are a number of words for both female and male mothers in the languages spoken by the Zulu kinship group.

Recommended Viewing

Recommended Listening 

Recommended Reading:

Dr. Boyce Watkins: It Takes a Village to Raise the Bar: A New  Paradigm for  Black America

Ancestor Cheikh Anta Diop, The Cultural Unity of Black Africa"

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