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Know Thy Mothers: Know Thyself

By Dr. Gloria J. Latimore-Peace

Presented by Omni-University

"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 assigned only 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 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"- now known as the aunts and uncles on the mothers' side- are also recognized and related to as mothers (nurturers). In fact, this principle applies to every generation: Grandmothers, Great-Grandmothers, Great-Great Grandmothers, 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 "Babakazi.*" 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 the children of their brothers. 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.

The concept of a "half brother or sister-," "an outside," an only, or an orphaned child is an anomaly to the African mind. In the original African family organization, the functions of Mothers and Fathers were all- encompassing. The omnipresence of parents in the African family rendered it 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 Babakazi and transported, like cargo, to a "new world" in which they were forced to live as "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 human birth into families. The African concept of family is thus based on a human family model.

The "nuclear family," i.e., a kinship group composed of two parents and their children who occupy a single-family residence or household, is not an African idea of family. Nor does the sociological term, "extended family," that is often used to label the non-European family apply. The latter is an oxymoron- a compound word composed of mutually exclusive terms- that results from viewing "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.

"Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" Performed by Ancestor Paul Robeson.

You are cordially invited to watch, "MotherWit: Minding and Mending Family Ties," an episode of The H3O Art of Life Show, Featuring, Dr.Gloria Latimore-Peace. We would appreciate your sharing our H3O Art of Life Blog by all means that are available to you. Your comments are welcomed. Thank you for your support.


1. William Makepeace Thackeray in "Vanity Fair."

2. Editors, "Encyclopedia Britannica."

Recommended Reading:

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

Barashango, Ishakamusa.

Afrikan People and European Holidays, Vol.1: A Mental Genocide

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1 Comment

Olasupo Laosebikan
Olasupo Laosebikan
May 07

You teach this lesson well, Mama. Short, incisive, not one unnecessary word...thank you, Ma


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