Meetings will address being a better human and healing the world
When Nontombi Naomi Tutu, daughter of South African human rights champion Archbishop Desmond Tutu, wanted to encourage her young children to respect other people she would tell them to be “Ubuntu.”
Now that Tutu’s two daughters, Tebogo, 30, and Mungi Ngomane, 21, and son Mpilo Ngomane, 16, are grown, she still tells them to be “Ubuntu.”
“Ubuntu means humanness, it means humanity — it means to be a person in the basic sense, but it also means to have a wonderful sense of humanity and your connectedness with the rest of humanity,” Tutu explained in a phone interview from her home in Nashville, Tenn.
“Ubuntu” (pronounced “ooboontoo”), Tutu said, and is a word in “my mother tongue,” the Xhosa (pronounced “Kasha”) language, one of 11 official South Africa languages.
“When I was growing up I would hear my grandparents and parents and other adults complimenting somebody — ‘this person has ubuntu,’ ” she said. “In our culture it is the highest form of praise.
“It means a human being who, when they look at other people, they see a human being — somebody of worth, somebody of dignity, somebody made in God’s image,” Tutu said. “It is a cultural African idea but I always tell people I am intermingling and intermixing those two experiences that have really molded me — being an African and being a Christian — seeing a human being made in God’s image.”
“Ubuntu: Creating a Mosaic of Humanity” is the theme of two seminars Tutu will be presenting Sept. 27-28 at the Unitarian Church on Friday evening and at The Red Shoes on Saturday morning and afternoon. Both events are celebrating “Women: A Week-Long Celebration” and are hosted by the Women’s Council of Greater Baton Rouge.
Ubuntu doesn’t see stereotypes, Tutu explained.
“We see a homeless person and as soon as you put ‘homeless’ in front of ‘person,’ they are not a dignified human being — we have a picture now in our mind how we relate to them,” Tutu said. “Ubuntu doesn’t label. It sees the person as a human being without labels.”
Tutu said she challenges herself, her children and her audiences to go through each day without labeling people and just see their humanity.
“It sounds easy but it is challenging,” Tutu said. “I have a hard time doing that by the end of the day — see — there is a bad driver.”
Labeling of others has been taken to extremes, Tutu said.
“Extremes that have led us to places of genocide, that have led us to places of racism, led us to places of homophobia,” Tutu said. “Ubuntu is the thing that says to us — if you can start off simply respecting each other’s humanity — then those other ‘isms’ become almost impossible.”
Growing up as the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu was challenging, Tutu said, especially when it came to balancing her Christian faith against the repressive apartheid regime of South Africa that was abolished in the 1980s.
“Seeing the images of God and the saints and Jesus were images of white men, and the other white men that I had experiences with were policemen and government officials who were oppressing me,” Tutu said.
“It was hard to make a connection between a God who is supposed to love me and whose image I’m supposed to be made in — but the images I’ve seen of him — and only a white him — were part of my struggles growing up.”
She’s successfully blended her African culture with her Christianity, Tutu said, and that is how she tries to live each day.
“The sense of ubuntu and the sense that I am my brother’s keeper, the sense that I am made to love my neighbor as myself,” Tutu said, “that is what has guided my life into the path that I have chosen.”
Tutu has followed in her father’s footsteps and championed human-rights issues ever since she began speaking against racism in the 1970s while attending Berea College in Kentucky. She’s earned multiple university degrees in the U.S. and Europe, helped with reconciliation in her native land and serves on many human rights-related organizations.
Wendy Herschman, executive director of The Red Shoes, and Roberta Guillory, The Red Shoes’ founder, said in a statement that Tutu’s message of “caring, compassion, healing and personal empowerment touches all the values that are at the foundation of The Red Shoes.
“Women globally are being repressed, disrespected, underpaid and physically and emotionally abused,” Herschman and Guillory wrote. “Naomi tells amazing stories of healing from apartheid and finding her voice and power. Her message is important to all women and to all groups who have been marginalized.”
The Rev. Steve J. Crump, senior minister of the Unitarian Church, said they are partnering with The Red Shoes to host Tutu because both groups are working on consciousness raising issues such as racism and human rights.
“Naomi Tutu … brings to our region a perspective on healing, reconciliation and courage in the face of oppression through storytelling, poetry and meditation,” Crump wrote in an email. “Many of us have followed Bishop Desmond Tutu’s inspirational and courageous work and now are happily awaiting his daughter’s arrival here in what was once apartheid and Jim Crow America.”