September 9, 2011

Culture Shot: Botho


As you may have figured out by now, I’m a people person. Wherever we go, I am always fascinated by the men, women and children we meet. I like getting to know a thing or two (or 200) about them and their local customs.

So, I’m going to share here some of the things that I learn and observe. Think of these “culture shots” as quick snap shots about the people we meet and their way of life.

In Botswana, there’s a principle called botho. If you look up the word “botho” on the internet, you are going to find several different definitions. But the way I understand it, as explained by one of our African guides, is that botho is a set of agreed upon qualities that make a person good. Among those important qualities are being kind and compassionate, respecting your elders, having good manners, being humble, and living up to your responsibilities.

In African culture, community is a big deal. Unlike the American ideal of being independent, African culture stresses interdependence. So botho helps members of the community have respect for one another, anticipate the needs of each other, and see the importance of taking care of the whole group.

In South Africa, botho is referred to as “ubuntu.” Here’s a great clip of Nelson Mandela explaining ubuntu.

What a beautiful concept.