The Principle of Umoja (UNITY)
“To strive for and maintain unity in family, community, nation and race”
THE ESSENTIAL FOUNDATION
Umoja is the first and foundational principle of the Nguzo Saba, for without it, all the other principles suffer. Unity is both principle and practice of togetherness in all things good and of mutual benefit. It is a principled and harmoniness togetherness, not simply being together. This is why value-rootness is so important, even indispensable. Unity as principled and harmoniness togetherness is a cardinal virtue of both classical and general African societies. Study the concept of Maat and Cieng among the Dinka.
Unity principle and practice begins in the family but presupposes value-orientation of each member. Adults and children must respect and approach unity as a moral principle of family and community not simple a political slogan. As principle and practice, this means principled and harmonious living with brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers–sharing and acting in unison. It means avoidance of conflict and quick, willing and principled resolution when it occurs. It means a yielding and gentleness of exchange. The family must reject harshness and practice gentleness, stress cooperation and avoid conflict, and be very attentive to things that would divide or create differences negative to togetherness.
The family must be, as in African culture, the focal point of unity not simply of siblings and of genders, but also of generations. One of the most important expressions of family unity is the respect and collective concern and care for the elders. Respect for elders is a cardinal article of the code of behavior of African society. One who does not respect his/her elders is seen as immoral and uncultured. Elders are respected, like the ancestors they will become, for their long life of service to the community, for their achievement, for providing an ethical model and for the richness of their experience and wisdom this has produced.
The active participation and involvement of elders in the daily life of family not only benefits them but the younger people. For it teaches them to understand and appreciate the process of growing old, gives them access to seasoned knowledge and experience and helps prevent the so-called generation gap so evident in Western society. Key to this linking of young and old is the concept of lineage which links all the living, the departed and yet unborn. This is translated in practice into extended family and the protocol, ritual, reciprocity (What is reciprocity) and remembrance this involves and requires. Early in life continental African children are taught to memorize and recite their family tree as far back as any ancestor is known. This keeps historical memory alive and reaffirms respect for those living and departed who contributed to their coming into being and cultural molding.
Now, if one starts with the family when discussing unity, the community (local and national) becomes of necessity the next level of the concern and practice of unity. The family, as it is written, is the smallest example of how the nation (or national community) works. For the relations, values,and practice one has in the family are reflection and evidence of what one will find in the community. Unity begins in the family but it extends to organizational affiliation and then unity of organizations, i.e., African American unity fronts. Mali El Shabazz (Malcom X) taught that community unity depended on everyone’s belonging to an organization, then all organizations uniting on the basis of common interests and aspirations. He posed community unity, in its two-level forms, as morally compelling. It was for him irresponsible and self-destructive not to unite around common interests and instead of glory in differences. What African Americans needed to do, he taught, is to forget their superficial organizational differences and even differences of religion and unite around their common interests, especially of liberation.
The ultimate level of unity for African people is Pan-African unity or unity of the world African community. This is also called unity of the race. Thus, Marcus Garvey says, “Up you mighty race; you can accomplish what you will,” he is talking to the world African community. The form of unity this takes is Pan-Africanisms, i.e., the struggle to unite all Africans everywhere around common interests and make African cultural, economic and political presence on the world stage both powerful and permanent. Pan-Africanism requires and urges that we see ourselves and act in history as an African people, belonging to a world community of African peoples. In this way, we self-consciously share in both the glory and burden of our history. And in that knowledge and context act to honor, preserve and expand that history in the struggle for liberation and even higher levels of human life.
Paul hill, jr
The Principle of Umoja (UNITY)