The intellect of the child of the village is traditionally developed and grown through the activities, tasks, programmes, events, projects, and games that he or she is put through in the village. The concept emanates from the African belief that the children are born of the families but belong to the village. Their well-being is the joint responsibility of all the elders of the village. The mothers and fathers play different roles in collectively bringing up the children of the village. They are the eyes and ears of the village regarding the nurturing of the children. Having grown up in such an environment in the small rural village of Moripane in Sekhukhune District of Limpopo Province, South Africa, I can appreciate the warmth such an environment provides to the children as they are growing up. This practice happened naturally. You felt that deep love and genuine care even when you were reprimanded. If you were disciplined by an elder in the village because of your wrongdoing you would not rush home to report the incident. If you do that, they will punish you even further. They had the conviction that the elder would not wrongly reprimand you. You would go all out to hide the fact that you were caught misbehaving.
This type of upbringing entrenched certain beliefs, practices, and behaviours in my being so deep that I sometimes, unconsciously, expect other elders to espouse them. When I am not experiencing that from the elders, I am often disappointed that my expectation is not being met. But I often quickly recollect that such practices are no longer realistic in the world we live in today. Our culture has met other cultures and the integration of cultures produces a new culture. So, our way of being is not always the preferred way. That is ok if we do not forget our foundations and continue promoting our origin. It is for this reason that we must document the changes in our culture. The cultures are dynamic, and we must play an active part in contributing to their development. I acknowledge that it would be naïve of me not to accept that the way I was brought up under the child of the village principles would not be appropriate for the times we live in today. I brought this experience into the perspective to inform my self-mentorship and coaching philosophy. It is also to inform everybody interested in the topic about the importance of reflecting on their perspective before they partner with others in the mentorship and coaching journey. They should also encourage their clients to do the same. That is the starting point of every mentorship and coaching journey. Once that is done, you can engage the clients in the other two pillars of coaching and mentorship, namely, the process and purpose.
The way I show up is informed by my perspective. I am aware of the areas of development I need to address to be ready for a partnership with my clients through mentorship and coaching. I also take note of the strengths gained from my perspective and work from those strengths as a mentor and coach. That is the whole idea of reflecting on one’s perspective as we believe that every mentor and coach must work on themselves first. Otherwise, what do they bring into mentorship and coaching relationship if they are not aware of their own perspective? By the way, the perspective is not only about the mentor and coach’s culture. It is about everything they are, including their value system, the type of education they acquired, the professional associations that shaped them, the experiences from other parts of their lives, their religious beliefs, lifestyles, traditional practices, etc. Nevertheless, good mentors and coaches put the perspective of their clients ahead of theirs. It is the client whose agenda we work on within the mentoring and coaching partnership.
The perspective has an influence on our worldview. We must be conscious and aware of the changing times we live in. One must understand the different contexts, then and now, and appreciate how we have evolved to become relevant in today’s world. Our foundational upbringing remains our default, especially during the critical moments in our lives.
The generations before us did not necessarily put all these children of the village practices into an educational context. There was no link to any educational system as we have today. Hence, we have lost some of the beautiful concepts and practices from those past years. I am writing about these as a contribution to the bigger reflection that the Africans as a matter of urgency should have. By so doing, we are not in denial of the new cultures that have integrated with ours but appreciate that we have cultural gaps that must be filled. We are the carriers of the cultures, traditions, norms, values, and practices that we inherited from our forefathers and mothers. It is not too late to reflect by writing books about them. These do not need to be academic books but information sources for much deeper empirical research to be done.
We are grateful that the generations before us sustained these children of the village practices and principles. Today, we can link their importance to the cognitive and mental developments and growth of the children of the village in the modern era. Those activities, tasks, and games that informed our way of being as we grew up in the villages have certainly laid the foundation on which we could build our personal and professional development and growth. I have experienced them and am glad that I can put them in the correct perspective for myself. Our village was like the stage on which the game called life was being played. I do not suggest that we go back to where we were years ago. But if the villages of those years were to be equated to an institution, organisation, club, company or school, and those principles were practised you will realise that there are lessons to adopt and better ourselves in today’s complex and challenging world.
I am writing about the child of the village as a concept not as a physical place, although that is where it was originally practised. I am travelling back to the past, sharing my experiences of growing up as a child of the village, giving examples of how we were brought up, and acknowledging my way of being in the perspective coming from there. I own it and appreciate its relevance to my personal and professional life today. So, the child of the village is a concept that could be applied to any community, institution, organisation, club, and society in bringing up or developing their future leaders. We can develop management and leadership theories and principles from it. In doing so we need to appreciate that a certain cultural practice and value system are required to achieve maximum benefit from the concept.
The same philosophy, principles, concepts, practices, and activities of bringing up the children of the village could be used to fulfil the objectives of developing the cognitive abilities and mental strengths of the children of today. For example, today we have modern games that are either indoors or outdoors, mental, or physical in nature that contributes to the development of the motor skills and mental strengths of the children.
Growing up in the village we were exposed to the culture that regulated the interactions between the children and the adults, the children and young adults, girls and boys, and men and women. Whereas this regulated interaction is not acceptable anymore by today’s inclusion standards, it was deemed necessary in those days. It has been interesting for me growing up as the child of the village to observe the process of integration of the various groupings over time to the point where the separation was no longer the issue. Our participation in basic education (refer to Chapter 3: Basic Education! The Foundation!) contributed a lot to this integration process.
The concept of the village in those days could also be referring to the settings of the households according to their clans. In principle, we could be talking about villages and sub-villages in physical terms. Some of the villages, like the small rural village of Moripane where I was born and bred, were so small that when we talked about the village, we referred to the entire community. Because it was such a small village, the concept of the child of the village was felt and experienced in full by all of us. When there was an event like a wedding, the entire village’s children, parents, and everybody became involved. They would have a part to play in one way or another. So, it would be everybody’s wedding.
The child of the village in Sepedi language could be likened to the saying, “Ngwana wa Mobu”, which directly translated means the child of the soil. There was, and still, there is, a strong connection between the African people and the ground (and as a result the land). Hence the issue of land restitution is so emotive in South Africa. Land represents our whole being. When it was forcefully taken away from us, the black people, we were hit hard where it pains most. We have since not recovered from it. That is why we pray very hard that the land issue is resolved. Those who were wrongfully dispossessed of their land should be compensated and/or their land be returned to them. That would heal so many wounds and souls.
This concept of the child of the soil suggests that there is a deeper value attached to one’s origin and identity. Even if you were to relocate somewhere later in your life, your place of birth and upbringing is the only place where you will be referred to as the child of the soil by the villagers who know for sure that you belong to them. That is why in most cases the remains of the people who die in “foreign” places are always brought back to where they were born (“home”). Obviously, today, there are challenges to affordability and people compromise on this belief. It is also for this belief that South Africa continues in the process of discovering the remains of many of our liberation struggle heroes that were killed in exile. This effort is about bringing them home to where they are truly the sons and daughters of the soil for reburial.
The child of the village concept prioritises collectivism over individualism. As the children of the village, we belonged to the village and were looked after by everybody in the village. The elders do this as a matter of their duty, not expecting any compensation for it. As the children of the village, we belonged to the village. Our parents were collectively proud of us and celebrated every achievement by every one of us. We would experience this mindset whenever our village football club was playing matches against other villages. They would support us collectively and equally. I will touch on this in Chapter 7, Inspired By Village Football! The Pride of Sekhukhune! later in the book.
As the child of the village, your outlook and how you show up to the outside world mattered very much to the villagers. You are always the ambassador of your village. That is why as a boy child you are frequently reminded of a Sepedi saying, “Ngwana wa Moshemane molao o otsea banneng”, which means that a boy child learns from the men. I guess that would suggest that the daughters should also learn from the women. You often hear them saying that the women should accompany other women as they go and give a hand in the other households in the village. Traditionally our mothers would always do their chores together with our sisters so that they could learn by observing and doing as the mothers do. This practice is, of course, today challenged by the fact that most women are professionals and working like men. This principle can also be applied at the workplace under formal vocational training programmes. As part of women’s development and empowerment, we encourage experienced women to take the young and inexperienced ones under their wings and teach them.
The principles of being brought up as the child of the village were so fundamental and would not be undermined. For example, sharing is a way of being, offering guests food immediately on arrival is a norm, greeting fellow human beings is standard, giving a helping hand when you find people working is always expected, attending a wedding in the village requires no formal invitation, etc. These are the reasons why we would be so emotionally connected with our villages, our origin. That sense of belonging is our anchor, strength and source of inspiration and confidence.
The village is symbolic of all the structures one belongs to in the village or community, including the physical village itself. So, when we talk of the village, we are impliedly referring to all its subsets like schools, households, organisations, etc. All these structures contribute to the moulding of children in their early years of development and growth. As a child, you are harmless and fragile. Therefore, you must be protected by every elderly. So, being parentless in the village in those years was often not a reason to be left unattended. There would always be someone to guide or reprimand you when you are in the wrong, and they need not be family members. You are, by birth, the child of the village and deserve to be taken care of until you can fend for yourself. Unfortunately, today, this sounds like a dream.
I am engaging with this perspective in this book, reflecting, and allowing myself to let go of such a past, beautiful as it sounds, and prepare myself as a mentor and coach for the new world. This is the process I encourage all the mentors, coaches, and their clients to go through. It will assist in talking you out of being stuck and hang-ups from the past and being ready for the new world. That is the objective of this chapter and book. It is based on the true-life journey that I am using to share the insights on the topic, Self-Mentorship & Coaching Philosophy. I hope that you will see your own perspective through mine as you read this book. For me, engaging and reflecting on my perspective through this book is also healing and clearing my mind. It is impactful and I am enjoying the process.
It was not always the case that all the children of the village would respond positively to the principles, concepts, practices, activities, and programmes. Your response as a child of the village demonstrates the family values you were brought up under. The families and households are the subsets of the village. They influence and are influenced by the village. There would always be those that were outliers. However, the cultural instincts would make the villagers want to correct the situation in a subtle manner.
Taking your uniqueness and values with you to the outside world will always assert you. You deposit you’re being into the bigger world. Your deeds and conduct in the outside world are the yardsticks and feedback in terms of how well or bad you have been brought up. If you are attentive and had a deeper connection with the child of the village principles it should be easy to adjust to the new environment and situations. During the critical moments, you will default to your child of the village behaviours and original ways of being. That is expected, and it is acceptable.
In the small rural village of Moripane we had a central meeting place called Sebayeng where we, the young adult boys, would meet regularly and socialise. It was not encouraged for the young adult boys to sit at home, especially during the early evenings, while the others are at Sebayeng. We also served as the eyes and ears of the village. For example, every vehicle that came into the village would drive past Sebayeng and by default, we would know what it was there about.
To demonstrate the importance of activities and games as we grew up, I would end this chapter by sharing on the kind of games we played. Today it is taken for granted that children will have toys to play with, develop their motor skills, and grow their mental strength. Growing up in the village we had to be creative. Of course, the situation has changed today as buying toys is standard practice. As herd boys, we played lots of traditional games that were challenging and good for our cognitive and mental development. For example, a game called tswaane, which is like cricket. We used the stick to hit a target on the opposite end. Targeting, teamwork, and being competitive were the skills we practised through games. The morabarba is another popular game played in the villages. The mmidi was regarded as the game for the boys out on the field. It is regarded as African chess. The hide and seek taught us to develop our instinct in searching for hidden colleagues. Then there was the famous treasure hunt using the African music instrument called botsorwane, which is made of wood, and tin, and played with the cow tail thread. The botsorwane is used to communicate messages to the person searching for the treasure. If he is heading in the right direction where the treasure is hidden the instrument player would play it with a pace suggesting that the search is hot. If he misses and head in the wrong direction the player would play at a slow and dull pace. The treasure hunter would get the message and try a different direction until he gets it right. The other game that required coordination, balance, timing, and accuracy is called raboredi or raporedi. We used a short stock and long stick to hit it with accuracy from various complicated positions of the body. You would place the stock on the ear, eyes, head, between the thumb and pointer finger, on the back of the hand above the point and small fingers, on top of the foot, and on the side of the foot. You will hold the stick, place the stock on the chosen body spot, throw it up and hit it with accuracy and speed. The opposition team would be lined up on the opposite side to catch the stock, like the fielding in a cricket game. If they caught the stock, you would be out of the game. Otherwise, you continue counting the distance from the home, and you would throw the stock into the home and get credit points. This could be a dangerous game though, as it was played without any protective gear. But we played it with passion. We had to learn to be alert and take precautions against injuries. We have transitioned away from these traditional games and replaced them with modern games.
The message here is that playing games are key to the development of the motor skills, mental development, health and well-being of children and adults alike. So, games are part of taking care of the children of the village. They develop and grow the characters of the children. This brings a lot of benefits to the community, and the village. The children of the village are celebrated by all the villagers, genuinely guided and corrected when making mistakes, receive genuine feedback to better themselves, reprimanded when misbehaving, and are treated positively as the ambassadors of their village, they are engaged in the activities of the village, etc.
The Reader’s Key Takeaway(s) and Reflections from the Chapter: As you leave your comments, we would like you to be guided by the following points.
- Confirmations: What has been confirmed for you after having read this chapter, from a self-mentorship and coaching perspective?
- Aha (Light Bulb) Moments: At what point(s) did you experience aha moments in the chapter, i.e. light bulb moments. That is the point(s) at which a penny dropped and you felt enlightened.
- New Insights: What are the new insights that you have gained from reading this chapter?
- New Knowledge: Reflect on the new knowledge (private or professional) you gained from this chapter.
- Take Home: What are you taking home from this chapter? What would you like to share that other people in your circle of stakeholders?
- New Practices: What are the new practices in your private and professional life you are going to apply as a result of reading this chapter?
- New Behaviours: What are the new behaviours in your private and professional life that you are going to adopt as a result of reading this chapter?