Love-Can-Break-Every-ChainA friend sent me this about the Babemba tribe in Africa and I realized I’d heard of it but never read about it. In fact, when I’d heard of a tribe in Africa that surrounds a person in the tribe when they’ve done something harmful like steal and tell her or him all the wonderful, positive things they know and notice about them, I remember going walking and thinking about it the whole walk.

What would and could our world be like – at least the U.S. where the incarceration rate is the highest in the world – if we did that early on with people in our families and communities? Instead of immediately punishing kids, WHAT IF we told them how wonderful they were and we know they want and, of course, can do better?

As of October 2013, the incarceration rate in the U.S. was 716 per 100,000 of the national population. Since the United States represents about 5 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Translated into what that means for those of us in the U.S., just from a pure financial standpoint: imprisonment of America’s 2.3 million prisoners, costing $24,000 per inmate per year, and $5.1 billion in new prison construction, consumes $60.3 billion in budget expenditures.

What if we started trying something different? Here is the beautiful account of what the Babemba tribe does (and it works!) as food for thought…

The Babemba tribe of Africa believes that each human being comes into the world as good. Each one of us only desiring safety, love, peace and happiness. But sometimes, in the pursuit of these things, people make mistakes. The community sees these mistakes as a cry for help.

When a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he/she is placed in the center of the village, alone, unfettered. All work ceases. All gather around the accused individual. Then each person of every age, begins to talk out loud to the accused. One at a time, each person tells all the good things the one in the center ever did in his/her lifetime.

Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.

The tribal ceremony often lasts several days, not ceasing until everyone is drained of every positive comment that can be mustered. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe. Necessity for such ceremonies is rare!


This story is originally from the book, Contact, The First Four Minutes by Leonard Sunin. The Babemba or Bemba people make their home in an area of Africa that includes Zambia and the Congo.

Other sources:
Photo by Jessica Hilltout.

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