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Pottery, Ubuntu and Idea of a Global Village

23/09/2015 16:10 BST | Updated 22/09/2016 10:12 BST

The Monknine potteries are a family owned business that for forty years have been making decorative pots. According to their literature, they ensure that their products are made from natural, healthy and Eco friendly materials.

These pots originate from a town called Sousse in Tunisia, and are made by local craftsmen. They are sold all over Europe, traveling from the shores of Africa, to the South of France, Italy and Spain attending markets, artisan and craft fairs. They arrive in the UK, at a local Liverpool Farmers Market, which is where I met them, after which they headed off to Brighton and Exeter.

My interest in these pieces went beyond the economic significance of the business itself - creating employment in Africa and meeting demand in Europe. It was that the flower pot made its way across continents, not packed away in a crate on a ship but journeying with its sellers. Each pot telling its own story, and engaging with those it came in contact with, developing as it were a shared experience.

I think this flower pot would, if it could speak, share how it traveled from one land, going across several countries, before ending up in a garden or home far away. It would suggest to us that the world is indeed a 'global village' not just in terms of the Internet or technology as it usually refers to, but in terms of how we as people are increasingly interconnected.

The idea that each individual's existence is interconnected with that of the community is a tenet of Ubuntu. Ubuntu, ubuntism or hunhuism, is an ideology based in African spirituality. It is that which characterises a human being and is centred on the goodness of man and his corporate responsibility. Ubuntu is defined and interpreted severally but it is often translated as the belief in "a universal bond that connects all humanity." For instance Historian Michael O Eze sees Ubuntu as an ideology or promise that strikes an affirmation of one's humanity through recognition of one another in his uniqueness. He says

"This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual: my humanity is co- substantively bestowed upon the other and ME. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am"

Earlier this year, I mulled over this idea, with a view to writing this post. The idea intrigued me; of inter-connectivity and kinship that we share as people, beyond artificial social constructs and man made designs.

However I struggled to write particularly when in May, the ugliness of Xenophobia reared its head in South Africa. This round of violence, while not the first in South African history struck a chord within the international community. With the killing of seven people the world was outraged and South Africa was far from exemplifying an ideology championed by its leaders.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been quoted as saying "A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured and oppressed. Torturing and oppressing others, in this case other Africans, by their 'brothers' was in direct opposition to Ubuntu.

If we were to extend this idea of Ubuntu to acknowledging that the world has indeed become a universal village, then perhaps we would recognise far more value in our interconnection. Perhaps then the pots from Monknine potteries would have have some significance to us, and we would not look at a flower pot quite the same way again.

As I spoke to the trader I was intrigued by the story of the pots. I thought he came from Africa but discovered he lived not too far away from the market, an area called Toxteth. I wanted to know how long he had been in the U K, how long has he been doing this business, and was the Monknine potteries his family business? I wanted to ask him a thousand questions but was aware that he had a job to do, sell his flower pots.

But you see, I recognised him, not just because we were both Africans, but because he and I were in that very moment, at a stall in the market, part of this shared experience called life and Ubuntu.