Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Babemba Way




My Golden State of California is having a major budget crisis this year. We've been spending a lot more than we're bringing in despite having cut deeply spending for social welfare and education. There are lots of reasons for our economic woes, but among them is the fact we incarcerate so many people that we now spend more in California on prisons than we do on state-funded higher education.

We may think of ourselves as very with-it and advanced here in California, but I think we could learn from the so-called primitive Babemba tribe of South Africa. Jack Kornfield, in his book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace,writes about a different way of dealing with unskillful actions.

"In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. 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."

9 comments:

Delwyn said...

Thanks Dan for telling us this fresh and uplifting story. It kind of renews your faith in communities doesn't it. When incarceration doesn't work you would think that something else might be tried. I like the idea of community work and that does happen here with minor offenses.

Happy days

steven said...

hi dan, this is another story in the growing list of alternatives to incarceration that make sense - not in all instances because there are circumstances where something different might be more appropriate - but which point to a healthier solution for the community. in our schools we engage in restorative justice circles. these are used as an alternative to suspension and amount to something close to what you describe here. i do this with my grade sixes when something serious takes place. you wouldn't believe what happens in those circles. oh, and there's no "judge" or "jury" and the teacher doesn't "lead" the circle. it's a true circle. cool eh?! steven

Barry said...

You might be interested in reading more about the resortative justice concept, Steven mentioned, that Canadian Aboriginals are usuing for Native offenders, who make up a highly disproportionate segment of our prision population:

http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/pblct/forum/e121/e121j-eng.shtml

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

I have read this example of Jack Kornfield too. Simply amazing how life is turned upside down when we choose to respond to events from a place of love instead of a place of fear.

I wonder if such a thing is possible in the West, where we have been groomed to be motivated by fear . . .

Do you practice that method with your kindergarten children, Dan?

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Delwyn— Communities are communities by inclusion. The problem with incarceration (and why it's so ineffective and inefficient) is that it's based on exclusion and is anti-community.

Dan Gurney said...

Steven and Bonnie, yes, these methods work well in classrooms, mine included, but I do a kindergarten version. And yes, fear is a crummy approach to life and to most problems.

Jessica said...

Lovely--thanks for sharing. :)

Dan Gurney said...

Jessica, you're most welcome, and thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Margaret Pangert said...

Hi Dan~ I am just sitting here with tears streaming down my face. That story is so mind-boggling, it moves me to the core. If I had had more of that growing up, had given more of that as a mother and a teacher, if we all had more of that, gave more of that. The world could be a better place.
I have been noticing that a lot of prisons have been built in northern California, and new ones are going up all the time, all over. That just can't be the solution. and from a practical point of view, money is needed elsewhere.
If they could just preserve the smelt, say up in the Klamath area, and let the Sacramento, San Joaquin, and American Rivers be used for irrigation in the Sacramento Valley, you could have a healthy farming economy again. (I know the Delta has other problems, too.) Food will be the next scarcity!
Thanks again for this reminder of positive reinforcement,