An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

“Your Song”: Lessons from an African Tribe

In parenting, Spirit, heart & soul on June 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm

When a woman of a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, goes to the jungle with other women, and together they pray and meditate until you get to “The song of the child.”
When a child is born, the community gets together and they sing their song. Thus, when the child begins his education, people get together and he sings his song.When you become an adult, they get together again and sing.When it comes to your wedding, the person hears his song.
Finally, when your soul is going from this world, family and friends are approaching and, like his birth, sing their song to accompany it in the “journey”.
 In this African tribe, there is another occasion when men sing the song.If at some point the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, take you to the center of town and the people of the community form a circle around her. Then they sing “your song.”
The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment, is the love and memory of his true identity. When we recognize our own song, since we have no desire or need to hurt anyone. Your friends know “your song”. And sing when you forget it. Those who love you can not be fooled by mistakes you have committed, or dark images you show to others. They remember your beauty as you feel ugly, your total when you’re broke, your innocence when you feel guilty and your purpose when you’re confused.
Tolba Phanem
African poet

I was really struck by these lines : “The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment, is the love and memory of his true identity”. That a tribe would meditate to find the song of a child which unfolds with his/her souls journey bringing the person back to their true identity is amazing. How special and unique that must make the child feel! I’m not certain how this can be applied to anti-social behavior youngsters are facing in the UK and in a consumerist society which promotes the ‘little me’ with my job, my career, my car, my promotion…  at the expense of a genuine connection to those around us and the Divine. I do however see two possibilities we can take from this African tribe. 1. Seeing the highest potential in a child with the eyes of compassion-  especially when they’ve committed a mistake  2. The possibility of a family to act as ‘the tribe’ to bring a child back to their true identity or center.

Both naturally challenge or require us parents to be acting from deeper and centered parts of ourselves. To meet the child with compassion and unconditional love in moments when our buttons can potentially be pushed. My own experience has been when my teachers have honored me by seeing the highest potential in me it has always elevated me. This to me feels very different to praise which leads a person to potentially become complacent or ‘big headed’. Such praise feels like it is at the level of ego. It comes from another ego to the ego. May be the same can be said of criticism. A friend of mine wrote today “one of the hardest things and yet seems the most essential for spiritual development is to let go of people’s praise and criticism.”  It may be what Alfie Kohn writes about in ‘punished by rewards’.

A drop in the ocean can praise the sea not knowing its magnitude. However, when the ocean woos a drop it elevates it. Such praise inspires as a vision of possibility is sewn into the heart of the person without a heavy burden of expectation students often face. Yet, I also realise not praising a student can be detrimental if all one thinks that it can lead to a person becoming big headed. I knew a teacher who strongly believed this. If anything I feel it breeds the needs of approval in the student. Maybe beautiful words from the Islamic tradition such as Mashallah, Alhamdulilah, Subhanallah can be used to encourage what is beautiful and help us and the child remember the Divine in such situations. I was at a talk by Cemal Nur and the energy with she said ‘Mashallah” still resonates within me. This blog has arisen because of a few words of encouragement which took a question I had and turned it into a vision by saying ‘yes’!

As I reflected on how we can return to a center and help children return, I asked what my song is? Do I have one? Can I give my children a song?Maybe the song finds us rather then we find it. May be it takes the form of a prayer, a quote or a poem?  I heard of a transcendental mediation community which have set up a school in the UK- beginning lessons by asking students to measure the pulse for a few minutes as a way of children connecting with their bodies and becoming more calm and centered.

Teaching children to truly pray is a journey I look forward to explore in the coming years. For now, I enjoy family trips to London Central Mosque allowing my children to roam around in the environment there before we walk in the park. Maybe the Fatiha is a good centering prayer to teach children or doing the Huuu as Farah Benhalim so wonderfully wrote about in a post. One that can be used to re-align ourselves when we’re lost, confused, stressed or upset. Fateha – root words fth – open, unlock, reveal, conquer,. Making ourselves receptive to receive – an opening into the what the Infinite may offer us – may be our song comes as a particular Divine Name we need to resonate with as we turn our attention to our Source. May be just speaking from a centered place is enough to bring another back to their center, as discourse with spiritual teachers have repeatedly shown me. They speak and listen with an awareness of the Divine presence.  Each human being is a word spoken by God – Shams of Tabriz.

  1. Greetings,

    Thank you for this lovely post. This speaks strongly to one’s original nature.

    I certainly do believe that we can, as parents, as teachers, as people, help others by consistently focusing on, and pointing toward, their inherent goodness, while covering up faults and wrongdoings.

    Very beautiful post.

    All good wishes,


    • Dear Robert

      Many thanks for your comment. Just to clarify I do feel there is a need to address wrong doings but not in a way that will turn it from guilt (mistake made) to shame (something wrong with me or everyone knows and I’m going to hide). Maybe with some compassion that fault is given space to transform.


  2. ‘The universe resounds with the joyful cry I AM’ (Alexander Scriabin)

  3. Beautiful post! Absolutely loved reading it.

  4. hi, i am touched. really loved it.

  5. i feel we appreciate and make the positive points of a person bigger and we ignore the negatives and thus diminute them. i have a one and a half yr old daughter she does what she hears more…. that is the crux. for her there is no difference between “do” and “don’t do”. so one should always talk of what we should be doing and never on the “do nots” ..

  6. Amazing! thank you for sharing. do you happen to know the name of the tribe this custom originates

  7. Thank you. If you look into Tolba Phanem, you might find an answere there? Please let us know if you do.

  8. thank you! Saqib Safdar,I will check into Tolba Phanem. Also, I have an online magazine that I would love to share this inspiring article with. Is that possible?

  9. Please,
    Do you have an online magazine?Could you also tell me which tribe is this one?
    Your article is very interesting.

  10. Hi,
    I would like to know which African tribe practices this?

    thank you.

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