‘The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.’
I have come across this proverb several times but, for some reason, I couldn’t fully grasp the meaning. Only when Killmonger, in Black Panther, acted out these words to the letter did I realize the wisdom inside it. Society keeps wondering why more and more young people establish self-destructive behaviors and commit actions that further corrupt the environment in which they were born. We wonder. Well, this quote gives us the answer.
Where did it come from, though? How does it play out in our daily lives, and most importantly, how to help someone feel “embraced”?
The Origin Of The Proverb
Several sources (including Goodreads, BBC News Africa, and The Atlantic) locate the phrase’s origin in Africa. More precisely, blogger John Swinburn claimed that it came from Ethiopia. Just like many proverbs labeled “African” on the internet, “The child who is not embraced by the village” does not have roots we can use to trace to a particular country or tribe.
Some cultural aspects in African are relatable to the phrase”, though. There are many areas in the continent following the village lifestyle and treasure community value. However, so far, there is no conclusive research showing the exact genesis of this phrase.
I always hesitate to attribute a specific aphorism to an entire continent, especially when there is not any specific reference that proves the genesis of that saying. Furthermore, as generation to generation passed the phrase down, it lost all of the cultural significance about the tribe or group it once belonged to. Just like Joel Goldberg wrote, at this point, it is more like a mix of “hallmark and folk sentiments”.
Interested in the origins of other phrases? Check out our Glossary!
What Does The Proverb Mean?
African or not, “The child who is not embraced by the village” still reflects a social reality of mistreated and ignored people.
“The child who is not embraced” – As human beings, we all desire acceptance. Infants need their parents to mirror their emotions so they can establish positive self-esteem. Nonetheless, some of us never feel embraced. Rejection, failure, disappointment, isolation, and self-doubt are all parts of life, but some people face them more than others. The feeling of rejection is painful for both children and adults.
Regardless of age, we all want to be a part of the community – Source: Unsplash
Usually, we think family matters most when it comes to the development of a child. However, the phrase takes a step further. “…by the village…” indicates that the acceptance must come from the entire community. The network of interactions has a profound impact on a child’s growing process. In the modern-day, “the village” includes home, school, and extracurricular connections.
Think about yourself for a moment. On the first day of school, did you feel welcomed by your educator and classmates? The way your teacher greets you sets the tone not only for that day, but for the entire year, and possibly even your academic career as a whole.
Think about the child who they constantly mock because of her sloppy shoes. Consider the young man who doesn’t know any table manners just because he hardly gets any bite when he comes home at the end of the day. Think of the child who grows up in criticisms.
“… will burn it down to feel its warmth” – At this point, the child who doesn’t know how it feels to be a part of the community can do everything to get the attention and affection he needs, even if it means destroying everything. It is easier for him to engage in violence because, since he doesn’t feel connected to people around him, he couldn’t understand the consequences of destruction.
This phrase goes beyond ignored and mistreated youths. Any of us can be “the child” here. In your family, in the neighborhood, even at the workplace, we have endless opportunities to connect and accept people. We also have endless opportunities to dismiss and reject them. When you choose the latter, you wouldn’t know if their feeling would lead to any unpleasant or even destructive reactions.
It takes a village similar quotes – Source: Unsplash
Similar to “The child who is not embraced by the village”, we have the ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ quotes, which Hillary Clinton referred to in the title of her 1996 book “It takes a village”. This phrase indicates that raising a kid is the whole society’s responsibility for its moral well-being.
“The Child Who Is Not Embraced By The Village” In Cinema And Literature
Characters like Alara in The Orville, Killmonger, the antagonist of Black Panther, T’Challa’s nemesis, the one who made this phrase famous, is undoubtedly “the child who is not embraced by the village”. As a young boy, his uncle King T’Chaka killed his father. Later on, Killmonger’s mother also passed away in jail. He grew up with one sole goal: Making Wakanda people pay for what happened.
Killmonger is one of the most tragic villains in MCU – Source: Junkee
Examples of this saying can as well present in the literature. Erik, “The Phantom Of The Opera”, despite his angelic voice, grew up in manipulation and rejection, particularly because people were so horrified of his look. Erik lost his ability to sympathize and preferred to assert his dominance over others in a brutal way.
Murdering Joseph Buquet, planning numerous crimes at the Opera, trying to eliminate Raoul, all suggested his desire to seek vengeance on the society that dismissed him. Even toward Christine, the way Erik expressed feelings was also brutal and possessive. In the end, The Phantom Of The Opera only longed for affection instead of fear, hatred, and rejection.
How Does This Phrase Play Out In Real Life?
Let’s talk about real life then. In 2015, surveys from the National Institute Of Injustice showed that youth who often have histories characterized by past traumas and a lack of connections are more likely to commit violent offenses. Most of them either grew up in dysfunctional families, suffer from mental illnesses yet didn’t receive any help, or were exhausted due to living in poverty.
If you look at these cases, you shall know that anyone can be “the child who is not embraced by the village”:
The 2011 Summer Riot Of England
2011 Summer Riot – Source: Evening Standard
The 2011 Summer Riot Of England saw over 14,000 individuals, mostly poor and diminished, took to the streets looting stores, setting fires, and vandalized properties. They destroyed numerous buildings and wrecked neighborhoods. Five people died in the riot. It was a cry for help, as they were desperate with their situations.
Youth Expelled From School
Expelling children can further damage their development – Source: Unsplash
Students who are feeling isolated from school can establish behaviors that result in their expulsion, youth advocate says. Possessing or distributing drugs, drinking alcohol, and taking weapons to school are some of the most notable ones. When kids and teenagers “burn the village” through these actions, the right solution is to embrace and pay attention to them properly. Expelling them from schools will just send them further away from the village, hence worsens the situation.
This personal story proves that a dysfunctional family can lead to rebellion and delinquent behaviors. Alisa stole her dad’s car at the age of 13, then processed to smoking, taking drugs, and skipping classes. She got into more and more trouble until she joined a girl group’s home. Only there did she feel welcomed by the community and began to turn things around. As the “village” was then embracing her, Alisa no longer felt the desire to burn it down.
How Do You Help Someone To Feel Connected?
So, how do you make people feel like they belong to the community? There are only two keys:
Firstly, acknowledge that everyone is different. People can be born and raised in different families with different structures and lifestyles. Each of us carries a unique set of beliefs and values passed down from our families, cultures, ethnic background, religion, and life experiences. Try to understand differences.
Secondly, keep in mind that you can send attitude “messages” nonverbally. Even if you don’t notice, people can observe your nonverbal signal and read your attitude toward them. Instead of making judgments about someone you just meet, try getting to know them. Once you understand the person, it will be easier to respect and accept him or her.
Embracing all differences will create a better community for all of us – Source: Unsplash
Just as the phrase indicates, the cost of failing to “embrace” people around us is high. Still, it is never too late for that. You can always create an environment that offers warmth, acceptance, and a sense of belonging, starting with your own home.
Step by step, let’s take the phrase “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth” seriously and douse the fire we have started.
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