Harambee – why the world should adopt its meaning

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What does Harambee mean?

Harambee means “all pull together” in Kenya’s national language, Swahili. It is an allusion to team work and valuing the community before the individual. During the country’s independence, in 1962, the use of the word Harambee was constantly, mainly by the first ever President Jomo Kenyatta. And, it is also stamped on the national flag.

And no, the Gorilla did not came first! (if you don’t know what we are talking about right here, check this out).

The armcoat of Kenya written Harambee

In rural areas, such as the one we currently live, is common to hear the shout of “Harambee“! (it pronounces harambe, prolonging the sound of the vowel “E”, rather than speaking like bee, the animal). People use it when they need help to put off a fire, or put up an electrical post, carry heavy loads or even to fundraise in order to pay the fees for your son to be in school.

Harambee symbol

First time we heard the word Harambee

One of our first contact with the word Harambee was when we had just arrived at the orphanage. As we do not have electricity in this part of town and the government does not seem keen to help, the local people organised themselves to put up an electrical post themselves.

By the sound of “Harambee” being shouted from the bottom of a dozen people’s heart who pulled the ropes trying to put up that lamp post, we saw the job done within a few hours. What amazed us most, was to see that every single person who passed by, stopped what they were doing and went to help on the hard job of holding an electrical post. And that includes us! Well, obviously Tiago was more of a help than Fernanda, but someone has got to take the picture 😉

To be there during this episode just upon our arrival was rather shocking…

doing a Harambee to lift a lamp post in Kenya

Automatically, we made an analogy with an episode also lived by us whilst living in London.

We were recently married. There was no money for anything, and, as the winter was approaching, we would like to have a television to entertain ourselves during those sofa and telly nights everybody needs…

Did we had Harambee in London?

One day cycling around the neighbourhood we lived, we found out an enormous television. It was very old and it should have weighed 200kg. Quite excited about it, we decided to take home that antique waste. A duty which has proved itself to be almost impossible. The point was, in those about 10 blocks away from home, we asked for help to balance the TV on top of one of the bikes and to help holding it when carrying it back home and no one stopped to give us a hand…

Note that, one of the people driving by, even slowed down to simply laugh at the scene we were making (which by the way we keep in our hearts with lots of love and laughter as many know).

We know that helping to carry a TV is an episode a lot less noble than bringing electricity to a whole community… But you know? It would not kill anyone to help… Fernanda’s back were aching for over a week! 😉

Ti measuring a Tv found on the streets for Harambee
Ti measuring the TV with his arm | Photo by Monday Feelings

And, please, do not take us wrong! We love London and probably we will come back to live there once again at some point. But, it is true that in the life we are living over there (including Brazil), we are forgetting to help one another. The individual overstep the collective even more often. And this is what is putting us apart and letting us more lonely.

Over here, besides all the problems they have, it looks like people are closer to each other. People actually care to have more time to help each other and simply to just spend hours talking. As we once heard: the West has the clock, Kenyans have the time.

Where does it come from?

Tiago and Fernanda with the Harambee tattoo
Our first week at the orphanage | Photo by Monday Feelings

There is also a controversy around where the word comes from. Many Kenyans, a very religious society, do not like even slightly that the history actually means “Hare Ambee”, being “Ambee” the name of an Indian god and “Hare” a term for salutation – hail – (like in Hare Krishna).

The president Jomo Kenyatta saw a group of workers from India chanting “hare, hare Ambee” while constructing the ferry through Kenya. Those men working very hard, yet with a lot of cohesion and harmony, represented the metaphor Mr. Kenyatta would like to send to the people who were fighting for independence that moment: a country working together with harmony, sharing their loads towards a common goal.

The origin and meaning of this word really represents what we came here in Kenya to do and what we will do during our trip around the world, as well as what we intend to take forever into our lives.