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There is a tribe in Africa where the birth of a child is not counted from when they’ve been born, nor from when they are conceived,  but from the day that the child was a thought in the mother’s mind.

And when a woman decides she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love and physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it.

And then when the mother is pregnant, she teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child’s song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song. Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person to the next life.

In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity.

-Alan Cohen

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