The meaning of, and background to, the well-known expression "It takes a village to raise a child.

Well-Known Expressions

It takes a village to raise a child

Meaning:

Raising a child well is a communal effort.

Background:

Hillary Clinton's 1995 book, It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us, set off a firestorm of discussion over the source of the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child".
The general wisdom is that the expression originates in Africa, and it seems likely that somewhere within this vast continent such an expression exists, but it has proven impossible to tie this particular variation down to a specific place.

According to Random House's Dictionary of American Proverbs and Sayings edited by Gregory Titelman the expression is found in a 1950s collection of Swahili proverbs; but this seemingly definitive answer gets a lot more murky if one drops in on the archived conversation at http://www.h-net.org (an international interdisciplinary organization of scholars and teachers dedicated to developing the educational potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web).


The conversation ranges widely with some saying they have heard it in use among Native Americans but most pointing to various parts of Africa, or to it being, not so much a proverb in Africa as a fact of life. The very lengthy conversation is perhaps best summed up in this post:

While it is interesting to seek provenance in regard to the proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," I think it would be misleading to ascribe its origin to a single source. As I noted in my earlier message, some of us do relate to it as part of our backgrounds. Let me give a few examples of African societies with proverbs which translate to "It takes a village...":

In Lunyoro (Banyoro) there is a proverb that says "Omwana takulila nju emoi," whose literal translation is "A child does not grow up only in a single home."

In Kihaya (Bahaya) there is a saying, "Omwana taba womoi," which translates as "A child belongs not to one parent or home."

In Kijita (Wajita) there is a proverb which says "Omwana ni wa bhone," meaning regardless of a child's biological parent(s) its upbringing belongs to the community.

In Kiswahili the proverb "Asiyefunzwa na mamae hufunzwa na ulimwengu" approximates to the same.


Another poster adds:

Moral: let the Hilary Clintons of the world use Africa as a paradigm for reform of our own society. Our job is not to "authenticate" or criticize such internal western discourse but rather to keep in mind the richness and complexity of life in societies which should not be seen simply as an "anti-West."

Alphabetical list of expressions

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