Rick Sweeney
2 min readNov 27, 2020

I would like you to know an African word that has great power. A pastor friend of mine shared it with me and I have thought a lot about this word in the month since.

The word is OBONATO. Apparently spell check does not recognize Swahili dialects.

A psychologist from the U.S. was studying the behavior of children in a poor village in Southeast Africa. He placed a basket of sweet fruit under a tree. Then he told the children that the first one to race to the tree could have the fruit. They took off running and when they got close to the tree, they joined together and arrived at the same time. Then they sat down and shard the fruit equally.

The psychologist asked one of the older boys why he did not run ahead of the others and take all of the fruit for himself. That is when he heard this word. He did not know what it meant. The boy said, “OBONATO!”

It was hard to translate. An adult villager who spoke some English said it means, “When one wins, we all win.” The concept of one winning and causing all of the others to miss out, was alien to this culture.

At Thanksgiving, most of us gave thanks for all of OUR blessings. But I was forced to think about others who did not share in those blessings. I thought about families who could not help but think about that one member who was no longer here to celebrate with them. I thought about those who spent Thanksgiving on a ventilator separated from loved ones.

It dawned on me that not only are we all in this life together in terms of blessings. We are also all in this together in the struggles. When one succeeds, we all succeed. OBONATO. When one suffers, we all suffer. That is also OBONATO too.

OBONATO is the opposite of selfishness. OBONATO is a sermon. OBONATO is a powerful word. I think OBONATO is a word that Jesus would like. What do you think?



Rick Sweeney

The Reverend Dr. Richard Sweeney, Rick, is a retired Presbyterian pastor and author. Rick lives with his wife, Prudy, in Greensburg, PA.