Africa Speaks Reasoning Forum

SCIENCE, SOCIOLOGY, RELIGION => Spirituality => Topic started by: Bantu_Kelani on February 10, 2005, 05:13:27 PM

Title: Ancestor Reverence
Post by: Bantu_Kelani on February 10, 2005, 05:13:27 PM

What is an ancestor or who can be considered an ancestor?  Depending on the culture, the definition of ancestor has many meanings.  In some cultures you cannot be considered an ancestor unless you have lived a good standing, morally correct life.  In other cultures, women are not considered ancestors at all.  However and generally speaking for most, “ancestor veneration” or “ancestor worship” (meaning to maintain an ongoing relationship with those who have departed) is not only a tradition shared amongst our Afrikan ancestors, but the concept has existed through almost every known culture including various parts of Afrika, the Pacific, South American, Indonesia, certain parts of India and Indochina, even among those who have converted to Islam or Christianity.  Even Jewish people have been known to light candles and say special prayers honoring their family member’s anniversary of death.  And in celebration of All Soul’s Day, many honor the dead by putting gifts, flowers and food on the graves of their family members for it is believed in many cultures that after physical death, the physical body is left to decay and the spirit (the soul) transits into the spirit realm where such spirit continues to live as an ancestor.  Also, in many parts of Afrika, gifts, money, cloths, animals, and messages are left at gravesites of deceased relatives in hopes that the deceased might use these things on their journey.  Some cultures also honor the dead with festivals, drumming, singing, dancing, and drinking for it is believed that to honor our ancestors is to honor our lineage and our roots and is the first step to reclaiming our spiritual heritage.  Therefore, the ancestors are consulted for guidance, prayed to, venerated with rituals and are given offerings for their continued influence on the living by helping them to resolve their day-to-day problems.

Because so many cultures, primarily outside of the United States, believe that the invisible world plays such an enormous part in every day life, it is custom and is extremely important to pay a great deal of attention to the dead and the ancestral family.  I think we all can agree that death is a universal fact and is the inevitable end of all human life.  However, in many cultures, life does not just end there.  The soul continues on, just, in another form (spirit) and in another world.  It is also believed, particularly in Afrika, that the dead are reborn into family members so that they can finish whatever business they were not able to finish while on earth and for these reasons a great deal of concern, care, time, and money is spent on proper burial rites.  From the preparation of the body all the way through to the prayers, ceremonies, and sacrifices given to help ensure that the deceased is satisfied and appeased for an easy transition from the land of the living to the land of the dead.  For it is believed that if proper funeral rites are not performed for the deceased, the spirit of the dead person will become a ghost to roam the world without peace, lost and confused with the abilities to harm and haunt people and relatives until it gains attention and proper acknowledgment of the proper burial rights, prayers, offerings, or ceremonies that will bring contentment to its soul.

Traditionally in Afrika, “ancestors” were called “egungun” and were viewed as departed family members: parents, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Egungun was and is a secret society of the Yoruba people who believed in the continued existence of the ancestors in the life of the living.  They believed that there is a the link between the dead and the living and that the egungun represented ancestral spirits that would return from heaven to visit and periodically commune with the living during a 7-day festival known as All Souls Festival where honor is given and sacrifices are offered at shrines specifically set for the ancestor spirits.

How important is ancestor reverence?  Lets see, try to put yourself in the shoes of your ancestors.  If you were an ancestor and your family members and friends were to just forget about you, how would you feel?  If you were alone, lost, and confused in the spirit realm and there was no one person praying for you or giving you light so that you could find your way, what would you do?  If you wanted to save someone or help them to better their life and they just ignored your messages, would you give up?  If you wanted forgiveness or just wanted know that you were still loved, and there was no one to show you some attention and your efforts were ignored, wouldn’t you feel alone and abandoned?  And God forbid, but, if you were ill and approaching death or you died suddenly, how important would it be to you that someone, even if one person, were to remember you?

And how important would it be that your children remember who you were and all of your accomplishments, whether great or not so great?  It is understandable that we live in a society that fears and suppresses death, obviously, because no one wants to die nor do we want our love ones to die; and because the thought of death is so uncomfortable to us and it hurts some so badly, we try to forget about it altogether until we are some how forced to think about it.  However, the problem is that we are focusing too much on the negative aspects of death and not the positive.  Most of us were taught to mourn, sadly, instead of happily.  We were never taught that we can continue to live with our deceased loved ones for the betterment of our lives.  The positive thing being that they, the ancestors, can help us, advise us, and do things for us from the other side that they could not do when they were alive that can help us to live better, healthier, and rewarding lives.  There is an old saying, “out of sight – out of mind”.  Now, would you want your loved one to forget about you just because it is an uncomfortable feeling?  Would you want your loved ones to just push you out of their minds when you as an ancestor can still serve them well even on the other side?  I do not think any of you would want to be forgotten because on some level, we all want to be remembered for something even if it was that we were funny and made people laugh.  Many of us never think about the fact that we will one day become spirit, an ancestor; it is inevitable.  However, we must remind ourselves to think about the legacies that we would like to leave behind and we must constantly ask ourselves, “How do I want to be remembered?” and no matter how you answer this question, remember that your ancestors want to be remembered, too.