Full version Ancestor Worship

Ancestor Worship

This print version free essay Ancestor Worship.

Category: Religion

Autor: reviewessays 10 November 2010

Words: 906 | Pages: 4

Ancestor Worship: ATR

It is vital in ATR to celebrate the ancestors of the African people: “Abundant life is realized through ancestral communion. The ancestors link individuals in a clan with the visible and invisible world. (kauta,47). It clearly plays a major role in the religious belief systems and acts as tool to commemorate its’ own history. It is easier to understand the African’s take on ancestor worship by further understanding there view on death.

Unlike the western world, where death is a time when many fear, the Africans view it as a celebration and a beginning step towards ancestor worship. As an Irish catholic, I don’t necessarily fear death; however, it is in my nature to understand that the dead, are actually deceased, and no longer living. They have passed onto another form of being, and are no longer in our immediate life. In other words, it is easier for believers of ATR to accept death as part of life. This belief only applies however, to death of old age. It is a “dignified” death, whereas the death at an early age is seen as a curse. The exception for this rule is when a young person dies in a war.

The idea that people who have passed away, are actually still alive, can be supported by the belief of Living-dead and Dead- dead. These two types of “dead” serve as a way to separate into two groups: the deceased and ancestors. Living-dead are those who have been dead for less than 200 years and were regarded as moral, positive people. These people are adored ancestors because they are fresh in the minds of the people, and have created a legacy that is positive in every way. The admiration from younger generations allows the living dead to be titled as ancestors. The dead-dead are those that have died over 200 years ago, or were known as criminals, witches, and/or immoral people. They are not considered ancestors.

The importance of ancestors, or living dead, in African traditional religion should not be overlooked. The living believe that ancestors have a special bond with the supreme being. Therefore, the easiest way the living can reach this Supreme Being, is by sustaining a relationship with their ancestors. This is the ultimate reason for such a fondness of the living dead: they are the link between living and Supreme Being. The living, do not however, maintain this relationship without effort. They must keep a good ancestral relationship. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the newly deceased have a lot of pressure on them to become ancestors. “We should point out, however, that not all the dead are ancestors. It is only the living dead who qualify. (kauta,48)” In other word, they have to earn it, and it is not easy. Different tribes have various ways to practice their ancestor worship.

The Dogon tribe, of Mali, believes that at death the intelligent soul escapes to rejoin the shadow soul/ancestor soul. Also, after death one must travel what they describe as a “journey to afterlife.” The living perform a dance wearing masks in an effort to frighten the spirit of the deceased. This happens because when the soul is taking this journey towards afterlife, it seeks another being to support it. This difficult journey allows them to reach the point of retribution, therefore claiming the title of ancestor.

Because of the ancestor’s intimacy with life beyond death, they act as official guardians of the social and moral order. “They are qualified to do this because of there status: they are beyond the earthly and are in touch with the supernatural in a special way (Kauta, 49)”. This applies to many African tribes, including the Tallensi. They believe that ancestors take an active interest in human affairs. The relationship allows them to take charge of the people’s homes and dwell among there rooftops. They also believe their own destiny is controlled by the living dead, in turn, making the relationship of even greater importance.

The ideas of ancestor worship in African traditional religion are not that different then views I hold towards my ancestors. Obviously, there are extremes in both cases, and its not possible to place both on the same level, but the similarities that we share are important. I admire the large role the living dead play in people’s lives. I have an on going relationship with my grandparents, who are not 200 years removed, yet the relationship is there. It is evident because I know, similar to ATR, that they are closer to god and life’s answer than I am. There is a respect, love, and admiration for the things they’ve endured in there life, and the position they have earned there way into. I do not share the same rituals of tribes like the Tallensi, however I do feel a certain spiritual bond to my ancestors in my daily life. I maintain that they are with me, and I can live my life though their afterlife. To me, the living dead, does not necessarily mean disconnected, it just changes the relationship to spiritual.


John kauta, www.johnkauta.com,