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Feeding the Ancestors

Thursday, May 8, 2008

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Is it Veneration or Worship?

In a short response, “Who cares, if it works?” I am amazed at how we get all wrapped up in justifying our relationships with our own blood kin. These people were our grandparents, uncles, aunts, sisters and brothers. So long as we are in connection with them, and it makes us safe, happy and enlightened, who cares what word we use to describe the relationship?

Over time I have begun to be less concerned with what people “think” of my work with the Ancestors.Some elders say Ancestor Worship, some say Ancestor Reverence. I say choosing one of these terms is a matter of personal choice and it probably depends on how worried you are about what uncle toms and paternalistic white folks think about what you are doing. I know that is harsh language for some, so understand I make that comment with a purpose in mind. The truth is, both terms are adequate, neither is better. They are only an issue because some of us still use eurocentric concepts of civilization to define our spirituality. Who says that Ancestors can’t be worshipped? Who says they can’t be venerated? Not us. So with that laid to rest, we will leave someone other than us to decide which term is better.

We provide our Ancestors with adimu or ebo, which are two basic forms of sacrifice. (There are levels beyond this, but for the sake of this conversation, it would digressing to go that far.) Sacrifice to the Ancestors allows us to share in the bounty of our blessings and provide the energy associated with those meals and their preparation to our Ancestors. It is both an act of thanksgiving and fuel for future actions.

  • Some people concern themselves with finding out “why people think it works”
  • Some people concern themselves with finding out “why it works”
  • Some people concern themselves with finding out “how i can make it work for me”

I fit into the last category.

So, while others are intellectualizing and analyzing everything from name and purpose to efficacy, let’s actually commune with our Ancestors, which is a far more productive pursuit, wouldn’t you say?

What do we feed the Ancestors?
Below are some foods that are traditionally offered to ancestors. Some are traditionally ContinentalAfrican. Others are traditionally Diasporan African. Its good to do a combination of both because we are encouraged to maintain a relationship with our Ancestors about seven (7) generations back, which would include Ancestors from Afrika. If you need to find some of these items, look for an international grocery store that serve immigrants or look for W. African traders in your city.

coconut.jpgBy the way, its about giving them what they WANT, not what you are COMFORTABLE preparing. The easiest way to do things, is to give your Ancestors what they ate when they were alive, unless they died of health conditions associated with their diet. (We don’t want to perpetuate health conditions in your family.) On the other hand, many offerings are given because of the spiritual identity or energy that food symbolizes, so don’t get caught up in giving pork or coffee or something laced in sugar, etc. The offering is sometimes bigger than it’s mundane existence. For example, if you are always arguing with family members, it makes good sense to give your Ancestors a dish of honey. If you are battling to keep your job, a glass of gin makes perfect sense.(Even if you would never drink it yourself.)

If you have access to a form of divination then you should use it to confirm your offerings. If you don’t use your instinct and over time you get a handle on what works best in certain conditions for your family line.

Diasporan

  • Candied Yams
  • Coconut
  • Coffee
  • Gin (Oti) / Rum
  • Honey (Oyin)
  • Collard Greens
  • Okra
  • Hammocks
  • Water
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Sweets
  • Coffee
  • A small plate of whatever you are eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Continental

  • Raw and Baked Yams
  • Iyan/ Fufu (cooked yam flour)
  • Kola Nuts /bitter orogbo
  • Obi abata
  • Gin (Oti) / Rum
  • Honey (Oyin)
  • Palm Wine
  • Oto
  • Palm Nut / Palm Oil
  • Palm Nut & Peanut Soup
  • Water
  • Fresh Fruit
  • A small plate of whatever you are eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Common Questions

  1. How do I know what they want? Use divination if its available, ask living relatives what your ancestors enjoyed, if neither of these is available, use your intuition.
  2. How do I serve it? Using a white plate or bowl. If neither is available, use what you have. Some people prefer to use older, chipped white plates.
  3. How long do I leave it out? Refer to question 1. Whatever you do, don’t let it start to rot.
  4. How much do I give? How much abundance do you want? How big is the need? What can you afford? Once, you’ve answered these questions you will know how much to give.
  5. How often do I feed the Ancestors? You can feed them every 4 days, or you can establish a routine that fits your schedule better. The important part is to maintain the routine.
  6. Is there anything I should serve everytime? Yes. Water should be given everytime you feed your Ancestors.

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