OPINION: Have we lost our cultural values to the fear of what others don’t understand?
By Zuko Komisa
In a world that widely promotes western philosophy and behaviour, and with all the challenges that Africans face, how do we remain authentic with all the conflicts that arise from environments that denounce ancestral worship as a perceived shameful behaviour that stems from the practice being possibly being demonic, dark and archaic.
Understanding the power of ancestral worship goes deeper than we can imagine and goes beyond just scratching the surface. There are many religions that condemn the practice of ritualistic ancestral worship, firmly slamming any connection the dead have with the living. They expand into the condemnation of slaughtering an animal for sacrifice, worshiping idols and anything or anyone but God. The Bible is a classic example with numerous scriptures to that effect. “Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Matthew 4:10
Africa’s progress in scientific knowledge was subdued by the colonial powers who in their exertion of complete control attempted to destroy what they did not understand. This is evident in the obliteration of our true history, introduction of religions that contradict our beliefs as Africans along with the constant expropriation of our culture.
In South Africa ancestral worship is still strongly practiced, and to this day continues to hold a strong heritage of pre-Christian beliefs. In the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, at least 80% of South Africans travel to cultural villages about three times a year to seek counsel from a sangoma, with very few telling their friends and family about it. In instances where a conversation or any experience is shared, it is occasionally raised as if it was done by a third person. How respected is the practice if one goes through behaviours that manifest from a calling, the judgement that follows when you seek consultation from a sangoma vs seeing a pastor or psychologist. Even though many South Africans seek help from sangomas it is still shunned by people who conform to western religious ideals. However, people find themselves practising both their traditional and religious rituals – which causes internal conflict as they don’t know where to belong.
There have been many reports of local public figure responding to their calling and undergoing training in the form of ‘ukuthwasa’ which has also allowed for the conversation about ancestral worship to be more mainstream and seen less as a backward reality. Many of them have had to balance their careers and the practice of healing. They included Latoya Makhele, Sphokazi ‘Camagwini’ Buti, Boitumelo ‘Boity’ Thulo, Treasure Tshabalala, Buhle Mda and many others
To many it is very important to believe in the ancestral spirit for them to work for you, when consulting with a sangoma you are in the presence of designated diviner who has been thoroughly trained as a medium that connects you with your ancestors and higher power. ‘Amadlozi’ are the spirits of the African ancestors, those that came before us all, who play an enormous role in the lives of their living descendants. It is to them that an offering and sacrifice is made for a protected life.
African Universal Religion
Ancestral worship is a universal religion of Africa, even though the religion of Islam has dominated North Africa whilst the rest of the continent still firmly believes in Christianity, there is still a large part of the African population openly combining Christianity with ancestral worship.
The common belief with the practice is that there needs to be constant acknowldgement of the ancestors throughout the various life stages of an African. When a child is born, when a child reaches puberty, when boy becomes a man, when marriage happens, when buying a new house or car and when a death happens. This also stretches to when things aren’t necessarily going well; when an unfortunate accident happens, when there is a death or illness, troubles in a marriage and cleansing after a dark cloud has hung in a family.
The conversation around the ancestral worship hasn’t been given enough room to be understood as we continue give preference to western and foreign religions. Commercially it is not popular, regardless of the large population who believe in, it’s not commonly understood as we don’t constantly talk about it in many spaces, we don’t give permission to people to ask the relevant questions about it.
John Perlman spoke to Aubrey Mashiqi about his understanding Ancestral Worship and how faith help you deal with the challenges of South Africa today