CHAPTER FOUR 4. 1 THE AFRICAN CONCEPT OF ANCESTORS From the dictionary definition of ancestors, the Merriam Webster dictionary define ancestor as a person who was in someone’s family in past times; people from who a person or people is descended. Ancestors are peoples in time past from who a particular peple are descended and it is more remote in the line of descent that grandparents. However, The African connotation of ancestors refers to those men of the society whose life were well lived and thus admitted into the abode of the ancestors at their demise.
Africans believe that people continue to live after death (living dead), that doesn’t mean that everybody who dies is an ancestor. Usually the person must live a good life, have had children and contributed to the progress of his people. Fuller observed that: In some group, there is a ceremony after the person’s death whereby his relatives install him to ancestors status and make his shrine. Also men are often consulted than women. In some tribes, a young person, even if he has no children, may become an ancestor spirit if he was outstanding, and old people ho have no children can also become ancestor.
But not in every tribe” (59). Although, it is a reality that some ancestors are remembered and some are not remember. Those that are remembered are those Mbiti classified as being in the state of “personal immortality’, while those who the last person who remembers them is dead are in the state of “collective immortality’. However, in Africa when ancestors are remembered both known and unknown are celebrated. Abanuka denotes ancestors “as those who have realised to a remarkable degree the values nd aspirations of their community or groups” (36).
The respect and reverence ancestors receive is due to their accomplishments when they were alive. Consequently, if their achievements touched the entire community they would be reverence by the entire community and similarly if their accomplishments touched only a section of the community, their reverence will be limited to that section of the community. This therefore indicates that in the African ontology there are grades and levels in the abode of the ancestors. 4. 2 THE CHARACTERISTIC FEATURES OF ANCESTORS In African ontology, ancestor are ascertained by certain characteristic features.
Onyedinma avers that “ancestors are disembodied spirits….. not all disembodied spirits are ancestors but those who posses some conditions” (175). It is by these features that one can be considered an ancestor. One of the essential features of ancestors include upright and good moral life. It is expected that an ancestor should be one of good behaviour and conscious of the progresss of his community while he lives. It is to this effect that people who live reckless lives and troublesome lives like hieves, murderers, suicides, troublemakers and lazy fellows have no place in the cult of the ancestors.
This is because in Africa it is believe that in the beyond they continue to cause havoc and disaster and thus cannot be among the rank of ancestors. Ancestors are those who died good and natural death. It is believe that the ancestors beyond knows and rewards the good sons of the land with god and natural among them. Conversely, those who die as a result of some considered abominable sickness such as swollen abdomen, diarhea, chicken or small pox in some areas or by uicide have no place among the ancestors. Furthermore, an ancestor is one who died at a ripe old age.
This based on the philosophy that one cannot die prematurely without having his hand in things that are base and nothing happens by chance. Calamities, sicknesses, failures, disaster and unfavourable condition are caused by malignant spirits or punishment from the ancestors and those who die of such are considered dying evil deaths thus cannot become ancestors. Ancestors in most part of African are considered to be men. Women are often not regarded as ancestors. This may be because of the patrilineage system witness in most part of Africa.
However, Kanu observed that, in some part of Africa women are also considered as ancestors like the Ashanti of Ghana, Ndembu of Zambia and the Bende if Nigeria (180). Lastly, proper funeral rite is an essential feature of ancestors. This is evident in the various rites associated wit burial and funeral in many African societies. Hence, one who have not receive a proper and good funeral rite of passage from the lad of the living to the land of the living dead automatically has no place among the cult of ncestors in Africa. . 3 THE ROLES AND SIGNIFICANCE OF ANCESTORS IN AFRICA ONTOLOGY In the African ontology, the ancestors are actively involved in the affairs of their families and communities this participation in the activities of the living makes them significant in the African existential existence. The ancestors perform a unifying role in the African community; According to Kanu, “ancestors ensure the unity of all the members of the family both the living and the dead” (182).
This is so because members of one’s family and even one’s extended families are united by the act that they have common ancestors. They also unify the community by keeping their watchful eyes on the members of their families. This induces them to care, empower, bless, reward and inspire each other for the greater unity which in turn, enhances progress and development. In African existence, ancestors are believe to play protective roles. This is because they once lived in the physical world, so they are of the pains and miseries of the living family.
It is to this regard Abanuka noted that “being spirits, they are able to see impending dangers ad have potentials to rotect their families and clans from diseases, enemies and calamities” (38). However, the people most establish a good relationship with the ancestors in other to enjoy this favour. The ancestors are intermediaries between gods and the iving. Being closer to the gods and having knowledge of the needs of the living, it is believed that they are in better position to intercede for the living members of their families.
The ancestors are responsible for enforcing discipline in case of the breaking of social values in the society. As Kanu observed that it is believed that calamities are often llowed by the ancestors to discipline the defaulting living members of their families. This is so, because each time there is a calamity, there is usually enquiry to find out the cause which in many times ends up with sacrifices to appease the ancestors and an attempt to correct the violated social norm (190).
A good example is the Alekwu cult of the Idoma people of Nigeria. The ancestors facilitate holistic healing in the African ontology. The ancestors are believed to ensure healing of their families because of the belief that what happens here on earth affects what happens in the uffering even when the child is responsible, so also the ancestors are believed to be disturbed when things are not going well with the living members of their families or when they are sick even when the sickness is as a result of punishment from the ancestors .
Edu 202; 2012). In summary, efforts are directed to ensure unity with the community and with the ancestors since one actually exist if the bond of relationship is not broken. In the African existential existence, people owe their existence to other people, including those of the past generation (ancestors) and his contemporary.