Why do Africans venerate Ancestors?

AmaDlozi for the Zulus, Razana for the Madagascans, Muzimus for the Shonas, for the Mossis they join the Budtenga (land of the ancestors). The ancestors are truly in the heart of the spirituality in Africa and as we will see for all that concerns the traditional spirituality, this essential ritual has a logic and even scientific explanation. The Religion being the same all over the continent, the cosmogony of Iunu in Egypt will be our reference for this lecture.

Illustration by Ricardo Chavez Mendez
An African spirit, illustration by Ricardo Chavez Mendez

According to the ancient Egyptians, the human body is composed of nine parts; three of them will be studied here. They are:

  • The Khat : the body or the matter, which comes from the primordial waters (Nun) that have always existed.
  • The Ba : the individual soul, which allows to think and to feel emotions. It sieges in the heart. When God became aware of Himself-Herself in the Nun, She-He built up his-her Ba. As the first and oldest ancestor, She-He later passed it on to humans. At birth each person inherits from the Ba of an ancestor who accomplished his/her life according to the divine values.
  • The Ka : the energy that allows life to be. When the primordial Ancestor (God) came out of the Nun, through his-her organized energy (creator verb) stirred the primordial waters, allowing them this way to be alive. God is the initial energy which is at the origin of creation, God totals up all the energies. The Ka stirs this way the Khat so that human life can be.

The Khat is all that is palpable and visible, hence material. As for the Ka and the Ba, they are invisible, hence immaterial. Therefore, two of the being’s immaterial components are the Ka and the Ba. The Ka is linked to the primordial Ancestor.

When one dies, the Khat (body) decomposes itself. According to the Egyptians, the Ba (soul) must be judged in tribunal of the dead and if it is not heavy with sins, it will be passed on to a new born child (reincarnation), otherwise it is destroyed. As for the energy, as a matter of principle it never dies. It transforms itself but never disappears. That is a physics law which makes unanimity.

Going from that conclusion, the Ka (energy) is this way eternal and it is from this observation that was born the principle of the human being’s eternal life in the Kamit (Black) tradition. This is why death, implying the pure and simple disappearance, doesn’t exist in Africa. One speaks about transition, passage to Ka or passage to divine form. The dead becomes therefore divine for it’s nothing else but Ka.

Pharaoh Awutibra Sare Horo, 13th dynasty. He bears on his head the hieroglyphic writing of the Ka. It is about 2 arms lifted towards the sky as a sign of eternity.
Pharaoh Awutibra Sare Horo, 13th dynasty. He bears on his head the hieroglyphic writing of the Ka. It is about 2 arms lifted towards the sky as a sign of eternity.

Where do humans go after death through their Ka? The Ka fuses with the other Kawu (energies) by ascension in the solar light. As the solar light is the main expression of the primordial Ancestor on Earth, the most important energetic entity for it provides and regulates life through the plants photosynthesis and the liquefaction of water particularly, a lower analogy of the Creator seen by humans, this is why this ascension operates. The ascension produces itself better when the sun is high at zenith at midday, then we can talk about Ra.

Nelson Mandela, whose coffin was covered with a lion skin, went to meet his ancestors precisely at midday when the sun was at zenith, according to the Xhosa rites. The Xhosa are from Egypt
Nelson Mandela, whose coffin was covered with a lion skin, went to meet his ancestors precisely at midday when the sun was at zenith, according to the Xhosa rites. This African Ascension enabled the writing of the myth of Jesus’s Ascension. We see here that this misunderstood part of Jesus’s life becomes full of sense when we get back to the African roots that foreign people copied without understanding.

The dead joins the primordial Ancestor and consequently serves as an intermediary between God and the living. God being hidden (Imana/Amen) and hardly approachable, humans are practically unable to communicate with Her-Him. The dead who is nothing but energy represents an intermediary step between the living and the primordial Ancestor. The dead who was verging on the living, remains in touch with them and is verging on God. He stays between two worlds. Through some rites, the living has to enter in contact with his dead relative to address him some messages that will be passed on to God.

It’s an action of love that the ancestor performs towards the living through connecting him to God. This same love that has livened up their relationship throughout his life or that links them by filiation carries on hereafter.

Following this principle of immortality through energy, in Togo, the dead ancestors are considered as members of the families. According to the African Caribbean specialist in African studies Mrs Ama Mazama, when one pours out dirty water in a courtyard in Togo, one has to ask the ancestors to back up by saying ‘Agoo’. Generally an ancestor is only forgotten after five generations.

Speaking about Vodun (Voodoo) that is the best organized spirituality in Africa and its similarities with Egypt. The Ka is nothing but the Selido in the West African Vodun and the Ti-bon in the Haitian Voodoo. As for the Ba, it is the West African Semedo and the Gros-bon ange in Haiti.

Image probable du pharaon Pay Ndjem (Pinedjem I), se présentant devant Ousiré pour le jugement dernier de son Bâ. Cette image est tirée de ce que beaucoup d'africanologues considèrent comme le livre saint africain, livre appelé Livre des morts par les Occidentaux. Le véritable nom de ce livre est "Raou nyou peret m herou", c'est à dire "Le livre de la sortie (du défunt) vers la lumière du jour"
Probable picture of the late Pharaoh Payh Ndjem (Pinedjem I), presenting himself before Usireh (Osiris) for the Last Judgment of his Bâ (soul). This picture has been taken from what many Africanologists consider as the holiest African book, called The Book of the Dead by the West. The real name of this book is “Rawu nyu peret m heru”, that is to say “the Book of emergence forth (of the deceased) into the divine Light”

We end this presentation by talking about what medicine calls today near-death experience. If there are differences between cultures, systematically and repeatedly around the world, millions of patients who were dead before being resuscitated say the same thing coming back to life. They say they raised over their body, being able to see what was going through walls, saw “a light” in which they entered, that they felt very strongly an “energy”, that they have been in peace and tranquility. All this so astonishing, all this that the greatest Western scholars don’t understand and doubt, that’s thousands of years that the Africans have described it. Africans must reconnect with their knowledge of the role of the life, death and the role of death.

When one honors or worships or venerates the ancestor, one honors in reality the divine energy given at the beginning – which allowed to birth – and which survived after their death. The dead ancestor allows the living to be connected to the primordial Ancestor.

PS : We add below some passages coming from the Bwiti in Gabon. The Bwiti is a society of Initiated men and women to the African Religion. When someone dies, this is how the Initiated members describe the journey of the defunct. This text speaks clearly for itself:

Initiées du Bwiti en 2000 Photo de Laurent Sazy
Initiated women of the Bwiti

Photo by Laurent Sazy

O ô Lenda tsinzié, bepuya lalé ngomba The dead has passed

Miwongo ngadi duma kingiri The light of the flash indicates the way to the sky

Kunda meyabo, meyabo ngena ngena eh po The spirit came out and monitors the body with vigilance

Mongi disumba ma nkiunga ngwa The man has transitioned to another life

Keba, keba mekabo, yah The spirit wanders in the four directions of the universe seeking its place

Ngobe na melongo nia ke ngobe The spirit arrives at the table of judgment

Meyaya, yah! The spirit arrived at the place of the dead

Me boa okane I am innocent (says the dead)

Kuck o peka na riyanga The spirit now moves according to his will

Mebingo ya mekuku ô ô mebingo The almighty sun arrives and allows us to rise from the daylight” La Philosophie Africaine de la période pharaonique, Théophile Obenga, page 195.


By: Lisapo ya Kama © (All rights reserved. Any copying or translation of the text of this article is strictly forbbiden without the written approval of Lisapo ya Kama)

Notes :

  • Civilisation ou Barbarie (Civilization or Barbarism), Cheikh Anta Diop
  • L’impératif afrocentrique (The Afrocentric imperative), Ama Mazama.
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