Ancestors in African Mythology

ancestors In many traditions throughout Africa, ancestors are not truly dead in the final sense of the word. Although unseen, they are forces in the lives of the living and can be called on for guidance and protection. Ancestor cults have a prominent place in the mythologies of the people of East Africa and southern Africa, with the exception of the nomadic Maasai. spirits of ancestors were members of every African pantheon of deities; in the hierarchy of the pantheon, most were considered superhuman beings, not deities. In the tradition of the Bambara of Mali, when the first humans died, they did not disappear. They moved closer to the Creator and became ancestors. For the Bambara, death is viewed as a positive transition in the direction of the Creator. Living humans appeal to the ancestors to intercede with the Creator for them or to exercise power on their behalf. A major component of Bambara religion involves ritual communication with the ancestors. Ancestral spirits were usually seen as spiritual guardians who protected the community against enemies. People expected ancestral spirits to continually guard the living. The Zulu of South Africa invoked the help of the spirit world by calling on the amadlozi, the ancestors of the Zulu people. Ancestral spirits known as ombwiri (or ombuiri) functioned as guardians for a number of ethnic groups in Central Africa, particularly in Gabon. The ombwiri took a personal interest in the affairs of their descendants. Depending on their feelings toward the chosen descendant, these spirits could bring well-being and wealth or inflict illness and misfortune. They could ancestors  appear in dreams, in visions available to members of the ombwiri cult, and during ceremonies in which narcotic herbal preparations were consumed. According to the tradition of the Fon of Benin, the tohwiyo (founders) were the divine founding ancestors of the Fon clans. The tohwiyo started the clans, instituted their laws, and organized their cults. The mizhimo—the ancestral spirits of the Ila and Kaonde of Zambia—mediated between humans and the Supreme God, Leza. The rain chief of the Bari and Fajulo of Sudan received his rainmaking tools and powers from the ancestors and interceded with the Supreme God through the ancestors. According to the Ashanti of Ghana and other members of the Akan language group, living persons could communicate with the nsamanfo—the spirits of the ancestors—in dreams or meditative states. The Dogon of Burkina Faso and Mali have two categories of ancestors: those who lived before death entered the world and those who lived after death came to humanity. Ancestors in the first category were considered immortal; those in the second category were mortal.

Taken from African Mythology A to Z – Library Binding – May 1, 2010- Second Edition – Written by Patricia Ann Lynch (Author), Jeremy Roberts Dr (Editor) – Copyright © 2004, 2010 by Patricia Ann Lynch