This is part 2 of a guest post by Andy Alo. Yesterday in part 1, Andy called the belief that Africans worshipped their ancestors a theological myth. Based on field research he conducted on his own Lugbara ethnic group, he showed that semantically, respect for ancestors is not that same thing as “worship.” He also explained how “offerings” of food to the ancestors were understood. Read the whole post: Did Africans really worship their ancestors?
PART 2: Sacrifices and the invocation of the ancestors
Calamities or unfortunate events in Lugbara beliefs happen as a result of bad or immoral conduct by a member of the group, a sub group, or the entire community. In the Lugbara traditional religious system, a sacrificial lamb had to be offered to appease the anger of ADROO ‘absolute spirit’ who was capable of punishing the community. Ancestors were implicated in the process as witnesses. Ancestors were the ones who transmitted to the living generations the body of knowledge that would guide these generations in the way of truth ‘EDYO ADA’ (literally ‘true matter’). The ancestors were invoked as a way of helping the community remember what the ancestors had said would happen if anyone acted contrary to their teachings. For the Lugbara, it was not the ancestors who punished members of the community. Rather, punishment came directly from ADROO and was immediate.
In my research, the attributes of ADROO were not clear, but a key concept for understanding justice and judgment/punishment in Lugbara culture is LEMI “truth, right and innocence.” Briefly stated, LEMI means “if any one did wrong, something wrong would happen to him; and in case he did not do any wrong, no calamity, sickness or death could touch him.” LEMI is the ultimate justice beyond the reach of humans and was administered by the ADROO (absolute spirit). After pleading guilty, anyone who did wrong could sacrifice an animal to cancel the effects of punishment. In this entire process, the ancestors were simply reminders of the right way of living.
In sum, the Lugbara view of ancestors is a conjectural statement re-opening ways for new considerations. African ancestors were not worshipped in the traditional milieu; they were simply being honored as members of the community. They are gone and yet “they are with us”; transcendental fellowship continues. The ancient Lugbara had their own ways of perpetuating that communion; but those ways were not worship.
© 2008 Andy A. Alo
[Andy, from north-eastern Congo, is currently writing his dissertation at NEGST on translating the metaphor of light.]