Connecting to Your Ancestry

One of the things that all humans have  in common is that none of us came into this reality all by ourselves. We had people that came before us that literally opened up the doors for us, who we owe our very existence to. The most recent of these would be our parents. For this reason, and many others, reverence for ones parents is a principle that is in virtually every culture on the planet. This reverence also extends to ones grandparents, great-grandparents, and so forth. Due to the impacts of colonization and the transatlantic slave trade, many people of African descent have stopped showing this reverence, and therefore have become disconnected from their roots. This has resulted in a stagnation of culture, broken family structures and very poor self esteem in many people.

It now appears to be a renewed interest in connecting to ones ancestry, and figuring out where one has been. Websites like Ancestry.com have helped a number of people, as well as methods such as DNA testing. To encourage people to help connect to their roots, I have decided to share my experiences, observations, and insights I have received from my own ancestors (both the living and “non-living” ones).

The first thing I would recommend is for people to shift their perception of their ancestry. Many people today like to use terms such as “lineage.” The problem with the term “lineage” is that it generally only counts the males ancestors of ones father as being important. This is patriarchal, linear thinking! The fact is, you get the same amount of chromosomes from your father as you do from your mother. When you look at your ancestors in their totality, what you get looks less like a line and more like a pyramid. And guess who is at the apex? YOU!

Standing at the apex

If you go back just one generation, you have two ancestors. Go back two, and that number becomes six. Skip to ten generations and now you can have up to 2046 ancestors . Mind boggling isn’t it?  You are a combination of millions of years of evolution. You contain traits from every one of your ancestors, starting from the first divine seed that humanity sprang from (Ifenta, which means “small light” was the name of the first human in Igbo cosmogony).

One should not fall into the trap of elevating your ancestors above ones self. Some people use the term “ancestor worship” to describe what a lot of Africans do to those that came beforehand. While I feel that back in the day, it was a misnomer, from my observations, today many people of African descent do tend to put to put their ancestors on a pedistool that they are unable to reach. Rather than elevating them to a high place, think of them as people in a relay race who have passed their torch to you. Your job is to run faster than they did. As long as you are caught up in worshipping them, you can never outdo them.

Passing the baton

With that being said, I would say that the first thing one should do if they wish to connect with their ancestry is to begin with your relatives that are in the flesh. This is a step that TOO many people neglect to do. It troubles me to see folks who yell and scream about their “ancient” ancestors but haven’t made sincere attempts to have a good relationship with their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents or other living relatives.  The very first time I connected with my “non-living” paternal grandfather, it was a powerful experience. While in meditation, I began to focus on his image and name intensely. In making the connection, he told me very clearly that if I really wished to be able to connect with him on a deeper level, that I would have to connect better with my father, who I have often had a rocky relationship with. But it makes sense doesn’t it? Your parents are the bridge to your grandparents, and if you have a blockage in that relationship, it will extend to any deeper ones. The point that I’m trying to make is that one should do things in the right order.  It would be crazy to try to climb Mount Everest before conquering a small hill, just like it would be crazy to try to connect with some “ancient” ancestors if you don’t even have a good relationship with your recent ones.

I am blessed to still have both of my parents, and I have one grandparent left (on my mothers side). I met my maternal grandfather before he passed, and also my paternal grandmother when I was a baby. If you have any living grandparents, or great-aunts or uncles, you are a lucky person indeed. They are a living gateway to your “non living” ancestors, and you should took full advantage of their presence in the physical. Talk to them as much as you can, and if possible record the conversations using either audio or video. These conversations will prove to be invaluable in the future, both for yourself as well as your descendants, especially after they have made their transition. Don’t hesitate to also record conversations with other relatives including aunts and uncles, as well as your parents.

"Ana Muo" (Land of the Spirits) by Uche Okeke

A very important step that I would implore everyone to do is to take it upon themselves to create a family tree. This one single action can open up doors in ways that many people could not even imagine. By creating a family tree, you put together a puzzle that shows “your ingredients”, start to retrace the footsteps of your ancestors, and you gain the support of elders in your family and appreciation of the younger generations. Plus it will help you to connect to your ancestors more if you know their names,  what they looked like, where they were born, what they did for a living, how they lived, etc. Take note:  African definitions of family differ from the Western definitions as they includes as many people as possible from a particular bloodline, i.e extended family. That means aunts, uncles, cousins, and everyone in between. However, you can go as deep as you see fit.

Creating your family tree will quite literally be like trying to solve a grand mystery. In fact, to do it well, you will have to interview numerous family members of different ages, most likely visit various cities, states or countries, look into public records, etc. It will not be an easy process, but along the way, you will build key relationships, get valuable information, perhaps get hold of  key family artifacts and relics, and maybe even uncover some priceless secrets! One thing for sure, you and your family will not be the same after you start this process.

If you are a person that has a limited knowledge of their ancestry due to the Maafa (African Holocaust),  you might want to go and take a DNA test. These tests can trace your maternal lineage as well as your paternal lineage even down to a specific ethnic group in Africa. I personally would recommend African Ancestry as they are a black owned company and a number of my good friends have gotten excellent results from them.

Creating a family tree will turn you into Sherlock Holmes

As you continue on your ancestral odyssey, once crucial thing I would recommend you to start building would be an ancestral shrine. Although the word “shrine” has negative connotations due to Judeo-Christian propaganda, one definition of a shrine is simply “A site hallowed by association with a revered person or object or with an important event.” Another word for this would be a memorial. Here are some examples of some popular shrines:

Washington Monument

Lincoln Memorial

Stonewall Jackson Shrine

Shrine of the Black Madonna

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

All the time and energy you spent on putting together your family tree will enhance the ancestral shrine that you construct. Keep in mind however, that there is no “right way” to build an ancestral shrine. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that whatever is done on the African continent is more “correct” than what you can come up with. Let your spirit guide you, and you won’t be mislead. I recall a lecture I attended a few years ago from an organization who had a program of helping teach Africans in the Diaspora how to construct ancestral shrines. The women giving the lecture said that when they had an event with some older Black American women from the south, the presenters actually ending up learning more from the older Black women!

I’ve seen simple shrines and I’ve seen complex shrines. Use your imagination! Utilize pictures, personal possessions, candles, historical memorabilia, etc. to create your ancestral shrine. If you want, you can also include an alter where you can place water, plants, seeds, as well as articles of food or alcohol from time to time. Traditional Igbo ancestral altars typically contained sacred objects such as an Ofo stick (passed down from generation to generation) and an Ikenga. Kola nuts were broken at it every morning accompanied by a prayer for good favor.  Below is an example of one:

Igbo Ancestral Shrine

Here are some examples of ancestral shrines and altars from different cultures:

Urhobo Ancestral Shrine

Edo (Benin) Ancestral Shrine & Altar

A Korean jesa altar for ancestors

Mexican Day of the Dead Outdoor Altar

A Vietnamese altar for ancestors

Haitian Voodoo Ancestral Altar

I foresee a future where ancestral alters will resemble the hologram of  his father Jor-El that Superman keeps in his Fortress of Solitude, as seen in many of the Superman films. Its one project that I’m personally working on making a reality.

As you continue your journey, you will start to become aware of your ancestors speaking to you through signs, symbols, dreams, as well as through other people. In time, you will learn the language that they speak, and be able to communicate more effectively with them. If at any time you feel isolated or in need of guidance, become very still and remember that your ancestors live in you, and they will always be there to support you. Your body is a living shrine to them and your positive actions are better than any type of sacrifice you could offer them or libation you could pour. Yagazie (May we prosper) !

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8 thoughts on “Connecting to Your Ancestry

  1. Deep! Wow makes me wanna travel to Virginia right now and do my research! Udo my brother and thank you for the inspiration!

  2. Thank you for this timely reminder. It’s so easy to forget how lucky you are if you have living relatives who you can talk to and find out about the family history from when you’re a member of the diaspora. Don’t put it off!

  3. This is very inspirational to me because it helps me value my history and the present. I really felt a closeness to family and my ancestors but now I feel that putting that feeling of connection into practice will really be what makes a difference for future generations. Dalu.

  4. Thank you for that! Through African Ancestry, my maternal line was traced to the Tikar people and my paternal line to the Igbo people. I pray that we in the diaspora continually reach back and realize our connection with our ancestors. We’ve always had it, but we just don’t always believe it when it presents itself to us. I pray that our ancestors reach out to us.

  5. Pingback: On Ancestral (Dis)Connections | the adventures of cosmic yoruba and her flying machines

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