A general misconception is that all the dead become ancestors, when in fact, only those who lived exemplary lives (by the standards of their society) will be elevated to ancestor status. Some will be forgotten because of the lives they led, and others for the way in which they died. Ikenga-Metuh cites several qualifications the departed must meet and some procedures that must be followed before a person can become an ancestor. Generally ancestorhood requires “old-age, Offspring, good moral life, and [specific] funeral rites; some societies add a fifth requirement — Good death.” All societies usually require old age of course. It is veneration that makes ancestorhood possible; if a person has left no one behind, that person cannot be elevated to the status of ancestor. Therefore, having a child is normally required to become an ancestor. However, among the matrilineal Akan of Ghana, it is a mother’s eldest brother, who may be childless, to whom a stool (symbol of ancestral power) is dedicated and not one’s father. As a result, we must view ancestral veneration groups as lineage associations and not domestic filial groups.
Ancestors in a strict sense are responsible for social morality and the maintenance of cultural norms. They are guardians of the lineage group. Physical death has transformed them, whereas now they are closer to more vital life forces, and as such, are more knowledgeable and powerful. Their new position affords them the benefit of foreknowledge. Some duties of the ancestors are to warn, guide, and advise their relatives on earth. They are custodians of traditional laws and customs. As such, they also mete out rewards and punishments. As guardians of family affairs, traditions, ethics and activities, an offense in these areas is an offense against the ancestors, who then, acting as invisible “police,” discipline the offending responsible members of the family and community.
If a person is a liar, an adulterer but follows clan protocol, feeds his shrines, and maintains the proper relationship with his ancestor, he will become an ancestor in “equal standing” with other ancestors. If he upholds the clan standards, it is of little significance how he functions as a person. (We must remember ancestors are guardians of social/group morality and not personal propriety.) His personal behavior only becomes an issue when he does something that merits expulsion from his lineage group or clan. If expelled, he will not receive a burial requisite of becoming an ancestor. In many societies, funeral rites are viewed as absolutely essential for successful ancestral transition — and when not performed properly or completely — a person can be denied entry into the ancestral realm.
Untimely deaths also preclude a person from ancestorhood. Afrikans believe a person naturally should live to a ripe old age. When this fails to happen, they believe the person was unable to fulfill his destiny and as a result is not entitled to become an ancestor. Deaths by suicides, accidents, or diseases disqualify the person as well. They do not receive their full funeral rites.
The irreverent dead do not become ancestors. When these persons were alive, they fail to live up to clan obligations and norms, consequently, there is no desire to recall their deeds and more important, to have them “reborn.” Afrikans do not want certain persons to return. On the other hand, ancestors are persons who have fulfilled society’s definition of acceptable behavior. Afrikans consciously venerate and welcome those persons who were exemplars of society’s values to come back into the lineage. The lineage wants to reduce their “bad characters” and in this sense, funerary rites provide for a type of “spiritual eugenics.”
The West holds many misconceptions about traditional societies and one is that they are static. It is not that Afrikan societies are static; Afrikan societies are structured more for subtle change rather than radical extreme changes. Afrikan society is constantly replenishing its ancestors. As elders/ancestors pass from one world to the next, and back again (as the reincarnated ancestral soul), they carry their experiences. When they return to the physical realm via their grandchildren, they undoubtedly bring their experiences into the present; Usually, in the Afrikan conception, an ancestor returns as but one aspect/soul of the multiple souls a person possesses. Through divination it is determined which ancestor has returned. As the “reborn” ancestor’s life force influences the person it has “incarnated,” its experiences are not so far removed from the present, as it is just two generations removed from it. Therefore, change occurs through this process. In this subtle fashion, the past influences the present and things change from generation to generation. When change occurs in this way, society accepts it as the will of the ancestors who have come back (and of course the Supreme Being). Afrikans look forward to having children because this provides a means by which the ancestors can return. Likewise, parents want their children to have offspring to provide the path for them to return as ancestors. While in the spirit realm, the ancestors also fortify their family by giving advice, blessings, and guidance, ensuring that when they do return, they come back to a more prosperous family.
Now what does this have to do with some Apes? How can Apes be symbols of social customs and moral excellence? I'll be redundant and re-post my joke from last week.
A little girl asked her mother, "How did the human race appear?"
The mother answered, "God made the first two human, one male the other female and they had children and so was all mankind made.
"Two days later the girl asked her father the same question.
The father answered, "Many years ago there were monkeys
from which the human race evolved.
"The confused girl returned to her mother and said, "Mama, how
is it possible that you told me the human race was created by
God, and Dad said they developed from monkeys?"
The mother answered, "Well, dear, it is very simple. I told you
about my side of the family and your father told you about his."
I am not human because I am an animal that makes tools, I am human because my culture cultivated specific qualities in me, sharing and caring, being two of the most quintessential. Human beings are consciously created by culture, and are not automatic by-products of living!!! And it is those who came before us, the ancestors, who laid that groundwork, and this is why we must be ever thankful to them, this is why we honor our ancestors.