Digest of terms

ancestor

ancestors and ancestral past are common across cultures. They may feature somewhat negatively as in 'the dead hand of the past' and used to call for the maintenance of yesterday's ways of doing things. Alternatively, they may represent the best in inherited wisdom which deserves to be rediscovered and renewed to meet the challenges of changing circumstance. Specifically within an African context appeal to the ancestors may be presented as a model for emulation and a source of inspiration for acting differently and better.

Ancestors may also be understood in expressly religious terms and understood as the spirits of deceased members of family, clan or lineage who are held in special honour and to whom special reverence is due. They may be thought to exercise especial power, there to be invoked in the hope of earthly assistance, or which may need to be appeased. A variety of rituals for these purposes is found throughout most non-European cultures - cultures which in other respects diverge widely - and thought of as entailing important duties, construed both religiously and ethically, to be discharged by current family (etc.) members. Such rituals have been popularly referred to as ancestor 'worship', but this is a misnomer.

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