Celebrating East African Writing!

Milk not Good Enough Libation for The Ancestors by Irinah Wandera

From the South American Andes to ancient Judea to India, Greece, Cuba, Russia, Siberia, and even Britain libation, a ritual pouring of a drink as an offering to a god, was common practice. This is no different from traditional Africa where the ritual was an essential ceremonial tradition and a way of paying homage to the ancestors. Ancestors in traditional Africa were respected and libation rituals were offered as prayers inviting the ancestors to participate in all public functions. An elder was responsible for performing the ritual.

We call it a milk glut, thousands of Litres of milk poured on Pachamama. Having explored all options, it was decided that the only use of excess milk is offering a libation to the ancestors. Given that libations in traditional Africa were offered in small quantities, the ancestors would be very pleased that we are giving them in excess. Our reasoning is that there must be reserves down there where the ancestors will store the milk as the future is uncertain. Due to climate change, we now have plenty and it is only prudent that we give the ancestors enough so that they store and when the drought comes, they will not grow weary as there will be enough in their reserves for that period.

But we are a misguided generation and we bring curses upon ourselves. First of all, there was no elder to perform the ritual. Young men excitedly emptied the plastic containers as camera men covered the proceedings live in motion. Secondly, there was no good enough reason for calling upon the ancestors. There was no special feast or communal gathering that warranted such action.

The ancestors must be asking themselves what they didn’t do right or what they did wrong. The misguided generation we are; we offer them libation for all the wrong reasons and occasions. Maybe we thought we could appease them with milk and they would easily forget the libations we are used to offering them. Things could turn around with an offering of milk! Time and time again, we awaken the ancestors. With libations of innocent blood; we kill their children and soil the Pachamama with this blood; we deny them a good future by stealing money meant for the education of their offspring (where the souls of the ancestors rest through the reincarnation); we cut down trees and when there is no rain the ground dries up. We then go ahead and run with our banana leaves thumping our chests and trample the earth hailing men and women who have stolen the ancestors’ offspring’s education funds. And we choke them with our dust. Every time the ancestors try to take a nap, we awake them with our quarrelling; making unnecessary noise fighting each other with our rungus and mashetes.

The ancestors are very angry and they are running out of patience. Our milk offering will not appease them. What occasion is this we are calling the ancestors to participate in? Shall they come to witness our arrogance; our religious, political and ethnic animosities? Shall they come to partake of the starvation of our children, living in a dilapidated environment with no hope for the future? For their only hope, an education to pull them from the claws of poverty is no more! Shall they come to witness a mother commit suicide because she could not afford her child a fine education which was supposed to be financed by money donated by the loyal tax-payer and patriotic citizen as well as the big-hearted white man? Shall they come to witness our greed and big headedness? Why do we awaken our ancestors to come and see what has become of us, their offspring? There is no reason good enough to pay them homage with our milk libation.

What then shall we do? What occasion is good enough for us to invoke their participation? The best libation we can offer our ancestors is our sweat. Let’s get down to business and work, sweat like never before so that with only a single drop of our sweat, the ancestors will be much appeased and they will come partake of our feast. Plant trees so that the rains may pour and cool the ancestors’ world. Take your pangas and farm implements and get down to work. Till the land, let the sound of the jembes tilling the land be music to the ancestors’ ears so that they may join in the singing and give us strength to keep on working. Let our laughter and neighborliness among our different ethnic, religious and political diversities bring a smile to their faces and they will join in our merriment.

If not so, then every time we pour milk on Pachamama, we ought to chant mantras to caution the ancestors that it is not libation. It is a supplement for watering the grass or manure for our crops even though we have no scientific backing for our action. Or maybe it is poisoned milk unfit for human consumption. But that would only awaken their wrath. Why do we want them to be the ones drinking poisoned milk?

We like playing silly games but this time, we have taken it too far. We have forgotten that to every freedom, there must be a limit! After tormenting each other, we decide its time to cross over and pick a fight with our ancestors. Are we sure we will be able to live with the repercussions should the ancestors awaken and decide to descend their wrath upon us?

© Irinah Wandera 2010 See more of Irinah’s Work here.

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.


2 comments on “Milk not Good Enough Libation for The Ancestors by Irinah Wandera

  1. Pingback: Popular Culture « Storymoja

  2. kyt
    May 22, 2010

    this guy is a writer, heck a hell of an opinion writer or better still a columnist, 9 without, a doubt keep it up!!


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