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The Importance of Ancestral History, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1308

Essay

As time passes, history is becoming all the more important. As the future is being clouded with new and inventive technologies, many of the stories in the past, as well as figures are being lost on the new generation. We can recall to events as recent as during any awards event where a significant figure of the past is approached with questions on Twitter; “Who is this/that?” Only for the older generation mid-80s and back to groan in unison. Although this is just an example of the many forgotten figures that have long been decorated throughout history, there is also the problem of remembering ancestral history.

In looking at the works of Leopold Senghor, and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Both works surround the theme of ancestors, particularly those of the Igbo clan in Achebe’s work, or Senghor that focused on modern African poetry; they each provide a look at the past. Ancestors play an integral part in all societies, and for this subject the precolonial sub-Saharan Africa. These histories and stories from ancestors are still a central part of the culture, as the assignment shares. Ancestors are the spiritual collectivity from which the living are reincarnated, and to whom the living will return after death. IN many cultures, their influence significantly impacts their lives, as they are regarded as judges, protectors, and guides. It is fundamental that the generations continue to communicate with their ancestors through various ways to continue their legacy.

Examining Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, a story that surrounds the inability to change, even as things around change touches on the issues characters impacted by the advent of tradition. There is an increasing tension in which depicts the characters tussling with the aspects of change over tradition, and what personally that meant for them. Looking at the title character of Okonkwo, in questioning his own masculinity he resists the new religious and political orders, that over resist the culture change in lieu of changes in social status. He wasn’t alone in thinking this way, many people throughout the village, while excited about the new prospects of technology, job opportunities, and other changes were also hesitant in where tradition would fit in. Religion as well as tradition that follows the legacy set by their ancestors plays a significant role in the Igbo tribes’ daily lives. This can be seen by Unoko, “Unoka prayed to their ancestors for life and health, and for protection against their enemies.” (Achebe 5) When confronted with the British influence, and what it means for the abandonment of the Igbo language and cultures, problems arise in how the Igbo culture, tradition, and ancestral history are fundamental factors.

Looking further at these aspects can be seen as of tilling the land, as the tribal members make sacrifices to the gods, just like their parents before them. They rely on these sacrifices and traditions passed down by their ancestors to reap a good harvest. “…When a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm.” (Achebe 13) These traditions are followed as dependent on their “chi” or personal god that directs their fortune to how they die, and treated after death. The history and the traditions of the ancestors are through to be sacred and remembered by the next generation. Even in the gruesome nature in which Okonkwo beat his wife, Ezeani, during the Week of Peace, Ani, found it highly disrespectful to their ancestors and their gods, and would not break the kola nut. (Achebe 22)

The significance of upholding the legacies of their ancestors are not lost on the characters in the story, as Okonkwo, wanted to instill the same diligence he had in honoring his ancestors and culture in his son. Achebe’s novel points to the power of religion, tradition, and culture. Even blending the supernatural occurrences of their ancestors, as an egwugwu or ancestral spirit would appear from the underworld. This ancestral spirit would be harmless in most cases, but also could be evil. As Achebe writes, “the land of the living was not far removed from the domain of the ancestors.” “A men’s life from birth to death was a series of transition rites which brought him nearer and nearer to his ancestors.” (Achebe 92) From this thinking alone, for the Igbo tribe the ancestral history will remain a fixture in lives of the clansmen.

For Senghor, he tends to focus on modern African thinking. The cultural and traditional influence of ancestors plays a pivotal role in his works, as does Achebe’s. Writing at a time of black awareness throughout Europe, he wrote a surrealist view about the purest view on the black African. Even with the perspective of the surrealist poet discussing the roots of Africa, ancestral history and importance played a large influence in many of his proses. Looking at his style, as well as many of this first styles of writing in negritude, in which he expressed his opposition to the colonialization of the African nations.

A form of solidarity, as well as an understanding and appreciation of the African culture and ancestral influence. This can be seen in one of his early works, “In Memorium”, in which gives a nostalgic critic of his time in Africa, the importance of his ancestral legacy, and African identity. “From my tower of glass filled with pain, the nagging Ancestors/ I gaze at roofs and hills in the fog.” (Senghor) Senghor wants to remember those that have passed on before him, and the links that they share to the land, and the culture of Africa.

While he struggles with his dual identity to France, he still reminisces about Senegal, and more importantly about the significance of remembering. His ancestral and cultural appreciation is also mirrored in “Joal”, another poem that reflects on the place of his birth, his memories, and historical events that happened before him. “I remember the funeral feasts steaming with the blood of slaughtered livestock/ The noise of quarrels, the rhapsodies of the griots.” (Senghor) These lines depict the celebration of the birth and the death of an individual. The tradition is to honor this celebration through the sacrifice of an animal. The griots are those that passed on the social and cultural aspects of the community. In his most direct highlight on the significance of his ancestors and culture is in “Prayer to Masks.” He writes a plea to the many mask that represent their ancestors acting as their protectors, their spiritual guides, their way of life. “Rectangular masks through whom the spirit breathes/ I greet you in silence/ You guard this place…/ In the name of your image, listen to me.” (Senghor)

As he makes his plea to his ancestors to recognize the plight of his people, he gives praise to their importance while he calls for their help. Senghor, focuses many of his works surrounding factors that point out his dual identities, in doing so he honors his ancestors by showing how importance they are even as he dwells in another country. Achebe throughout his novel depicts the overwhelming influence of the Igbo ancestors and how it shapes their way of life. Senghor focuses on what it means to the black, African identity, and the African diaspora in Europe and America. While both take different approaches, they both point out the essentialness of ancestral history and how it correlates with being a factor in how the individuals, and the characters live. In looking at the African literature, it pays special attention to the meaning of culture and tradition, and the unwillingness to conform or change, but instead to continue for the next generation.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Anchor, New York. (1994). 1959. Book.

Senghor, Leopold Sedar. Selected poems from The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry.  Eds. Gerald Moore and UlliBeier.  New York: Penguin, 1998.

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