Friday, 31 May 2013

African Spirituality And Bereavement.

It's been quite a number of months since my younger brother passed on (September 2012) and quite recently it was his 20th birthday (May 15th). This was an obviously very difficult time for my family. Grieving can drain you. Even when you have those days where you're feeling good, everyone else around you isn't, so you have to do what you can for them.

I discussed my struggles with grieving with some of my close friends who have an African-centred mindset (if that makes sense). I was told about African spirituality and how that deals with death. I admit I was angry when I was told about it. I thought 'how can you sit here and basically tell me to just be ok with my brother's passing'? I felt like they could never understand until happens to them.

Fast forward a number of weeks later, my mentality shifted. I took in what my friends told me and did some further research on African spirituality and what it says about death.

Western ideas, i.e. Christianity, teaches us that there's a heaven, limbo, purgatory (in Catholicism) and hell. Atheists believe there is nothing after death. Both of these ideas can further complicate the grieving process. I admit that a lot of the grieving I had done for relatives who had died before my brother consisted of worrying where they would end up (heaven or hell) or whether they were truly gone or not (atheism).

African spirituality is quite different from the Western ideas of death. According to African spirituality, we are spirits and our body is just a vehicle. There is almost no distinction between the living and dead.

African spirituality also adheres to the concept that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only transferred (as seen in the laws of thermodynamics). Basically, death is the transfer of life from the physical state to the spiritual state; we travel from one realm to another. This explains why spirits can contact loved ones through dreams and visions.

One of my friends told me that the realm entered by the dead is a state of peacefulness and happiness that living beings cannot comprehend. This realm also enables the dead to obtain a guardianship role of loved ones and offer them protection as they go about their lives. Furthermore, our attachment to spirits (people), also complicates the grieving process.

African spirituality is why certain Pan-African or 'conscious' people tend to say 'passed on' or 'joined the ancestors' instead of 'died' or 'passed away'. They're acknowledging that the body has died but that the spirit has transitioned to a different realm.

I suppose African spirituality is why some cultures celebrate those who have passed on; a good send-off will ensure that the spirit can transition properly.

Shrines and the pouring of libation (a ritual pouring of liquid as an offering), are used to honour those who have passed on. When I was younger, my dad would pour beer at the bottom of the doorpost. At the time, I never understood it. Looking back now, I know he was pouring libation for his parents.

I'll do further research on African spirituality, perhaps read some books and speak to spiritual doctors who could teach me a whole lot more about it. I hope this post has been of help to anyone who needed it.