A matter of Ancestral Traditions
In March of 2008 I received the following email:
have read of your experiences and the journey you traveled to reclaim your lost
biological ancestral identity. Your story is quite fascinating and is in fact
not very different from mine. Your experience, may be, will make it possible for
you to give me a piece of advice. I am an African male born and bred in South Africa 43
years ago. My father is still alive though very sick. When he was young he was
made to adopt the surname and clan name of his older half brother. His brother
and him do not share the same father. He never saw his half brotherís father as
he separated with their mother ten years before he (my father) was born. His
mother however made him adopt his older half brotherís clan name and surname
though she never hid the fact that they had different fathers.
we grew up we would ask our father about his paternal lineage and he would lie
to us and refer us to his elder half brother for answer and he in turn would
tell us that they shared both parents. We have just discovered that they had two
different fathers and my father does not deny this. However, he (my father) does
not want to change and reclaim his lost ancestral identity claim to fear the
wrath of his current adopted ancestors in spite of advices he is given of the
African traditional rituals he should perform if he wants a smooth crossing over
to his real ancestral lineage. I and my sisters on the other hand want to change
everything and reclaim our biological paternal lineage for our own sake and for
the sake of our children.
hope and pray that you read this letter and advise us accordingly
(Name withheld for
My first reaction was one of awe and humility that this man would
hold me in such high esteem that he would ask my advice in a matter that is so
important to him. After giving some thought to the matter this was my reply:
Yes, our stories have a common
thread and at the same time, as all our lives, have many differences. It is
my belief that we should celebrate the differences and learn from them
rather than reject them.
I can only tell you
about my approach to discovering my ancestral traditions and they of course
have been based in Christian beliefs, but at the same time very different
branches of Christianity, Some of my biological ancestors were Lutheran,
some were based in the Congregational and Anglican branches of
Christianity, all Protestant groups. As it happened, I was adopted by a
Catholic couple and in times past there was great animosity between
Catholics and Protestants.
It never occurred to me
that I should
change, reject my Catholic beliefs and faith
to appease my ancestors or for any other reason. It is not that I dishonor
them or reject them for their religious traditions for I do not. It is my
belief that we owe allegiance to the same God, the one who created
all of us. How we practice this allegiance varies with our traditions and in
these days especially, with individual beliefs.
My biological (half)
brother was raised in a mixture of Catholic and Protestant traditions
... Our mother was Lutheran while his father was Catholic and his present
wife is Catholic. My other (half) brother and (half) sisters were likewise
raised in a changed situation in that our father was Protestant and their
mother was Catholic and they follow the Catholic faith at this time.
You obviously live in a
tradition where your ancestors are held in very high regard (as they
should). It would seem to me that their Ancestral identity can not be lost
or found ... they are what they are, It is only our knowledge of them that
can be lost. I have found that traditions evolve and change, albeit slowly
and sometimes painfully. I would hope that we can either keep the
traditions with which we are familiar or change them without dishonoring
ancestors from either line.
I often pray for my
ancestors, both those of the parents who gave me life and the parents who
nurtured that life, for without any of them my life would not be the same. I
pray that they and I will be united in paradise where we will find our
different beliefs and traditions to be simply the manifestations of man's
ignorance of God's truth and intent. We will all be in harmony in that
This harmony (in my
belief) will include you, my distant brother, and all your ancestors as
well. All our differences will have melted away for we will be with the God
who created all of us. He created us and we created the differences. It is
God, I believe, who will prevail.
I hope that all of
this, written from the standpoint of my beliefs and traditions, make some
sense to you. I am guided and influenced by traditions which are very
different than yours. If you consider this as advice be aware that it is
free advice and probably worth all that you paid for it.
Thank you for visiting
The World of Grandpa Don and for your kind words. You are welcome to visit
often and to tell your friends about it. I am honored that you would ask my
opinion about such a personal subject.
To this I would only add that I hope the esteemed gentleman understands
my intent. His people may practice a form of ancestor worship. After all, they
have survived this life and now, having risen to a higher plain of existence,
now guide the lives of their descendants still living. Our
beliefs ore somewhat different. We (as Catholics, at least) believe that they
have also departed to a higher plain but being imperfect at death remain for a
time in a state of being we call Purgatory to be purged
of what imperfection remains so they may be admitted to the perfection of
Heaven. We pray that the duration of this purging can be influenced, shortened,
by our prayers for them.
At the same time we have no way of knowing their status with God. So, we
also hope that if they are indeed with God in Heaven and no longer have need of
our pleas on their behalf, they will say to God, "see how they still love us,
... help them in their needs." And so we do hope for their intervention with God
on our behalf and our beliefs have a parallel with those of my friend in Africa.
All this makes sense to me. I do not understand it all myself but it is
my faith and faith is believing what is not understood. I will however
understand it all when I reach heaven, or ... it may be that I won't need to
understand because everything is so perfect.
These are presented in no
particular order but are listed as they come to mind. They are mine
and I do not intend to impose them on anyone else. If you come to accept
them, I am happy to share them. These beliefs have been accumulated
during my entire life but mostly during the most recent years. They come
out of personal experience, and the teaching of others.
A matter of Ancestral Traditions
World of Grandpa Don