Influence of ancestral worship on participation in the missio Dei in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape
This research seeks to discover the influence that ancestral worship has on participation in the missio Dei, specifically among the Xhosa people in King William’s Town. To assist in the research, a number of students at Dumisani Theological Institute were interviewed, as well as other individuals affected by the phenomenon, including pastors and missionaries who are facing and attempting to deal with ancestral worship in the context at hand. This took the form of qualitative research in which such men and women were interviewed to saturation level. Along with this qualitative research, a literature study was also conducted. Furthermore the research will try to demonstrate the hold that ancestral worship has on many of the local people, for example, the time that is needed to fulfil rituals and practices, the pressure from community members on those who would want to depart from such practice, and the effects of syncretism as men and women attempt to follow two paths. The research will attempt to show not only how influential this phenomenon is but also how complicated it can be. When one refers to ancestor worship, there seems to be a degree of ambiguity over the understanding thereof – one man’s worship may be another’s veneration, or honour, or reverence, or respect. The understanding of the term and practice of worship are unpacked to a fuller extent. The same will apply to that of ancestor, where there also seems to be a lack of clarity concerning the term and its practice. Perhaps this research will clear up such misunderstandings to a certain measure and also encourage further research into the matter of ancestral worship. A clear understanding of the missio Dei, or mission of God, is also necessary. The research will attempt to show that people are invited to participate in the missio Dei, yet ancestral worship may well influence such participation. Once these matters have been addressed, the research will seek to discover a paradigm for the church to address the influence of ancestral worship on participation in the missio Dei. The following key words need particular attention, and for the sake of initial clarity each concept is briefly defined here: “Ancestors” These are men and women who are our predecessors – the people from whom we have descended, our forebears. They are our grandparents, great grandparents, and so on. “Almost all groups of traditional African people have very important beliefs about their relationships to the spirits of their ancestors”, states O’Donovan (1995:4). In the African context, ancestors are regarded as the “living-dead”. Despite being deceased, there is continued communication between the living and the dead, as if the dead were still alive, hence ancestors being the living-dead. “Ancestral Worship” The worship of the dead, or even consulting the dead, is broadly regarded as ancestral worship. This is sometimes referred to as ancestor veneration or ancestor reverence. There is often a fine line between worshipping ancestors and the veneration thereof – some scholars (Mhlophe 2013:118; Nürnberger 2007:111) seem to use the terms interchangeably. Afrika Mhlophe (2013:118) provides insightful detail on this concept. Some may worship familial ancestors while others worship saints. “Contextualisation” This is the process of placing a word or idea in a particular context. For example, to contextualize the biblical message in any given context would be to integrate it within that context. Paul Hiebert’s work (1987) on critical contextualisation is a worthwhile study on this concept.1 Bosch (1991:421) argues that “the missionary message of the Christian church incarnated itself in the life and world of those who had embraced it”. That is an example of contextualisation. “Missio Dei” This concept refers to the mission of God2. Mission is often perceived as man’s efforts or strategies, but the missio Dei brings one back to the mission of God – “our mission flows from and participates in the mission of God” (Wright 2006:23). “Sangoma” A “sangoma” is a person who has been called by the ancestors to be a diviner. “The category of diviners includes witchdoctors, spiritual healers and sangomas…supposedly responsible for good fortune” (Mhlophe, 2013:100). Sangomas are said to be “possessed by spirits and operate through them” (Light, 2012:104). People will consult sangomas in order to communicate with ancestors. Many refer to sangomas and witchdoctors synonymously. However, some see the former being more benevolent and the latter being more harmful. “Syncretism” Syncretism is the blending of one belief system with another, particularly in religious or philosophical fields. But one can also mix “the supposed worship of the living God of the Bible with all kinds of other loves and loyalties” (Wright 2010:153). The worship of idols and the simultaneous worship of the living God is syncretism. “Witchcraft”3 This concept involves witches, sorcerers or diviners who call on evil powers or spirits to perform magic acts or to cast a spell on people. Witchcraft is usually sought for malevolent means. Witchcraft is thought to be hereditary, or it can be desired and one can then be trained to be a witch.
- Theology