This is a Two-Part article. Part I of this article is about the Nature of Amathongo, while Part II is about Finding Your Identity, given your understanding of the nature of Amathongo.
Part I follows next (The Nature of Amathongo) :
Luisah Teish, author of the book Jambalaya, states “As we walk upon the Earth, our feet press against the bones of the Ancestors on whose shoulders we stand.”
This is the most powerful statement about the Ancestors, whom we call Amathongo (plural of Ithongo) in the IsiZulu Language. Sometimes we refer to these people as Amadlozi (pl. of Idlozi) which means something different from amathongo. Idlozi is the ‘spirit’ that possesses a person to become an African Uhlanya (healer), whereas Ithongo is a dead person whom we believe that he is not dead but alive in the land of the ancestors (kwela baphansi).
Malidoma Some in his book The healing wisdom of Africa about ancestors says: “Ancestors are at a disadvantage because they know how to improve things and yet they do not have the body required to act on what they know. We are at a disadvantage because although we have bodies we often lack knowledge to carry things out properly. This is why spirits like to work through us; the person with a body is an ideal vehicle to manifest things in this world. It is important to understand that when we feel that something is missing in our life, when we feel somehow disconnected or displaced, that these feelings are a sign for us to repair our connection with the world of ancestors and spirits.”
Amathongo are part of us, and people who happened to live with us on this earth. When we bury the dead, we are only burying the body, but not the spirit because the spirit continue to stay with us and they stay at their special place called Umsamo, an African Ancestral Shrine.
One of the most effective ways to connect with Ancestors is to set up an Ancestor umsamo (altar or shrine). Doing so provides us with an invaluable tool to help focus our attention and awareness of their presence in our lives.
These Amathongo are honored by doing various rituals or providing food at certain times. How you honor and revere your Ancestors is a personal thing. At your umsamo you can pray, talk, sing, chant, cry, meditate, recite poetry, etc. You can whisper or shout to them the most intimate details of your life. There is no right or wrong way to communicate with them and pay your respects. The important thing is that you do, and that you are sincere and genuine. It must come from your heart! In return, the Ancestors will provide guidance, encouragement, and support. In time, your relationship with them will grow and you may find that you look forward to a daily commune with your Ancestors. After all, its family!
We have been talking about the ‘spirit’, saying that our dead people we call ancestors are the living spirits and continue living like that. We worship them as spirits that bring guidance, wisdom and prosperity in our lives.