This was sent to me in an email. I wanted to share in the name of the African Counsel of Elders.


Dear Brothers & Sisters,

It Is Not Enough To Be Good; One Must Also Show The Right Path To Others Who Might Otherwise Do Evil.

You know that to eliminate all kinds of vices from the world and to promote good is the responsibility
of every person. Everyone amongst us is a caretaker and is responsible for his subordinates on the Day of Judgment. Rulers will be answerable for the citizens of their state, every Family Head will be accountable for the members of his family and will be asked as to what he did for their reform-ation, education and better life. He will be asked as to whether he forbid them from adopting the bad ways, and helped them in leading a pious life or not.

The world history reveals that until the people performed the task of commanding the others to do
good and barring them from doing evil, the pious people remained dominant in those societies and there was peace and tranquility and satanic forces were subdued. But, when this collective responsibility is now designated only to clerics, and the common people have ignored this task, in spite of the efforts of the clerics, waywardness is spreading quickly. A wave of offenses, terrorism, tyranny, evils, sins, ignorance and anarchy have engulfed almost every segment of life. Disorder, commotion and chaos are on the rise in the world society, wrecking the peace of all mankind.

The world is facing disaster upon disaster every day and people are expecting a major catastrophe. The deeds that have been forbidden by God are being committed openly. The evils are increasing, while the virtues are fading out gradually. Tyranny, oppression and carnage are going on, liars and cheats are overcoming. Terrorism, bribery, corruption, evil, nudity, vulgarity and wickedness have assaulted the world. It seems we have reached inferno before the Last Day.

I appeal to the NOBLES of the world and especially the ELDERS and the PARENTS that they should not only depend upon their prayers; rather they should lead the people to the right path by leading through example. Only then will their virtues and prayers reward them on The Day of Judgment.

Peace Activist


The Five Major African Initiation Rites

The Five Major African Initiation Rites


There are five major African initiation rites which are fundamental to human growth and development. These rites were originally established by African ancestors while they were living in order to link the individual to the community and the community to the broader and more potent spiritual world. Initiation rites are a natural and necessary part of a community, as are arms and legs natural and necessary extension of the human body. These rites are critical to individual and community development, and it should not to be taken for granted that people automatically grow and develop into responsible, community-oriented adults.

The process of initiation concerns undergoing a fundamental set of rites to start a new phase or beginning in life. It marks the passing from one phase in life to the next more mature phase. Initiation fundamentally has to do with transformation, and has been a central component of traditional African cultures since time immemorial. The details of the rites vary among the different societies, but these rites are nevertheless basic components of the society as they help guide the person from one stage in life into the next stage of one’s life and development, that is, from birth to death and beyond.

The five rites are birth, adulthood, marriage, eldership, and ancestorship. A rite is a fundamental act (or set of rituals) performed according to prescribed social rules and customs. Each of these rites are a key component that are a part of traditional African cultures. Some societies have more elaborate and extensive ceremonies than others, but these five themes are the thread that links families and villages in traditional Africa and provide the necessary structure for individual growth and development. The 5 rites briefly described below represent an integrated initiation system that has given indigenous African cultures the stability and longevity to provide a model of consistency and inter-generational unity. They represent a complete set of devices that prevent the inherent conflicts between various age groups or the systematic ill treatment of women, children, or elders. These problems are commonplace in western cultures, but they are virtually unknown in indigenous African cultures. These African cultures were not “perfect” as all human societies have problems, but they do provide a viable example in the modern world of how to solve social conflicts and contradictions and give individual the societal support to discover and fulfill their life mission and unique contribution.

The Rite of Birth is the first of the major African initiation rites and it involves initiating the infant into the world through a ritual and naming ceremony. Nearly all African cultures hold that the infant has come from the spirit world with important information from that world, and is bringing unique talents and gifts to offer to the community. The infant, in fact, is believed to have been commissioned to come to the world and accomplish a particular mission or project, and often has a great message to deliver.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of the family and community to discover the infant’s unique mission through consultations with a diviner and to have rituals and a birth chart done. This is done to clearly determine the new community member’s mission in order to guide him/her through their life path. The infant’s name is given after the determination of the mission and it is a reflection of the infant’s personality or the life mission itself.

The Rite of Adulthood is the second major initiation rite and it is nowadays the most popular among the set of rites. Most people today assume that “rites of passage” only refers to initiation into adulthood, and they are often not aware that adulthood rites are only one set of rites within a larger system of rites. Adulthood rites are usually done at the onset puberty age (around 12-13 years of age in many cultures) and they are to ensure the shaping of productive, community-oriented responsible adults. There is nothing automatic about youth being productive members of society, nor is there anything particularly difficult about transitioning from a child to an adult. This transition to adulthood is exceedingly difficult in Western societies because there are no systems of adulthood rites to systematically guide and direct the young person through this important stage in his or her life cycle.

In Western culture adulthood is seen as a status achieved at the age of 18 or 21, or simply when the person graduates from high school. Unfortunately, in most cases there is no fundamental guidance or transformation from a child to an adult that is required or expected. This “leave it for chance” approach to adulthood development is the root of most teenage and youth “adult” confusion, chaos, and uncertainty. When the youth reach a certain age, somehow they are expected to magically transformed into an “adult,” eventhough they often receive very little guidance.

On the other hand, African societies systematically initiate boys and girls. They often take the young initiates out of the community, and away from the concerns of everyday life, to teach them all the ways of adulthood: including the rules and taboos of the society; moral instruction and social responsibility; and further clarification of his/her mission or calling in life.

The Rite of Marriage is the third major initiation rite and it represents not only the joining of two families, but also the joining of the two missions of the new couple. In other words, the marriage rites are performed for not only the coming together of male and females to procreate and perpetuate life and the coming together of families, it is also an institution that helps both the husband and wife to best fulfill their mission and objectives in life. Unfortunately, in Western society a vast number of marriages fail as they are often based upon the couple “falling in love” and thereby entering the relationship in an unbalanced state. Individual often “fall in love” quick and “fall out of love” just as quickly, as soon as they recover from the emotional “love at first site” syndrome. African society, on the other hand, does not emphasize individual looks and lust as the primary motivation for marriage, but rather the basic focus is on building families and communities. The focus is on the collective more than the individual. A person is not generally considered an adult until they have married and had children.

The Rite of Eldership is the fourth major initiation rite and it is an important component of the initiation system, because it is the elders who represent tradition and the wisdom of the past. In African culture, there is a fundamental distinction that has to be made between an “elder” and “older” person. An older person has simply lived a longer life than most of people, but it not considered one who deserves high praise and respect. This is because the older person’s life has not been a positive example for the community. An older person could be a thief or drunkard, an evil person, or could be someone who never married and had children, and thus these examples would certainly prevent a person from being considered a respected elder.

An elder, on the other hand, is someone who is given the highest status in African culture because s(he) has lived a life of purpose, and there is nothing more respected than living a purposeful life. The life of an elder is centered in the best tradition of the community, and is someone who has gone through all of the previous three rites, and is a living model for the other groups in the society to emulate. An elder is given the highest status and along with new infants because these two groups represent the closest links to the wisdom of the spirit world.

The last of the five major rites is the Rite of Ancestorship, which concerns passing over into the spirit world. This final initiation rite is an extension of the elder/older distinction because the status that a person has in life is the same status that they bring with them when they pass on. There is virtually no African society that believes that when a person dies this ends all ties and communication with the living. Rather, African philosophy from one culture to another agrees that the spirit of the deceased is still with the living community, and that a distinction must be made in the status of the various spirits, as there are distinctions made in the status of the living.

One of the most important distinctions is the difference between an older person who dies and who is seen as nothing more than a “dead relative,” and a respected elder who passes on and is revered as an honored “ancestor.” The dead relative dies without honor and is someone who is not remembered as a great person or someone who should be followed or emulated. On the other hand, a respected elder who passes on becomes a respected ancestor and is given the highest honor. This group of ancestor wield great power and are often called upon in matters of trouble or uncertainty to help influence a favorable outcome. Thus, ancestors are respected elders who have passed away and who continue to serve as an extension of the family and community.

The above general outline of the African initiation rites is a summary of the complete system of rites that have enormous implications for Black communities in various parts of the diaspora. These communities are struggling to find solid and lasting solutions to long standing problems, resulting from centuries of slavery and colonialism. The solution to these deep-rooted problems is to learn and apply the fundamental philosophies and principles that have created harmonious traditional African societies.

The five major initiation rites can be implemented in any Black community that seeks to find solutions to the problem of a large number of people in the community who lack direction and purpose, and who lack a commitment to build and develop the community. The fact is that in order to produce a society that is focused on the best interest of the community requires a broad-based system that is designed to produce community-oriented responsible adults.
A few practical suggestions include the following:

Rite of Birth: a birth chart should be made for each infant or young person in each family. This is necessary in order to determine their personality, talents, and gifts. If this chart is done before the new baby is given a name, then the name will always remind the person of what their mission is in life whenever his/her name is called. When a person’s name reflects their life’s purpose then this is a powerful tool to help keep the person focused on their life’s work.

Rite of Adulthood: the adulthood rites have to be seen in a larger context. Most programs are well meaning but the problem is often that the mentors of the numerous adulthood “rites of passage” programs have not been initiated themselves. It is obvious that one cannot teach what one has not been taught. The African proverb is that “one who learns, teaches.” The solution to this contradiction is for there to be more focus on programs or organizations for men and women to deal with their own issues of a lack of self-development and lack of a purposeful life, so that they could be better examples for the youth. In other words, the principles that are taught must be applied to the lives of the mentors and adults, otherwise the programs have no credibility or long term effectiveness.

Rite of Marriage: the solution to the epidemic of serial marriages – where many individual marry and divorce multiples times during the course of their life – is to change the approach from off-balanced individuals “falling in love” to the more balanced and stable approach of culturally-centered families forming a mutual bond. The problem for many Black people is that they often adopt anti-social Western ideas and thus see in-laws as their opponents. If more marriages were formed between individuals that have both been through the birth and adulthood rites, then more unions would work because both individuals would have a clear focus in life and would also know how to best support the other partner’s mission. They would be marrying the person and their mission.

Rite of Eldership: every Black community should establish a council of elders to help guide that particular community. There are a number of examples of African societies govern by elders (gerontocracy) because of their collective and accumulative wisdom. This is an important philosophy that should be adopted because a council of elders could be consulted in a variety of matters, ranging from family or marriage disputes, community-wide issues, naming of buildings and community centers, and directing resources to supporting important projects. The guidelines of choosing the council members should be clearly established and members chosen by vote. Without a council of elders most Black communities will remain disorganized and lacking direction and effective leadership.

Rite of Ancestorship: every Black community that establishes a governing council of elders should also chose a group of local and national ancestors whose life represented a purpose focused on helping (in some way) to build and develop the community. This local group of honorable ancestors should be chosen to be remembered because of their great example and contributions, and thus their life should be honored. Too often when ancestors are remembered during community ceremonies a distinction is not made between respected ancestors and dead relatives, or another problem is that many times famous ancestors are remembered but local ancestors are overlooked during these ceremonies. Every healthy community must have local (s)heroes.

Professor Manu Ampim
September 2003


African Religions: Recovering Spiritual Roots


The steady rhythm of an ancient pulse beats deep at the core of our spirits, a sacred tempo that carries with it time immemorial when our ancestors honored, through daily ritual, the great Spirit of shadow and light. Many of us have tried to reclaim this dancing part of our spirits; few of us realize how accessible it truly is. Only recently, mystical practices, spiritual teachings, and unique traditions have become as accessible as the click of a button, the leafing through a book or the purchase of a plane ticket. With a celestial bridge now connecting every continent, we have become intimate with profound healing practices such as yoga, meditation, and ritual. Primarily, we have been able to access sacred texts and information through the written word. However, a huge, vacuous hole exists in the body of our global understanding and knowledge about the deep and powerful teachings of our oral traditions. From the birthplace of humanity, Africa’s sacred wisdom remains, even today, clouded in mystery and secrecy. Fears of the unknown have resulted in distortions and misunderstandings about African Traditional Religions (ATR). Yet, the seeds of many of the world’s philosophies and religions sprouted in the fertile and rich metaphysical gardens of the Motherland.

Motivated by our deep and abiding love for Africa and her teachings, guided by our firm belief in her healing practices and timeless wisdom, concerned about the realization that many of these oral teachings are not being passed onto the global community at large, we were inspired to write about some of the cherished beliefs, rituals, ceremonies, and healing practices of the West African spiritual tradition. With great determination and diligence, we spent the last five years recording everything that we were able to convey with clarity and precision. We write not only about the basic customs and rituals around daily living in Mande cultures, we also discuss the rites of passages including birthing ceremonies, marriage, and funerals, as well as share our knowledge of the popular proverbs, stories, and songs—never yet recorded. We include traditional beliefs about nature and wildlife, and some of the mystical beliefs about Spirit and spirit-relationships. Until now, little information has been made available about the purpose of spirits or divinities in African life, and the great reverence of the One Spirit. Little has been acknowledged about the substantial Goddess traditions that permeate African existence. Not much was known about the important function of the energy of Spirit, or nyama, and its crucial role in the very fabric of daily existence. Inaccurate labels, such as spirit-possessions, juju, and fetish became a part of the global vernacular to describe African practices. These are all misunderstandings of the deep and powerful expressions of love and devotion for Spirit, humanity, and creation within African cultures. West Africans live with the understanding that the energy of Spirit permeates everything in nature, and it is within our very reach to work with this exceptional force. We only must stay connected to her steady tempo, and allow ourselves to be gently led by her rhythmic guidance.

Passionately moved by our own inner tempos that resound of ancestral wisdom, we write with the hope that The Way of the Elders will give our readers the opportunity to deepen their understanding of African spirituality, enhance their own practices, as well as help take them back to the place where the beginning seeds of life first germinated and developed, a place where they can dance in exuberance to the beats of her steady pulse, the heartbeat of Mother Africa.


Roles of the African Elder – Grandmothers

grandmothersA recent review of the literature on grandmothers’ roles in non-western societies revealed that grandmothers, in virtually all cultures and communities, have considerable knowledge and experience related to all aspects of maternal and child development, and that they have a strong commitment to promoting the well-being of children, their mothers, and families. Societies around the world acknowledge that grandmothers play an influential role in the socialization, acculturation, and care of children as they grow and develop and in the education and supervision of their daughters and daughters-in-law. The study concluded that while certain harmful practices are promoted by grandmothers in various cultures, given the wide-ranging role they play and their influence and intrinsic commitment to promoting the well-being of women and children, they should be viewed as key actors in development programs.

“The things that grandmothers see while sitting
on the ground, younger people cannot see
even if they climb to the top of a tree”
Senegalese proverb

Grandmothers Promote Maternal and Child Health: the Role of Indigenous Knowledge Systems’ Managers


The Elders, Culture and Afrikan Spirituality

Ancient African Knowledge holds Key to Trusting Ourselves and Others

ibeji twinsNigeria, Three pairs of Ibeji figures – (Yoruba: Ìbejì) is a term in the Yoruba language meaning “twins”

The Black man/woman is the temple that absorbs the planetary influences of the cosmos. The Black man/woman is not a helpless creature in this drama of life, nor is he/she held helpless by circumstances around him or her. The planets are within man/woman; they may initiate reaction and inner impulses from within, but freedom from such planetary influences could be ours if we were masters of ourselves.

An Elder of an ancient African spiritual tradition
The lack of self-mastery for the Black man/woman is a phenomenon that affects every aspect of existence, one that has caused a disengaged state and a broken will to fully participate in life. However, this state was not produced in a vacuum, but instead begins with the African’s separation from his intellectual and spiritual heritage, his homeland, and a rootedness in culturally authentic concepts of community living.

Within the African’s original intellectual heritage, the Black man/woman experiences a spiritual connectedness in which the psychological and mental activity can be grounded in a way that produces deep and insightful explanatory power.

The ancient African, our ancestors, blended together in integral wholeness the physical, the moral, and the sociopolitical activities in life. The physical/material world was viewed as a manifestation of the spiritual and was guided by the unseen forces that flow through the universe. In this way of thinking and knowing, the physical and spiritual each has its own intelligence that, through divine marriage, become harmonious.

Referring to the sacred literature of ancient Kemet, our Ancestors produced the concept of MA’AT. This ordering, harmonizing principle exists in three dimensions: 1) within the individual, 2) within the community, and 3) within the cosmos.

Within the individual, MA’AT is manifested through moral deeds and intentional decision making that produces harmony. Within the community, MA’AT finds expressions in the culture’s ability to reinforce its system of accountability and spirituality within the principle itself. Implicit is cultural harmonization and the reciprocal processes of giving between the seen and unseen. The current Elder views this as further evidence of the ancient African’s complete dedication to mastery of self in accordance with the Divine forces in Creation.

Valuing culture
Culture refers to the patterns of behavior and beliefs common to members of a society. This includes the ways rituals for pregnancy, childbirth and death are performed; how the body is clothed and esteemed; how the elderly are respected; how men and women behave; how customs are generated; and how rules and values are reinforced.

Culture is the lens through which a people understand the essence of living and life and their relationship to the whole universe. It is the framework upon which its members organize and structure their lives and interpret life’s meaning.

Most importantly, Culture is carried by the women of a people. It is learned. It is adaptable to the environment. It is a dynamic system, but it is not without a fixed, unchangeable core.

Spirit building
Many adults, youth and children of African heritage are in an unacknowledged spiritual crisis and hunger for spiritual recovery. In the state of spiritual crisis, we are not and cannot be aware of our fullest potential.

We do not trust, yet we yearn for support and affirmation. Generations of spiritual crises have resulted in the loss of the natural infrastructure contained by community that could sustain our spiritual being through deep turbulence and trauma. Our Spirit has been snuffed out and suffocated by repeated disappointment and lack of guidance by the elders.

African centered decision making and authority
“African Centered Decision Making and Authority” means that the elders are influential at every stage of decision making, and there must be representation of people from each age stage within every household participating in the continuity of the community.

The value of Culture for people of African heritage lies with the resources it provides, moving us beyond race and the immediacy of having been enslaved for a period of time in our existence.

African Centered Cultural Thinking is:

Social — connected to family, friends and neighbors by blood and by spirit. One is no more that than the other.

Political — connected to other people in the world for the betterment of humankind. You must be kind and generous to all. It will return to you.

Spiritual — interconnected with all living things visible and invisible because Spirit is real, and life and death represent a continuum of the same creative process.

Elder Atum Azzahir is executive director and elder consultant in African ways of knowing of the Cultural Wellness Center. The curriculum at the Cultural Wellness Center provides training for students of culture to identify, nurture, and facilitate the Spirit-building process. This training is necessary for people of African heritage to begin trusting themselves, each other, and believing in their future once again. She welcomes reader responses to

On the Purpose of Clans and Totems

Buganda System of Clans
“Totems are symbols that represent clans. A clan is a family group which traces its origin to one ancestor and must have two totems; the principal (muziro) for which the clan is known and the secondary one known as akabbiro. The two were held sacred in the family from one generation to another. Each clan had special names for their children and on mention of a name, clan members would know whether the child belonged to them or not.
Each clan had a freehold estate where they lived and buried their own. A freehold was established of a family if they buried in a given area from three to four generations. Not even the king would chase away such people. That would become their official estates. In Buganda, burial grounds have a special significance as far as ownership of land is concerned. The king’s chiefs were always watching out where the dead were being buried to avoid false claims from the bereaved.

The clan system was quite significant because it united members to help each other and for protection in times of war. Clans were exogamous and restricted incest. A member of one clan had to get a wife of another clan to avoid in-breeding and expand social networks. It is only the mamba (lungfish) clan that intermarried. The system even in this case is not defeated because it can only happen between members whose secondary totems (bubbiro) are different. There are two minor totems within the mamba clan; the fish muguya and the frog. When marriage prevails between the frog and the muguya under the same mamba, it is not incest because family lines are different.

Buganda being a patriarch society, when a woman got married, she adopted her husband’s totem and retained hers at the same time. So in each household, there were four principal totems held sacred and four secondary ones. The head of the family’s totem came first followed by his wife’s totem. The totem of the mother to the head of the family too was respected and much as there was no emphasis on the wife’s mother, that totem too was in the picture. These four major totems and their minor ones made a total of eight symbols making a huge impact on conservation.

The culture of totems in the world is as old as history itself. When people started developing and getting better organized, they needed symbols to identify them. In this particular area of study, this social or kinship division is patrilineal.

clanIn Buganda, clans known as bika (kika singular) are not just family structures that simply trace ones origin only. They are a significant system with judicial powers. Each clan had a division known as a siga and the head of this siga had powers in the dispensation of justice. The siga was followed by enda and the head of this subdivision also could exercise judicial proceedings. Complainants however could appeal to the head of the siga if they were not satisfied with the verdict. The head of the clan had supreme judicial powers and if the two levels failed to satisfy the complainants, they would refer their matter to him. These posts were not hereditary. If a head of a clan died, the heads of the divisions would sit and nominate another person from the section of his clan thereby rotating power. The same applied if a head of a subdivision died.

When the wilderness weeps to preserve mankind amidst his chaos and confusion, man takes no heed to listen partly because there is so much at stake and partly because he does not discern the cry of the wild. When the bees buzz pollinating plants; he does not see beyond honey. When the forests form a splendid lush canopy on mountain tops and the country side; he does not see beyond timber. When birds of the air chirp and display their colourful plumage; his ears hear no music and his eyes see no beauty but possible trade of their feathers, eggs and meat and so goes other species of value in the market place. *The dodo is extinct because the British marksmen were perfecting their shooting targets. The rhino is extinct in Uganda because of its precious horn. The crested crane is now endangered because its habitat has been enchroached upon by man. In the process of displacing the crane, the water filters have been destroyed and all the filth now ends in the great water bodies unchecked. These water bodies incidentally supply man with the very water he consumes.

Our failure to care for the environment reflects the failure to preserve our own culture because in the days when culture prevailed, it protected the environment and the species that dwelled in it. The hills, lakes, swamps and forests belonged to Deities and this idea protected them from abuse, but with the advent of ‘civilization,’ these practices were labeled satanic by new religious teachings and at the turn of the 18th Century, the environment that had been managed by these spiritual forces of influence for thousands of years, faced the wrath of man. Indiscriminate hunting, commercial logging and other associated evils against the environment commenced. Culture in pre-colonial Uganda catered for man, the environment and protected species in their natural habitats but Western influence destroyed this institution, leaving everything in the hands of the law which law could be twisted to suit the selfish.

Some of the decision-makers in this country today come from a background that had no special regard for culture since it was the main obstacle for the colonialists. As the spires and towers of new religions shot high in the skies, cultural erosion was inevitable because ways of life paused a spiky challenge to the new unorthodox norms of belief. It did not matter what good there was in our social world; Good and bad practices were mixed up and thrown out of the system. Culture to date sounds negative to the current generation because it is associated with evil, poverty and backwardness.

There were many excuses and finger-pointing in the past because people did not know how to read and write. That episode is long gone now because the majority of decision makers has this skill and is in a much better position to decide. Culture has to be simplified and re-defined to be understood as a maker of wealth and not a backward force.

For any society to evolve and develop there must be cultural values behind it. These include food, medicine, beliefs, philosophy, dress, housing, transport, music, art, literature, to mention but a few. Culture unfortunately to the modern African elite has a satanic connotation and is therefore best left alone. We need to revisit this position and right the wrong but it is hard to exercise this since most local elites are alliterate.

African food needs better presentation. African medicine needs to be separated from witchcraft to earn the respect it deserves because it does not alleviate disease; it cures. Anthropologists need to study our beliefs and bring out the good causes behind them. Our philosophy of life rhymes better with the environment because it addresses issues in their natural habitat. All it needs is refinement and so goes our art, dress code, literature and music.

The over-hyped suits that opinion leaders of this country revere can never give us identity leave alone its chocking inconvenience. *Mahatma Gandhi could never have motivated the fabric industry of India if he hadn’t publicly denounced the suit and its tie to replace it with the Indian attire. Why as African people do we discern the intricate issues and fail the basic? The new times are calling for going back to check out the roots and see how deep the tap root went to ascertain the future of this gigantic tree that dominates the ground.

Our golden values have to resurface in a new packaging not as an instrument to fight anything but as a resource that everyone needs to know. We and our children must know our origins and learn the good from them. We cannot go on with today and tomorrow when we do not know yesterday because yesterday tells us who we are.

Source: African Truth Movement – Know Thyself


Elders as Peacemakers


In traditional African societies, elders have always played an important role in maintaining peace and fostering reconciliation among the communities. We look at two ethnic groups: the Agìkùyù and the Samburu of Kenya.
elde1To become an elder one must pass through all rites of passage from birth to old age. Among the Agìkùyù of Kenya an elder (Muthuri) should have the wisdom to distinguish right from wrong. He should be mature, able to discern, reflect, choose, reason, and think critically. Moral qualities are an important criterion in an individual’s initiation into elderhood.
African elderhood is not a single event. It goes through stages. For instance, among the Agìkùyù, after marriage one is promoted to a stage of Githiga. One is recognized as a full person. With his own land and homestead, one enters the “council of spears” (Kiama kia kamatimu) to become a true warrior who protects the community from enemies. However, he will fight only with orders from the ‘Higher council of elders’. Keeping discipline allows one to join the “council of peace” (Kiama, kia mataathi). This occurs when one of his children is admitted to the “council of spears.” He stops carrying the spear and as symbol of peace he receives muthigi and mataathi. He is now a peacekeeper. With integrity and high moral standing and peace, a person at this level is admitted into the ‘Highest council of elders’ known as kiama kia maturanguru. All three stages of elderhood entail responsibilities and roles. It is clear that by being installed as an elder in an African community one is given significant responsibilities, roles, and duties towards his community.
elde2Elders make sure that community customs and practices that foster harmony, order, and peace are passed on to new generations. They are the teachers during initiation ceremonies where they teach young initiates moral values such as peace and justice, humility, gentleness, truthfulness, cooperation, and unity. They also teach their family members how to keep peace and harmony among themselves.
Peace is understood also in relation to nature and thus to God. Elders use their reconciliatory and mediatory powers to unite people with their ancestors. They rule with reverence to God. They preserve God’s creation. They offer sacrifices and prayers to God on behalf of their community. Elders are instrumental in creating harmonious relationships between people and God. The Agìkùyù elders rule with reverence to God knowing that God (Ngai) is the greatest divider and provider, Mwathani is the eminent ruler of all, mwene-nyaga is the owner of all mysteries.
Elders also make sure that people are united with God by making sure that they do not destroy his creation. Among the Agìkùyù for example they make sure that sacrificial trees such as mugumo and mukuyu are preserved. The Agìkùyù call these trees “Miti mihoro ya kuhorohia” (reconciliatory trees). During reconciliation meetings or sacrifices, elders sit under mugumo or mukuyu trees. Sitting under these trees means that they are under God’s shelter; God is regarded by them as a judge and protector of the weak. The Agìkùyù believe that under a mugumo tree, peace must be restored.
Samburu Elders
The Samburu are a northern pastoral community located mainly in the Samburu District of the Rift Valley Province of Kenya. Pastoralism is their main occupation although small-scale cultivation is now practiced as well. Peace is a key concept in the Samburu community. In order to understand this, one needs to look at how the word is used in everyday language. An elder, for example, who wakes up at the crack of dawn and goes out to pray will most certainly ask God to grant the community peace. The same is also true as he escorts his animals out of the Kraal. As he escorts each herd (cattle, goats, or camels) he always concludes his instructions with a prayer wishing the herdboy a peaceful day. In the traditional structure of the Samburu people, the elders are charged with the responsibility of not only leading but also of judging.
Smaller conflicts and differences are usually handled at lower ranks or at an individual level. However, conflicts that could potentially multiply – maybe involving warriors, especially from different clans – may warrant the intervention of the elders.
Serious issues are usually discussed under a Loip tree, far from home interference. Word is sent around inviting all the elders to the meeting. Those who for very clear and understandable reasons cannot attend the meeting must apologise. Unexcused absenteeism is not expected, and is not taken lightly.
elde3The first people to arrive usually wait and discuss general issues until most of the invited are present. To mark the beginning of the meeting an elder stands and says the opening prayers. It is interesting to note that during the meeting itself only one man can be standing at a time.
There is no chairman, yet the coordination and flow of events is classic. This shows that all members are at the same level – contributions are therefore possible from all. The final decision is made at the end of the meeting after having reached a consensus. One good thing about such meetings is that all members have a roughly equal opportunity to contribute.
In most cases, the decision of the elders is final. If the offence was serious, the offender is asked to give a cow (heifer) to the offended party. Normal relationships are expected to resume after this. It is important to mention that elders do not usually expect a compensation to participate in such meetings.
Every meeting concludes with a Mayian prayer. There is a general belief that acting contrary to what was agreed in the meeting might bring a bad omen or a curse. People take the elders’ resolutions very seriously.
In present day Africa, the traditional system of elderhood has undergone drastic changes due to the introduction of western education, western style governments and legal systems, and new religions. However, in many parts of the African continent, elders are still consulted in matters pertaining to customary law – these often concern marriage or land matters. In villages and rural areas in general, problems and disputes are taken to the elders before they are taken to the police or other legal bodies. Many political leaders recognize the importance of the elders. They realize that the current political system must borrow from the old ones. Elders should be allowed to play a bigger role in building the society as far as peace and reconciliation are concerned.
Anthony F. Mutua