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African Thanksgiving Ritual: “The Falling of the Beast” (1/2)

Township Blogger Nozuko P recently visited her home in the Eastern Cape to perform a ritual of thanksgiving. Here, she explains what that involves.

A Xhosa Thanksgiving Ritual

Rituals are holistic in the sense that they address the physical, social, moral and spiritual aspects of individuals. The moral and spiritual teachings within a ritual are a canon of lessons learned while young, and the ritual has the effect of maintaining the moral order of the participants.

A ritual is performed to address a person’s problems, and can be done any time of year. It must involve the slaughtering of an animal. Although some might think this slaughtering is the main focus of a ritual, it is important also to know that the ceremony is not complete if it is not accompanied by speeches directed to the spiritual world. The speeches form the bulk of all ritual sacrifices, in fact, and although the words uttered are addressed to all those present, they are actually intended for the ears of a clan’s ancestors.

Before a ritual is performed, clan members call a meeting to assign duties, which extend from the start of the preparations to the last day of the burning of the bones of the sacrificial animal. After they finish with their meeting, other people and relatives are informed when the animal should be slaughtered so that all can attend the ritual.

Before the day of “the falling of the beast”, everybody who belongs to the clan must be present at the homestead which is hosting the ritual – along with the essential “speaking apparatuses” of the clan, such as clan medicines (herbs) and their containers, and sacred assegais (stabbing spears). The clan member who is responsible for killing sacrificial animals is called intlabi, and is usually the first-born male of the clan. He arrives at the homestead a few days before the day of the sacrifice, as he must be purified with special medicines before going to the kraal (enclosure where animals are kept).

The day of the “falling of beast” is very important. The activities start from the main hut, where the clan will begin with various speeches in a manner that follows a formula. No action can be performed without its first being announced to both the ancestors and the living. The sacred song of the clan is sung, and in the middle of the song, the clan elder will stop the singing by calling Camagu! When the singing stops the clan elder addresses all the participants and tells them what is going to be done.

Although the clan members know what type of animal is to be slaughtered, the clan elder will inform the ancestors of the purpose of the ritual, describing the type and colour of the animal which is to be sacrificed, and confirming that traditional African beer has been prepared for the ritual. When the talking is finished, the clan member who is responsible for the slaughtering will take clan medicine and traditional beer. Then he will lead the clan from the main hut to outside to a space between the main hut and the cattle kraal.