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

Township Blogger Nozuko P recently visited her home in the Eastern Cape to perform a ritual of thanksgiving. Here, she explains what that involves. (Part 2/2)

Once the clan members are outside of the hut, the clan elder will address the ancestors and the entire community, repeating what has already been said inside the hut. While singing the same song as before, members of the clan proceed from this space to the kraal, and the same procedure is repeated at the cattle kraal entrance, which is perceived as being a sacred space, highly charged with the presence of the ancestors.

The climax of the ritual is the moment at which the living receive a sign from the ancestors that their offering has been accepted by the spiritual world. The beast (usually a goat or cow) is slaughtered: its cries are regarded as the sign of acceptance.

After the animal has been skinned, a certain portion of the meat is taken from behind the shoulder blade of the right fore-limb of the animal. This meat is roasted without salt, inside the kraal. It is then put on the branches of a wild olive or sneeze wood tree (depending on the area in which the clan is living), is cut into small pieces and eaten by all the members of the clan. This is called “first taste”, and is regarded by the clan as medicine, symbolising holistic healing. The process involves the clan and children born from the matrilineal side. When it is finished, the first day is over and the carcass of the animal is taken into a hut.

On the second day, the carcass is taken from the hut to the kraal. The meat is cut into pieces, but the right hind leg is kept aside to be cooked together with the head and feet the following day. When the meat is ready, a clan elder member announces that the meat must be dished out to everybody after finishing their speeches, repeating what has been said the first day.

For most rituals, the meat cannot be taken out of the homestead, and the bones are kept so that they can be officially burnt on the third day.

On the third day, which is the last day of the ritual, the right hind leg is cooked together with the animal’s head and feet. When the meat is ready, it is dished out to people and the clan members drink the African beer which was carried by the intlabi to the kraal on the first day. Clan medicine is used to clean items like the spear that was used to kill the animal. Then the clan elder will announce that the ritual is finished, and will burn of the animal’s bones, symbolising that the ritual is finished and ancestors have accepted the sacrifice.

All Xhosa perform the rituals in the same way – the only thing that is different is the clan’s particular medicine and speeches, etc.