Reintegration / Ancestors

By Monica Demott
(formerly University of Iowa)

GabonFang peoples

Reliquary guardian


H. 51.12 cm (20 1/8")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.783

The African peoples surveyed in this section consider neither death nor ancestorhood to be an ending.  Some peoples believe that ancestors are waiting to be reborn into their families (Parrinder 1954: 59).  Reincarnation, in the sense that the deceased's features or characteristics reappear in future generations, is a commonly held belief (Mbiti 1969: 159 and Bockie 1993: 130).  A child's resemblance, in appearance or disposition, to a deceased family member is often understood as the deceased's return to the living.  Among Fang peoples, newborns are believed to be close to the ancestors and to become human over time (Fernandez 1966, 59).  In some societies, the deceased's spirit is thought to be embodied in certain animals (which must never be killed) or may become attached to natural objects in the physical environment.