Reintegration / Ancestors

By Monica Demott
(formerly University of Iowa)

CongoBeembe peoples

Figure

Wood

H. 24.8 cm (9 3/4")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.892

Ancestors are usually venerated for four to five generations, after which they are believed to withdraw further from the living.  When the last person who knew the deceased dies, the deceased's spirit is released from its personal name and human personality and becomes part of a collective, immortal spirit.  These spirits vanish from human contact and can only be pondered in the abstract (Mbiti 1969: 158-9).  Simon Bockie, a religious scholar from lower Democratic Republic of the Congo writes: "When the ancestors lose their earthly existence completely, no living being is able to remember them, and when their personality is no longer incarnated in newcomers, they are called nkukunyungu: light" (1993: 134).