Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Ancestor

My grandfather was a proud man who never compromised when it came to his culture and values. Many knew him as Ashumba, the Lion, a name that was passed on from ancestor to ancestor. Ashumba, the man who did everything with fierce passion except for one thing, show love. He believed that showing affection makes a sloppy job of raising children. So when we visited him over the school holidays we worked because to him we were extra hands on deck! There was no difference between the seasonal farm workers who toiled in the fields for a daily wage and his offspring who stood to inherit the fruits of all his “blood sweat and tears”. We all had to work! Like any young people would feel, to us, this was torture, abuse, exploitation…child labour!  But every school holiday we were shipped off to live in his household.
After long gruelling days helping around the farm, we would spend the evenings of walking around on eggshells lest we were summoned to perform some needless duty for “loitering”. No offspring of his was to ever be seen as good for nothing! He  insulted the laziness out of us – an exorcist of laziness, some would call him.
When I look back at those years, I am thankful for the lessons we learnt under his care that have helped us endure the best and the worst of times with reasonably level heads.
As his children and grandchildren grew older, one could say he softened up a bit.
He loved sitting in the living room after supper staring at the blank television screen. There almost seemed to be sacredness to those few hours between supper and bedtime when he just sat there in silence. Too afraid to ask or interrupt his peace and quiet, we let him be until one day I was brave enough to go and sit with him. For a long moment, nothing was said, we just sat there and I understood it was probably a place of contemplation. As timid a teen as I was by then, I summoned the courage to ask him, “Where did you come from grandpa?” The look on his face seemed to be that of being overwhelmed, perhaps relief. Almost like, “I am glad someone cares enough to ask.” We must have sat for hours as he narrated how his father died when he was just 2 years old and his mother left him in the care of an uncle as she went off to remarry. Raised under a heavy hand, mostly fending for himself, all he knew was hard work. When other children may have been going through potty training, he was already fighting for his own survival. The calluses on his hands seemed to be a reflection of the stone wall that had formed around his heart, numbing the ability to feel any kind of emotion. Above his own personal battle, witnessing the war that raged in the 60′s and 70′s didn’t help either. Emotionless as always, he expressed neither anger nor gratitude for the hand life had dealt him.
Oftentimes I had wondered why he was so hard and somewhat cold but only after that day did I realize it emanated from his view of authority and his image of who God was – shaped by his upbringing. He never doubted the existence of God but strongly that believed the gateway to God was through his ancestors. Ancestors who had left him as a defenceless tot. His logic was that God was far too unattainable for mere mortals like you and me to approach. God lived so far away that only those long gone had the ability or time to travel there and plead on our behalf and in turn the living had to appease them by making animal sacrifices. Due to the ancestors’ long trips to God, they would apparently be thirsty therefore  they required a special brew made and offered as a form of worship.
God was a wrathful being who was quick to administer discipline without much debate and wasted no time listening to your side of the story. Grandfather spared no rod, whip or cane. As you can guess, I was the recipient of a few lashings in my time. Mostly because I was too undiscerning to notice when he was angry and too slow to move when the others had long scurried off.
Despite unknowingly inheriting the legacy of my grandfather’s “rough childhood”, the desire to find healing was the doorway to pursue truth and purpose. 
Surely dead people couldn’t do a better job of communicating with God than the living, my young mind would silently reason. Moreover, if they apparently consumed intoxicating drink how was I to be assured they would get the message to God and not fall into a ditch somewhere along the way? 
Strangers to the present generations and oblivious to my daily struggles and victories how could I explain my bandwidth problems and inability to secure an android device to an ancestor forever incapacitated by time? 

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