ACCESSING THE WISDOM
OF OUR ANCESTORS
An Interview with Sobonfu Somé
By Randy Peyser
Sent to America by the elders of her tribe, Sobonfu Somé, shares the wisdom
of her people, the Dagara of western Africa, as she discusses how we can contact
our ancestors in order to heal ourselves, our loved ones and our spirit
Somé is the author of many inspirational works, including: “The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient African Teachings in the Ways of Relationships”; “Welcoming Spirit Home: Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community”; “Falling Out of Grace: Meditations on Loss, Healing and Wisdom,” and others. She is also devoted to giving the waters of life to the Dagara people through a project called, Walking for Water. For more information, please visit www.sobonfu.com or www.walkingforwater.org
Randy Peyser: I understand your name means “Keeper of the Rituals.” Why are rituals important?
Sobonfu Somé: What food is to our body, ritual is to our soul. A ritual keeps us connected to our spirit, our soul and our purpose. Rituals are also activities in which we call the spirits of our ancestors to come forward. Our ancestors see cross-dimensionally, which means they can help us to plot our course. For example, they can help us connect the [energetic] wires that have become loose within us so we can regain our health or our consciousness.
RP: How do you work with the ancestors? Are there prayers that you invoke?
SS: In the Dagara tradition, the ancestors are the ones you go to before you go to God. The ancestors know you. They know how you feel. They know about certain issues. You might tell the ancestors, “I know there are other people screaming at God to help them. Would you please go to God when He or She is not so busy? I need to get my prayers in, and I am really in a hurry here.”
RP: It is that simple? You just ask them to help you?
SS: It is important to create a relationship with the ancestors first, but it cannot be a one-way kind of relationship. Your relationship with your ancestors is a relationship that must be nurtured like any other relationship. Anytime the ancestors come through in answering your request, you must take a gift to them. That gift can be something that was in your family, such as an ancestral food passed down from generation to generation, or something old. Your gift can either be something they like or something you like.
When you give them the gift, you would say something like:
“Ancestor, I am really grateful for what you have achieved. I am very happy you stepped forward and made this happen. As my gratitude to you, I have something I hold dear that I really enjoy. Here is a flower. I really love gardenias. Here is a gardenia for you. Thank you.”
RP: How often do you call upon your ancestors?
SS: As often as needed. For instance, we speak to our ancestors every morning and every evening. In the morning, we wake up and say: “Wow, I am alive today. Thank you.”
We always tell them what we intend to do that day. We might say something like:
“I am human and I might err here and there. Please show up and help me remember what I said I would do today. If there are obstacles, please remove them,” and so forth.
At the end of the day, we report back to them about how our day unfolded. We might say:
“Hey, that was a great day. Thank you for helping out,” or “It wasn’t such a great day. Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. Here is what I really need.”
RP: What happens in the case of a relative with whom you, or someone in your family, didn’t have the best relationship? Is there a way to heal those kinds of relationships once someone has died?
SS: In the Dagara tradition, when someone dies they become smarter. You may need to do some healing work with a particular ancestor. So you pray for them and for yourself and talk to them. You tell them about something they did that might have been an innocent act, but that is still driving you crazy today. You now tell them that they are smarter and know exactly what happened, they need to go and unplug those things that are driving you or your family crazy and put in the right “plugs.”
On the other hand, even if you haven’t called on an ancestor, they might call on you first. You might be the only one in your family who feels like something is not quite right, or that something within your family is making you crazy. Or everyone in your family might be wondering why you think certain things that happened in your family are important to you, when none of them think it is important. In this case, you are the one who was picked by the ancestor to actually be the bridgemaker between this world and the world of the ancestors.
After someone dies, they look around to see who in the family can really help them achieve their goals? They knock on different doorways. They think, maybe if I make enough noise they might wake up, or they find someone else who is available, and why not call on that person? They will call on you to help them make right whatever they have done wrong because of the body’s limitations.
RP: How does a person receive this message from an ancestor?
SS: Through dreams, or feelings, such as by feeling uncomfortable about things that have happened in the family. Sometimes a person has an uneasy feeling in which they wonder why nobody ever talks about a particular ancestor, or how a person died in a certain way, or why nothing has been done about it by anyone. When you are the one who has been picked by that particular ancestor, you continue to think about the ancestors.
RP: When calling on an ancestor, should we only contact those beings who were from our immediate families?
SS: If it is difficult for you to go to an immediate ancestor, you can go to what we call, “the pool of the ancestor.” The pool of the ancestor has nothing to do with your genealogy; it can be anyone who is an ancestor. It can be the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr, or the spirit of Gandhi, or Eleanor Roosevelt, and all the brave, “crazy” women who encouraged women to speak up and not let their voices go silent. Trees, animals, rocks, rivers and mountains are also considered to be part of the pool of the ancestors. In the case of someone needing help in creating a bridge to their ancestors, they could call unto the pool of ancestors to give them instructions.
RP: Can you give me an example of an appeal you made to an ancestor and how you were helped?
SS: I am going to answer that question in two ways. It depends on the state I am in. There is what I call “a prayer of deceit” which is when you go to the ancestors and say something like:
“Oh ancestors, my life is miserable. If you have the time and really feel I deserve to have a better day, come and show me.”
That is what I call a “prayer of deceit” because what you are really saying is:
“I don’t deserve this. If you think that is really important, then come and help me.”
That is like telling someone you want them to come, but if they don’t feel like it, then don’t come. When I go to the ancestors and I don’t have clarity, they will say:
“When you have clarity, come back and we can have a conversation, because obviously you are not clear about this.”
When I have clarity, I can speak from my heart and say:
“I really need you to show up right now, because if you don’t, I feel like I am going to die, and then, guess what? You won’t have someone to be your voice anymore. So if you need me to continue to do what I’m doing, please show up.”
There are many different situations where I have gone to the ancestors — sometimes screaming, and sometimes crying — and I have always gotten an answer because I have made the issue important. One time I said:
“I don’t really know why I am sick. I want you to show up in my dream and show me exactly what I need to do to get well.”
Every time I have asked, I have always gotten better. I have always gotten the message and clear images of what I have needed to do.
RP: Is there a special place you go to when you speak with your ancestors?
SS: There is usually a shrine you go to and invite your ancestors through prayers in the morning and at night. The shrine is like a gateway, where the ancestors come and you go to interact with one another.
RP: When you create a shrine to an ancestor, are their particular objects that you place on that shrine?
SS: First of all, each shrine has to have a purpose. What is the purpose of this shrine? What will it help you achieve? Creating a shrine to an ancestor is not just a particular shrine to an ancestor; the purpose of a shrine can be to create a deeper relationship to that ancestor, or to create a shrine where that ancestor can be put to work correcting certain things that are happening within the family or within society. You have to understand the purpose for that shrine, and then the purpose will dictate the kind of things you would place on the shrine.
A shrine to an ancestor will have anything that reminds you of your ancestors. If it is for a particular ancestor, you can put pictures of that ancestor, or include things they love. In the Dagara tradition, shrines for the ancestors include the color, red. And they feature things that are old or antique. They can also have masks.
The shrine cannot contain a contradiction. For example, you cannot create a shrine for peace and have all kinds of things about war on it. That is a contradiction. Instead, think about all the kinds of things that could bring about peace, and include those kinds of things on your shrine.
RP: Calling on our ancestors and working with them is one very powerful way in which we can work with ritual. What are some other things women can do to reclaim the sacred in their lives?
SS: The number one rule of women is that we need a women’s circle; we need to create trust between women. One of the most heartbreaking things for me is to realize, that in the West, we don’t have trust. In Africa, when I was growing up, it was a given that you were always honest and truthful with other women. When I went to another woman and said, “between women,” that term meant you were not allowed to cheat or to lie; you could only say things the way they were.
The understanding is that women work with the web of life. As a result, if someone comes to you and says, “between women” and you lie, then you are shooting lies into that web of life, and impacting all women around the world.
Improving relationships with other women is very important. In my tradition, the best ally of a woman is a woman; and your worst enemy is also a woman, because a lot of times, how we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of in the world comes from an ingrained voice from a sister or mother who always said:
“It is okay to let someone abuse you.” When you are in a relationship and your partner is abusive, sometimes you can hear your mother’s voice, saying: “It is okay honey. Just take it.”
There is a lot of healing that is needed in the root, in the foundation of the feminine. We need to do what my grandmother said, which was to: “Speak your gut. Liberate your mouth. Speak it out!” So we no longer have women who are silent and just surviving, and who just take it, and take it, and take it until they collapse.
The backbone of society rides on women. To have a healthy community, you have to have healthy women. In the Dagara tradition, they say the best way to destroy a culture is to destroy the women first.
My suggestion is that we work on ourselves and on each other in improving our relationship with the feminine. As we work on our relationship, we can have a stronger relationship with other women creating a balance and kind of power that will enable us to carry out a healthy relationship with men. Remember that to be a woman is an honor. Learning to harness the power of the feminine will help us get to our purpose.
Randy Peyser is the creator of “The Write-A-Book Program.” She also offers book editing and help finding agents and publishers: www.AuthorOneStop.com
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