*LIBATION* Libation in Africa is a ritual of heritage

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*LIBATION* Libation in Africa is a ritual of heritage, a drink offering to honor and please the Creator, the lesser divinities, our sacred ancestors, humans present and not present, as well as the environment. This ritual is also practised in many other parts of the world. Among Africans it may also be deployed to issue curses upon wrongdoers.
The ritual achieves this objective by promoting and The ultimate purpose is to promote the cosmic order of oneness and balance of the beings and things in the universe. Safeguarding the correct relations among and between all the beings and things in existence. The origins of libation are so old that the first records of the ritual can be found in the legends, myths, sacred literature and language of Kemet (ancient Egypt).
But it is almost certain that this ritual existed even before then. Libation is found throughout the African world : on the continent as well as in the Americas, the Caribbean and other parts of the world where Africans dwell. The significance of this ritual transcends its distribution across the immense time/space correlation that is occupied by the African experience of life. Libation is an immensely important part of the African cultural equipment. In fact, this ritual is a marker of African identity. Its persistence across place and places, and time and times, says much about the origin of all Africans, about their relation to each other and about cultural transmission in general.
The origins of the ritual of libation are so ancient and so important that even to the people of Kemet they were obscure, lost in the mists of time, and therefore accounted for in legend and myth. In one such account of things, the sun divinity Ra retreated in anger from humans and from the earth because of the latter’s irreverence in plotting against him and ridiculing him because he had grown so old that he drooled. He sent his daughter,
Hathor, to avenge his hurt. She decided to wipe out humanity and proceeded so well that
*THE RIGHT AND LEFT HAND*
In African practice there is a sharp distinction between some things that are done with the right hand and other things that are to be done only with the left hand. Libation is poured with the right hand because this is the hand reserved by African tradition for such activity as offering, eating and drinking. A libation often accompanies offerings of food and other things considered good and worthy of the higher powers, but libation should not be confused with those other offerings or with entire ceremonies of which it may form a part. For example, from the earliest known times, libations are always poured as part of the rituals which mark the African cycle of life: Naming Ceremonies,
Initiation Ceremonies, Marriage Ceremonies and Transition Ceremonies (funerals). Libation is also poured at other occasions, such as to mark the settlement of a dispute, before chopping down trees (individually or parts of a forest), at the Enstoolment of Chiefs, at the many festivals in the African calendar, at the opening of Voodoo, Shango, Candomblé and other African spiritual gatherings, and indeed in every ceremony and gathering in the African way of life. The general purpose is to safeguard or make amends and seek forgiveness for infracting any of the relationships in the cosmic order, but the specific occasions and themes in libation may be many, as is illustrated by Abu Abarry’s consideration of Ga libation oratory (Abarry, 1996, pp. 92-95) or in the
Igbo invocations, or indeed in the libation practice of the many existing groups of Africans.
*DRINKS*
A libation may be poured with any drinkable liquid, including water, milk, wine, beer, or strong spirits (alcohol), though alcohol has been the dominant choice for some generations now, especially in West Africa and the West. More often than not clear spirits are chosen on important occasions: *gin in Ghana*, clairin in Haiti, white rum in Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, and other places.
This predominant choice is almost certainly because of the physical resemblance between clear spirits and pure water, for the latter has always been regarded by Africans as the ultimate agent of both physical and spiritual purification. However, in more than an echo from Kemet, where “certain oblations [were] suited to particular gods, others inadmissible to their temples, and some more peculiarly adapted to prescribed periods of the year,” certain contemporary African divinities may have their individual preferences about drink and food. For example, among the loa (divinities) of
Voodoo in Haiti, the liquid of libation “varies according to the god. It is sweet liquor if it is Damballa, rum for Ogun, Loco or Legba.”
It is red wine or any home made wine or babash (Trinidad moonshine) for Shango in Trinidad. In Candomblé in Brasil, Oshun’s favourite food is Xinxin de galinha, that of Shango is maala or caruru , Obatala’s is white rice, abará vatapá,
acarajé, etc.
*PURPOSES*
If properly done, the person, the family, the clan, the community or the nation (i.e. those present and participating and or those on whose behalf the libation is poured) may receive several benefits from a libation. They may benefit through being fortified by the renewal and or restoration which this ritual offers. They may also receive benefit through the security that comes from the knowledge of the spiritual connection and oneness with the Supreme One, with the divinities, with the ancestors, among themselves singly and collectively, and with the physical environment. It is the preservation of these connections and the beneficial results of understanding and maintaining them that this ritual represents and promotes.
Libation, like any activity that is at once both sacred and communal, is useful and important because it helps to overcome fears, anxieties and frustrations. It promotes knowledge of and respect for elders and the Ancestors, hope and healing, unity and harmony, all through the reinforcement of common bonds. It also lends itself towards the achievement of solidarity, which results from common participation in any such communal activity. Libation also functions beneficially by helping those present to be psychologically prepared for a task at hand, especially through the self-confidence that grows from the knowledge – not only that all is well in their relationships with the higher and lesser powers in the cosmic order, but also by becoming focused upon what is to be done during a specific forthcoming undertaking. This latter is normally achieved by rehearsing the proceedings in one’s mind before actually embarking upon the undertaking(s). In a similar way libation is also helpful because it empowers us to focus upon all the tasks and expected challenges in a particular venture or during a specific day – or indeed within any time period – that may be unfolding before us and which may be addressed in the libation Statement. In short, libation helps to create an enabling psychological climate for forthcoming action.
*ADMONITION*
However, libation must not be a substitute for human labour or human struggle, as prayers are sometimes viewed.
A particular libation may be part of an occasion specifically devoted to the Supreme Being, or to a particular divinity, or to an Ancestor, or even to a living leader, but every part of African society is usually acknowledged in the statement accompanying the pouring, including families, clans and the entire collective.
In addition to the occasions mentioned above, libation is generally made at the beginning of the day, of a meal, or of a special ceremony to honour the Supreme Being, or a particular divinity, or an Ancestor. Libation may also be an important part of a ceremony arranged specifically to mark the commencement of an important piece of work (e.g. the building of a house), at the completion of a significant piece of work (the building of a house, or its cleansing or its dedication if these are not the same), or in recognition of an important achievement (success at exams, an earthday, the attainment of a certain stage in spiritual growth, the end of a period of struggle, recovery from illness, and so on). It was the same from as far back as in Kemet. Today, as far removed from Kemet in place and time as Guyana, Africans who remain true to this part of their traditions still hold a ceremony and feast of thanksgiving to mark such an important landmark in the life of a person or a community, and it is called a Come True or simply a Service or a Thanksgiving, which are terms for the same activity that is widespread in the Caribbean and the Americas, where the synonymous term
bembé is employed in Santeriá.
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