African Custom “For the Ancestors”

Frances Turnbull from Musicaliti saw my post about British traditions and wrote to me about an interesting African one. Here’s what she said:

Thanks for this – so easy to take it all for granted! It also reminded me of an African tradition that my dad adopted when we lived in South Africa. In Africa it is traditional to hold ancestors in high regard. So at meal time, you never completely empty the pot, empty your plate or even empty your cup, and whatever is remaining, as you leave it, you say, ‘for the ancestors’. When I was a little girl, I remember always finishing my dad’s tea or coke, and now that I have a little girl, I’ve realised that I automatically never finish the last sip of my drinks, that she finishes it for me – although I don’t commit it to the ancestors!

I was curious to learn more, so I wrote back to Frances:

I wonder if there was any significance in the children finishing the drink or if it’s just because it was there? It makes me think of the Day of the Dead where people put out food for relations who have passed on.

Frances responded:

Fascinating parallels! Interesting comment about children finishing drinks – although the practical reason for me and my little one finishing drinks was that the last drops of the tea were cold enough for a child to drink. Not sure if I mentioned originally, but traditionally, the remainder of the drink is thrown to the ground – not something my dad did as the floors would have been a mess!

Thanks for sharing this tradition Frances! If anyone would like to share any other ancestral traditions, feel free to in the comments below.

Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Friday, February 12th, 2010 at 3:15 pm and is filed under African Customs, Ancestor Customs, Countries & Cultures, Customs and Traditions, Domestic Life, Mama Lisa, South Africa. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “African Custom “For the Ancestors””

  1. Berenice Says:

    Other South Africans would identify with this tradition for sure! We call it ‘padkos” (pronounced putt caws)= food for the road. If you ever have visitors over for a meal or a party, they are not allowed to leave empty-handed. The hostess always makes up plates of food, left-over cake and titbits for them to take home as snacks or food for a meal the next day. The reason for the tradition is that people often travelled long distances to attend gatherings and the food was meant to be eaten on the journey home. It would be unheard of to keep the left-over party food for yourself when you had prepared it for your guests. So, when a South African offers you padkos at the end of an evening, graciously accept and enjoy! It is so much part of the hospitality culture of South Africans that we do it wherever we may be living around the world, even if our guests live next door!

  2. Berenice Says:

    food not fod, ooops!

  3. Lisa Says:

    That’s a lovely tradition!

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