Sharmaine D Barnes, LMFT, CEAP
Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter
– African Proverb (Igbo, Nigeria)
Pouring of Libations
In the movie Boyz n the Hood Ice-Cube's character (Dough boy) poured his malt liquor on the ground in honor of his murdered brother Ricky played by Morris Chestnut. I believe this is a practice passed down from our African ancestors. Additionally, based on a Huffpost article, it appears that the pouring of libations also has a connection to Christianity.
Libation means the act of pouring a liquid, most often wine, in sacrifice on the ground, on a ritual object, or on a victim, in honor of some deity. The traditional worshippers in Ghana pour libations to their gods and ancestors.
There are three main religions in Ghana. They are the Christian religion, Islam and the African traditional religion also known in some places as ancestral worship. Among the different religions in Ghana, the Christians believe in God, the Muslims believe in Allah, and
African traditional worshippers believe in the ancestors--the oracles and the gods.
While many Christians find the practice of making libations to be unchristian, here is something to consider: The pouring of liquid as a ritual practice seems a common practice in the ritualistic practice of the writer of Mark’s Gospel, which is the earliest written Gospel.
To make a libation, the drink (usually alcoholic) is put in a calabash (if palm wine) or in a glass (if any other) and drops of it are poured on the ground, accompanied with appropriate words of thanksgiving on God’s continued blessing on creation.
Such practices are found in Mark 14:14-15 of the man carrying the jar as host preparing for a home for Jesus in the last hours before his death. The man that is carrying the jar is Mark himself who also is present at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11), appearing as “the servant who poured out the water which Jesus turned into wine.” Mark being the first Gospel account displays a “libational” practice of pouring water common to the African imagination as a pre-cursor to traditional practices of the connection of pouring out of water and wine in the Eucharist.
African Descent Interpretation of the Importance of Libation
The practice of libation was not only pivotal in Mark’s Gospel as a common practice of African memory but also for the themes depicting the kinship of Jesus. The pouring of libation in African rituals must be performed for such entrance in the tsiefe-ancestral land. Such ancestors are remembered as we recognize Christ’s death through food and drink. The transcendent kinship beyond death is very important in the overall purposes of the ritual of libation. Just as Africa had given the family of Jesus a home in his childhood in flight from Herod, so now a family with African origins familiar with the practice of libation is giving Jesus a home in the last hours of death.
That is the reason Mark the Gospel writer made it clear that those who partook of the family, was Jesus’ true family. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:35). Perhaps, Mark was familiar with the importance of the Passover meal and connected the command of God to Moses as found in Exodus 25:29 that he was familiar with by the rituals of his African wife Zipporah in “And you shall make it plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls which to pour libations.”
The African practice of libation had a significant impact on setting forth our understanding of hospitality, tokens of fellowship and respect, for family living and dead, continuity and contact. The eschatological kinship followed by the African practice of libation was pivotal in setting forth ritualistic patterns for the new emerging family of Gentiles found in the Mark’s gospel of family, following the command of the messianic Lord.