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Grief In African Tradition

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The Egyptian Tehuti (? 5500 BC) told his son Tat that all humans have twelve tormentors. Grief was second only to Ignorance of what belongs to God. The others, in order, are Intemperance (excessive indulgence of a natural appetite or passion); Incontinence (lacking restraint, especially over the sexual appetite); Injustice; Avarice (greed); Falsehood; Envy; Guile (cunning, deceit); Anger; Rashness (impulsive, acting without due consideration); and Malice (desire to inflict harm). These twelve prevent one from conceiving anything beautiful or good. They also provided the model for Pope Gregory in the 6th century to declare arrogance to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins—pride (arrogance), covetousness (greed), lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth (lazy). Arrogance, he said, is a serious moral offense; a source for the other six sins; and the gatekeeper to causing Grief. All humans experience the Grief Complex at some point in their lives. When addressed in a sacred space, African Tradition considers Emotions (e.g. Grief) as sacred; capable of providing powerful relief of tension; and being sufficiently cleansing to initiate healing. Ancient Africans believed it was a community problem when anyone was mentally, physically, or spiritually sick because everyone is part of the community. In other words, for a member to be sick means the entire community is sickened because everyone, by being spiritually connected, shares the same spiritual space--the essence of Compassion. Thus, there was no such thing as private Grief. Sadness, Sorrow, Melancholy, Mourning, and a sense of heaviness are all part of the deep well of the Grieving Complex. Within them are a sense of loss, helplessness, and powerlessness--each particularly humbling. Whether the cause of Grief is created by loss or disconnection from someone or something that matters, the tears shed are its softess expression (Some, Healing Ways, p219). When these emotions are not allowed to be properly released one is left in a state of incompleteness. Denied outward expression, Grief grows stronger and organizes itself into such directionless vehicles as anger/rage, anxiety/fear, and frustration.

When these African concepts were borrowed into the Western world, the 13th century English word "Grief" originally meant 'weigh upon', as in being oppressed, tormented, and made to suffer. Later it denoted an individual's deep-seated mental, emotional, and Selfhood pain and sorrow as well as the experience of troubles or hardship for a particular reason or from misfortune or loss. In attempts to discern distinctions European wordsmiths said Grief is more acute, more intense, and less enduring than Sorrow (sadness with regret)--with Sorrow publicly expressed being Mourning (a public show of bereavement, whether sincere or not). They added Sorrow and Grief are for definite causes while Sadness and Melancholy (anxiety, sorrow, grief, and a bad mood) may arise from a vague sense of want or loss.

African American slavery caused some of the concepts of African Tradition to remain the same and to be used properly in the right direction; to be used improperly by the right concept going in a self-defeating direction; or to be dismantled and reconnected in peculiar and non-beneficial ways. Other ideas within the Grief Complex were completely lost in a distinction sense so that the Grieving Process embraced Grieving, Mourning, Sorrow, Sadness, and Melancholy in the form of a "glob." A "glob" implies all ideas in each of its components are intertwined, similar to several fishing lines entangled into a mess. Bearing little resemblance to African Tradition patterns, the "Glob" Grief Complex the Slaves displayed was a vented anguish representing a symbol of the Slave community's broader tumultuous mindset. The focus of most Slaves centered on the loss of a significant part of their Selfhood; on everything meaningful they had ever known in the Mother Land; and on what was happening to their fellow sufferers. This was a mindset of total Hopelessness and Despair.

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