Thoughts on Ancestor Contact

On Monday, I told you how much I like poet, scholar and activist Sonia Sanchez. Even though she has historically been one of my sheroes, one of her quotations struck me as curious, and I asked you what you thought about it: “…I write to keep in contact with our ancestors, (emphasis mine) and to spread truth to people.” One reader said she didn’t believe that Sanchez was talking about worshipping the dead. She said, “I keep in contact with my ancestors through genealogies and history.” I acknowledge this as a possibility, especially because, as the reader said, we don’t know the context of the Sanchez quotation. But if Sanchez wasn’t talking about worshipping the dead, then I just wonder why she didn’t use different language. For instance, if she meant acknowledging their contributions, she could have said, “I write to acknowledge our ancestors.” If she meant to make our family lineage known, then she could have said, “I write to make our family lineage known.” I also thought about her choice of words in other ways:

    • When you contact someone you talk to them.
    • When you keep in contact with someone you build a relationship with them.
    • When you want to acknowledge those who have come before you typically you use the term elders or foreparents.
    • When you’re speaking about dead people you typically say ancestors.

These are the beginnings of my thoughts. I plan to go see Sanchez tonight at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit where she will give a lecture. Maybe I’ll have a chance to get more insight about the quotation or even get a chance to ask her directly about it. I’ll let you know.

Copyright 2009 by Rhonda J. Smith

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