I’m not talking geography here, I’m talking about our ancestors – those who walked before us and paved the way for our life today.
Learning about your ancestors can give your life a whole new meaning.
Know your ancestors, know yourself
In 1992, I accompanied a Native American elder to Australia for a conference including Maori and Aborigine elders.
Maoris are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, but the group traveling with us was living in Australia at the time.
Known for their warrior culture, Maoris are also known for their traditional haka war dance. If you’ve ever watched New Zealand’s rugby team, the All-Blacks, you’ve likely seen them perform the haka before the game. It’s meant to intimidate their opponents and raise their own energy and is quite a sight to behold and feel. You can find quite a few videos of it on YouTube.
But Maoris are also very friendly and fun loving and loved to sit around camp singing and inviting people over for coffee and laughter.
Because they were living in Australia at the time, the Maori family invited our group to come and stay at their home in Adelaide for a few days in between teaching events. It was here that I got the most powerful life lesson of that trip.
When we arrived at their home in the Adelaide suburbs, we were asked to wait outside until it was time to be led in by one of their daughters.
Not long after our arrival, the eldest daughter appeared on the front porch, and chanted to us three times in a loud, moving voice: “Haraymara, Haraymara, Haraymara.”
The daughter standing on the sidewalk with our group responded by calling out, “Karanga Mai, Karanga Mai, Karanga Mai.”
Then we were led inside for a welcoming ceremony.
Later that day, I asked about the meaning of the chanting in the front of the house before we came in.
I was told that the eldest daughter was calling out an invitation to our ancestors who always walk before us.
And the younger daughter replied on the ancestor’s behalf: “We are coming, and we are bringing them with us.”
That teaching profoundly moved me: that our ancestors are always paving the way for us, and surrounding and protecting us. It is a common teaching of indigenous peoples; one that has, unfortunately, been lost in western culture.
Where do you come from?
At a Celtic funeral, the deceased’s lineage is recited – because the Celts understand that where you come from is part of who you are.
In early Celtic times, people sought advice by ritually sleeping on the graves of their ancestors in the hope of meeting them in their dreams.
Knowing who came before us is an important part of knowing ourselves. In a Time Magazine about lineage, the writer quoted an Afghani man who could trace back his ancestors 19 generations.
Native American’s often introduce themselves by reciting their lineage, such as what clans their mother and father were part of.
For example, this is how I’ve introduced myself in ceremonial situations where a full introduction was called for:
“I’m Molly Larkin, born to John and Iva, descended from the O’Donohue’s of Bantry, County Cork, Ireland, the Larkins of Laragh, County Cavan, the McCallions of Ballymeana, Northern Ireland and the McLane’s of Cork City, Ireland. Daughter to Wallace Black Elk of the Lakota Nation and Bear Heart of the Muskogee Creek. I’m also known as Nokos-fe-ko che [Little Bear] of the Bear Clan of the Muskogee Creek Tribe of Oklahoma.”
In the indigenous world, that is the only way for someone to truly understand who I am.
What’s in your DNA?
There is scientific evidence that genetic memories can be passed down through our DNA.
So we carry our ancestors’ DNA in our own; they are a part of us, just as our descendents will carry a part of us, too.
Here’s how to truly learn where you come from:
ONE: Learn who your ancestors were, where they came from. Learn about your culture of origin.
Many times before they passed on, I sat down with my parents and a tape recorder and interviewed them about their childhood and families.
If you live in the United States, unless you’re 100% Native American, you had ancestors who came from another country looking for a better life for themselves and those who would come after them.
What are some of the sacrifices your ancestors made to come over here?
How does awareness of your ancestors define who you are today?
Who in your family of origin had the most spiritual impact on your life? And why?
TWO: Carry on what they started. Did they have a favorite cause that you can continue supporting?
My grandfather was an orphan who had the opportunity to go to the New York Times Summer Camp when he was a child. When he grew up and became a successful self-made businessman, he donated to the N.Y. Times Summer Camp fund every year so that other children could benefit as he had as a child.
When I learned that, I started donating to the fund as a way of honoring my grandfather and keeping his legacy alive.
What can you do along the same lines?
THREE: Call upon your ancestors for guidance. Ask how they would have handled a problem.
One way to do this is to ask a question before you go to sleep and see what information comes to you upon waking.
If they were not admirable people, ask what would have been a better way to behave. Learn to distinguish what wouldn’t apply to your life.
Some Biblical scholars say that the reason Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years was for the oldest generation and their limiting beliefs to die off. Not everyone is wise and admirable; learn to be discerning.
FOUR: As an ancestor to future generations, what is the most important thing you wish them to inherit from you?
What have you learned that you want to pass on to the next generation?
What are your hopes for your descendents?
What will help them soar?
What is the best thing your ancestors taught you that you could pass on?
Embrace the part of your ancestors’ legacy that were good and wholesome and categorically reject the rest.
We have the ability to go inside ourselves and learn from the ancestors.
They’re waiting for us to call on them.
Honor them that way.
You’re the reason they existed in the first place.
“You may not remember, but let me tell you this: someone, in some future time, will think of us.” Sappho, 7th Century B.C. poet, composer, musician, teacher, priestess of Aphrodite.
“When somebody dies, the spirit of that person lives on. Spirits can go and come from that place where the Creator lives. It’s easier for them to go back and forth as long as somebody remembers them.” Leon Shenandoah