When I think of our ancestors, my heart is filled with love and admiration. I am grateful for their courage and resilience in the face of adversity, and many of us have been blessed by their strength, knowledge, and guidance even today.
One of the greatest gifts we can give back is honoring them as we continue to live our lives. That honor comes in many forms—from using ancestral wisdom to make decisions, to being mindful of traditional ceremonies, rituals and processes. Celebrating heritage through symbols and customs that reflect the spirit of our ancestors is one way to show them respect from the comfort of home.
In this article, I’ll be focusing on how to honor ancestors through West African principles in particular—including understanding their culture, customs and traditions so that we can continue to carry out meaningful practices that keep our connection strong with them. Let’s dig into how you can make your home a place where you are able to pay homage to those who came before us.
Connecting With the Past: What West African Ancestors Teach
As a Black woman, I firmly believe that honoring my ancestors injects life with an added layer of magic. With its roots in West African principles, honoring the past can bring clarity to your present and hope to your future.
To get started, I recommend taking a journey through Africa and into the past. Spend time exploring African traditions by getting familiar with customs and cultures from various parts of West Africa. This can include learning about specific religions, spiritual practices, folk tales, folklore, traditional healing methods, art making and much more.
Once you have gained a better understanding of West African culture, make a conscious effort to incorporate elements of it into your daily life. Start small by displaying pieces of art that connect you with home or lighting incense for cleansing rituals. You could also create a sacred altar space in your home where you can place photos of loved ones who’ve passed away as well as items that honor important figures from African history.
Connecting with my ancestors has helped me to embrace my identity as a Black woman and live a richer life filled with purpose. My hope is that these tips will do the same for you!
Why Your Ancestors Are the Key to Unlocking Your Magic
When I think about my ancestors and the magic and power that they have gifted me, I am filled with gratitude. That power was once theirs, instrumental in their lives to achieve greatness, take part in community and build resilience. I may not be able to access such power without them so it is of utmost importance to honor them.
We can do this in our own homes by following the principles of the traditional West African lifestyle which had ancestor worship at its core.
In this tradition, we can pay respect to our ancestors by:
- Applying their teachings to how we live our life – cultivate wisdom and don’t forget our roots
- Gift them offerings – pour libations or light candles
- Create conscious space for them in our home – hang artwork, sculptures or effigies
- Pray for their guidance – invite them into conversations or meditations regularly
When you nurture a relationship with your ancestors, you open a channel for their spirit energy to stay alive in your family lineage. This connection will help you restore balance in your life and keep you aligned with your higher purpose.
Ways to Honor Your Ancestry: Traditional West African Items & Practices
As a Black Nigerian woman, I feel an even stronger spiritual connection to my ancestors when I create sacred spaces in my home. It is important for me to include West African customs and decorations in order to honor them.
Items of Tradition
There are several traditional items that can be used to honor African lineage. Handcrafted drums and masks, wooden figures and sculptures, pottery pieces and other artifacts are powerful representations of African culture. These objects have been used for centuries in spiritual ceremonies and rituals, so incorporating them into home décor brings an extra energy layer to your space.
Practices of Piety
In addition to including items of tradition, there are specific practices that can be done within the home in order to honor ancestors. Bringing plants like bay leaf or rue is said to invite good luck and ward off bad spirits. Burning incense such as myrrh can also attract positive energy into a room. And finally, offering small libations — like water or wine — is a sign of respect to those who have passed before us.
When we use items and practices from West Africa in our homes, we show how much we treasure our lineage by honoring the people that came before us. On those days when I want to really connect with my ancestral roots, I create a sacred space with African symbols around me as a reminder of their spirit within me — always.
Decorating With Meaning: Spiritual & Cultural Relevance in Your Home
As a Black. Yoruba woman, I love to honor my ancestors in my home. And while decorating a space that includes spiritual and cultural relevance can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Here are three key West African principles to help decorate your home in a way that honors your ancestors:
When considering what items to put in your space, make sure they are intentional pieces that have meaning to you and your family. Try to include objects that were passed down from previous generations or things that represent your ancestry, like traditional oils and herbs or ritual objects such as amulets, symbols of protection or idols. When done thoughtfully and consciously, these objects can bring a special energy into the space and act as reminders of why we are here- honoring our ancestors through our everyday lives.
Nature is a powerful representation of life’s cyclical patterns. Incorporate natural elements into the home such as textiles made with natural dyes or plants like cacti and succulents which symbolize strength and resilience. The presence of nature evokes spirituality for many households – the reminder of where each one of us has come from before entering into this life.
Colors have long been used to express emotion and draw attention in West African culture, especially royal colors such as blues and purples which represent sophistication and royalty – an homage for those ancestors who have passed down traditions before us. Consider using these colors throughout the home for accents, wall art or furniture pieces that bring vibrant energy into the space with intention.
Celebrating Your Roots Through Color, Symbolism and Rituals
As a Black Yoruba woman, I’m thankful for the connection to my ancestors. We can honor them by consciously celebrating our culture and incorporating its values into everyday life.
A great way to do this is by using color, symbolism and rituals in our homes to bring our history to life. Let’s start with colors:
West African cultures traditionally used colors like red and black in everyday life—from clothing to décor—as a way of honoring their ancestors. Using these colors in your own home décor can be a connection to that deep past. Red symbolizes blood, courage, power and potency while black symbolizes strength, reverence and protection.
We can also honor our ancestors with symbolic artwork or figures in the home. For example, an Elephant may represent strength—to “stand like the elephant”—while eagles represent intelligence and spirit guides may represent healing or strength of faith. There are other symbols like plants, animals or deities that we can look into when designing our homes.
We can use ritualistic practices such as prayer, music and storytelling as a ceremony of remembrance for our ancestors within the home space. This could be inviting certain elders from family into your home for traditional storytelling or playing certain spiritual music throughout your living space to create a sacred atmosphere for honoring your ancestors during special occasions such as traditional holiday celebrations or rites of passage ceremonies for young adults in the family.
By using colors, symbolism and rituals in the home, we can create a sacred space that honors our ancestral roots and celebrates who we are today!
Connecting With Loved Ones: Specializations for Honoring Departed Ancestors
Honoring our ancestors is one of the most important aspects of Western African culture, and a great way to honor them is to offer specializations in our home.
There are many ways that I incorporate specializations for ancestors into my home — some of which include:
- Special traditions. Every month I have special traditions such as setting out fruit or giving libations to honor my loved ones who have passed away. These traditions may be different depending on your own personal customs, but they often involve honoring those who have gone before us.
- Dedicated spaces. Having a dedicated space in your home that is used to honor our ancestors can be a wonderful thing. For example, you might create an altar with photos, symbols, and other items that remind you of your ancestors, or you could create a corner where you can meditate and connect with your loved ones on the other side.
- Rituals & ceremonies. Whenever I want to invite more love and connection into my life, I often host rituals or ceremonies dedicated to honoring my ancestors — from burning incense to sharing stories and memories about them with friends and family members. The ceremonies help keep me connected to my beloved passed ones and helps promote positive energy in the home — something all West African homes strive for!
Honoring ancestors in our homes is one of the most profound, yet often overlooked, acts of gratitude we can share with our ancestors. By using traditional West African concepts, we can find the perfect balance between honoring our ancestors and keeping a space that resonates with our own spiritual growth and unique experiences.
These methods include creating physical and spiritual offerings, playing music, and speaking to our ancestors on a regular basis. Taking the time to do the work can bring a level of peace and connection that brings us ever closer to our family across time. No matter your culture or background, the act of honoring ancestors is sacred, and we can all benefit from recognizing and respecting our lineage.