Tag Archives: sacred prayer

Libation- Folk Religious Practice

  • Context: Libation is a form of prayer and is an African tradition. We pray through our ancestors to commune with God. Our ancestors are our guardian angels and we pray through them because of their honesty, purity, and integrity. We call on our male and female ancestors and call on the female ancestors specifically because they are the matriarchs and life-givers of any family. 
  • Performance
    • What does one have to wear white?
      • During libation, if you are an ozo titleholder, meaning you are a member of the ancient Agbalanze Society of Onitsha responsible for preserving the culture and traditions of Onitsha, during prayer you have to wear white. If you are the odipka of the entire clan, you have to wear complete white with an eagle feather attached to your hat. The eagle feather is a sign of purity. 
    • What is said and done?
      • All prayer is done in our dialect Igbo regardless of outside presence[English is off limits]. The one who is praying[my dad] must sit on antelope, goat, or lion skin that has been dried to mark a sign of royalty. In order to pray effectively, you must be one with your inner spirit and be pure of heart. During prayer, your feet have to be planted to the ground, as it marks a physical connection to the ground and is a connection to our ancestors. You first call out your family members by name and raise the four lobes kola nut[ prayer offering] and call out God. You ask God to take the gift of the kola nut and ask him to come to be with us as we give thanks for all that he has done for our family. Then you shift and call on all our ancestors, as far back as you can recall their names. You will call each ancestor[great-great grandparents, grandparents, and in-law]. You should call male names first and then female names. Once you address your ancestors, you now call on all of the deities of your ancestors and ask them to continue to bless and guide the family. Then you give blessings and prayer to each member of the family[mom, brother, me, and dad]. You end the prayer by asking all of the deities, ancestors, and God to come and partake in the breaking of the kola nut.

Thoughts: The process of doing libation was something that I never really understood when I was younger. In fact, Sunday libation was something that I always found to be annoying or forced because in my young mind it just meant that I was stuck in one place, unable to move or go out and play. However, not that I am older I have come to understand its immense value and meaning. When my dad prays during libation, he makes it clear that at times he is not the one talking. During his prayer, it is as though our ancestors are speaking through him, calling my mom, brother, and I together as a family and giving thanks for our life, health, and continued well being. My dad is a very spiritual person, believing that the spirit of our ancestors are always with him and his family and are all around protecting us from evil and harm. My dad prays for each and every one of us, wishing for good health, that I and my brother achieve our goals and succeed in life, and that no evil shall befall his family and our extended family back in Nigeria. Now that I am older, I understand the value of the prayer and oftentimes feel a connection to my ancestors like my dad. There are moments where I truly believe that figures like my late grandfather are watching over me and allow me to overcome challenges that I may not be able to do by myself. When I went to Nigeria last winter, I was able to visit my grandfather’s grave and listen to my dad’s prayer. This was a very impactful moment in my life because it really made me realize and understand why libation, why prayer, and ultimately why spirituality in my family is so important in our day to day life. My dad acts as the spiritual anchor of our family and through his prayers, he passes messages and thoughts to my brother and me, maintaining the connection to those before us. I believe that sooner or later I will start learning how to tap into my spirituality further and eventually start channeling our ancestors like my dad and his dad before him.

Fountain of Mercy prayer

Main Piece: The Fountain of Mercy prayer takes place at 3 o’clock (either AM or PM), as this is considered a special hour where prayers will be more powerful. If you pray with your rosary at this time, it is said that all of your prayers will be answered. For each of the rosary beads, you pray that Jesus has mercy on a certain person, and it is common to list family and close friends. “However, towards the end you realize that you run out of people. There are about 20 beads on that thing – you’re gonna run out of names, so you start listing random people. Like, ‘have mercy for that one person I saw on the bus early last week,’ and ‘have mercy on the person at the checkout counter.’” The prayer is uniquely designed to force people to think about and pray for other people besides themselves: “It forces me to remember that other people outside of my direct orbit exist while I’m existing, too.”

Context: The informant (OC) is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. OC originally heard the prayer from her mom and cousin; she has always remembered it because Paraguayan culture highly values family and taking care of others, which is what the Fountain of Mercy prayer reinforces. Personally, the informant cannot perform the prayer every day at 3 o’clock because of her busy college schedule, but whenever she has a free moment to clear her mind, she does an abbreviated version and simply asks God to forgive certain people as well as herself.

Personal thoughts: I think it’s interesting to see how the informant adapts the prayer to her modern life, which reflects the disparity between her everyday life and the lives of her relatives in still living in Paraguay. As a first generation pre-med student who also works part-time, OC is working under the pressure to prove herself in a fast-paced, future-oriented America that values material success such as wealth. This American mindset directly contradicts the day-by-day, mindful lifestyle of her Paraguayan family. For example, her mother, who is still deeply connected to Paraguay, makes it a habit to perform the prayer every single day at 3pm, while OC almost scoffed at the idea of giving a whole hour of her schedule to prayer and nothing else. Rather, religious mindfulness comes secondary to the demands of America’s demanding education system, begging the question of whether modernity and future-oriented thinking (two concepts that are expanding more and more each year) can truly exist in perfect harmony with devout religiosity.

Kumbhabhishekam

  1. The main piece: Maha Rajagopuram Kumbhabhishekam

“So this happens once in twelve years. It’s a consecration ceremony that is done by uttering weighted hymns to evoke the entity of the supreme God…to…bless the… the temple. So we were there for that ceremony. It’s a five day long ceremony. It has five days of chanting, some Vedic hymns, uh…that invoke the supreme God, you know, to…energize the holy water. Which is then poured over the temple in a…in a ceremony called Kumbhabhishekam. That’s the ceremony.

“And since it’s a once in a twelve year ceremony at the temple, and the chanting of the hymns is special, you know. It’s not normal. There were 30 priests visiting our local temple from all across the globe. It’s a consecration ceremony for the temple, the deities—the temple. So every twelve years we do that. So it happened, we went there to witness it and be blessed…you know. Yeah. The belief is that, uh, attending such ceremonies gives you the, the positive energy, you know, comes to devotees as blessings. That’s the belief.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“Our temple here in the US has never had one before. Back in India, I had never been to one, either. This is very sacred and will bestow fortune on those who attend. It’s a key Hindu religious ceremony that not many people get the opportunity to witness. Our temple sent out fliers to remind and call us.

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This temple ritual is rare and not all Hindus experience it or have the chance to attend a similar ritual. Having sacred and rare rituals like this once in twelve year event increases the amount that community members value such traditions. Thus, when such sacred rituals do occur, a large portion of the community members attend and are united in their religion and as a community.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American male, who grew up in an urban setting in India with three siblings. While he moved to the United States over 30 years ago from India, many of his family members still live there, and he enjoys maintaining his links with them through his heritage and Hindu religion.