Original Research

Embodied ancestors: Religious objects, moral actions and well-being in the Cameroon Western Grassfields

Mathias F. Alubafi, Chammah J. Kaunda
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 1 | a5174 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i1.5174 | © 2019 Chammah J. Kaunda | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 July 2018 | Published: 10 July 2019

About the author(s)

Mathias F. Alubafi, Human and Social Development of Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Limpopo, Polokwane, South Africa
Chammah J. Kaunda, Global Institute of Theology, The College of Theology/United Graduate School of Theology, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea, Republic of


In African spirituality, ancestor engagement with the community is always mediated through material objects. This article argues that materiality gives meaning and validity to the ancestral system. Ancestral objects are an embodiment of the ancestors or ancestral meaning-making, which links the visible community to the world of the spirits. However, ancestral objects also draw meaning and validation from those who inherit them, such as kings or titleholders who together with them connect the community to the spiritual source of well-being and vice versa. The article argues that such interplay is based on the material, religious and ritual conception of ancestral objects with their inheritors and the well-being of the community they represent. However, most studies on African religious art objects have focussed essentially on the symbolism behind ancestral objects and their motifs rather than on the interplay between ancestral objects and meaning-making in relation to community’s well-being. This article sets out to examine this relation and other performative aspects associated with ancestral objects in the Cameroon Grassfields. It argues that Grassfields religious traditions are materially oriented in the way they shape human meaning-making and interpretation of reality, and represent ancestors as manifested reality and living-dead agents who are part of collective communal action.


Embodiment; Religion; Objects; Western Grassfields; Ancestors; Meaning-making


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Crossref Citations

1. ‘The Ngabwe Covenant’ and the Search for an African Theology of Eco-Pneumato-Relational Way of Being in Zambia
Chammah Judex Kaunda
Religions  vol: 11  issue: 6  first page: 275  year: 2020  
doi: 10.3390/rel11060275