Reflections on the Initiation Rites of Our African Way of Life

Posted on May 9, 2011 by


By Minister Mxolisi Ozo-Sowande (aka Bro. Mxolisi T. Sowell) 

There are five major initiation rites that have served to stabilize and advance the greatest good for African civilizations throughout our history, absent the destructive and genocidal incursions of foreign invaders, with their colonial impositions and their continuous poisoning and disrupting of our humanity and way of life. These five rites are: Rite of Birth; Rite of Adulthood; Rite of Marriage; Rite of Eldership; and Rite of Ancestorship.

These rites serve to keep us engaged with the responsibilities and expectations of every phase of our lives. They encourage, inspire and celebrate the growth and progress of each individual and generation according to the values and dynamics that serve our collective well-being, as determined by the family-community-nation. Consciously and sub-consciously they are vital elements of the undying yearning of African people world-wide to restore ourselves to the balanced, harmonious, creative, prosperous, righteous way of life that our traditions provided before the incursions.

Our failure to recognize, respect and restore these rites, and become consistently engaged with their enforcement and evolution serves to leave us divided and conquered by persons — and their processes — whose ways of life are indifferent, dismissive or disdainful regarding our well-being. Without question, it is our individual and collective responsibility to restore these rites and allow them to keep us effectively and creatively engaged with the potentials for excellence and greatness that resides within each of us.

For an excellent presentation of these five rites, please see Prof. Manu Ampim’s essay at What follows are  thoughts that I want to share with you as I continue pursuing growth in understanding, embracing and encouraging the essence of these rites in our lives.

Rite of Birth

In the African world-view, it is widely held that a new life – an infant – is not a complete being until he/she has been thoroughly initiated into the values and principles of the family-community-nation. The completion process begins with the naming ceremony which is initiated after the parents have had sufficient time to interact with the child, to experience something of its personality, and be led to a name that seems fitting; a name that reflects their perception of the child’s divinely assigned mission in life.

 Customarily, parents are assisted in this task via consultation with their spiritual leaders, including the development of a birth chart which maps the relationships of celestial bodies and energies at the time of the child’s birth, to provide for the most meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship between this new life and its family-community-nation. Beyond these initial measures, there is (was) the Age-Grade process of spiritual-cultural-social-academic development serving to guide the child from infancy to responsible adulthood, illuminating the paths for his/her unique contributions to the life, prosperity and well-being of the family-community-nation.

This traditional reality harmonizes greatly with what our leading scholars and psychologists advise us today: That every phase of an African child’s life needs to be meticulously outlined, and every responsible member of that child’s social network – parents, elders, big brothers and sisters – are to inspire and assist the child through the successful completion of those phases. Every child needs and deserves to be born into these positive circumstances. Every responsible and self-determined people must see to it — through their vision, foresight and diligence – that those positive circumstances survive and thrive, to ensure that the greatest good for the greatest number of their whole people is progressively served and maintained. 

The extremely unfortunate and threatening reality that we have today — in the Motherland, in the U.S., and in so much of our world-community — is that the necessary vision, foresight and diligence required for our well-being are greatly diminished. Under the continuing erosions of respect for our heritage (from without and too often from within) and the collective practice of self-determination that it embodies, and the absence of an Age-Grade process for the development of responsible adults, far too many of our children are being born to individuals who have not the slightest idea or preparation for responsible parenthood. In the U.S., this perverse reality is reflected in the fact that over 70 per cent of Black children are born to unwed women and the poverty, inadequate health care and housing, clashes with the (in)justice system, and other dysfunctions that disproportionately affects their lives.  We must find ways for the effective transformation of these circumstances.

 Revering Worthy Ancestors, Becoming Responsible African-centered Adults

One great resource available to us for this task is the power that comes when we learn to honor our worthy ancestors – those who lived exemplary lives according to the highest spiritual-cultural standards of family-community-nation — and allow their eternal spiritual presence a proper place in our lives. One of our ancient sages admonishes us to, “Follow in the footsteps of your ancestors, for the mind is trained through knowledge. Behold, their words endure in books. Open and read them and follow their wise counsel. . .” Even more, their awesome words and deeds of truth, beauty and goodness will take up residence in our hearts and homes to inspire and guide our transformations, when we extend the invitation with sincerity and intelligence. This begins with the opening of their books. Our failure to do so leaves us a fragmented, incomplete, living-dead population, vulnerable to the progressively insidious, anti-African allurements that abound in this society.

 But when we open the books of our worthy ancestors’ histories and words of wisdom, and open our hearts to their principles and virtues for harmonious and prosperous living, and allow their victorious struggles against the internal and external forces of disruption and destruction to inform and inspire our efforts against those forces – then the transformations begin! When we truly read and study those words and deeds, and meditate and pray in them and through them, and emulate and build upon the achievements of those historical-spiritual giants – then spiritually dead grown folks will experience transformations and rebirths, and come forth as pillars of guidance and protection for the family-community-nation of truth, justice and righteousness; harmony, balance, right order and reciprocity.

 (These thoughts are causing the words of our Sister, Dr. Marimba Ani, to dance in my heart: “You’re not an African because you’re born in Africa. You’re an African because Africa is born in you. It’s in your genes…. your DNA….your entire biological make up. Whether you like it or not, that’s the way it is. However, if you were to embrace this truth with open arms….my, my, my….what a wonderful thing.”
When we truly embrace the truths embodied and personified in our worthy ancestors they will bring about the births of new beings – born again Africans; responsible, purpose-driven Adults whose mission in life will be the proliferation of such transformations throughout the entirety of our world-wide community.)

 Birth Charts

 If birth charts are in order for the birth of infants, it seems to me that they truly are in order for the births of truth-and-justice-centered, purpose-driven, African-centered adults. But while our ancestors of Kemet were the premier readers of the celestial dynamics for these purposes in the ancient world, it seems to me that we are not to be widely engaged effectively in that science today. But we can rely on this wisdom that they left for us: “As above, so below.”  Those words ought to lead us to understand that the essential ingredients for the balanced, harmonious, creative, prosperous way of life that they discerned in the celestial realm are preserved in the writings that they were inspired to leave for us. And we ought to create some birth charts whenever those truths find fertile hearts and minds in which to flourish and prosper.


 As Above

      Most High Almighty

         Maat  *  Sep Tepy

      Neteru  *  Ancestors


Birth * Adulthood * Eldership

    Virtues  *   Wisdom

  Declarations  *   Nguzo Saba

    Symbols  *  Principles



So Below


 As we open those writings and allow The Spirit of Maat to come alive within us, and The Virtues to become character within, and The Declarations of Innocence to become the breath we breathe, and The Wisdom Writings to become checks and balances for our lives, birth charts are in order! When the Principles, Precepts and Symbols of Kwanzaa/Nguzo Saba become our daily endeavors and conversations, and Chicago’s Black Star Project’s challenge that we grow in knowing that we live in a “STEMM” world [a world based on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine (STEMM)], and master these fields and are effective in teaching our children accordingly — Let’s chart that growth and progress!! 

Of course, all of this is easier said (and written) than done. It’s going to take consistent and diligent commitments of time and effort. It’s going to take the establishment of relationships, programs, organizations and institutions that are determined to encourage and nurture the transformations and new births that these Teachings engender. It’s going to take us tearing ourselves away from our obsession with celebrity that television and other insidious forces of this society incessantly sow into our thoughts and actions.

It’s going to take us focusing instead on the cultural-spiritual substance embodied in these Teachings and becoming the men and women of that character and way of life. As these elements and ingredients for our most meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships are growing and flowing in our family-community-nation, let’s chart that growth — whose making it, when, where, why and how. Those birth charts will be in order!


As we grow in producing Adults whose character is permeated by the truth, beauty, goodness and power of these Teachings, who know themselves and measure themselves accordingly – their thoughts, words, aspirations and actions — then we will experience marriages that are, themselves, institutions for the encouragement, nurture and proliferation of the righteous way of life that our souls intuitively know can be, and are yearning to see coming into being once again. 

These will not be short-sighted, lust driven, individualistic arrangements. These will be serious unions between serious Adults who fully understand and revere the wisdom that says, “May the heart of a wife be the heart of her husband so that they may be free of contention.” These will be unions between persons who will take the time and measures required to allow each to know the other as fully as possible, so they can be of “one heart, one mind, one spirit,” persons who can respect and support one another in their respective roles as guardians, protectors and proliferators of the greatest good for our world-wide family-community-nation.

 These will be unions between Adults who understand and revere the Teachings that say: If  you are blessed with children, may the heart of their father and mother know them; that the foolish child whom a father or mother has not instructed is like a statue of stone; that parents of worth and wisdom train their children according to the highest standards of the family-community-nation, with discipline, patience, devotion and courage; that such parents know themselves to be the premiere teachers and examples that their children will emulate — that they are to be the “one heart, one mind, one spirit” living models of the righteous way of life that they desire the children to follow. At the same time, these will be unions between those who understand and respect the need to network with their parents and their peers to provide for consistency in the guidance, training, expectations and experiences for their children, and all of our children, for the greatest good of the family-community-nation.


The plague of blindly exalting and embracing new things (fads) at the expense of things tried and tested is one of the most insidious aspects that so-called modern history and culture have imposed upon us. It is a plague that serves to wedge generations asunder and provide for the exploitation of those who lack the depth and breadth of the perspectives that experience brings, and ultimately provides for erosions in the quality of life for one and all. It was not the practice of our ancient ancestors to rashly embrace the new and thoughtlessly dispose of the old. Even in the emergence of new leadership for the nation there was almost always the inclusion of the most effective ideas and practices of the outgoing regime, as well as drawing from concepts and practices of previously retired traditions, to augment and enhance the philosophy and practices of the new.  In our day and time, our respecting and honoring the experiences and perspectives of our elders is an exceedingly important cornerstone for our restoration of this awesome way of life. 

This is not a call to be constrained by unproductive and old-fashioned sentimentalities just because an older individual gives voice to them. Elders are those who have distinguished themselves through their variety of positive personal accomplishments as well as their service and inspiration to others in our family-community-nation via their diligent and pro-active adherence to the Teachings of our way. Elders are those who have demonstrated self-mastery and the ability to apply the wisdom and guidance of our Teachings, in right measure, for the circumstances that life brings. But they also know the admonition that warns, “Be not arrogant because of your knowledge . . . (because) the limits of knowledge in any field have never been set and no one has ever reached them.” Elders are life-long seekers of wisdom and knowledge who have gained respect and trust through sharing what they have — by acting and speaking openly and truthfully, and giving birth in our hearts to the desire that they could always be among us. 

This is a call for us – men and women, boys and girls — to grow in cultivating the power to honor and emulate those who distinguish themselves in this manner, regardless of their age or position. But it is especially a call to make place(s) in our family-community-nation (formally and informally) whereby we can ask for and receive guidance from the Elders – those who have shown themselves to be capable of giving it — so that we can always walk in the way of righteousness, in times of conflict, trial and tribulation as well as in times of peace, prosperity and joy.  Ankh, Udja, Seneb!