Why Care About Your Ancestors?

I once read a story about a tribe who took in a middle-aged stranger. The stranger was a storyteller and he told wonderful creation stories. He lived with the tribe until he died. The younger generation continued telling his stories, but from one telling to the next, from one teller to the next, the stories got changed. Seventy years after the man’s death another stranger wandered into the village. Members of the tribe told him their creation stories. When this new man asked where their legends had come from, many of them believed the stories had originated when their people had been created, so they said, “These stories have always been a part of who we are.” Within seventy years after the storyteller’s death his words had been altered, his face forgotten and his name erased from history. His stories had become the stuff of myth and legends and he was gone forever, because no one guarded the authenticity of his stories’ origins or wrote down the source from which they came.

In some ancient African villages a drummer would chant stories that had been passed down word for word to him by his predecessor. His job was to perserve the history and identity of his people. His job was to immortalize those stories in rhythms and chants and to do so precisely so that those precious words were not forgotten.

Ancient Jewish scribes wrote every piece of their scriptures, their stories. They meticulously transcribed every piece of punctuation, because they had the revelation that what is written down will live, unchanged, for thousands of years. Likewise, when Spanish conquistadors invaded Mexico, they burned the written codices of the Aztecs, because if you destroy a people’s stories, you destroy their identity. It goes through history, the Romans burnt the library at Alexandria. In the Dark Ages people were kept ignorant and those who commanded the written word and documentation of the past, remained in power.

It is my opinion that we should record our stories, the stories of our lives and our families, the stories of our ancestors [as best as we can piece them together] and pass them on from generation to generation. To say that it is unimportant who we came from is to take value away from our mothers and fathers and our grandmothers and grandfathers. They did matter and they still do, for without them, there would be no us. Without yesterday there could never be a today and while we certainly can’t spend our whole lives looking back, it is certainly good to give honor where it is due.