Friday, August 27, 2010

The Cow Obsession

Longtime readers of this blog will know that last year was dotted with reference to cows. They filled the fields between Grahamstown and Kenton and Port Elizabeth and walked the streets of Grahamstown itself. This year, in Pietermaritzburg, my encounters with cows have been limited. Today, though, there is a new interest in cows. A cow that is coming to the seminary. To die.
Next weekend is the official opening ceremony with the accompanying influx of dignitaries and presumably long speeches. This weekend is the African initiation of the seminary - complete with cow sacrifice.
I do not have the faintest idea how to respond to this!
It goes against so much of what I have learnt and believed about God and sacrifice. But I also understand that it is deeply important to African people - and this is usually reflected in a separation of 'church' and 'tradition'. If church won't accept the tradition then the traditional practices will be done seperately.
I've been speaking to black African people over the last few weeks, trying to understand what it means to them. My bottom-line understanding is that the sacrifices offered are in order to appease or placate the ancestral spirits or living dead. The 'worst case' scenario (in my mind) is that the sacrifice is being made asking the spirit of Seth Mokitimi for permission to name the seminary after him. I asked what would happen if he wasn't happy and was shrugged off - 'we would have known by now if he wasn't happy'. The best case was that it is simply a sign of thanksgiving.
Does the Bible say that we should not have minor gods after the One true God? I know that there should be none before him, could there be some after? The 'ancestors' are not idols made of wood and stone, but 'living?' beings.
I have just received the seminary president's explanation of the event, but have not read it yet. I will make more comment when I have read it!
(Actually, I think I am supposed to put it on the seminary web page! I'll post the link when that is done . . . there goes my time to work on my proposal!)


Anonymous said...


Seriously, I'm looking forward to the Evangelicals getting a bit hot and bothered about this one. Please tell me where the explanation is posted I'd very much like to read it.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Mark - the MERM evangelicals tend not to be blog readers and writers. I wonder if it relates to the paucity of reformed bloggers?