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Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. Headshot

African libation practices in the Gospel of Mark

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I have always been fascinated by the practice of libation. I first saw this done in a movie over twenty years ago where Ice-Cube (Dough boy) poured his malt liquor on the ground in honor of his murdered brother Ricky played by Morris Chestnut. I thought that the practice was weird but very symbolic and really touched my heart. While many Christians find the practice of making libations to be unchristian, there are others in the society who considers this an important ritual that has to be performed to acknowledge the supernatural among the people.

The pouring of liquid as a ritual practice is not something that is new but seems a common practice in the ritualistic practice of the writer of Mark's Gospel, which is the earliest written Gospel.

To make a libation, the drink (usually alcoholic) is put in a calabash (if palm wine) or in a glass (if any other) and drops of it are poured on the ground, accompanied with appropriate words of thanksgiving on God's continued blessing on creation.

Such practices are found in Mark 14:14-15 of the man carrying the jar as host preparing for a home for Jesus in the last hours before his death. The man that is carrying the jar is Mark himself who also is present at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11), appearing as "the servant who poured out the water which our Lord turned into wine." Mark being the first Gospel account displays a "libational" practice of pouring water common to the African imagination as a pre-cursor to our traditional practices of the connection of pouring out of water and wine in the Eucharist.

African Descent Interpretation of the Importance of Libation

The practice of libation was not only pivotal in Mark's Gospel as a common practice of African memory but also for the themes depicting the kinship of Jesus. Such form of kinship transcends death as I believe in my Lutheran understanding that at the communion table resides "the host of believers" that have gone on before. The pouring of libation in African rituals must be performed for such entrance in the tsiefe-ancestral land. Such ancestors are remembered as we recognize Christ's death through food and drink. The transcendent kinship beyond death is very important in the overall purposes of the ritual of libation. Just as Africa had given the family of Jesus a home in his childhood in flight from Herod, so now a family with African origins familiar with the practice of libation is giving Jesus a home in the last hours of death.

That is the reason Mark the Gospel writer made it clear that those who partook of the family, was Jesus' true family. "Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother" (Mk 3:35). Perhaps, Mark was familiar with the importance of the Passover meal and connected the command of God to Moses as found in Exodus 25:29 that he was familiar with by the rituals of his African wife Zipporah in "And you shall make it plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls which to pour libations."

The African practice of libation had a significant impact on setting forth our understanding of hospitality, tokens of fellowship and respect, for family living and dead, continuity and contact. The eschatological kinship followed by the African practice of libation was pivotal in setting forth ritualistic patterns for the new emerging family of Gentiles found in the Mark's gospel of family, following the command of the messianic Lord.