Skeletons in the ancestral closet
Is it really that important for children to know the gory truth about their ancestors' past?
My first foray into the importance of heritage and knowing your ancestors
was a fun surface exploration of what, apparently, could turn out to be a hell-of-a traumatic experience.
There’s a TV programme called ‘Who do you think you are?’ In the series various celebrities are given assistance in tracking down their ancestors, with some very emotional results.
It got me to thinking that sometimes the past should just be left in the past. In one of the programmes a well-known Afrikaans news reader discovered that one of his great grandparents suffered terribly in the concentration camps
during the Anglo-Boer war.
A local comedian discovered the reason that his grandmother beat him so often was due to her own unhappy childhood and fondness for alcohol. He also uncovered suspicious circumstances around the death of another ancestor.
And in the most recent episode I’ve seen, a local actress discovers that the man she thought was her father, was in fact not her biological father. In the programme she eventually met her biological father for the first time and discovered that her mother got knocked up by this guy when he was a teacher at the school at which her mother was a pupil. She also learns that there is a strong likelihood that a particular line of ancestry came from the slave coast of India.
The raw emotion and evident pain in this particular episode had me wondering about the necessity to know at all costs.
How important is it really? Does it add to our sense of identity? Does it cement our place in the world? And what do you do if you find out that you have the blood of ruthless pirate running through your veins, or if you have Viking ancestry, your great uncle Olaf actually used to sail up and down the coast of England raping and pillaging…
Or how would it make you feel if you had always felt yourself to be of royal blood or someone important, only to find that your ancestors were actually enslaved and forcibly brought to wherever it is you find yourself now. And what about the guilt of finding out that maybe your ancestor was a real baddy, like Hitler
or Verwoerd or the cookie monster…
Should some sleeping dogs be left to lay in ignorant bliss, or should we tell our children where they come from at all costs? I mean is it our duty to tell them the truth about our collective past?
Do you think children should be told all, good and bad, about their ancestors?