Generational curses have been deeply misunderstood, especially by the Black community, and this leads to more suffering and unnecessary inheriting of toxic patterns that halt our success in life.
By: Thanduxolo ‘Thandz’ Buti
Generational curses are a delicate subject, often resulting in polarizing discussions. This is largely because there are Western and indigenous African perspectives. Western perspectives (which are often based on religion) often discredit or minimize African spirituality and its mythologies. Understanding and breaking generational curses as an African can be perplexing as it requires learning and unlearning. The subject of generational curses can be tied to ancestral worshipping (veneration of the dead), a practice that is sometimes misunderstood.
According to Gogo Dineo Ndlanzi—a respected traditional healer and life coach—generation in the African context requires acknowledgement of the continuing relationship between us and our ancestors.
“We are one and connected with our ancestors—we are not separate,” she explains. “So when we talk about generational [issues], we talk about things that still connect us to our ancestors; things that happened even prior to our coming that keep us connected.”
Many hold a negative view of the ancestral world, which is often tied with punishment and chastising, and endless requests of offerings and sacrificial rituals. But Gogo Dineo says ancestors don’t just pass on curses, they also pass on gifts and blessings.
“A lot of the times when we speak about ancestors, we only want to speak of pain, trauma, suffering and curses that we inherit, but we inherit more than that,” she adds.
“When we speak of curses, we speak of patterns, experiences and diseases—things that are not well within us that have been passed on from one generation to another. For example, we (from this generation) could be coming to some realization that there is a pattern of behaviour and experiences that is common and unfolding for us.
“We are talking about things that are unpleasant, and irrespective of how much effort we put into our current life experiences, we never seem to break free from that pattern and pathology. We are not only talking about things that are tangible, like money, we are also talking about certain illnesses or misfortunes in our family.
“So generational curses are things that are not just happening to us but things that our ancestors did in the past that are impacting us. For example, my father was promiscuous and therefore I find myself attracting or in relationships with people who display the same behaviour.”
To begin to unpack generational curses, we must first understand our family tree and family history because that can reveal family pathologies. However, many Black families are not transparent about family history, especially when dealing with suffering, tragedy and trauma. Gogo Dineo cites Westernization as another obstacle which resulted in Black people disconnecting from their ancestors.
“Because we have been influenced by Western philosophies and paradigms, like religion (Christianity), we only associate generational curses with the tangible, like relationships, financial health or overall wellness etc. We fail to realise that there are behavioural patterns that are also generational curses.
“For example, you may find that your relationship with money is the same as your mother’s relationship with money or your relationship with other men is similar to that of your mother. We might look at that as unfortunate without looking deeper to understand why this pattern is reoccurring. It only becomes concerning when it’s things that are more tangible. We might think that it’s only spiritual, not understanding that spiritual is also psychological—spirituality is psychology.”
Gogo Dineo also adds that Black people are also suffering from collective generational curses. “Black people are made to believe that they are designed for suffering, poverty, and struggle hence their discomfort with wealth and success. You see how “Black Twitter” is used to celebrate the downfall of Black excellence.
“We question and speak ill of Black people who manage to break free from the poverty cycle or other pathologies we have accepted as part of our racial identity. We accuse them of ‘ukuThwala’ (a type of ritual used to accelerate wealth) or ‘corruption’ because there is no way we can have our own Oppenheimers’ or Ruperts. The way Black women are treated is also generational trauma that we as a gender carry and has contributed to violence against women in the country.”
As a Xhosa man, I also struggled to grasp the concept of generational curses, as it’s often tied to Christianity. I was raised by a single mother, but my father was not absent. I grew up in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, and rituals and ancestral worship are an integral part of our society.
My father, who passed in January, was a devout Christian and a minister. He came from a family of devout Christians who never performed cultural rituals. As an adult, I realised that my father didn’t have much of a relationship with his family and as a result, we (his kids), have no relationship with his family. There was always a certain level of mystery and secrecy shrouding my paternal side of the family. As a result, there was always a void I carried.
Recently, I was forced to embark on a journey of finding myself after experiencing many misfortunes and inevitably feeling stuck in life. This journey led me to discover generational curses on my paternal side that date back many generations. I met some of my cousins for the first time and I was stunned to discover that they were having similar experiences. Some were also struggling with mental health issues like I am—revealing a mental illness pattern.
Through embarking on the journey of learning about my paternal history, the idea of general curses has become more real. Now that I know the root of my suffering, I can begin the process of breaking the cycle so that my path can be cleared.
Knowing Your Family History
Gogo Dineo also believes in the importance of knowing and understanding family history and pathology to help reveal family patterns. Identifying family patterns exposes problem areas that need healing so that we can begin to unshackle ourselves from the “generational curses”. Some of the curses can be passed on in various ways, especially during conception and pregnancy.
“The traumas and tragedies that our mothers experienced; we feel it, we hear it and experience it while in our mother’s womb,” says Gogo Dineo. “So we go through life emulating or replaying our parent’s past experiences because that world feels familiar—tragedy and trauma can alter our natural state of being into a nurtured state of being. Perhaps your mother was in an abusive relationship while pregnant with you, so based on the things she felt and experienced, your worldview was shaped. Trauma moves us from our true being to a moulded being (who we are is formed by nurture rather than nature).”
General curses can be quite powerful and can prevent us from reaching our full potential. As Maya Angelou put it, “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” It’s vital that we know where we come to know where we are going. Learning about your family pathology and ancestors is a part of understanding ourselves and that’s how we begin healing and breaking generational curses. When we begin to understand the power of the connection between us and our ancestors, then we can understand our role in the family lineage.
“Anything unhealed cannot be resolved. And anything unacknowledged cannot be healed,” she explains. “So patterns can become even more powerful especially when we are not aware that they are generational. We have to try and analyse our behaviours because most often it’s learned behaviour or a generational pattern.
“For example, I grew up in a family where poverty was normalized. So, I never wanted to find myself in that story of another girl who grew up poor in Alex, so I pushed myself outside the system of poverty. However, my behaviour was still influenced by the poverty mentality. I felt very uncomfortable with money. I would give it away or spend it very quickly. I wouldn’t accumulate any assets because of that belief system which was passed on to me by the women who raised me. If I don’t heal it then it will get passed on to my children.”
Identify Family Patterns
But how does one identify a generational curse? Apart from learning the family history through dialogues with elders about the family lineage, others might consult a traditional healer (Sangoma, iQirha, iXhwele, uMthandazeli/Prophet) in order to gain insight into the spiritual realm. Sometimes identifying generational curses can be a lengthy and taxing journey almost requiring a time machine to an earlier time of your lineage. Gogo Dineo also warns that sometimes people confuse generational curses with other external forces.
“There are generational curses that were never by our doing, there may be an external hand like witchcraft. So we might realise that the reason there is no marriage in our family is due to something being done to prevent marriage in the family. Sometimes this may happen because we have rejected family rituals to embrace modernity (by, for instance, moving towards religion), so we stop cultural practices because we are saved or born-again. That then means we are not connected, and when we are not connected, we are not able to access spiritual intelligence to enable us to better navigate life. So sometimes resolving a behavioural pattern, a medical condition, or a mental condition that never seems to get resolved may be due to family history, and not just about us.”
Sometimes identifying generational curses to begin the process of healing can prove to be difficult especially when it means confronting family secrets. Unfortunately, some families conceal some family traumas as a way to protect the family. But these family secrets can be like an invisible dark cloud haunting generation after generation. Attempting to uncover such secrets can result in one being rejected or labelled a black sheep. Gogo Dineo reveals that she comes across a lot of cases that are a result of family secrets.
“These kinds of secrets usually have a lot to do with sexual violence or incest within the family,” she explains. “In some instances, you may find that there was incest in the family which led to children being born so when someone comes out and wants to break the pathology, then it becomes a problem because an invisible vow was made to be loyal to the secret in order to keep the family from being shamed.
“People must be prepared because sometimes breaking a general curse can come with a lot of pain and losing family members who are disappointed in you for standing up for your healing and truth. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it anyway because the only way to break a cycle is by first acknowledging that something happened and speaking out against certain members of the family who protect or perpetuate certain violations.
Breaking the Cycle
Breaking the generational curse is important both for you and the generation that comes after you. Despite the journey often being rocky and agonizing, breaking the cycle is vital to stopping otherwise unending cycles of pain and suffering in the family. If one aims to heal then they have to be ready to face disappointment in their family, rejection and even abandonment. However, the silver lining is being emancipated from years of pain.
“If we don’t heal things that have happened to us; once we are in positions of power, we move from being victims to being perpetrators. That is how the cycle of abuse and generational trauma starts repeating itself because when we have not healed, we bleed on the innocent,” says Gogo Dineo.
“When on the path of healing, the most important thing is to be aware of the behavioural patterns, experiences, tragedies, and traumas within the family. Then you go and seek help. One way is to go to a psychologist and get help on an emotional level, but in some instances, you might need a physical cleansing. There might be a particular ritual that needs to be performed which would require visiting a Sangoma. We go through these processes of healing to stop the pain and suffering in our lineage.”