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Thoughts on water ceremony and calabash

by Leni Keller


Anastasia brought her grandmother's (perhaps already her great-grandmother's) calabash back to me in 1999 after her wedding to Andreas, and Maria's baptism had been celebrated in Cameroon.


The calabash was to be given to me especially with the instruction that it is needed for the water ceremony. “When everyone is together and drinks water from it, then there is peace,” Anastasia roughly explained to me her grandmother had said about it. I took this as a great vote of confidence from this grandmother and a fundamentally essential task. (Anastasia later told me that her sisters did not fully agree that she was given the calabash. Maybe they could not imagine that I would actually perform this ritual. Anastasia once told me that the Cameroonians believed that the Europeans - or the Germans? - have no traditions. Maybe the grandmother gave her the calabash because she lives furthest away from home.)


The water-ceremony is a ritual of a religious character without belonging to a specific religion. I liked that about it from the start, and it always seemed to fit well with our mixed family circle. (Maybe this ritual is also part of a pre-Christian African religion? – good too!)


A ritual is a symbolic action. Something can become a symbol only if it is based on a meaningful experience. What is the experience underlying this ritual?


The water that is being shared here stands for something essential to life, which should be shared so that peace is possible. Without water, no human being can survive. The ask here is to share a vital resource symbolically and metaphorically.


(In German the word for scooping [water] is the same as the word for creating. We are reminded of our creative abilities, which we need, so that peaceful life for all succeeds).


The words gathering and sharing point us to the fact that we are only human if we are also fellow humans. Only when we have our neighbour in mind and share that what is essential to life, there is peace. (This is for me also a Christian core statement.) But what is ‘the vital", “the necessary" for us, who have everything! Our humanity and our creativity, our creative potential are in demand for life to succeed!


The old calabash, which is given here as important for the water ceremony - expresses that this ritual has been performed for a long time - "forever" - that it is tradition: the grandmothers already had this vessel in their hands and it is a valuable antique and possibly reminds of an old religion...- A water ceremony can also be performed without this calabash, but with its practice in this traditional form we refer to the experiences, the stances and the accumulated strengths of our ancestors and thereby also honour them. With this ritual we express the hope that we can keep the family peace and beyond that also contribute to the general peace. We hope that this memory will also mean something to our children, to whom we pass on this ceremony with the calabash.


This ceremony is given to women, and I think every woman should find the words that suit her - and the occasion - when performing it.

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