This article explores the recent and growing invocation of the concept of ancestrality in a self-consciously ethicized critical practice. It commences by undertaking a genealogy of ancestrality and reflecting on the convergences and divergences between these two terms—genealogy and ancestrality. The article then draws upon both the canonical anthropological archive wherein relations to ancestors were discussed and the author’s own extended research among people in southern Africa for whom ancestors are part of the cultural commonsense. On this basis, the author argues that, at least among those people with whom she is familiar, the ancestors are not figures of a past nor figures of moral virtue. Rather, they call from the future and orient action toward a community of recognition to which the living aspire. This community does not have a final judgment as the precondition of admission, and indeed, the article calls into question the deployment of the ancestral as the figure of an absolute judgment, while pointing to the risks of a primitivist nostalgia in the effort to make Africa not only of the site of irreparable loss but the name and locus of a lost wisdom that could ameliorate the social crises of our contemporaneity.

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