Seven stages of growth lead to Elder-hood

Conclusion of a two-part column


CulturalWellnessThe Elders are here now in the Cultural Wellness Center. They will teach, coach, share and guide us forward. For this, we are deeply grateful.

African culture and heritage anchors the person’s life cycles inside the “Pyramid of Community.”  The African recognizes in this Pyramid of Community seven stages of development and growth towards Elder-hood (Shemsu) and seven stages of development and growth towards Ancestor-hood (Tepa). Each stage is marked by a period of seven years.

The seven stages of growth toward Elder-hood are traditionally accomplished through a conscious and deliberate process within the family and the community. The natural process is initiated at birth. The parents of the child have family elders who receive the child, name the child, and guide through ritual and ceremony the child’s full purpose. This establishes a path for the child to be lead into full maturity as a Human Being.

Each of the seven stages of growth toward Elder-hood carries specific areas of learning to be achieved as well as areas of responsibility to be acquired. Ages 1-7, 7-14, 14-21, 21-28, 28-35, 35-42, 42-49: All stages have their own specific areas of responsibility.

As we know, stages one (0-7), two (7-14) and three (14-21) are the stages for spiritual and cultural development. The person’s capacity for nurturing and being nurtured, the foundational attitudes to life, is being formed in these early stages by the home, family and community.  Traditions and rituals, divine principles, and sacred teaching about living in harmony with the Creator are learned practices of these traditions, and they are passed on during these three stages.

Cultural identity, which is rooted in spirituality and heritage, and intellectual capacity, which is also rooted in cultural identity, should be firmly developed in the first three stages. At the end of these stages, it is expected that life practices outside the home, family and community will begin.

Life outside of home will now begin to expose the person to challenges, struggles and encounters that will determine a more refined clarity of purpose, responsibility and timing of the person’s official transformation into shaman and ancestor.

As the Pyramid of Community shows, stages six and seven represent a peak in our maturing process. This is a time of realizing peace of mind. The stage of “rest” is about standing tall, deeply rooted and unwavering in understanding the obligatory nature of our relationships with the Creator, our family and our community.

We can now see behind us and in front of us. The stage of peaking is a high point but not an end point. The peak of the pyramid is pointed toward the heavens. This peak is available to the heavens without question. The Elder rejoins the heavenly forces and is now in a state of consciousness of the imminent return to a place among the stars.

At the peak of the pyramid of development are the stages of rest and of return. It is the time or period when the individual becomes an Elder. It is the stage when the individual begins to return service to the community beyond the immediate bounds of his or her family.

Being acknowledged as an Elder requires the giving of one’s self to the nurturing of a family, and should be the requirement for assessing one’s entitlement to the name “Elder’.”  Being an Elder is the same process in continuity to become an Ancestor. The title “Elder” recognizes the potentiality within the individual of a certain moral rectitude (the exercise of Maat) that will lead to his acknowledgement of Ancestor-hood after passing through this earthly cycle.

These are the first seven stages of the “patterning” of our people. I am grateful to you the community of people of African descent for your confidence in the teachings and for your approval of my work. I am honored to hold this position as Elder.



Elder Atum Azzahir is executive director and elder consultant in African ways of knowing of the Cultural Wellness Center. She welcomes reader responses to