Blood, Thicker Than Water?
We are more connected to people by the experiences we have shared with them than by the blood we share with others.
“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin
One of the most popular sayings about ‘blood’ and how it relates to human relations goes thus: “Blood is thicker than water”, which is usually interpreted as familial relationships holding more weight than any other bond one forms outside the family circle; the ‘family’ in this case refers to people related by blood. The irony of this saying is that it is inverted in its presentation and consequently misunderstood, as the source of the saying we have come to be familiar with is actually one that says, “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”, which means that other bonds that we form (such as ones formed where an oath is taken and blood is used to bind the covenant) are stronger than bonds with family (represented by the ‘water of the womb’).
Reflecting on how water, historically, can be taken as a representation of devastation, especially for Black bodies, from tragic events such as the mass suicide at the Igbo Landing and the millions of slaves thrown into the Atlantic Ocean during the transatlantic slave trade, not to mention the devastating socioeconomic impact of the floods from Hurricane Katrina on the African-American communities of New Orleans, one can infer that beyond the ties of blood that any of these peoples might have shared, whether through ethnic descent or nuclear filiation, ‘water’ and the waves of terror from its actions had drawn the people even closer together beyond their family ties, in a case of a people being united in grief emanating from a common suffering, as they shared this singular emotion of sorrow from a similar tragedy that cut so deep that it transcended whatever bond they could have formed by coming from the same womb or sharing the same blood. This is why a person from the African diaspora experiencing police brutality in the hands of a white cop might feel a stronger sense of kinship with a random African groaning under the jackboots of a dictator in his country than they would with a distant name in their lineage whom they share blood with, especially with how advancements in technology have contributed to making such connections even easier.
In the case of blood covenants, in Abrahamic times, they were originally related to the monotheistic religion of Judaism, and signified an agreement between God and the covenantor, in which the covenant was definitely stronger than any bond the covenanting party had with his family. Even with how warped this concept of the blood covenant has become in contemporary times, as used in initiation processes of secret societies and cults; to extract oaths of loyalty and secrecy from young girls and women being trafficked by transnational prostitution rings; or as parts of the rites in carrying out ‘money rituals’, the blood that joins the parties in all these cases, because of the weight of the consequences of breaking this bond, is thicker than the ‘water of the womb’; hence we find people that enter into such covenants sharing a closer affiliation with the members of these societies than any member of their own family. That is why you would hear people from the same confraternity refer to each other as ‘brother’, and it connotes a deeper relation than the actual fraternal, evoking the biblical verse, “but there’s a friend who sticks closer than a brother”.
I think we are more connected to people by the experiences we have shared with them than by the blood we share with others; and it seems that this connection is even stronger when these experiences are of the grim kind; hence the darker the complexion of the event, the stronger the ties, and no blood can flow thicker than it.