Traditional African religions

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The traditional African religions (or traditional beliefs and practices of African people) are a set of highly diverse beliefs that includes various ethnic religions. [1] Generally, these traditions are oral rather than scriptural, [2] [3] include belief in an amount of higher and lower gods, sometimes including a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic and traditional African medicine. Most religions can be described as Animism [4] [5] with various polytheistic and pantheistic aspects. [6] [1] The role of humanity is generally seen as one of harmonizing nature with the supernatural. [1] [7] According to Lugira, "it is the only religion that can claim to have originated in Africa. Other religions found in Africa have their origins in other parts of the world." [8] [9] [10]

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An early-20th-century Igbo medicine man in Nigeria, West Africa Igbo medicine man.jpg
An early-20th-century Igbo medicine man in Nigeria, West Africa

Adherents of traditional religions in Sub-Saharan Africa are distributed among 43 countries and are estimated to number over 100 million. [11] [8]

Although the majority of Africans today are adherents of Christianity or Islam, African people often combine the practice of their traditional belief with the practice of Abrahamic religions. [12] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] The two Abrahamic religions are widespread across Africa, though mostly concentrated in different areas. They have replaced indigenous African religions, but are often adapted to African cultural contexts and belief systems. [17]

Followers of traditional African religions are also found around the world. In recent times, traditional religions, such as the Yoruba religion, are on the rise. The religion of the Yoruba is finding roots in the United States among African Americans and some others. [18]

Basics

Animism builds the core concept of traditional African religions, this includes the worship of tutelary deities, nature worship, ancestor worship and the belief in an afterlife. While some religions adopted a pantheistic worldview, most follow a polytheistic system with various gods, spirits and other supernatural beings. [19] Traditional African religions also have elements of fetishism, shamanism and veneration of relics. [20]

Traditional African religions can be broken down into linguistic cultural groups, with common themes. Among Niger–Congo-speakers is a belief in a creator god or higher deity, which is considered by some to be a widespread and ancient feature of Niger-Congo-cultures, [21] [22] [23] along with other more specialized deities, ancestor spirits, territorial spirits, evil caused by human ill will and neglecting ancestor spirits, and priests of territorial spirits. [23] [24] New world religions such as Santería, Vodun, and Candomblé, would be derived from this world. Among Nilo-Saharan speakers is the belief in Divinity; evil is caused by divine judgement and retribution; prophets as middlemen between Divinity and man. Among Afro-Asiatic-speakers is henotheism, the belief in one's own gods but accepting the existence of other gods; evil here is caused by malevolent spirits. The Semitic Abrahamic religion of Judaism is comparable to the latter world view. [25] [26] [27] San religion is non-theistic but a belief in a Spirit or Power of existence which can be tapped in a trance-dance; trance-healers. [28]

Some esearchers, including historical ethnolinguist Christopher Ehret, suggest that monotheistic concepts, including the belief in a creator god or force (along with the veneration of many lesser deities and spirits) are ancient and indigenous among peoples of the Niger-Congo ethnolinguistic family (of much of West Africa and Central Africa) and date to the beginning of their history, in a form substantially different from the monotheism found in Abrahamic religions. Traditional Niger-Congo religion also included polytheistic and animistic elements. [29] [30] [23] [31]

Traditional African medicine is also directly linked to traditional African religions. According to Clemmont E. Vontress, the various religious traditions of Africa are united by a basic Animism. According to him, the belief in spirits and ancestors is the most important element of African religions. Gods were either self-created or evolved from spirits or ancestors which got worshiped by the people. He also notes that most modern African folk religions were strongly influenced by non-African religions, mostly Christianity and Islam and thus may differ from the ancient forms. [32]

Ceremonies

West and Central African religious practices generally manifest themselves in communal ceremonies or divinatory rites in which members of the community, overcome by force (or ashe, nyama, etc.), are excited to the point of going into meditative trance in response to rhythmic or driving drumming or singing. One religious ceremony practiced in Gabon and Cameroon is the Okuyi, practiced by several Bantu ethnic groups. In this state, depending upon the region, drumming or instrumental rhythms played by respected musicians (each of which is unique to a given deity or ancestor), participants embody a deity or ancestor, energy or state of mind by performing distinct ritual movements or dances which further enhance their elevated consciousness. [33]

When this trance-like state is witnessed and understood, adherents are privy to a way of contemplating the pure or symbolic embodiment of a particular mindset or frame of reference. This builds skills at separating the feelings elicited by this mindset from their situational manifestations in daily life. Such separation and subsequent contemplation of the nature and sources of pure energy or feelings serves to help participants manage and accept them when they arise in mundane contexts. This facilitates better control and transformation of these energies into positive, culturally appropriate behavior, thought, and speech. Also, this practice can also give rise to those in these trances uttering words which, when interpreted by a culturally educated initiate or diviner, can provide insight into appropriate directions which the community (or individual) might take in accomplishing its goal. [34]

Spirits

Followers of traditional African religions pray to various spirits as well as to their ancestors. [35] This includes also nature, elementary and animal spirits. The difference between powerful spirits and gods is often minimal. Most African societies believe in several “high gods” and a large amount of lower gods and spirits. There are also religions with a single Supreme being (Chukwu, Nyame, Olodumare, Ngai, Roog, etc.). [36] Some recognize a dual God and Goddess such as Mawu-Lisa. [37]

Traditional African religions generally believe in an afterlife, one or more Spirit worlds, and Ancestor worship is an important basic concept in mostly all African religions. Some African religions adopted different views through the influence of Islam or even Hinduism. [38]

Practices and rituals

Bakongo masks from the Kongo Central Masques BaKongo.JPG
Bakongo masks from the Kongo Central

There are more similarities than differences in all traditional African religions. [39] The deities and spirits are honored through libation or sacrifice (of animals, vegetables, cooked food, flowers, semi-precious stones and precious metals). The will of the gods or spirits is sought by the believer also through consultation of divinities or divination. [40] Traditional African religions embrace natural phenomena – ebb and tide, waxing and waning moon, rain and drought – and the rhythmic pattern of agriculture. According to Gottlieb and Mbiti:

The environment and nature are infused in every aspect of traditional African religions and culture. This is largely because cosmology and beliefs are intricately intertwined with the natural phenomena and environment. All aspects of weather, thunder, lightning, rain, day, moon, sun, stars, and so on may become amenable to control through the cosmology of African people. Natural phenomena are responsible for providing people with their daily needs. [41]

For example, in the Serer religion, one of the most sacred stars in the cosmos is called Yoonir (the Star of Sirius). [42] With a long farming tradition, the Serer high priests and priestesses (Saltigue) deliver yearly sermons at the Xoy Ceremony (divination ceremony) in Fatick before Yoonir's phase in order to predict winter months and enable farmers to start planting. [43]

Traditional healers are common in most areas, and their practices include a religious element to varying degrees.

Divination

Early-20th-century Yoruba divination board Early 20th century Yoruba divination board.jpg
Early-20th-century Yoruba divination board

Since Africa is a large continent with many ethnic groups and cultures, there is not one single technique of casting divination. The practice of casting may be done with small objects, such as bones, cowrie shells, stones, strips of leather, or flat pieces of wood.

Traditional healer of South Africa performing a divination by reading the bones Sangoma reading the Bones.jpg
Traditional healer of South Africa performing a divination by reading the bones

Some castings are done using sacred divination plates made of wood or performed on the ground (often within a circle).

In traditional African societies, many people seek out diviners on a regular basis. There are generally no prohibitions against the practice. Diviner (also known as priest) are also sought for their wisdom as counselors in life and for their knowledge of herbal medicine.

Virtue and vice

Virtue in traditional African religion is often connected with carrying out obligations of the communal aspect of life. Examples include social behaviors such as the respect for parents and elders, raising children appropriately, providing hospitality, and being honest, trustworthy, and courageous.

In some traditional African religions, morality is associated with obedience or disobedience to God regarding the way a person or a community lives. For the Kikuyu, according to their primary supreme creator, Ngai, acting through the lesser deities, is believed to speak to and be capable of guiding the virtuous person as one's conscience.

In many cases, Africans who have converted to other religions have still kept up their traditional customs and practices, combining them in a syncretic way. [44]

Sacred places

Some sacred or holy locations for traditional religions include Nri-Igbo, the Point of Sangomar, Yaboyabo, Fatick, Ife, Oyo, Dahomey, Benin City, Ouidah, Nsukka, Kanem-Bornu, Igbo-Ukwu, and Tulwap Kipsigis, among others.

Religious persecution

Traditions by region

This list is limited to a few well-known traditions.

Central Africa

East Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

African Diaspora

North Africa

Notes

  1. 1 2 3 Encyclopedia of African Religion (Sage, 2009) Molefi Kete Asante
  2. Juergensmeyer, Mark (2006). The Oxford Handbook Of Global Religions. ISBN   0-19-513798-1.
  3. S. Mbiti, John (1991). Introduction to African religion. ISBN   0-435-94002-3.
  4. Kimmerle, Heinz (2006-04-11). "The world of spirits and the respect for nature: towards a new appreciation of animism". The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa. 2 (2): 15. doi:10.4102/td.v2i2.277. ISSN   2415-2005.
  5. Vontress, Clemmont E. (2005), "Animism: Foundation of Traditional Healing in Sub-Saharan Africa", Integrating Traditional Healing Practices into Counseling and Psychotherapy, SAGE Publications, Inc., pp. 124–137, retrieved 2019-10-31
  6. An African Story BBC Archived November 2, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. What is religion? An African understanding Archived May 21, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. 1 2 Lugira, Aloysius M., African Traditional Religions (New York: Chealsea House, 2009), p. 36 [in] Varghese, Roy Abraham, Christ Connection: How the World Religions Prepared the Way for the Penomenon of Jesus, Paraclete Press (2011), p. 1935, ISBN   9781557258397 (Retrieved 24 March 2019)
  9. "African Traditional Religion | South African History Online". www.sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  10. "The spirituality of Africa". Harvard Gazette. 2015-10-06. Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  11. Britannica Book of the Year (2003), Encyclopædia Britannica (2003) ISBN   978-0-85229-956-2 p.306
    According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, as of mid-2002, there were 480,453,000 Christians, 329,869,000 Muslims and 98,734,000 people who practiced traditional religions in Africa. Ian S. Markham, A World Religions Reader (1996) Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine is cited by Morehouse University as giving the mid-1990s figure of 278,250,800 Muslims in Africa, but still as 40.8% of the total. These numbers are estimates, and remain a matter of conjecture (see Amadu Jacky Kaba). The spread of Christianity and Islam in Africa: a survey and analysis of the numbers and percentages of Christians, Muslims and those who practice indigenous religions. The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol 29, Number 2, (June 2005), discusses the estimations of various almanacs and encyclopedias, placing Britannica's estimate as the most agreed on figure. Notes the figure presented at the World Christian Encyclopedia, summarized here Archived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine , as being an outlier. On rates of growth, Islam and Pentecostal Christianity are highest, see: The List: The World's Fastest-Growing Religions, Foreign Policy, May 2007.
  12. 1 2 Mbiti, John S (1992). Introduction to African religion. ISBN   9780435940027.When Africans are converted to other religions, they often mix their traditional religion with the one to which they are converted. In this way they are not losing something valuable, but are gaining something from both religious customs
  13. Riggs, Thomas (2006). Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: Religions and denominations. p. 1. ISBN   9780787666125.Although a large proportion of Africans have converted to Islam an Christianity, these two world religions have been assimilated into African culture, and many African Christians and Muslims maintain traditional spiritual beliefs
  14. Gottlieb, Roger S (2006-11-09). The Oxford handbook of religion and ecology. ISBN   9780195178722.Even in the adopted religions of Islam and Christianity, which on the surface appear to have converted millions of Africans from their traditional religions, many aspect of traditional religions are still manifest
  15. "US study sheds light on Africa's unique religious mix". AFP.t doesn't seem to be an either-or for many people. They can describe themselves primarily as Muslim or Christian and continue to practice many of the traditions that are characteristic of African traditional religion," Luis Lugo, executive director of the Pew Forum, told AFP.
  16. Quainoo, Samuel Ebow (2000-01-01). In Transitions and consolidation of democracy in Africa. ISBN   9781586840402.Even though the two religions are monotheistic, most African Christians and Muslims convert to them and still retain some aspects of their traditional religions
  17. Encyclopædia Britannica. Britannica Book of the Year 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica, (2003) ISBN   9780852299562 p.306. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, as of mid-2002, there were 376,453,000 Christians, 329,869,000 Muslims and 98,734,000 people who practiced traditional religions in Africa. Ian S. Markham,(A World Religions Reader. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.) is cited by Morehouse University as giving the mid-1990s figure of 278,250,800 Muslims in Africa, but still as 40.8% of the total. These numbers are estimates, and remain a matter of conjecture. See Amadu Jacky Kaba. The spread of Christianity and Islam in Africa: a survey and analysis of the numbers and percentages of Christians, Muslims and those who practice indigenous religions. The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol 29, Number 2, June 2005. Discusses the estimations of various almanacs and encyclopedium, placing Britannica's estimate as the most agreed figure. Notes the figure presented at the World Christian Encyclopedia, summarized here, as being an outlier. The World Book Encyclopedia has estimated that in 2002 Christians formed 40% of the continent's population, with Muslims forming 45%. It was also estimated in 2002 that Christians form 45% of Africa's population, with Muslims forming 40.6%.
  18. "Ancient African Religion Finds Roots In America". NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  19. Kimmerle, Heinz (2006-04-11). "The world of spirits and the respect for nature: towards a new appreciation of animism". The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa. 2 (2): 15. doi:10.4102/td.v2i2.277. ISSN   2415-2005.
  20. Asukwo (2013). "The Need to Re-Conceptualize African Traditional Religion".
  21. The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800 , by Christopher Ehret, James Currey, 2002
  22. A Conversation with Christopher Ehret
  23. 1 2 3 Okwu AS (1979). "Life, Death, Reincarnation, and Traditional Healing in Africa". Issue: A Journal of Opinion. 9: 19–24. doi:10.2307/1166258.
  24. Stanton, Andrea L. (2012). Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa: An Encyclopedia. SAGE. ISBN   9781412981767.
  25. Baldick, Julian (1997). Black God: the Afroasiatic roots of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions. Syracuse University Press: ISBN   0-8156-0522-6
  26. The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800 , by Christopher Ehret, James Currey, 2002
  27. [view.https://worldhistoryconnected.press.uillinois.edu/2.1/ehret.html, A Conversation with Christopher Ehret]
  28. Christopher Ehret, (2002). The Civilizations of Africa. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, pp. 102–03, ISBN   0-8139-2085-X.
  29. The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800 , by Christopher Ehret, James Currey, 2002
  30. A Conversation with Christopher Ehret
  31. Stanton, Andrea L. (2012). Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa: An Encyclopedia. SAGE. ISBN   9781412981767.
  32. Vontress, Clemmont E. (2005), "Animism: Foundation of Traditional Healing in Sub-Saharan Africa", Integrating Traditional Healing Practices into Counseling and Psychotherapy, SAGE Publications, Inc., pp. 124–137, retrieved 2019-10-31
  33. Karade, B. The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts, pages 39–46. Samuel Weiser Inc, 1994
  34. Annemarie De Waal Malefijt (1968) Religion and Culture: an Introduction to Anthropology of Religion, p. 220–249, Macmillan
  35. "The spirituality of Africa". Harvard Gazette. 2015-10-06. Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  36. Willie F. Page (2001) Encyclopedia of African History and Culture, Volume 1, p. 55. Published by Facts on File, ISBN   0-8160-4472-4
  37. Peter C. Rogers (2009) Ultimate Truth, Book 1, p100. Published by AuthorHouse, ISBN   1-4389-7968-1
  38. Parrinder, E. G. (1959). "Islam and West African Indigenous Religion". Numen. 6 (2): 130–141. doi:10.2307/3269310. ISSN   0029-5973.
  39. John S. Mbiti (1990) African Religions & Philosophy 2nd Ed., p 100–101, Heinemann, ISBN   0-435-89591-5
  40. John S. Mbiti (1992) Introduction to African Religion 2nd Ed., p. 68, Published by East African Publishers ISBN   9966-46-928-1
  41. Roger S. Gottlieb (2006) The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology, p. 261, Oxford Handbooks Online ISBN   0-19-517872-6
  42. Henry Gravrand (1990) La Civilisation Sereer Pangool, PP 21, 152, Published by Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines du Sénégal, ISBN   2-7236-1055-1
  43. Simone Kalis (1997) Médecine Traditionnelle, Religion et Divination Chez les Seereer Siin du Sénégal: La Coonaissance de la Nuit, L'Harmattan, ISBN   2-7384-5196-9
  44. Resolving the Prevailing Conflicts Between Christianity and African (Igbo) Traditional Religion Through Inculturation, by Edwin Anaegboka Udoye

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References

Further reading