Africa Traditional Religious System as Basis of Understanding Christian Spiritual Warfare 1. If, for example, a piece of wood representing Obatala (a Yoruba deity) is eaten by termites, the worshippers of Obatala will not feel that their god has been destroyed by the termites, because the piece of wood is only a symbol, serving as a visible or concrete embodiment of that which is symbolised. The various divinities that are represented are in fact technically representatives or servants of the Supreme Being. According to the Yoruba, 401 orisha “line the road to heaven,” and diviners identify among them the personal orisha to which an individual should appeal for guidance, protection, and blessing. It is often combined with elements of Christianity and Islam. 3. It needs to be emphasized that the Supreme Being cannot be represented like the divinities. Language required. When Ludwig got to This is part of democracy. The word idol is used to describe the object which is an emblem of that which is worshipped by the Africans. and Eleda (the Creator) by the same people. (v)  Paganism and Heathenism:  We choose to treat paganism and heathenism together because the meanings applied to them are similar, if not identical. © World Wisdom, Inc. COSMOLOGY  . It is only a means to an end. for as long as they've been in existence. Scorned at one time, the world is now re-discovering the beauty of this art form, as is evidenced by the increasing number of takers for the distinctive objects of art, which showcase the cultural values of different African regions. Religious resources are contained in the four main elements of which religions consist. Whatever weaknesses and faults may be noticeable in the works of these foreign investigators and writers, Africans have to give credit to them for their ability to work under hard conditions and to express their thoughts in writings which the present generation of Africans can read, examine and improve upon. They do this because they have certain religious beliefs and because their religions guide their lives. The Ibo call Him Chükwu, that is the Great Chi or the Great Source of life and of being. We must also point out that, to the Africans, the material has meaning only in terms of the spiritual. The term “Primal” is used to refer to religions which were there prior to the so-called “universal” religions such as Christianity, Islam, etc. KEY WORDS: pregnancy, birth rites, naming rites, puberty rites, ritual [23] See E. Tylor, Primitive Cultures, Vols. Everyone is free to follow whatever faith they want to, or not to follow one at all. They therefore ask the ancestors to communicate on their behalf. 2 Peoples and religions of South Africa. Their descendants moved to present day South Afri… The Ewe-speaking people speak of Him as Nana Buluku (Ancient of Days), and this suggests His eternity. One certainly cannot speak of "African religion" as if it was a single, coherent set of beliefs. [13] T. J. Hutchson, Impressions of Western Africà, 1858. [24] E. G. Parrinder, African Traditional Religion, p.24. It is found in most religions. A cow, sheep or chicken is slaughtered and the ancestors are called to receive the offering and bless the gathering. Thus, strictly speaking, religion in its pristine form is no longer in existence. In other words, animism is a part definition of every religion. Traditional African religion is based on oral traditions, which means that the basic values and way of life are passed from elders to younger generation. But when the meaning is stretched further it means one who is neither a Christian, a Jew nor a Muslim. Welcome to the summary lecture of African Traditional Religions. The Yoruba, for example, never rank the Supreme Being, Olodimave with the divinities (orisa), neither do the Edo confuse Osanobuwa with the divinities (ebo). Please select a category and then submit. Africa is a massive continent with diverse religious traditions, to the extent that within the same tradition there have been variations. In order to administer the world, however, the Deity has brought into being divinities who are His ministers or functionaries. This is a heritage from the past, but treated not as a thing of the past but as that which connects the past with the present and the present with eternity. Alchemists eventually associated four triangular symbols to represent these elements. In a proper polytheism, the gods are all of the same rank and file. [19] S. F. Nadel, The Nupe Religion, London, 1954. The major faiths practiced in South Africa are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, traditional African religions and Judaism. Followers believe in the guidance of their ancestors spirits. But experience shows that material representation often becomes a danger in religion when the worshippers make the emblems an end in themselves. They cherish their tradition; they worship with sincerity because their worship is quite meaningful to them; they hold tenaciously to their covenant that binds them together. The effect of colonisation on Africa's traditional religion is seen in the views of colonialists that African traditional religious practices are fetish, barbaric, ritualistic and demonic. B. Ellis,[16] and S. S. [12] R. F. Burton, Abeokuta and the Cameroons Nits, Vol. It is the most popular for decoration and can often be seen printed on cloth or stamped on pottery.The rapid spread of Pentecostal Christianity and fundamentalist Islam has greatly affected the role of indigenous religion in African society. (Turner 1994a:129). This means attributing a living soul to inanimate objects and natural phenomena. Source: To please these unhappy ancestors, usually offerings of beer and meat are made. For example, the Iroko tree is not an ordinary tree; it is believed to be inhabited by a spirit; the Oshun River (in Western Nigeria) is believed to be more than an ordinary river because the spirit (Oshun) dwells in it and this makes the river efficacious in many respects, especially during barrenness. The people follow many spiritual traditions and religious faiths. Present eminent African scholars, like Professor E. Bolaji Idown and Professor John Mbiti, have emphasized the fact that the world of the Africans is a theocratic one, ruled and governed by the decree of the Supreme Being. Deity is a philosophical concept which savages are incapable of framing.” [4], These two quotations show the ignorance, prejudice and pride of these theorists. The noticeable fault among the missionaries was that they were particularly subjective, and they could not see anything good in African Traditional Religion. Examples of folk religions include African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions. Sulfur, mercury, and salt are classical elements. (2nd ed. [25] E. G. Parrinder, West African Religion, London, Epworth, 1949, p.26, 1969 edition, p.12. But, thank God, there came on the scene a number of investigators who were interested in finding out the truth about religion in Africa. (vii)  Idolatry:  Idol means false god; and so idolatry is the worshipping of false gods or that which is not real. This community is made up of people who remember and share the same traditions. Please enter your comments and then submit. The hominid race was walked the land of Africa around 8 million to 5 million years ago. The early Portuguese who came to Africa saw that the Africans used to wear charms and amulets and so they gave the name feitico to such things. And we agree with Professor Idowu that the purpose of the study should be: [*] Editorial Note: Dr. J. Omosade Awolalu is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and has specialised in the field of the African Traditional Religion. The most prominent were R. S. Rattray,[14] P. A. Talbot,[15] A. By the 19th century the Arabs moved to East and Central Africa. London: Sheldon Press, 1976). [7], Father Schmidt had earlier been working among the Pigmies of the Congo in Central Africa. Although traditional African religion recognises a Supreme God, followers do not worship him or her directly as they do not feel worthy enough. African Religion is ancestor worship. Today, the countries of Africa contain a wide variety of religious beliefs, and statistics on religious affiliation are difficult to come by. 3 Leo Frobenius, The Voice of Africa, Vol. To fathom these changes, both instructors and students in comparative religion and theology must fully understand African Traditional Religion to comprehend the new forms of Christianity that emphasize prophecy, healing, well-being, and wealth. RELIGION is a fundamental, perhaps the most important, influence in the life of most Africans; yet its essential principles are too often unknown to foreigners who thus make themselves constantly liable to misunderstand the African worldview and beliefs. In actual fact, some of these early investigators were more careful than some modern ones who appear to know too much theoretical off-the-spot anthropology and sociology, and who just pick from the researches of other people or rush to Africa during the summer flight, interview one or two people and then rush back to produce volumes. The Edo call Him Osanobuwa, and this means “God who is the “Source and Sustainer of the World”. (ii)  Savage:  The dictionary meaning is: ‘pertaining to the forest or wilderness; wild; uncultured; untamed violent; brutal; uncivilized; untaught; rude; barbarous; inhuman.’ In one word, savagery is the opposite of civilization. When we examine the names, we gain a greater insight into the peoples’ concept of God, as they are descriptive of His character and attributes. Every aspect of it cannot be described as original. What does fetish mean? We can understand what the problems are. Here we disagree with John Mbiti who chooses to speak of the religion in the plural “because there are about one thousand African peoples (tribes), and each has its own religious system …”[1]. In what sense can we describe the people as old fashioned or describe their religion as simple? Meditation is one of the most powerful ways to develop your African spirituality! African Traditional Religion is not essentially idolatrous, but it has a tendency to become so if the cult and the symbols of the divinities are so emphasized as to exclude the Supreme Being. Most of them were Bantu -speaking people and were the ancestors of many South Africans, especially the Nguni groups like the Zulu and Xhosa. (iv)  Juju:  The word juju is French in origin and it means a little doll or toy. During the 17th century, European settlers came near the Cape of Good Hope. [5] See Idowu, African Traditional Religion, p.88. differs in African countries was mentioned. Origins of major world religions reflected in SA. From our own study of the African Traditional Religion, we find there are unmistakably elements of animism. To visit a new web site, "Frithjof Schuon Archive," dedicated to featured Studies contributor Frithjof Schuon, click here. Mligo's book is a must-read.--Zorodzai Dube, University of South Africa --Wipf and Stock Publishers 1999) Thus, while there were some Western scholars attempting to write off Africa as a spiritual desert, “there were, undoubtedly, a few who had the uneasy feeling that the story of a spiritual vacuum for a whole continent of peoples could not be entirely true.”[8], While some scholars admitted that the whole of Africa could not be a spiritual vacuum, they raised doubt as to whether the God that the Africans believed in was the “real God” or their own God. While some religions adopted a pantheistic worldview, most follow a polytheistic system with various gods, spirits and other supernatural beings. ISBN 0-85969-096-2; Ray, Benjamin C. African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community (2nd ed. One might also give credit to Farrow and Frobenius who did thorough research among the Yoruba of South West Nigeria. We are not unconscious of the fact that Africa is a large continent with multitudes of nations who have complex cultures, innumerable languages and myriads of dialects. African Traditional Religion has been evolving; there is in it the element of continuity as well as discontinuity. The Africans do not and cannot represent Him in the form of an image as they can do with the divinities. By and large they had a much better perception of African Traditional Religion and they saw the relevance of the system of beliefs for African traditional society. In South Africa the constitution protects freedom of religion. Among the missionaries could be mentioned T. B. Freeman, T. J. Bowen, R. H. Stone[10] and N. Baudin,[11]and of the explorers, R. F. Burton[12] and T. J. Folk religions are challenging to measure. Traditional African religions also have elements of fetishism, shamanism and veneration of relics. Short Description is required. For example, P. A. Talbot in his Life in Southern Nigera devoted three chapters to Juju among the Ibibio people and discussed the various divinities among them. What do the followers of this religion believe? Many writers used the word indiscriminately. And yet others were theologians and trained, researchers. Leo Frobenius refutes the statement made in the journal that he read in Berlin in 1891 (cited above) and said: In addition to these eminent men who have attempted a systematic study of African religion should be mentioned the most recent ones like S. F. Nagel who did pioneering work on the Nupe Religion[19] and E. G. Parrinder who has produced several works on African Traditional Religion.[20]. Traditional African art is striking in its presentation and objectives. Most African societies—though not all—hold the cardinal belief that certain members of the community are in the habit of using supernatural means for illicitly destroying the interests, or even the lives, of their fellows. People are also encouraged to learn about and respect different spiritual practices. They did not know, and they never confessed their ignorance about, Africa and the Africans. When Ludwig got to know that Edwin Smith was in Africa as a missionary he was surprised; and in his surprise he asked, “How can the untutored Africans comprehend God ? Symbolic representation is not peculiar to African Traditional Religion. Map: Bantu-speaking people moved into southern Africa from West and Central Africa and brought their religion and traditions with them. Ancestor worship and belief is an extension of a belief in and respect for elders. Hutchinson.[13]. Even Christianity sees “God as Spirit, and they that worship are to worship in spirit and truth”. In another chapter, puberty rites were mentioned as another rites of passage. • It is found in rituals, ceremonies and festivals of the people: Birth, giving of names, Modern Religion. ", "Why do bad things happen to good people?" [17] The most successful of them all, perhaps, was R. S. Rattray whose extensive study of the Ashanti in present Ghana was based on informed knowledge of their language and the willingness to learn from the people by actually participating in some festivals. Practice Afrocentric Meditation. 1. Before we had foreign investigators to give the world an idea of what the religious beliefs of the Africans looked like, there were theorists who have never been in Africa but who regarded it as the “Dark Continent” where people had no idea of God and where the Devil in all his abysmal, grotesque and forbidden features, armed to the teeth and with horns complete, held sway. The number of traditional elements in medieval alchemy varies from 4, 5, or 8. The symbols or emblems may fall into disuse or crumble or be replaced, but the spiritual entity represented never changes. This is an intellectual attitude complete with racial pride and prejudice. (vi)  Animism:  The great advocate of the theory of animism was E. Tylor in his Primitive Culture. Through modern changes, the traditional religion cannot remain intact but it is by no means extinct. INTRODUCTION TO AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION. Beliefs about witches are, of course, not directly observable, but they may have overt consequences in everyda… Please enter description and then submit. The versions of these religions as they developed in the New World became known as African Diaspora religions. Traditional African Religion What is traditional African religion? This is deliberate. Religion enters into every aspect of the life of the Africans and it cannot be studied in isolation. From our own study of the African Traditional Religion, we find there are unmistakably elements of animism. This person is essential in the spiritual and religious survival of the community. 1, Hutchison, 1913, p.xll. Parrinder made this mistake because in his West African Religion he claimed that the Supreme God or Creator is “sometimes above the gods, sometimes first among equals.”[25]. People have looked to religion to answer questions like "Where did the world come from? South Africa is a country of many cultures and many religions -indeed, a country of pluralities. Here again the writer made mention of the various ceremonies which accompany puberty and its significance in African traditional religion. Most of the "traditional" groups of people living in South Africa arrived here from West and Central Africa about 1 500 years ago. The anthropologists were much less inhibited by the dogmas of Christianity than the missionaries. A believer's family still has influence over him or her even if they live far away. Whatever happens, the use of the word primitive by Western scholars is derogatory and, therefore, obnoxious. European and other foreign settlers brought most of these religions. The Nupe call Him Soko, the Great One; He who dwells in Heaven; and they also designate him Tso-Ci meaning the Owner of us, the One to whom we belong. But in spite of all these differences, there are many basic similarities in the religious systems—everywhere there is the concept of God (called by different names); there is also the concept of divinities and/or spirits as well as beliefs in the ancestral cult. and "What happens to us when we die?" Login to add or suggest alteration to this term for online dictionary, Suggest alteration to this term (or add alternate spellings) for online dictionary. We should also add that there is an element of savagery in every one of us and it should not be made the exclusive trait of a particular people. The Supreme Being is given different names by different groups of people. By meaning and connotation, this name signifies that the Supreme Being is unique, that His majesty is superlative, that He is unchanging and ever reliable. But they were proved wrong. Thousands of African people are converted to Christianity every day and in Nigeria about 20 new religious sects or groups come into being every month. Most ancestral spirits are generally good and kind. What has this to do with religion? There may be an element of this in the day-to-day life of the Africans, but it is incorrect to describe it all as fetishism. They started coining expressions like “a high god”, or “a Supreme God”. How can divinities, however minor, be described as toys? This is a holistic or an organic view of the world, which is governed by the law... 2. These traditions have been passed from one generation to the next. Ouidah in particular is a focus for these ceremonies, and thousands of adepts, traditional chiefs and fetish priests gather here to perform fascinating rites and rituals. [17] S. S. Farrow, Faith, Fancies and Fetish, London, S.P.C.K., 1926. The individual only exists within the community and separation from it is sometimes worse than death. The four elements of religion described above – the significance of gods and spirits, the power of holy rituals, the telling of sacred stories and belonging to faith communities – seem in their own ways to be a core aspect of the human condition in the twenty-first century. In the Zulu culture there are mystics or sangomas that are responsible for healing and 'divining' - a kind of fortune telling and counseling. The best interpreter of African Religion is the African with a disciplined mind and the requisite technical tools. He is also called Olorun (the owner of Heaven). It is the spiritual that gives meaning and importance to the visible material object. Followers of traditional African religion believe that ancestors maintain a spiritual connection with their living relatives. Anthropologists and sociologists like to justify their use of the word on the ground that the culture is adjudged to be that which is original in the history of the human race. Source: He is in a class by Himself. While we commend the effort of the foreign investigators for committing to writing their investigations about African Traditional Religion, we need to point out that a great number of them used misleading term in describing the people’s beliefs. More than ten million Jews from all over the world observe the Sabbath every week and millions of Muslim pilgrims travel to Mecca in the Middle East every year. [5], But, as a contrast to these theorists, we have genuine seekers after truth who showed their doubts as to whether there could be any people anywhere in the world who were totally devoid of culture and religion, especially with particular reference to the knowledge of the living God. [6] See John Oman, The Natural and the Supernatural, C.U.P., 1931, p.485. Traditional African religion is a way of life in which ancestors are part of every major event such as wedding, births and deaths as well as less important ones such as getting a job and finishing university. [27] E. B. Idowu, Olodumare, Longmans, 1962, p.202f. ‘The Healing Wisdom of Africa‘ is designed more as a guide for people looking to reconnect with nature, within and without, using the Medicine Wheel and the five elements as a framework. B. Ells, The Ewe/Yoruba Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, Chapman, 1894. The Arabs crossed into North Africa in the 7th century AD. Such revelations and declarations succeeded in changing the attitude of the Western world concerning the religious beliefs of the so-called pre-literate peoples of the world. Even here, we should remark that not all of them took the trouble to make thorough investigations—some of them did their research part-time, e.g. This is a 3-hour summary lecture on the basic components of African Traditional Religions. (3rd ed. They undergo strict training and learn many skills, including how to use herbs for healing and other, more mystical skills, like the finding of a hidden object without knowing where it is. But when we have said this, we also need to add that it would be wrong to categorize the whole religion as animism. The elders are the final authority and are trusted completely. At least, they raised doubts in the minds of those who might earlier have accepted the statements of the stay-at-home investigators and curio collectors. Traditional African religion and culture is passed on from parents to children through stories. Prayers said during worship by Africans have been described as fetish prayers; the functionaries of a cult have been described as fetish priests; herbs prepared by African priests have been labelled fetish herbs, and not medical preparations, however efficacious such herbs may be; and taking an oath has been described as undergoing fetish. Please enter language and then submit. Divinatory ritual is the centrepiece of African religions, because it opens to all a channel of mediation with the gods. Similar social conflict is evident in the case of birth control measures including abortion, in the Catholic world. Some call it Spirit. We need to explain the word ‘traditional’. 1, Hutchison, 1913, p.xll. This word means indigenous, that which is aboriginal or foundational, handed down from generation to generation, upheld and practised by Africans today. [26] For further details see John Mbiti, Concepts of God in Africa, S.P.C.K., 1970. Each of them has a meaning beyond itself, and therefore is not an end in itself. African Traditional Religion. We speak of religion in the singular. During these events usually an offering is made to honour, please and thank the ancestors. The dictionary meaning of fetish is any ‘object, animate or inanimate, natural or artificial, regarded by some uncivilized races with a feeling of awe, as having mysterious power residing in it or as being the representative or habitation of a deity’; hence fetishism is the worship of, or emotional attachment to, inanimate objects. The only negative actions taken by ancestral spirits is to cause minor illnesses to warn people that they have gotten onto the wrong path. In Ghana, He is called Onyame, the Great and Shining One who is high and above all. This is the same word as the French fetiche. European and other foreign settlers brought most of these religions. The fifth element, which goes by a variety of names, is more rarefied than the four physical elements. 2 E. B. Idowu, African Traditional Religion, S.C.M., 1973, p.87. The symbol can be found throughout Ghana. Even today, traditional Muslims face religio-ethical problems concerning interest-taking. The four elements of African Traditional religion are: Origin myth: The African traditional religion has several origin myths which depic view the full answer Previous question Next question COMPANY There are many different religions and some of them have been celebrating their faith, telling their stories and teaching their principles for thousands of years. [21] R. S. Rattray, Ashanti, 1923, pp.24ff. Since it is a religion practised by living persons today, changes are to be expected. [15] P. A. Talbot, The Peoples of Southern Nigeria, O.U.P., 1926. The Supreme Being is called upon in times of great hardship and need, like drought or epidemic that may threaten the entire community. We think such terms are more sociological than religious. Among other things it said: And similar to this was the dialogue that took place between Edwin Smith, who had gone out as a missionary to Africa, and Emil Ludwig, an eminent biographer. Prominent among such people were Andrew Lang, Archbishop N. Soderblom,[6]and Father Schmidt of Vienna. It should be obvious from the dictionary meaning that this word cannot be appropriate in describing the religion of Africa or those who practise that religion. A. C. Bouquet, for example, seemed to be expressing the Western mind when he said, “Such a High God hardly differs from the Supreme Being of the 18th century Deists and it is absurd to equate him with the Deity of the Lord’s Prayer”.[9]. This is why we are convinced that the religion is monotheistic. For example, among the Yoruba, He is called Olodumare. 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