They counteracted various derogatory names given to AIR. London: Longman, 1979. The female twin held back her own offspring for a year; after she finally gave birth, the children—twins themselves—rebelled against their parents by establishing themselves as an autonomous pair. Religion and Society in Central Congo: The Bakongo of Lower Zaire. Ibadan: Oxford University Press Nigeria; New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. ASPECTS OF AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION 3 It represented the community, their solidarity, their permanence, their continuity. African traditional religion refers to the indigenous or autochthonous religion of the African people. African cultures are, however, often flexible enough to absorb values and traditions from other religious belief systems. On important occasions (such as hunting expeditions, healing ceremonies, and rites of passage), the faithful honor their gods, ancestors, and spirits with ritual festivals, ceremonies, divination, and animal sacrifice. Shrines, religious objects, and sacred places are decorated with many forms, shapes, and colors to express religious concepts. In traditional African culture the world of the ancestors and the abode of the dead is understood as a sphere beyond the realm of the living. Every ethnic group in Africa has developed a complex and distinctive set of religious beliefs and practices. The deceased person's soul remains a presence in the lives of individuals and must be respected by the living. Thus, doctrine tends to be more flexible than it is in text-based religions, and it changes according to the immediate needs of religious followers. Over the years African traditional religions have increased and diminished in regional importance according to social and political changes. Lineage or familial misfortune signifies punishment for the past sins of members of the lineage. In African traditional religions guidance is provided through myths, which are handed down orally. At the end of the twentieth century, Islam spread into areas such as Rwanda, where the trauma of civil war, ethnic violence, and genocide implicated Christianity and left Islam with a reputation for being on a higher moral level. The first academic studies of African traditional religions were written in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries by Muslim and European scholars. Without a natural landscape and the reverence for the spirituality and mystery to be found in nature, much of the power of African culture would be greatly diminished. This is a 3-hour summary lecture on the basic components of African Traditional Religions. The third element of religion is teaching traditions based on stories of significant figures, events and ideas from the past and beliefs about the future of time itself – like a spoiler alert about the end of the world. New and returning customers must register to create a new account. Priests or priestesses watch over both community shrines and family shrines. In this narrative Legba (messenger of the Supreme Òrìsà-Nlá loves snails cooked in shea butter, Òrúnmílá prefers rat and fish, and Èsù loves rooster. The symbol can be found throughout Ghana. Many species of birds, including the ostrich, vulture, dove, and heron, inspire artists. Accordingly, dietary prohibitions and peculiarities are associated with the deceased and the diets of those who inhabit the heavenly world. Being and other gods) gained knowledge of all sacred languages of the divinities, enabling himself to initiate communication among other deities. When an elderly person dies, Africans traditionally avoid using the word "death." Although ritual has changed over time according to the social, political, environmental, and spiritual needs of individuals, it continues to be a real connection with the past—a connection that Africans take seriously as they pass their culture from one generation to the next. At this stage the client may reveal to the diviner the nature of his or her inquiry. Only by giving a belief system a proper name can a comprehensive, complex theology and cosmology emerge, along with a mor… African Traditional Religion has been evolving; there is in it the element of continuity as well as discontinuity. command over the others. As we have already observed, in the African traditional religious thought, spirits are believed to dwell or inhabit certain trees, rocks or mountains, caves, rivers, lakes, forests, animals, human beings, the skies, the ground and other cites, carved or moulded objects, charms, amulets. They serve as guardians of the living, and they pass down the various Komo rituals. Africans do, however, precisely define the structure of their cosmos. Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. Perhaps the finest critic of African religious scholarship was Ugandan writer and anthropologist O. p'Bitek. Although a large proportion of Africans have converted to Islam and Christianity, these two world religions have been assimilated into African culture, and many African Christians and Muslims maintain traditional spiritual beliefs. In Nigeria, Ghana, and other parts of West Africa, for instance, village and town associations meet for purposes of economic unity and social development. African Traditional Religion: A Definition. Puberty rituals signify the coming of age, when elders reveal to the younger generation the ancestral secrets of deep knowledge. Abimbola, Wande. They carry out specialized duties. The Supreme God may also be seen as a divine principle embodying the idea of life abundance and the blessings of human procreation and agricultural fertility. Mawu is often associated with a partner, Lisa. 3 (1981): 724–45. Practitioners of African traditional religions are generally familiar with the symbols and icons, but often only a few trained individuals can interpret the significance of such symbolic and iconic forms, which are used to imply religious meaning in initiation, divination, and secret societies. In many creation stories God is likened to a potter who creates humans out of clay and then pours the breath of life into them. Recognizing the superiority of their own children, the parents pledged to obey them, and they sacrificed a goat in acknowledgment. Such myths of conflict often provide humanity with unwritten guidelines for establishing institutions of morality, ethics, and behavior. Though such disorder at first comprises "negative" forces, ultimately it becomes the source of a workable social universe. African Traditional religion (ATR) is one of the world religions with a great people and a great past. As African religious cultures spread from Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad, and other places of the diaspora to the United States, new forms emerged that catered to the rebirth but in terms of the particular qualities of the deceased. In the creation story of the Abaluhya of Kenya, the Supreme Being, called Wele Xakaba, created the universe in a manner that resembles the seven-day creation of the world by God in the Bible, with the seventh day being a time of rest. After the recitation the client tells the diviner if any of the verses is relevant to the crisis. To promote the welfare of communities, societies have established taboos and consequences for breaking them. Deities are varied in number and complex in character. The gods are concerned with many issues in the day-to-day life of the people, including their fertility, agricultural production, governance, and health and well-being. The process of divination allows the deities' feelings and messages to be revealed to humans. MacGaffey, Wyatt. Younger generations must care for their elders, children must obey their parents and elders, and parents must teach, provide, and care for their children. Such history, however, can be difficult to cross-reference with historical world events. During the 1940s and 1950s departments of religious studies were created in universities in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. Major scholarly research about African traditional religions had a late start. There are a number of West African babalawos (diviners) of African origin practicing in major American urban centers, such as Atlanta, Miami, and New York City. / Journal of Religion in Africa. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates. London: S.C.M. By using local languages and converting Africans from their ancestral religions to Christianity, missionaries paved the way for early modernization and Western colonialism. Offerings may be done for purification, for protection from adverse forces, and for divination. In contemporary Africa the persistence of sacred practices is a source of conflict between devotees of African religions and outsiders. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. All kinds of seeds and the most delicious parts of domesticated crops are appropriate for ritual offerings. An example is a story among Zulus in which a chameleon and then a lizard are sent to Earth by God to tell men that he has arranged death to be a part of the cycle of human life. In response to this question, the book argues that since ATR is part of the African people's culture, there is a need to understand this cultural background in order to contextualize Christian theology. Furthermore, African cultural practices contain elements of indigenous religion. Narratives about the creation of the universe (cosmogony) and the nature and structure of the world (cosmology) form the core philosophy of African religions. Depending on the kind of religious activity, various religious authorities may preside over specific rituals. Nehanda, considered an incarnation of an oracle spirit, was eventually hanged by colonial authorities in 1898. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979. The diviner holds the chain by the middle and throws it on a mat, making a U shape, so that four nuts fall on each side of the mat. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986. The gods and ancestors are guardians of morality. In traditional African cultures marriage, raising children, and fulfilling familial obligations are religious duties. Thus, strictly speaking, religion in its pristine form is no longer in existence. © 2019 | All rights reserved. Common animal motifs are the chameleon, centipede, butterfly, lizard, snake, tortoise, and fish. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites: The most powerful religious leaders are spirit mediums, members of a family or clan who are responsible for communication between an ancestor and his or her descendants. Beidelman, T.O. With autonomy came a revitalized study of religions, which recognized the religious pluralism of independent countries. Modes of dress in African traditional religions vary depending upon the kind of devotee, geographical location, and a person's age. Major social concerns for followers of African traditional religions include poverty and the environment. Many African myths deal with events that devotees consider as authentic and "real" or as symbolic expressions of historical events. An example is the northern Yatenga society (of western Africa). In most West African communities burials take place on pieces of land within the family's compound; these are regarded as secured places where the dead will be at peace. Examples are Ifa divination verses, which amount to 256 chapters of text. There is no shame associated with it, because it is perceived as an expression of a relationship with the spirits of nature. For the Bambara of Mali a death causes great anxiety, confusion, and unpredictability. Van Binsbergen, Wim, and Matthew Schoffeleers. likes and dislikes, and care is taken to respect the deities' preferences. The Yoruba hold that children born soon after the death of grandparents or parents are reincarnated (if they are of the same sex as the deceased). Africans believe that punishment may be communal or may pass from one generation to another. In some southern African religious groups, however, the Supreme God is not considered to be remote. The Invention of Africa. Religious traditions reinforce the idea that family members must adhere to specific roles. Olupona, Jacob K., ed. There is great variation in the traditions and rituals surrounding death. Although African religions have not embarked on a systematic theology, the myths, rituals, and stories of the gods and ancestors point to a profound statement on moral justice. Any crime is considered to defile the land and thus to offend Alà; violations include incest, adultery, larceny, birthing abnormal children, hostility, kidnaping, and murder. They always involve larger groups of people or entire communities. Merriam, Alan P. An African World: The Basongye Village of Lupupa Ngye. Requirements for membership in an African indigenous religion have varied according to local traditions. Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Natural objects, such as rivers, mountains, trees, and the Sun (as well as forces such as wind and rain), represent the nature spirits. If delivery becomes difficult, the father of the child climbs onto the roof of the house to a spot above the mother's belly. These objects emphasize that the body, conceived in the earth, returns to the earth. In hierarchical African societies a few skilled elites who possess status, knowledge, authority, and power are chosen to use sacred ritual icons. Mawu-Lisa once gathered their children together to distribute what they owned among them. The Igbo people of Nigeria's Owerri region traditionally believe that Alà, goddess of Earth, together with Amadióhà, god of thunder and lightning, oversee the essential aspects of village life. Then there are priests and holy persons, who are intermediaries between the seen (the living) and the unseen worlds. The Fang of Central Africa retain a personal ritual associated with birth, the biang ndu, or biang nzí (sometimes called the "roof medicine" ritual). People consult diviners for any number of issues, but the most common reasons are for a misfortune, such as sickness, death, or calamity; spirits are likely to have knowledge about the causes of a misfortune. In the cosmology of the Dagara (an ethnic group in the Niger region of West Africa), for instance, the wheel or circle represents the cyclical nature of life as well as of the Earth. Much social ritual takes place at shrines, temples, and altars. Contact with Catholicism in Brazil, Cuba, and Haiti produced new forms of religious syncretism called Candomblé, Santeria, and Vodun. Although these groups are no longer connected to the worship of traditional gods (most of them have converted to Islam and Christianity), they have established a platform that involves the reinvention of traditional value systems such as sacred kingship, totemic concepts, and old tribal gods reimagined in modern secular idioms. Ritual and ceremony are the most important entry points to understanding the religious life of African communities. A youth undergoes the rituals in seclusion with children of the same age. . The names given to the specific deities in Benin may vary slightly from those of the Yoruba. . Another set, "Twins of Storm," retained authority to govern thunder and lightening. Today, Africans profess a wide variety of religious beliefs, the most common of which are Christianity and Islam; perhaps less than 15% still follow traditional African religions. Masks, costumes, and body design accompany religious ceremonies. Such offerings are often placed in or on family shrines, which are usually located behind the family house or compound. If offended, however, she can exhibit extremely violent reactions. Òrìsà-Nlá disdains palm wine, and Èsù dislikes adin (palm-kernel oil). Trained in the new method of "fieldwork"—which entailed observing participants and speaking the language of the community—these anthropologists worked for their governments. Highly trained diviners have largely been responsible for memorizing and transmitting important historical and cultural events to the living generation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982. The diffusionist theory held that religious ideas of the Mediterranean region had proliferated, eventually reaching the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa. Because the gods and ancestors created the society's ideals, people are highly reluctant to stray from them. Thus, they are important places to communicate with spirits of the dead, with God, and with the heavenly world. Marriage agreements usually involve both sets of parents of the couple to be married. The ancestors are responsible for perpetuating their lineage, not only by making possible the procreation of the living members of the lineage but also through rebirth. Although the Supreme God is a creator god, the work of creating the universe, especially when such acts entail physical labor, is often delegated to subordinates who act according to the Supreme God's instructions. ple who primarily follow African traditional religion; however, there are also Christians and Muslims who still practice elements of traditional African religion alongside their professed beliefs. In African Religions in Western Scholarship (1971) p'Bitek wrote that the viewing of African religions through Euro-Christian spectacles should cease. Oral narratives define morals and values for traditional religions, just as written texts do for religions that have sacred books. It is thought that the fortune of the deceased and that of their descendants become equally volatile and that the community is thus temporarily endangered. These spirits play a role in community affairs and ensure a link between each clan and the spirit world. African arts and religious meaning overlap in visual symbols, music, dance, proverbs, riddles, names of people and places, myths, legends, beliefs, and customs. The early African scholarship of J.B. Danquah (1895–1965) from Ghana and J. Olumide Lucas (from Nigeria) in the first part of the twentieth century produced interesting studies of African indigenous religion. 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. An excellent source for insights into contemporary scholarly issues and approaches. Western religious cultures regard many aspects of African religions—such as witchcraft, ritual killing of animals, Each generation expresses and reinterprets the myths, making the events revealed in them relevant to contemporary conditions. Some religious rituals involve the devotees offering the gods and ancestors sacrificial animals, libations of water or alcohol, or small amounts of favored food. These two schools reflect an insidious racist ideology that influenced the initial study of African religions. Ancestral propitiation takes many forms in Kaguru society, including cleaning the graves of the deceased, pouring libations of beer, and making offerings of flour or tobacco. Priests and followers often wear white clothes as a sign of purity. Generally, these traditions are oral rather than scriptural, include belief in a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic, and traditional medicine. African religious traditions and ritual practices have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries; thus, practitioners experience history in every religious ritual that is performed. Kingship, Religion, and Rituals in a Nigerian Community: A Phenomenological Study of Ondo Yoruba Festivals. The Nioniosse "rose up" from the underworld, and the Foulse descended from the sky. The African pantheon of gods, goddesses, spirits, and other superhuman beings is difficult for outside observers to comprehend. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997. The living must avoid and respect the resting places of the dead. The first questioned the origin of African civilizations and religions. Personal or individual rituals often surround events that happen in everyday life. Initiation often takes place for several days or months in auspicious natural locations, such as forests or grasslands, where the initiates are afforded closer contact with the invisible realm, the spirits, and God. Traditional artists typically carve images that express the powers of God, demigods, ancestors, and spirits as intermediaries between deities and humans. Ifa Divination: Communication between Gods and Men in West Africa. The location of graves varies from group to group. The Religion, Spirituality, and Thought of Traditional Africa. Devotees attach great importance to animals because, at any moment, an animal may be preparing to deliver a message to humans from anywhere in the spirit world. The purpose of this is to help to orient a person who would like to work in the context of Africa. In the case of drought, flooding, volcanoes, famine, illness, and other disasters, devotees offer a sacrificial animal to appease the spirit deity thought to be responsible for the calamity. Priests (sometimes called witchdoctors) could cast spells or provide charms to help people with their illnesses or other problems. Attendants use natural objects to wash, clothe, and bury the body, which is often covered in animal skins, leather, cotton, bark cloth, or leaves. The traditional belief systems, spirituality and faith of West African peoples has been described in more or less disparaging terms over the course of history, broad terms that fail to reflect the complexity and depth of these beliefs: “paganism”, “animism”, “ancestor-worship”, “idolatry”, “fetishism”, “heathenism”, etc. African Traditional Religions are still practiced today, along with Christianity and Islam. African societies do not clearly delineate an individual's religious title. They reward good deeds and punish bad deeds. Africans who follow a traditional religion rely on no scriptures, canonical texts, or holy books to guide them. Among the adherents of an African religious tradition, however, these practices generally do not cause controversy. Western colonialists negotiated and drafted treaties with African leaders, stripping Africans of their lands, depopulating the countryside, destabilizing their economies, overturning political rule, and uprooting cultural and lineage continuity. In Ifa divination a client consults a diviner (babalawo), who throws a divining chain (opele) made of nuts on a mat and then recites the message of the Ifa deity who appears. Initiation is a deeply religious affair and a sign of unity with the larger community and the ancestors. Theoretical Explorations in African Religion. The Manyika of Zimbabwe bestow ancestor status only on males, and the status is not necessarily associated with fatherhood; a childless Manyika adult male who dies may become an ancestor if a nephew includes him in his own ancestor cult. The most significant superhuman being is the Supreme God, who represents universality and greatness. Because they date back to prehistoric times, little has been written about their history. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1990. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. Retrieved January 12, 2021 from The message and sacrifices contained in Ifa verses are a genre of oral tradition; they preserve the Yoruba religious worldview through myths, proverbs, songs, and poetry. Shrines, the most common religious structure, exist throughout Africa. This book highlights and discusses the common elements which introduce African Traditional Religion as one unified religion and not a collection of religions. Deities are usually represented by signs or symbols on clothing or the skin. Suggest an Out-of-Print Title for Republication, Testimonials from Our Customers and Authors, Tips for Tracking Down a Hard-to-Find Book, Terms | Policies | Disclaimer | Copyright Notice. African indigenous religions are timeless, beginning with the origin of human civilization on the continent, perhaps as early as 200,000 b.c.e., when the species Homo sapiens is believed to have emerged. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, 1991. The emphasis on Christian studies that had long dominated the religious studies field was replaced by an emphasis Islamic studies and African traditional religions. At times rulers have been described as gods or as endowed with God's divinity. FOUNDED: 200,000–100,000 b.c.e.RELIGION AS A PERCENTAGE OF WORLD POPULATION: 1.3 percent. Communities often preserve these sacred natural places from exploitation and mining by establishing certain land-use restrictions. Community festivals are designed to purify villages or larger communities (ridding them of evil and bad fortune), to carry on life-sustaining activities successfully, and to bring harmony to the village. African art, the visual arts of native Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, including such media as sculpture, painting, pottery, rock art, textiles, masks, personal decoration, and jewelry.. For more general explorations of media, see individual media articles (e.g., painting, sculpture, pottery, and textile).For a discussion of the characteristics, functions, and forms of masks, see mask. In many African societies deceased souls live in forests, rivers, riverbanks, hills, or other natural places. 13 numbers of adherents of African religion. These narratives are conveyed in a linguistic form that scholars often refer to as myth. This is because Africans assume that respecting elders is a way of acknowledging the wealth of their experiences, their contributions to community growth, and that they are close to the world of the ancestors. 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