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  1. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Religion has always been central to people's lives in Africa. Although the majority of Africans are now Muslim or Christian, traditional religions have endured and still play a big role. Religion runs like a thread through daily life, marked by prayers of gratitude in times of plenty and prayers of supplication in times of need. Religion confirms identity on the individual and the group.

    There are a huge number of different religious practices on the continent. They share some common features: a belief in one God above a host of lesser gods or semi-divine figures; a belief in ancestral spirits; the idea of sacrifice, often involving the death of a living thing, to ensure divine protection and generosity; the need to undergo rites of passage to move from childhood to adulthood, from life to death.

    In the history of the continent, religion has had a powerful effect on political change: spirit mediums have led revolts against European and African rulers, ancestral spirits have commanded acts of destruction and called for the overthrow of rulers and chiefs. People have sought the help of priests and medicine men to achieve power and wealth
  2. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    One God And Many Deities

    A supreme power, ruling over everything and everyone appears to be a feature of all African religions. This supreme power is the prime mover and creator, who is all knowing and eternal, and was there at the beginning of time. It goes under many different names, and it varies considerably from society to society, as to how near or how remote this supreme power is.

    The Abaluiyia of Kenya, the Bambuti of the Congo area, and the Galla of Ethiopia are among those who pray directly to the supreme deity on a regular basis. Here is the example of a common prayer of the Nandi, in Kenya, which reflects the importance of cattle in their community:

    God guard me, the children and the cattle,
    God guard for us the cattle,
    God give us good health!

    In other cultures, the supreme being cannot be approached directly. The Igbo, of southeastern Nigeria, talk about 'the rich man' who can only be approached through his many servants.

    Most societies have a host of different intermediaries who can be consulted.

    In Yoruba belief, the prime mover is Oludmare, who gives life to the newborn and consigns the wicked to a place of punishment after death. But beneath Oludmare are hundreds of deities, or 'orisas'.

    Each has a different province, for example, Orunmila knows every language of earth, Ogun is concerned with iron making and hunting, Shango (or Chango) is a manifestation of Oludmare's anger, drawing on thunder and lightening to express this.

    Listen here to Professor Jacob Olupona of the University of California on the Yoruba creation myth

    Similarly in Uganda, Katonda is the supreme deity of the Baganda. But beneath him are fifty or so guardians or 'balubaale', including Walumbe a figure of death, Kibuka presiding over war and Nagaddya, who deals with marriage and harvest.

    There are many stories which explain conflict, sin, disorder in this world and the general alienation of human beings from their Creator. Often this has resulted from humans acting in some way to disappoint or anger God. The Judaic-Christian tradition takes up the same theme with Eve breaking the harmony of Paradise by eating from the tree of knowledge. The Barotse, of Zambia, were similarly punished for eating animals, when they were expressly forbidden from doing so.

    Besides praying to God and the deities, there is a common theme of sacrifice in African religions, echoed in ancient religions throughout the world. Sacrifice is about giving something up that is very precious for any number of reasons including continuing good fortune and avoidance of disaster.

    The sacrifice may be in the form of food, or drink (home made or imported from the West), it may be an animal, or even a human being. With the Dinka, of Southern Sudan, the sacrifice will be their most valued possession: cattle.

    Sacrifice can be something you only do in a time of crisis or something you do every day, a form of insurance policy to guard against things going wrong. Yoruba blacksmiths sacrificed a dog, every fortnight. The Barotse, for example, give up a ration of water every day.

    The Soninke people of the ancient empire of Ghana believed that all their wealth and prosperity, which derived largely from gold, could only be ensured if a young maiden was sacrificed annually to the snake Bida. But one year the intended victim was rescued from the jaws of Bida by her fiancé. The snake retaliated by punishing the Soninke. Their source of gold dried up and their empire was afflicted with drought and famine. This story is echoed in northern Europe in the legend of St. George and the dragon, which could only be kept from terrorising a kingdom by being given a young girl to devour.

    Listen to Abdoulaye Bathily, minister of energy and resources and a Senegalese historian, speaking about Soninke myths and religious practices

    In the beginning, in the dark, there was nothing but water, and Bumba was alone. One day Bumba was in terrible pain. He stretched and strained and vomited up the sun.

    After that, light spread over everything. The heat of the sun dried up the water until the black edges of the world began to show. Black sandbanks and reefs could be seen. But there were no living things. Bumba vomited up the moon and then the stars, and after that the night had its light also. Still Bumba was in pain.

    Listen to Chief Isekure of Benin, Chief Priest of the Edo people in Nigeria's Delta region, speaking about the deity Ogun

    A selection from different peoples
    Supreme Deity
    Akan speakers Nyama Ghana
    Luba Kalumba Congo
    Baganda Katonda Uganda
    Yoruba Oludmare (Olurun) Nigeria
    Zulu Nkulunkulu South Africa
    Fulani Dondari West Africa
    Igbo Chuikwu or Chukwu Nigeria
    Bashongo Bumba Zambia
  3. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Two Worlds
    Religion in Africa is not a discreet human activity, separate from other aspects of living. This is in contrast to many branches of Christianity, where the spiritual is separate from the physical, and heaven is entirely separate from earth. In African traditional religion, as in many other ancient belief systems in other parts of the world, religion, or the spiritual permeates every aspect of life.

    The landscape is a source of spiritual contemplation and worship. The Gikuyu of Kenya, for example, pray facing Mount Kenya. The Shona, of Zimbabwe, have sacred hills and caves. The Lugbara and Langi, both from Uganda, venerate sacred rocks. The landscape may also be populated by many spirits, some good some bad.

    The ancestral spirits also mediate between this world and the spirit world. They play a large part in most cultures, are easily accessible, and generally considered to be benevolent. When alive these ancestors led lives judged to be honourable and well respected. They are well placed to give advice and warnings. They are, in many ways, as real to the people who talk to them, as the living.

    Illness is a particular area where the physical and spiritual meet. There is no fixed demarcation between body and soul. Interestingly, this holistic approach is beginning to be rediscovered in the industrialised countries of the West and America.

    In Africa illness may be treated with herbs very successfully. But often it will have a spiritual dimension. It may be seen as a punishment from God or the deities, or it might be the result of ill will from an enemy. In this case some form of spiritual power will be needed to combat it; a medicine man or woman will then be consulted.

    There is a common belief that if the illness has been brought about by an enemy, then the likelihood is that the enemy consulted a witch. The concept of witchcraft is a complicated one. People judged to be witches are usually women. They are outsiders; they may be very old, or very ugly, without children or family. They may admit to witchcraft, they may not. The point is they are seen as a threat to the community.

    The issue is obscured by a belief that the witch not only operates secretly at night, she may not even know that she is a witch. It's hard to get a fair trial once accused of witchcraft. In northern Ghana, there is a home for women accused of witchcraft. They are protected there from their accusers, but in one sense they are prisoners.

    Listen to the son of the Chief of Gambaga in northern Ghana, explaining trial by ordeal to establish if a woman is a witch or not

    Every individual has the power to commune with divine beings through prayer and sacrifice, but the well being of each individual is tied up with the well being of the community. Theatre, dancing, singing and music are communal forms of religious expressions. They may act as a prelude to war, celebrate a good harvest, mark a birth, a marriage, or a death.

    Equally, works of art have traditionally had a religious significance. With the coming of Europeans, an element of satire and comment began to infuse the work of wood carvers, and the performance of dancers and actors. Europeans were mimicked and made fun of
  4. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Rites Of Passage

    The human cycle of birth, growing up, marriage and death is marked all the way with religious observances in Africa. Birth is a time of huge rejoicing. In many cultures there's a period of waiting before the celebrations begin, making sure first that the baby is healthy and strong enough to survive. The Akamba, of West Africa, wait three days before slaughtering a goat, at which point the child is named. The Gikuyu, in Kenya, have a period of four to five days of seclusion for both mother and child, where only close relatives can visit.

    Since almost all African names have a clear meaning, naming a child has huge significance. The name chosen may be influenced by circumstances of the birth - if it rained, the child's name will reflect that. The child's features may prompt the name to come from an ancestor or recently deceased member of the family. The name will be given some time after the birth. The Akamba chose a name on the third day: the Wolof, in coastal Senegal, one week after birth.

    The move from childhood to adulthood in traditional societies is carefully marked and charted. Most ceremonies involve an element of withdrawal. Boys or girls are taken away from the community for a period of instruction. This will also involve an element of endurance and some physical ordeal.

    The Nandi, in Kenya, have their girls circumcised in a long drawn out ceremony. In all cases, there is a much emphasis on bravery and enduring pain without complaint.

    The Akamba and the Massai, in East Africa, are just two groups where circumcision of the boys is the central rite of passage.

    Listen to the sound of a Massai circumcision ritual

    Marriage is another sacred rite of passage, but one involving all the community. Traditionally, a man or woman will marry someone known and approved by both families. If the man is married already, then his first wife, or wives, will be consulted. Traditionally, polygamy was not encouraged unless the man was rich enough to support his wives in a decent fashion. It was seen as a way of reducing infidelity and giving women insecurity. Taking a girl friend in addition to having several wives was very frowned upon.

    The Yoruba, of southwestern Nigeria, and Krio, in Sierra Leone, have a pre-wedding ceremony in which the intended bride is kept hidden when her fiancé comes to see her. He calls for her, and her family keep producing different women, who are often very old. The fiancé spots the mistake each time and each time calls for his intended. Eventually she is produced to much excitement.

    Bride price or 'lobola' is paid in many parts of Africa. This and the cost of a wedding can be hugely expensive. But usually, the expense is met by contributions from all the family.

    There are a huge variety of different customs associated with death. Many of them are concerned with the transition of the soul, and laying the soul of the dead person finally to rest. This may take some years. Considerable thought is devoted to burial places. Some bury their dead underneath the compound or house. For others, it is important to remove the body to a burial ground some distance away. The Baganda, in Uganda, prepare a grave for each individual when they are still children.

    There are all sorts of rules governing how the dead are buried, what they should wear, and what food they should take with them. Echoing the funeral rites of ancient Egypt, there is a belief that death is a journey and one must be equipped for that journey.

    In Old Calabar, southeastern Nigeria, the funeral of a king was accompanied by the sacrifice of a number of slaves, who would, it was believed, serve him in the after-life. But in 1852 all this changed. King Archibong was seriously taken ill. The slaves of the Duke Town plantations banded together, in protest of the possibility of being buried with their king. When he recovered inhumation or slave burial was forbidden.

    Fire rages at Layima,
    It rages in the valley of river Cumu,
    Everthing is utterly destroyed;
    Oh, my daughter,
    If I could reach the homestead of Death's mother,
    I would make a long grass torch;
    If I could reach the homestead of Death's mother
    I would utterly destroy everything.
    Fire rages at Layima
  5. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Guide For Living

    Lying does not prevent one from becoming rich.
    Covenant breaking does not prevent one from reaching old age.
    But the day of death will bring retribution.

    African religions provide detailed regulations related to daily life. This very practical side of traditional religion protects the community and strengthens its collective sense of identity. There are taboos, some of which involve food. It is taboo, for example, to eat a certain type of mushroom in the Butiko (Mushroom) clan of the Baganda.

    Relations between the sexes are governed by a number of rules. For example, there is often a period of withdrawal from public places demanded of women during menstruation. Sexual relations are forbidden while a woman is still breast feeding.

    There are also plenty of hints and advice about getting on with fellow humans and the community at large in the form of sayings and proverbs. Indeed your very name may give you a guide to decent living. Names from the Igbo peoples of Nigeria include:

    Somaadina 'let me not exist alone'
    Oraka 'the community is greater'
    Adinigwe 'it is better to be better'

    Hospitality and generosity are prized and essential to the well-being of the community. Respect for parents and elders is universal. But lying, stealing and the act of murder are unreservedly condemned. Where a crime is committed the individual rarely stands alone. The crime and the feelings of guilt will be felt collectively by the family or community.

    In his novel Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe explores many aspects of morality in a pre-colonial setting. At one point, the hero's father is chastised by the priestess for not striving in this world to make the best of what God has given him:

    " 'Hold your peace,' screamed the priestess, her voice terrible as it echoed through the dark void. 'You have offended neither the gods nor your fathers. And when a man is at peace with his gods and ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm.

    You, Unoka, are known in all the clan for the weakness of your matchet and your hoe. When your neighbours go out with their axe to cut down virgin forests, you sow your yams on exhausted farms that take no labour to clear. They cross seven rivers to make their farms; you stay at home and offer sacrifices to a reluctant soil. Go home and work like a man
  6. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Islam And Christianity

    Christianity came first to the continent of Africa in the 1st or early 2nd century AD. Oral tradition says the first Muslims appeared while the prophet Mohammed was still alive (he died in 632).

    Thus both religions have been on the continent of Africa for over 1,300 years. Some would argue that both Islam and Christianity are indigenous African religions. Not everyone shares this view.
    Read more about Christianity

    Certainly the first Muslim teachers and Christian missionaries had little respect for the traditional religions they came across. Both Islam and Christianity are religions of the book; their doctrinal authority lies in their scriptures.

    African traditional religions produced no written works, but derived their authority from oral history, custom and practice, and the power of priests, kings and others gifted in dealing with spiritual issues. This lack of scriptures led to the assumption that people in Africa were not capable of 'proper' religious observance. But some European missionaries and explorers were struck by the intense spirituality of Africans.

    Islam sits more comfortably with some aspects of traditional religion than Christianity. A key area is marriage. Christianity demands monogamy, that is, not more than one wife. Islam, by contrast, allows a man to take several wives. So Islam had a better chance of being accepted in the polygamous societies of Africa. If a man converted to Christianity, he was obliged to dismiss all but one of his wives; this was the cause of much resentment and bitterness.
    Read more about Islam

    The degree to which, either Muslim or Christian teachers, demanded strict adherence to the tenets of their respective faiths, varied considerably. Early Christian missionaries in sub-Saharan Africa were less exacting than the missionaries of the 19th century.

    Islam sat side by side with African traditional religions. The King of the ancient Empire of Ghana of the 11th century was essentially a traditionalist, but that did not stop him employing Muslim scribes and administrators in his government. The Muslims, for their part, did not try and convert the King and his people.

    At the end of the day, spiritual faith was not the only issue determining whether Christianity or Islam succeeded in converting people in Africa. The adoption of either of these religions involved a good deal of material and political interests, involving African and European leaders, as well as a host of traders hungry for profit.

    In the 1880's and 1890's, Mwanga, the Kabaka (or ruler) of Buganda played off Catholic, Protestant and Muslim emissaries against each other, basing his strategy on who would best strengthen his power as king.

    Many communities mixed Muslim or Christian practices with traditional ones. The Wolof, in Senegal, might go to the Mosque to pray for rain. If that failed they would ask the women to do a rain dance. In Calabar, in south eastern Nigeria, there is a mixture of Christian and traditional practices living side by side.

    Listen to historian and writer, Chief Mrs Oku, talking about the retention of traditional beliefs alongside Christian practices in Calabar, Nigeria

    "'We like you as well as if you had been born among us; you are the only white man we can become familiar with (thoaela); but we wish you to give up that everlasting preaching and praying; we cannot become familiar with that at all.

    You see we never get rain, while those tribes who never pray as we do obtain abundance.' This was a fact; and we often saw it raining on the hills ten miles off, while it would not even look at us 'even with one eye
  7. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Religion And Politics

    Religion and politics have always been interconnected. This is reflected in leadership: most Kings and chiefs have traditionally ruled by divine right. Many are able to trace their ancestry back quite precisely, through oral histories, to a semi-divine figure. The Baganda, in Uganda, trace their right to rule back to Kintu, the first Kabaka or king. For the Yoruba, in Nigeria, it is Oduduwa, who began life as a junior deity and then became the first King, or Ooni of Ife.

    The Sonjo, of Tanzania, have a founding father called Khambageu, who appeared among them, seemingly from nowhere. There are parallels between his life and that of Jesus Christ, although there is no historical connection.

    Khambageu's mission was entirely benevolent. He was, among other things, a healer and judge. Later he was rejected by the community, and died alone. But when people came to dig up his grave they found it empty, except for sandals; there were reports of him flying to the sun. He is now a semi-divine figure.

    Even today, many rulers retain vestiges of divinity. It may, for example, be forbidden to see where they sleep. Such is the case of the Kabaka of Buganda. In addition, the king may not be allowed to touch the ground with his feet - such is the case of the Lunda of Congo and Nyamwezi of Tanzania. Likewise, the death of a king is often kept secret for a period of time and it is not referred to directly.

    In times of political turmoil and change, new religious cults have sprung up. For example, the Mourimi movement in southern Mozambique emerged in 1913-14, a time of famine and military defeat. The Mcapi cult in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) was active at the end of the Second World War, a period of great change.

    The power of Asantehene, king of the Asante (in modern Ghana), was invested in the Golden Stool. The Golden Stool represented the people, the soul of the nation, the good fortune of the nation. The importance of the stool was crudely grasped by the British at a time of aggressive imperial expansion.

    The Asantehene was sent into exile in 1896. But the key to his power - the Golden Stool - remained beyond the reach of the British. In 1900 the British Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool in the most offensive manner possible at a meeting of Asante chiefs.

    "Where is the Golden Stool? Why am I not sitting on the Golden Stool at this moment? I am the representative of the paramount power; why have you relegated me to this chair?"
    Verbatim transcript of Sir Frederick Hodgson's address to Asante chiefs, January 1900.

    He then ordered soldiers to hunt out the Golden Stool.

    The white man asked the children where the Golden Stool was kept in Bare. The white man said he would beat the children if they did not bring their father from the bush. The children told the white man not to call their fathers. If he wanted to beat them, he should do it. The children knew the white men were coming for the Golden Stool. The children did not fear beating. The white soldiers began to bully and beat the children.
    Eye Witness account of Kwadwo Afodo, quoted in Thomas J. Lewin's book Asante before the British: The Prempean Years 1875-1900.

    The search for the Golden Stool sparked off a full scale military revolt, led by the Queen Mother (Yaa Asantewa). This culminated in the Governor being besieged in Kumase. The Queen Mother was only defeated by a British expeditionary force in July 1900.

    Spirit mediums had a key role in shaping society politically and socially. In Zimbabwe, there is a strong tradition of the spirit Ambuya Nehanda. She is an ancestral Shona spirit who has taken possession of women a number of times. The two most famous episodes took place in the 1890's and again in the 1970's.

    In 1896, Ambuya Nehanda entered the body of a peasant woman, who then led a Shona uprising against the British in 1896. She was subsequently executed but predicted her bones would rise again.

    Less than eighty years later in 1971, Ambuya Nehanda entered the body of another woman. She was recognised by ZANU rebel forces, fighting Ian Smith for independence. Her role was again quite short lived - she died in 1973. But she had a profound effect on the fighters she came into contact with.

    Listen here to ZANU, freedom fighter, Mayor Urimbo, describing how Ambuya Nehanda helped other fighters

    One of the most tragic incidences, bringing ancestral spirits on a collision course with European ambition, involved the Xhosa people of South Africa. They had fought the Dutch, and then took on the British. But by 1854, the British had stripped the Xhosa chiefs of power and planted them as salaried functionaries in the colonial administration.

    This loss of power and land was devastating, materially and psychologically. The final blow came when their cattle, integral to their economic survival and sense of communal identity, became infected with a lethal lung infection, killing as many as 80 per cent of some chiefs' cattle. Their world order and sense of purpose collapsed, and the Xhosa turned to their religion to find the reasons behind these disasters.

    A sixteen-year-old prophetess said she was in touch with the ancestors. Their message was that the Xhosa leaders should create a new beginning for their people. The Xhosa leaders, in turn, believed this could only be achieved by wiping out the old status quo. That meant killing what remaining cattle the Xhosa had. The Xhosa people became divided over what to do. But in February 1856, the Xhosa began killing cattle; a total of 400,000 were killed. 40,000 Xhosa died as a result of this and many of those that lived had to work in Cape Town or as labourers on farms
  8. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Traditional Religions Timeline

    1-1000 AD - Some time in this period Oduduwa, son of supreme God, Olurun (Oludmare), founds dynasty of Kings (Ooni) at Ife.

    500 AD - Kintu - semi-divine first Kabaka or king of Baganda.

    1st - 2nd Century - Christianity comes to North Africa.

    630's - Islam comes to North Africa.

    1852 - Calabar slaves successfully resist traditional burial of slaves on death of king.

    1856 - Xhosa kill cattle on advice of ancestral spirits.

    1886 - Christian pages executed by Kabaka Mwanga.

    1896 - Shona ancestral spirit, Ambuya Nehanda, takes human form in fight against British.

    1914 - Mourimi movement emerges in Mozambique.

    1947 - Mcapi cult founded Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi).

    1971 - Shona ancestral spirit, Ambuya Behanda, takes human form to support fight against white minority rule in Rhodesia