what are the underlying elements of the african traditional religion
The word “taboo” is a word that’s often synonymous with our word for “forbidden”. West Africa accounts for about one-fifth of the continent’s area, but it’s over 120 million people – half of Africa’s population. Sulfur, mercury, and salt are classical elements. The beliefs and practices of the traditional religions in Africa can enrich Christian theology and spirituality." The world beyond us is simply put aside as not really subject to our normal societal inquiry. The Greeks proposed the existence of five basic elements. We even talk about the incarnation, where God transcends this wall of separation in the seen world and the unseen world, and he steps into our human history. And so it’s now widely believed that Africa generally did not develop a supreme being as some kind of later development, after its encounter with Christianity or Islam. And so therefore divinity and deity are separate in Africa. That’s their deity. And what he points out is that the enlightenment world-view in the west created what he calls the “excluded middle”, in a sense that we had a scientific world-view that accepted all of the things of the sense-world. Normally, when you are born, that is considered a rite of passage, and there are certain kinds of religious activities and rituals and magic chants and various things that are done at the time of birth to protect the child from spiritual danger. Yet, contact can be established with him. The elements of nature are out of the control of man, but are controlled by this almighty supreme being. connotes some element of primitiveness, I have nevertheless used it in this essay for lack of a better term. Fetishism refers to the use of a natural or artificial object which is believed to have supernatural power or preternatural power to protect or aid its owner. In Africa the traditional religions are a major source for the study of the African experience of God. Naming West African Religion. There is much honour and respect for him because he is wise, and since he is wiser than all, he is adored for his unlimited wisdom. They are as numerous as the ethnic groups that are present on the continent of Africa, and so therefore there’s no single creed or orthodoxy that can easily summarize the belief systems of African religions. Thirdly and finally (and these are just some general observations about the different cosmologies), Africans believe that the world was created in a spiritual harmony or equilibrium between all the forms of creation and the sources of power. Share classes via social media, email, and more. One of the problems that we found in the early observations of African religion which we alluded to was they observed that magic and sorcery and witchcraft was often practiced by these people in the third tier of African religion (these priests). But what is the nature of that supreme being who is so near (immanent) and so far away (transcendental) from the realities of traditional African peoples? Essentials of African Traditional Religions, by Dr. Timothy Tennent, Lecture 1: Introduction to African Traditional Religion, Lecture 2: African Traditional Religion in Practice, Lecture 3: Tier 3: The Role of Ancestors in Yoruba Cosmology, Lecture 4: Christian Interaction with ATR, Essentials of African Traditional Relgions, Introduction to African Traditional Religion. But in my view none of these terms will ever be fully adequate to describe the African religious tradition. They often will refer to the supreme god as a sky god because the sky god is the one who often dwells in a remote place and is often associated with creation, and then you have the ancestors and sometimes spirits (we’ll call them divinities here) that often serve in this functional capacity. Every culture strives to protect and promote its values. These statements await further exploration by African theologians. Elements of the traditional religion that a Christian would need to consider when sharing the Christian faith/gospel with a person from this community. Any culture that loses its identity does not exist in the real sense of the word. As you can see from some of the early reports of Africa, African religion was simply not taken seriously, or it was dismissed wholesale as crude idolatry. The medicine man or the healer, as the name implies, usually seeks to heal diseases in the community, and then he’ll come to them and they believe that their illnesses are caused by the cause of some spiritual power. 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. Traditional African religion is very popular and arrived here with our North and West African ancestors. Thus, strictly speaking, religion in its pristine form is no longer in existence. And then of course beneath the third tier, even though it’s not actually part of the formal structure of African Traditional Religion, you realize there are actual people that also function in various ways in worship and sacred acts of ritual practice. Stream the classes, or download and listen to them offline. The elements of faith and practice are found in all religions. Because of the general acceptance of the evolutionary theory which dominated the latter half of the 19th century, Tyler’s theory was interpreted to mean that animism gave rise to polytheism, which in turn evolved further to the stage of one supreme god over all other spirits, and this eventually led to the idea that ultimately Trinitarian monotheism was the highest form of religion. This is what made it so impregnable. African traditional religion must not be pushed aside because it is a friendly religion. The traditional African religions or traditional beliefs and practices of African people are a set of highly diverse beliefs that includes various ethnic religions. He calls this the flaw of the excluded middle. Before religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism permeated African societies, African people had an awareness and acknowledgement of a god, a supreme being, greater than all things. The religious beliefs, practices and the provision of social services of these immigrant religions have impacted on the religious and cultural life of the traditional communities. What we want to do is to construct an African traditional cosmology. This is part of the essential nature of God.". Before religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism permeated African societies, African people had an awareness and acknowledgement of a god, a supreme being, greater than all things. There are innumerable African stories and myths which are told which talk about how the world got off kilter, how things got out of harmony, and why certain rituals are being used to get things back. In Africa the traditional religions are a major source for the study of the African experience of God. But we didn’t have a way of really dealing with the spiritual interaction in this world on this side of the enlightenment wall. These cults developed during the early stages of cultural contact between persons of European and African origin, because members of the subordinate group could neither acquire the religion of the dominant group nor participate as comembers in the historic Christian denominations. Most converts from Africa are from it: for the rest it has not much to offer. Faso more than 33 percent follow African religion, although it is not the religion of the majority. Now I want to stop right there and say that in the early missionary encounters with Africa, many of the missionaries did not believe that the Africans worshipped a supreme being, and so they came back and said they were polytheistic, that is, they believe in many gods rather than monotheistic belief in one god. So normally we refer to African Traditional Religions in the plural, and it’s simply summarized or written in notation form as “ATR” – African Traditional Religion. In this work we shall look at these five elements as the philosophical foundation of African Traditional Religion. Many of the World Religions are more known than ATR in many parts of Africa (Adedeji, 2012). So instead, what we try to do is develop a cosmological framework or a theoretical framework that brings together many of the broad concepts and relations that are descriptively present in much of African Traditional Religion. b. African Traditional Religion (ATR): African traditional religion is the belief system that has been handed down from one generation to another. African traditional religion refers to the indigenous or autochthonous religion of the African people. Well, this is achieved when one understands three basic assumptions which I think are characteristic of all African cosmologies. This book highlights and discusses the common elements which introduce African Traditional Religion as one unified religion and not a collection of religions. It is embraced by Africans within and outside the continent despite the various ethnic religious practices and beliefs. It’s filled with dramatic geographic differences and cultural diversity. The original religions of Africa “are not static”; according to Mayo, “contacts with Christian and Islamic traditions have brought about transformations and syncretism of all three” a perfect example of the triple heritage of Africa… ATR is the original religious belief and practice of the Africans. This is another real difference between African society and western culture. Chrispen Matsika, University of Massachusetts Amherst. The following are the useful basic themes in exploring the African worldview: Supreme Being In traditional African society, there is implied and widespread belief in a Supreme Being, God. The people were born, nurtured and they grew in it. This affects even the more practical considerations of life. One of the more creative suggestions that we have come across is one by E. Bolaji Idowu, who I’ve already quoted here, who described African religion as “diffused monotheism”. The print version … 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. 3. The Journal of Religion in Africa was founded in 1967 by Andrew Walls. Generally speaking, early observers of African religious practices all too quickly took appearance for reality, and symbol for the symbolized, and means for the end. Alchemists eventually associated four triangular symbols to represent these elements. Traditional/Indigenous African religions are the traditional beliefs and practices of African people including the various traditional religions and customs. In taboo, it can mean also that a physical object, a person, or a place, can not only be forbidden, but may carry spiritual powers that one has to manipulate ritually. The three main religious traditions—African traditional religion, Christianity, and Islam—constitute the triple religious heritage of the African continent. He said “Africans combine a belief in the existence of an omnipotent and omnipresent supreme god, with multitudes of subordinate deities.” So here you have the fact that we just simply cannot easily summarize African religion with a single term like “animism” or “animistic” or “primal” or “fetishism” or whatever. However this has a lot of problems. It is embraced by Africans within and outside the continent despite the various ethnic religious practices and beliefs. The religious beliefs, practices and the provision of social services of these immigrant religions have impacted on the religious and cultural life of the traditional communities. Religion 20  contains some articles on the study of African Religions that are worth reading. In African religion you must distinguish between the term “deity” and the term “divinity”, because in the west, we often use the word divinity or deity almost interchangeably because we’re in a context where monotheism has been dominant. Attributes of God (Supreme Being) in Africa: Attributes of God refers to words or phrases ascribing traits, properties, qualities or characteristics to the And so these were named “witch doctors”; they’re often sometimes called “medicine men”. I mentioned earlier this term “herbalists”, and I said this was in place of the term “witch doctor”. Later, a well-known writer named Percy Talbot, who wrote in the 60’s a classic multi-volume work entitled The Peoples of Southern Nigeria, refused to characterize African religion with any one word. So this shaman figure is used quite a bit in these societies. African traditional religion have a future for many reasons .first, these religions articulate world view that continue to provide a basis for morality, supporting what Laurent Magesa has called “the moral traditional of abundant life” secondly African traditional religions are linked to … Another rite of passage of course is death itself, and so when a person dies, there are certain rituals that are performed that will carefully convey this person into the unseen world and to the world of the spirit world, and there’s all kinds of elaborate funeral preparations that are often done in African societies. He can see and hear everything, so there is no need to call upon him, and since he sees and hears everything, he is everywhere. We also, as we’ll see later on in this summary, find out that we have misunderstood Africa if we think that they do not have a belief in a supreme, single god. This is a basic cosmology. It is embraced by Africans within and outside the continent despite the various ethnic religious practices and beliefs. You approach people directly, you speak to them directly; you don’t go through intermediaries. African religions, religious beliefs and practices of the peoples of Africa.It should be noted that any attempt to generalize about the nature of “African religions” risks wrongly implying that there is homogeneity among all African cultures.In fact, Africa is a vast continent encompassing both geographic variation and tremendous cultural diversity. The purpose of this is to help to orient a person who would like to work in the context of Africa. Now before we look at the actual example of how this might apply in different parts of Africa, (we’re going to begin by looking at west Africa and give you an example with the Yoruba religious cosmology in west Africa) I want to, before we get into that, clarify a few terms that are often used in African Traditional Religion. The continued influence of traditional African religion is also evident in some aspects of daily life. So this is one of the rites of passage. The term “fetish” comes from the Portuguese word “feitico”, which originated from the Latin “facticius”, which suggests a thing made by art. In the African context, this is not the case. First of all, unlike Christian cosmological thinking, African systems do not recognize a fundamental distinction or clear demarcation between the visible world and the invisible world. So this is something that is part of the fetishes or ritual objects that are manipulated in African society. I maintain that African soil is rich enough to have germinated its own religious perception," Mbiti says. We had a Christian overlay that gave us a strong sense of heaven, of God, eternal life, of the life to come – the eternal verities of the Christian faith we all accepted. Whereas in Africa these religions are ordinarily referred to as "African Traditional Religions"; in Asia they are called 'Tribal Religions and Folk Religions', in America 'Native Religions and Afro-American Religions', and in Oceania 'Indigenous Religions'. They’re often commonly misunderstood as idols, but they actually should be viewed as a pictorial genealogy which describes someone’s spiritual and sometimes physical descent. 4. Wikipedia is often a good starting place if you want to do some research. And so one of the things we want to do in this study is focus on how ATR, African Traditional Religion has worked itself out in the practice of Nigeria. The major focus of the book is discussing the need for studying ATR in twenty-first-century Africa whereby … If you look at African religion region-by-region, generally sub-Saharan Africa is divided into west Africa, east Africa, and south Africa. Well you should always view African religion as divided into multiple tribes and clans that practice various religious activities. He has control over everybody and everything. So what we are trying to do in this case is to acknowledge the fact that we do have people, and most traditional communities in Africa have resident experts who are experts in divination, in rituals, and the performance of magic. AFRICAN AMERICAN RELIGIONS: AN OVERVIEW. Often, regions were denigrated as un-evolved as compared to the west, with no civilizations. centre (Introduction to African Religions, 41, 42). This is also true in the African Traditional Religion. African Traditional Religion in the singular to refer to the whole African religious phenomena, even if we are, in fact, dealing with multiplicity of theologies. He can let nature do whatever he wants it to. In other words, it’s like a mirror that gives us a reflection into what’s beyond the wall. However, this supreme being as they studied more and learned to understand the African system more, was a kind of a distant figure, a deus otiosus, a person, a deity who is beyond us. But if you want just a quick and overly broad answer, the "Basics" section of my source is better than nothing. However this religion was mostly replaced with the Abrahamic religions. Something that’s a very common aspect of traditional religions is the recognition that some objects carry spiritual power, and therefore should be forbidden in some ways. We live in the west in a rather crunched-down universe because the invisible world, the spiritual world, has been taken away. The traditional African understanding and the interpretation of Christianity have deep roots in these fundamental beliefs of the African traditional religions. Every aspect of it cannot be described as original. African religions are very diverse. A member of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group. connotes some element of primitiveness, I have nevertheless used it in this essay for lack of a better term. Even Christians, if someone is sick, we go to the doctor; we don’t think about casting demons out of people. African traditional religious system has the following components: A. Foundational Religious Beliefs. Egwu (2001) observes religion not only because of the problem of objectivity one encounters in defining but is emotion laden, even more so because of the difficulty of penetrating the "inner essence" of religion. So this creates a sense that intermediaries are necessary for conveying power, and we’ll see this is very important – it has implications, for example how the incarnation is understood in the African context. He was trying to find a way to capture the one and the many in the African context. Dr. Bill Mounce blogs on spiritual formation and on Greek at BillMounce.com. So that’s the first big difference between the African world-view and world-views that we are familiar with. Since American religion is a broad phenomenon, the term African American religion must be defined. In our society, we want to portray the idea that even important people, even powerful people are very approachable. And so in many African societies your genetic descent is very important, and your clan’s relationship to other members of the clan is very important. Now “shaman” is a word which comes actually from Siberian culture, and a shaman is someone who manipulates the spirits, and the spirit can sometimes possess them and animate the shaman, and can even speak through them. Many different languages, religions and types of economic activities developed on this continent. Camas, WA 98607 Well that’s fine, that is a Christian adaptation of the enlightenment world-view, and it leaves the basic structure or cosmology of the west intact. Traditional African religion is very popular and arrived here with our North and West African ancestors. Now this is important because many times in the west we think of religions in terms of belief systems. We’ve seen this in films and books about Africa. The beliefs and practices of the traditional religions in Africa can enrich Christian theology and spirituality." Inevitably, as its distinct expression, the once-western religion assumed African regalia such as rituals, values, and symbols. In order to conceal the underlying nature of their religious beliefs from the slavemasters, the practitioners of these religions identified the ancestral gods and goddesses of Africa with certain Catholic saints, a practice that continues today. 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. ], where he talks about what he calls “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle” . On one hand, there’s one god at the highest tier, but he expresses himself through many second-tier deities known as divinities. This is normal in many parts of the world. In Nigeria they call the supreme being Olodumare, and Olodumare represents the supreme being at the highest tier. The second fundamental difference between the African and the western world-views is that fundamental to the African world-view is the belief in the hierarchy of power and being. Abstract. African Traditional religion (ATR) is one of the world religions with a great people and a great past. African ideas of the supreme being, called different names by different peoples, are influenced by their geography, history, social, and cultural backgrounds, and the physical environment, thus the huge variety of concepts. Africans are notoriously religious in the sense that all levels of life are filled with religion. (888) 358-9998. So many people believed that the Africans didn’t have a belief in a supreme being, but instead, when they came into contact with Islam or Christianity, they discovered that they believed in one supreme being, and they adapted this and kind of shoved it into the back door behind their normal beliefs. This book highlights and discusses the common elements which introduce African Traditional Religion as one unified religion and not a collection of religions. But over time we’ve begun to realize that, first of all, you actually have at the basis of even the more “advanced religions” many primitive and tribal beliefs. So in other words you basically have mediators such as priests or sometimes chiefs or what used to be called “witch doctors” (we’ll call these “herbalists”), mediums, diviners, prophets – these are all people that are exercising ritualized power in order to keep the system in harmony. Journal description. African traditional religion must not be pushed aside because it is a friendly religion. In many ways the Africans inhabit a very big universe, a much bigger universe. African Traditional religion (ATR) is one of the world religions with a great people and a great past. This work will enhance the understanding and appreciation of the African exposition of the importance of the African … The major focus of the book is discussing the need for studying ATR in twenty-first-century Africa whereby … Most converts from Africa are from it: for the rest it has not much to offer. This book highlights and discusses the common elements which introduce African Traditional Religion as one unified religion and not a collection of religions. *Hiebert, Paul G. , Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues, 1994. AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION Religion is a difficult subject to inquiry including attempts at definition and conception. This book highlights and discusses the common elements which introduce African Traditional Religion as one unified religion and not a collection of religions. 6. Daily functioning of traditional African is fundamentally religious functioning. He is capable of anger, and some misfortunes are caused by his anger. Animism comes from the Latin word anima, which means “soul”, and Tyler maintained that belief in spiritual beings or souls was the root of all African religious faith. When they function as single individuals, we usually call them “healers”, or sometimes they’re called “shamans”. 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