In West Africa colleges gained autonomy during the struggle for independence in the 1960s. The Yoruba believe that the death of an elder who has worked diligently to provide unity and strength in the lineage causes the entire household to become empty and devoid of cohesion. The Bambara fear that the death of a lineage head may disturb the entire lineage. Among the adherents of an African religious tradition, however, these practices generally do not cause controversy. Dietary restrictions take place for various reasons, including a person's stage of life, gender, or social class. Every aspect of it cannot be described as original. The Main Characteristics of African Traditional Religion.ATR) to the two mission religions. Platvoet, J., J. Cox, and J. Olupona. Religion exists notwithstanding many rots and bad religious behaviours through systematic and atheistic upbringing. Their studies avoided describing African cultures in indigenous terms. Ifa divination spread in West Africa between the Edo of the Benin kingdom (now in southern Nigeria) and the Fon of the Republic of Benin, as well as among the people of African descent in the Caribbean, Brazil, and the United States. This myth acknowledges the importance of primordial beings and their innate procreative powers, which ultimately benefit civilization. Religion in Igbo traditional society partakes fully of all the features of world traditional religion, including its beliefs, sacred myths, oral qualities, strong appeal to the hearts of adherents, high degree of ritualization, and possession of numerous participatory personages such as officiating elders, kings, priests, and diviners. Some African groups have cults dedicated to the Supreme Being, but in general the creator does not have a special cult of devotees. African traditional religion refers to the indigenous or autochthonous religion of the African people. . In several cultures a supreme deity performs creation through mere thought processes. With autonomy came a revitalized study of religions, which recognized the religious pluralism of independent countries. By the 1930s colonial governments in Africa had opened several colleges (as offshoots of European institutions) across the continent. Nevertheless, throughout the twentieth century her spirit, speaking through other spirit mediums, continued to work closely with the freedom fighters in the struggle for independence. In several traditions myth portrays the divinities as anthropomorphic beings who share many characteristics with humans. Requirements for membership in an African indigenous religion have varied according to local traditions. This "democratization" of religious responsibility is in line with a general tendency of avoiding Although historically non-Africans have emphasized the multiple deities and ancestral spirits in African traditional religions, there are other notable features. Even if followers of indigenous African religions convert to Christianity of Islam, they often continue to practice their traditional rituals. Attendants use natural objects to wash, clothe, and bury the body, which is often covered in animal skins, leather, cotton, bark cloth, or leaves. Accordingly, dietary prohibitions and peculiarities are associated with the deceased and the diets of those who inhabit the heavenly world. Evans-Pritchard, E. Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande. They are based on seasonal availability and environmental, social, cultural, and religious differences. In contrast to structured Western religions, traditional African religions are organized with relatively little concern for formal structure. Welcome to the summary lecture of African Traditional Religions. The arts are used to convey feelings, illustrate proverbs, express the wisdom of the people, and give spiritual meaning and function to inanimate objects. Evidence such as archaeological finds, carbon dating, and DNA has corroborated certain elements contained in African myths, legends, and narratives. Because indigenous societies are mainly nonliterate, oral traditions expressed in poetry, proverbs, and mythic narratives are sources of African literary traditions. 2. In Encyclopedia of Africa South of the Sahara, edited by John Middleton. Priests (sometimes called witchdoctors) could cast spells or provide charms to help people with their illnesses or other problems. These deities consume no other foods, except perhaps kola nuts, a standard ritual ingredient in many African cultures. In the 1940s Africans entered into the scholarly discourse on African indigenous religions. Priests, priestesses, diviners, elders, chiefs, kings, and other authority figures may perform sacred and ceremonial rituals. Festivals are often accompanied by sacrifices and offerings to ancestors and deities, who, it is believed, then transmit information to God. Shrines, religious objects, and sacred places are decorated with many forms, shapes, and colors to express religious concepts. Highly trained diviners have largely been responsible for memorizing and transmitting important historical and cultural events to the living generation. Contemporary African religious leaders include those who have been interested in reviving traditional religion. Mawu-Lisa positioned human beings in the region between the sky and the underworld, commanding humans to dwell there and to return to his own abode after a specified number of years. In festivals commemorating the deeds of the gods, ancestors, and sacred kings, devotees Since it is a religion practised by living persons today, changes are to be expected. Although most body art carries little association with Ògún (the Yoruba god of iron), raised-scarification design has been associated with Ògún because Yoruba body artists traditionally use iron implements to create intricate patterns and shapes on the skin. Marriage to a close relative, incest, and disrespect of property and life are taboo. During the 1980s and 1990s many African scholars began to study abroad. They may be in shrines or temples, or they may stand on their own. In many African societies deceased souls live in forests, rivers, riverbanks, hills, or other natural places. The Lupupans believe that the body (mbidi) houses the spirit (kikudi) and that when death occurs, the spirit leaves for elungu, a special land that the ancestors inhabit. Moral Imagination in Kaguru Modes of Thought. New York: J.P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999. Olódùmarè: God in Yoruba Belief. All Rights Reserved. They observe certain taboos, such as abstinence from sex, or they make pilgrimages to sacred forests, rivers, and mountains in honor of the deities. Mawu is often associated with a partner, Lisa. Despite the drastic decrease in native African religions, some modern art in Africa has worked to reincorporate traditional spiritual beliefs, such as in modern Makonde Art depicting spirits. African myths frequently describe numerous lesser deities who assist the Supreme Being while performing diverse functions in the created world. Like most websites, we use cookies to improve our service and make your user experience better. They counteracted various derogatory names given to AIR. There is hardly a topic or issue that Ifa fails to address. The Invention of Africa. For example, John Mbiti from Kenya, the most prolific of the African scholars, challenged the Eurocentric notion that Africans African cosmogonic myths, which explain the origins of the universe, contain a people's conception of superhuman beings—the Supreme Being, the divinities, the demigods, and the spirits that operate in the created world. Because the gods and ancestors created the society's ideals, people are highly reluctant to stray from them. Some are deemed more sacred than others. Ibadan: Oxford University Press Nigeria; New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. African cultures are, however, often flexible enough to absorb values and traditions from other religious belief systems. Priests and priestesses are natural leaders because they are in direct service to God and dedicate themselves to the deities for life. gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA). A twin in Yoruba culture is forbidden to eat the meat of the colobus monkey, because the Yoruba believe that twins have kinship relationships with them. To the African people who espouse them, myths reveal significant events and episodes of the most profound and transcendent meaning. Òsun Grove in Òsogbo, Nigeria, is a good example of an environmental landmark that has been moved into the realm of the sacred. Many offer sacrifices or make verbal demands on the behalf of believers. Mawu is sometimes female and sometimes male. 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. In traditional African cultures marriage, raising children, and fulfilling familial obligations are religious duties. In African traditional religions guidance is provided through myths, which are handed down orally. New York: Oxford University Press, 1937. 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. Vol. 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. 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. 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. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988. Gender is a major factor in many traditional ancestral cultures; males rather than females have tended to benefit from ancestral ideology. ——. Throughout most of Africa there is belief of a supreme being, described by one or more names, either in terms of activities or place of abode. Why should we study the religion of indigenous Africans in this age? Birth, transition to adulthood, marriage, and death are four of the most prominent kinds of life events celebrated with religious ritual. Mawu-Lisa also created spirits and deities, bestowing upon each a special "esoteric" ritual language through which they communicate among themselves. oral culture may be as authentic as those communicated through the written word. At times supreme gods are understood to be females and males who complement each other as husband and wife or brother and sister, similar to Mawu-Lisa in the religion of the Fon of Benin. The myths of many African cultures describe the Supreme God's global significance and place him or her high above the other deities in the pantheon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. Africans believe that punishment may be communal or may pass from one generation to another. He currently teaches Theology and Research at Amani University Project in Njombe, which operates under the University of Iringa in Tanzania. The Nioniosse command the "cult of the earth" and other rites relating to fertility, and the Foulse command the reigning monarchy, personnel, chiefs, and kings. For the Bambara of Mali a death causes great anxiety, confusion, and unpredictability. We have recently updated our Privacy Policy. 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. Intuitive divination uses the deep spiritual insight of the diviner, who has great power to reveal issues and concerns of the client. In some southern African religious groups, however, the Supreme God is not considered to be remote. In contemporary Africa the persistence of sacred practices is a source of conflict between devotees of African religions and outsiders. A priest can be a diviner, a king can be a seer, and a prophet can be a priest and a diviner. 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. $36.00 Ancestors maintain a strong moral authority over the living; the elders speak for the ancestors when they intervene in and resolve conflicts. They profess habits of truth, justice, honesty, good character, and diligence. While other traditional African societies may possess fewer elaborate details of reincarnation, several of them hold the view that ancestors are born into their lineage. The deceased person's soul remains a presence in the lives of individuals and must be respected by the living. During such days ordinary community activities—fishing, farming, and buying or selling at the market—are prohibited to honor the deities. An example is the northern Yatenga society (of western Africa). Among some peoples of East Africa it is thought that a person dies only if he or she has no one to remember him or her. After piercing the thatched roof with a hollow banana stem, he pours medicinal water through the stem directly onto her pregnant belly. Khapoya, V.B. Deities who usually do not garner much attention during daily and weekly worship schedules often draw massive crowds during their annual festivals. 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. While there have been great male and female religious leaders throughout Africa's history, none can be elevated above others in their importance to religious history. 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. Jacobson-Widding, Anita, and Walter van Beek, eds. The intricate myths and legends describing African deities provide ample evidence of their habits, functions, powers, activities, status, and influence. By ministering to deities and humans in liturgical worship, the clergy learn these rituals and languages. In most traditional African cultures morals are of two classes—those that govern individual conduct and those that govern social and community relations. In addition, the deceased must have died a good death; Africans regard premature death that results from an accident or a "shameful disease" (such as smallpox, leprosy, and AIDS) to be a dreadful death. Because religion is a way of life, it relates to culture and society as they affect the worldview of the African people. Like all elements of African traditional religion, artistic expressions are integrated with everyday life. The lives of gods and humans become entangled through daily experiences. Initiation is a deeply religious affair and a sign of unity with the larger community and the ancestors. For instance, ancestors often attain their status after they have received proper burial rituals. They are used only for ceremonies, rituals, prayers, and sacrifices. "African Traditional Religions The term "myth" in African religions means sacred stories that are believed to be true by those who hold to them. A youth undergoes the rituals in seclusion with children of the same age. The elders determine what displeases the ancestors, whom to blame for the ancestors' displeasure with the living, and who will interpret the ancestors' will. The notion that myth is nonrational and unscientific, while history is critical and rational, is not always accurate, nor does it represent the outlook of practitioners of traditional religions. Throughout Africa innumerable myths explain the creation of the universe, how man and woman appeared, the origin of the culture, and how people arrived in their current location. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1974. See our updated Privacy Policy to find out more about cookies and how we use your data. They worship a number of the same deities—including Sango, god of thunder and lightning; Ògún, god of war and iron; Èsù, messenger of the gods; and Ifa, the god of divination. If the living maintain a cordial relationship with the ancestors, one of the spirits returns to be reborn into the lineage. Spirits may be divided into human spirits and nature spirits. Religious Denominations, African-American Sports Statistics, Lists, and Award Winners, In African traditional religions it is believed that ancestors sometimes experience what is generally referred to as reincarnation. Berber, Karin. African Traditional Religion: A Definition. Community morals govern the family unit, from maternal and paternal relatives to extended families, clans, and lineages. Zuesse, Evan M. Ritual Cosmos: The Sanctification of Life in African Religions. Every ethnic group in Africa has developed a complex and distinctive set of religious beliefs and practices. Thus, traditional African cosmologies and beliefs continue to exert significant influence on Africans today. Because the spirits inhabit the natural world, no practical distinction exists between the natural and the supernatural world. A nightmare indicates the coming of an unpleasant event. Evan Zuesse, a scholar of religious studies, suggests that the Fon people of Benin practice three basic types of divination: possession divination, wisdom (also called instrumental or interpretive) divination, and intuitive divination. In non-hierarchical societies individuals share authority and power equally. The Yoruba, for example, refer to a traumatic event or death circuitously by using metaphors such as "the elephant has fallen" (erin wo) or "the tiger is gone" (ekun lo). Scarification or tattoo is a permanent mode of cultural adornment signifying identification with beliefs; motifs are often based on abstract designs, leaf forms, and totemic flora and fauna. Religion provides an education for individuals and is a rich source of cultural knowledge about many different subjects. Initiation ceremonies occur most commonly during puberty. In indigenous traditions the leaders are the mythic beings and culture heroes who were responsible for founding empires, civilizations, clans, and lineages that later formed the core of the religioethnic traditions of their peoples. African Symbols and their meaning. "How Man Makes God in West Africa: Yoruba Attitudes toward the Orisa." This myth gives credence to the importance of the underworld as the sphere that nourishes human life. Shrines, the most common religious structure, exist throughout Africa. 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. A concept that gained wide currency under the theory of diffusion was the erroneous idea that Africans lacked a Supreme God and instead were polytheists. The Nioniosse "rose up" from the underworld, and the Foulse descended from the sky. MacGaffey, Wyatt. As in any democratic system, individuals may participate in ways that benefit their interests, their community roles, or their status as religious leaders. Another set, "Twins of Storm," retained authority to govern thunder and lightening. Each generation expresses and reinterprets the myths, making the events revealed in them relevant to contemporary conditions. Abimbola, Wande. This outlines how and why we collect, store and use your personal data when you use our website. Practitioners of traditional religions understand the founders of their religions to be God or the gods themselves, the same beings who created the universe and everything in it. Introduction to African Religion. The Ifa corpus is a large body of poetic oral narratives that are memorized by diviners and recited during divination performances. It was overtaken in the region by Islam in the seventh century—frequently by military incursion, commercial trading, and the nonviolent missionary efforts of merchants. The interaction between Western and traditional African religious traditions has influenced religious innovations in Africa, such as African Initiated Churches and Islamic mystical traditions (Sufism). A classic example is the regional cult of Mwari (a creator god) in western Zimbabwe and eastern Botswana. A priest connected with a god is referred to as an obosõmfo, vodunõ, olorisa, and atama in Twi, Fon, Yoruba, and Igbo, respectively. A precise response emerges through additional inquiry, and the diviner prescribes appropriate sacrifices. £14.00 The faithful usually designate natural places as sacred sites based on historical or special events. The rapid spread of Pentecostal Christianity and fundamentalist Islam has greatly affected the role of indigenous religion in African society. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001. Rites of passage are particularly important in the religious use of arts. Communities in the Congo, like many other African cultures, often view kinship, lineage, chieftaincy, and elderhood as factors that unite the ancestors with the living. Although the rituals marking elderhood are more rare today, certain cultures, such as the Owo Yoruba (a subgroup of the Yoruba people of Nigeria) and the Masai (of Tanzania and Kenya), celebrate transition to the honored elder status. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. Various roles carry distinct names in West African languages. Moyo, A. Western notions of the afterlife came to the Lupupans in the nineteenth century with the arrival of Christianity. Journal of Religion in Africa. Retrieved January 12, 2021 from This book highlights and discusses the common elements which introduce African Traditional Religion as one unified religion and not a collection of religions. Similarly, the name for a medicine healer is sumãnkwafo, amawato, onisegun, and dibia. Africa, the place of origin of all humankind, is divided into numerous political and cultural regions, reflecting its diverse range of histories, ethnicities, languages, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Furthermore, scholars today assert that the supposedly accurate records of missionaries, colonial administrators, and the indigenous elite were susceptible to distortion. Today Muslims worship throughout much of Africa. In the fifteenth century Christian missionaries became the first wave of Europeans to invade and occupy African lands. Rather, they have certain vital elements that function as core beliefs. Modes of dress in African traditional religions vary depending upon the kind of devotee, geographical location, and a person's age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. There is no shame associated with it, because it is perceived as an expression of a relationship with the spirits of nature. Fundamental human rights are often seen as important not for the sake of individuals but for the collective survival of the group. Traditional artists typically carve images that express the powers of God, demigods, ancestors, and spirits as intermediaries between deities and humans. In certain regions of Africa traditional hairstyles have their own religious significance. When an elderly person dies, Africans traditionally avoid using the word "death." Although the names are different, the first four elements roughly translate as being air, fire, water, and earth. African religious leaders include the sacred kings and chiefs who often serve as both spiritual and community leaders. One of the biggest influences on African traditional religions has been outside cultures. Islam has, overall, been more compatible with and tolerant of African traditional religions and cultural practices. The pantheon of deities is often given a collective name; for the Yoruba of Nigeria it is orisa, and for the Baganda of Uganda it is balubaale. A contemporary response to the crisis of poverty in African villages is the linking of development with ethnoreligious identity. / Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. In possession divination a spirit possesses the diviner or sacred objects. Kingship, Religion, and Rituals in a Nigerian Community: A Phenomenological Study of Ondo Yoruba Festivals. African Traditional religion (ATR) is one of the world religions with a great people and a great past. Some harbor shrines and ancestor graves. Ancestors are generally the deceased elders (of either gender) who have passed from the realm of the living to that of the superhuman. After the recitation the client tells the diviner if any of the verses is relevant to the crisis. In the African cosmological vision death does not cease or annihilate human life—it is merely the inevitable transition to the next stage of life. Larger buildings, such as temples, function exclusively for religious purposes; there are numerous temples for the worship of various deities. At this stage the client may reveal to the diviner the nature of his or her inquiry. 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. These are rituals performed to cement the bond of unity among a community or to celebrate the achievements of individual members of the group. The living must avoid and respect the resting places of the dead. The diviner recalls and interprets an appropriate text and, through further questioning, arrives at a definitive cause of the client's quest. During the 1940s and 1950s departments of religious studies were created in universities in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. They can speak, they are visible, and they endure punishments and rewards. Many societies believe that their morals originated with God and the ancestors and were imparted to humans as elements of God's creation of the world. African traditional religion refers to the indigenous or autochthonous religions of the African people. By the 1900s Christianity was firmly entrenched in most of Africa. There is great variation in the traditions and rituals surrounding death. Many Africans practice ancestor veneration. How can the ancestors live in the underworld and at the same time return to their lineage to live again? In some cultures the pair's kinship bond may signify the unity of divine energy. The large numbers of Africans living in North, Central, and South America introduced enduring forms of African religious culture through music, dance, festivals, and martial arts.