African Traditional Religions, The Elephant In The Room

A dancer in Zambia in a ritual performance

A dancer in Zambia in a ritual performance

Most Africans in one way or another have paid a visit to a traditional priest at some point in their life seeking divine intervention. I boldly affirm this statement with no data source to back me up. My data source though, will be simple questions; Do you remember the rituals? The sharp razor cuts on your body? Do you remember taking a bath with some horribly smelling liquid concoction and were told to go for a week without taking a shower? If you say no then you are most definately an exception to the rule. What is particularly interesting about this scenario is that most people who visit these traditional sources of divinity turn out to be deep rooted Christians. I am talking about the morning mass, evening mass, Sunday service, elders in the church, rosary praying, speaking in tongues Christians.

My question though is, why is Christianity giving the positive treatment, while traditional forms of worship on the other hand, are thrown under the band wagon of ‘pagan religions’, ‘black magic’ and ‘satanic practices’, and yet we still turn around and sort for their services?

As far back as I can remember, I have always questioned Western religion. It all started with those bible stories back in primary school. How did Adam and Eve end up being the original ancestor of all mankind? Wasn’t  there some form of incest somewhere along the process? But then again, I was just scratching the surface with my feeble mind.

In Igbo culture, masquerades are a symbolic representation of the spiritual world

In Igbo culture, masquerades are a symbolic representation of the spiritual world

By the time I grew older and could really think for myself, it was no more about why my parents would force me to go see a traditional priest while it was clearly frown upon by the same Catholic church they were strong members of. I started seeing a trend that became more obvious with time: most Westerners I met or read about did not believe in the whole Christianity thing or worse, still even preferred subscribing to other religions like Buddhism or others. Come to think about it, imagine finding yourself in a popular restaurant in town, and you ask the waiter what he/she thinks about the special on the menu. Will you not think twice if the waiter told you she did not like the meal as well as all the other menus in the restaurant?

Mayra, a Cuban spiritualist and fortune teller, performs a Santeria ritual on a beach in Havana, October 17, 2012. Mayra is a practiser of Santeria, a fusion of religions of West African origin with Roman Catholic Christianity that was not allowed after the 1959 Revolution but was eventually tolerated and today even thrives. The center of Santeria is Cuba, but it has spread to the United States and other nearby countries. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan (CUBA)

Mayra, a Cuban spiritualist and fortune teller, performs a Santeria ritual on a beach in Havana, October 17, 2012. Mayra is a practiser of Santeria, a fusion of religions of West African origin with Roman Catholic Christianity that was not allowed after the 1959 Revolution but was eventually tolerated and today even thrives. The center of Santeria is Cuba, but it has spread to the United States and other nearby countries. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan (CUBA)

Africa and to an extend Latin America, are the only 2 continents where traditional religions have been pushed to the side to embrace Western religion. The Asians are still deeply rooted in their ancient forms of believes, and the Middle Easterners still pray facing the East. That initial idea of Emperor Constantine has not found any fertile ground to grow in these societies, because they are proud and satisfied with their own traditional religions. I am not trying in anyway to question Christianity. You have the right to believe in whatever or whoever you choose to believe in. I have lots of friends who are Christians, who believe that divine intervention through Jesus is present in their everyday lives. How can you knock off a person for thinking that? No no, that is not my point, so lay down your guards.

My point though is; if it is true that Africans can simultaneously believe in traditional forms of divinity and still adhere to Western religious believes then why don’t we raise the standards of traditional religious institutions? Why don’t we start giving them the proper attention and recognition they deserve. Let us take the bull by the horn and face the situation fair and square; some of us might be Christians, but we can not deny (matter of fact we will be doing injustice to our heritage) the fact that our traditional believes are what define us as a people.

BENIN, PORTO NOVO.  Ceremony ending initiation to the god Loko in March 1998. Picture by Jean-Claude Coutausse

BENIN, PORTO NOVO. Ceremony ending initiation to the god Loko in March 1998. Picture by Jean-Claude Coutausse

By Julius Timgum |Published In Dikaloo on September 17, 2013

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One response to “African Traditional Religions, The Elephant In The Room

  1. Every people have things, systems that define them. but the mark of an honest man is that he constantly seeks out and adopts a thing or system that proves superior to that which he has been used to. it is both foolish and dishonest to dismiss your opponent’s superior logic without offering a counter reasoning.

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