African Religious Experience 

African Religious Experience

  • Religion refers to the way of life of a given group of people in the society.
  • According to Professor John. s. Mbiti, Africa traditional religion is the richest part of the African heritage that is found in all human life.
  • Mbiti added that African traditional religion has dominated the thinking of African people to the extent it has shaped their social life, cultures and their political and economic activities.
  • From the above, we can conclude that there no pagans in the traditional Africa. All Africans were religious, the living and the living dead.
Wrong and Derogatory Understanding of African Religion
  • Many people including the educated and Christian missionaries have failed to understand this religion because of a number of confusing things written and said about it.
  • Some people call it ancestral worship/ worship of the dead people which is only small part of it. Others call it superstition i.e. believing and fearing something without proper ground.
  • It is called paganism a wrong word used to refers to Africans who were not Christians and Muslims.
  • The religion is also called magic and witchcraft yet actually it is much more than that. Although witch craft features in the traditional way of life, it is not right to equate African traditional religion to witch craft.
  • There all sorts of false names given to the African traditional religion by those who do not understand it.
  • They misunderstood African initiation rituals as babyish yet to Africans it was means of worship.
  • The religion is also wrongly called fetishism, meaning “charms” worn by Africans.
  • The religion was termed as devilish and yet Africans worshiped gods as assistants to God.
  • Missionaries looked at Africans as primitive and back word.
  • They did not know that religion had penetrated into every department of African life, yet to Africans religion was accurate way of life. Revision question 

1. Comment on the different ways in which the early missionaries misunderstood African way of life.

 Characteristics of African Traditional Religion
  • African traditional religion believed in God as the creator of heaven and earth and all creatures. That is why the Baganda call him katonda, basoga call him Kibumba etc.
  • This religion also believed in the small gods as the assistants to the Baganda have different gods as the like Musoke the god of rain,Ddungu the god of hunting etc.
  • The religion believed in the ancestors and their spirits. These are the people who die d and traditional Africans believe that they are not completely dead but they are living dead.
  • African traditional religion believed in physical features like mountains, rocks, etc. as dwelling places for the gods and the spirits.
  • The religion had Art pieces and symbols such as the drums,stools,skins, spears and others which have a lot of religious meaning.
  • Traditional African believed in prayer and they usually prayed to the divine beings for help.
  • The religion involved offerings of sacrifices to the gods. They were mainly in form of animals and chicken and they involved shedding of blood.
  • In addition, African traditional religion involved giving of offerings to the gods and these were in form of food like grains, drinks like local beer etc.
  • The religion involved African music dance and drama to the gods by the people in order to appease and entertain them.
  • African traditional religion involved a lot of initiation rituals and practices especially for children at puberty circumcision among the kikuyu in Kenya.
  • It is a religion that emphasized morals and discipline among the children and all society children were to respect the elders in the society.
  • African traditional religion involved carrying out of charitable works to the needy. The traditional Africans always  took care of strangers and the needy as a religious obligation.
  • The religion involved putting up of shines as worshipping places of the gods. Almost every family in Africa had a shrine to show their being religious and these were locally called “Amasabo” in Buganda.
  • The religion also had religious leaders in form of diviners, traditional healers, medicine men etc. who connected the people to the gods.
  • It involved worshiping of the spirits and the gods by the people by drumming and dancing for them.
  • African traditional religion had a number of rites of passage that were Birth rites, Naming rites, funeral ritesetc.
  • The religion involved a number of celebrations or ceremonies like after a great harvest coming of rains, winning a war etc. were all celebrated.
  • African traditional religion was and is still not written down like other religion i.e. it has no written scriptures but it’s found in people’s minds and practices.
  • The religion called for respect of traditional cultural norms and values and it discouraged marrying of close relatives.
  • The religion called for keeping of one’s virginity until marriage and sex before marriage was highly punishable. E.g. among the Karamajongs and the Bakiga girls who broke their virginity before marriage were killed.
  • The religion had African riddles, poems and proverbs or wise sayings which were highly respected because they explained religious realities. These passed on to the young by the elders.
  • African traditional religion involved dreams and visions which were seen as foretelling and explaining events that would happen in the society.
  • The religion had prophets whose prophetic messages were highly respected because prophets were seen as being close to the spiritual word.
  • Political leaders also worked as religious leaders and these presided over religious functions especially prayers and sacrifices.
  • Of all divine beings in traditional Africa, Godheld the most respected position and he had special attributes like creatorHoly, Provider,protector etc.
  • In traditional African religion, those who were morally upright received blessings from divine beings in form of producing many children, having good harvest etc.

Revision question:

Discuss the characteristics/main features of African Traditional Religion in the Pre-Christian era? (25 marks)

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