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African Traditional Religion: The People’s Culture and the European Perception Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by ADEBARI ADEOLU, United States Jul 10, 2006
Culture , Media   Opinions
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Over the years, African traditional institutions have thrived on religion. Religion serves as the structure around which all other activities, such as cultural, economic, political and social organizations are built. In order to understand the people of Africa fully, an in-depth study of the religious beliefs of its people must be carried out. To the people of Africa, religion is literally life and life is religion. Although there are some similarities in the religions of most African communities because they all believe in God as the supreme being, the existence of man, the universe, life and life after death, the power of deities, the idea of sacrifice, rights of passage from childhood to adulthood and ancestral ties; there are, however, numerous differences in their beliefs and religious activities since most are tribal or clan based. Therefore, there is no single African traditional religion that can be seen as a generalized representation of the religious and cultural beliefs of the people of Africa. Africans recognize eternity, omniscience, omnipresence, holiness, justice, mercy, faithfulness and transcendence of God although perceptions of God’s attributes vary from one place to another.

Another important aspect of African traditional religion is the presence of spirits. In the African world, spirits are everywhere--in persons, trees, rivers, animals, rocks, mountains, and even in automobiles and other personal effects. The presence of these spirits in the African society offers a serious challenge to the behavior patterns of the people on the continent and elsewhere because traditional religious practices permeate every aspect of life on the continent. These spirits in many ways act as moral entrepreneurs of the African society. They abhor crimes like adultery, stealing, cheating, and suicide. These spirits communicate their wishes, demands and prescriptions to the larger society through the traditional priests. These traditional priests are able to satisfy their clients through the performance of rituals. On the African continent, every major event has its own ritual, a ritual that may never be overlooked for any reason. The rituals are often performed through a dance, music, libation or art. In the presence of other religious practices on the continent, these rituals have survived in one form or another.

The practice of medicine and magic is also important in most African societies. They engage in fetishism, in which they believe that certain objects, mostly man-made, have supernatural powers in them. Magic or sorcery refers to the influencing of events and physical phenomena by supernatural, mystical, or paranormal means. They are complexes of beliefs and practices that believers can resort to in order to wield this supernatural influence, and are similar to cultural complexes that seek to explain various events and phenomena by supernatural means. The roles of certain religious functionaries is also important. They have native doctors/physicians, diviners, witch doctors, and traditional birth attendants. All these people have important roles to play in the traditional African society.

The beliefs and practices of African traditional religion and society are based upon the faith of the ancient indigenous people who are referred to as ancestors. This is why it is qualified as traditional, traditional comes from the Latin verb "tradere" which means to hand down doctrines, customs etc., from generation to generation. The belief in ancestors is an important element of African traditional religions. The belief occupies an important place in the understanding of the role of the traditional religion in inculcating the ideals of culture and religion among African peoples. The ancestors are believed to be disembodied spirits of people who lived upright lives here on earth, died 'good' and natural deaths, that is at a ripe old age, and received the acknowledged funerary rites. They could be men or women. This means that not all who die become ancestors, but there are conditions which must be fulfilled while the person is alive.

Traditional Africans hold the ancestors as the closest link between the physical and spirit worlds. "The living-dead are bilingual; they speak the language of men, with whom they lived until 'recently', and they speak the language of the spirits and of God .They are the spirits with which African peoples are most concerned: it is through the living-dead that the spirit world becomes personal to men. They are still part of their human families, and people have personal memories of them". Africans believe that the ancestors are essentially benevolent spirits. They return to their human families from time to time and share meals with them, however, symbolically. They know and have interest in what is going on in their families. These ancestors are seen as guardians to the family often reincarnating through new born babies. So it is suffice to say that for the most part, African traditional religion depends very much on the spirit world.

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destiny | Mar 16th, 2010
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Lydia Molatlhegi | Apr 7th, 2012
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BERNARD OMWANDO | Jun 3rd, 2011
I would like to commend highly the one involved in the preparation and presentation of the notes presented above about African Traditional Religion. Thanks.

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