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ARE AFRICANS RELIGIOUS PEOPLE OR FETISH INHABITANTS? DO THEY HAVE A UNIFYING RELIGION AND CULTURE? TOWARDS A PEDAGOGICAL RESPONSE! part 1

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Written by: U.S.A


INTRODUCTION


My pedagogical response as to whether African culture, religion is unifying or fetish takes bearing from the scholarly alarm raised by the Ugandan Poet, Okot, P’ Bitek which reads, “against the hubris of trimming African wisdom to fit Western missionary prejudices is irresistible here e.g. the “myth of the primitive” which brings the scope of my review to the spotlight in this ongoing reflection. Some years ago I was asked to make a critic on this subject. I was persuaded without any clue as to why I should do a critic on a subject that raises great controversy. In the first place, I was wondering why I should make such criticism giving the fact that these are issues that spin heads and leads people into opposite intersections in opinion in different quaters. A scholarly judgment and assumptions on African faith, cosmos and culture was what was at stake.  In the first place, I was hesitant to bare my mind. In the other hand, I was interested in knowing why I should bare my mind on these inflammable issues. Secondly, I wanted to know so that any criticism I would put forward would not sound as a lame argument from the wayside. Again, I wanted to know what inspired his curiosity to ask me to write a critic or compile a storehouse of what I believe to be acceptable beliefs of a people. I wanted to know whether his curiosity was astonishingly provoked by willingness to question people’s assumptions, people’s acceptable beliefs and people’s way of life. His persuasion made a defining and compelling impression, but in an unintelligible manner. Using Socratic Method, he tried to win my confidence. Already, I had prepared my mind not to win his admiration in return. Again, my countenance did not show that I prepared even eager to engage in an impromptu rationalization. My indifference to this demand caused him to peg off as sullen type who would give up at first refusal. When he saw I was not positive to do a critic, he glided away as one attempting a disappearing act. The manner in which he glided away was filled with sudden mixture of anger and sadness. It made me knew that he was one of those optimists who had never received a “No” from an answer. The fact that the issues under review has been debated in many different quarters or written in some text in a very lucid or intelligent parlance jarred my mind of how other people view African society. With the spin of time, and after persistent request, I took up the task with bold courage and enthusiasm without minding any spill over or dialogical consequences. Scholarly alarm that African wisdom and thoughts are primitive is not only unfounded but illogical. Africa was not the only continent that has received callous remark in the past or in the present. Jerusalem that city of the living God was equally castigated as a city where “nothing good would ever come.” This response does not in anyway intend to create cultural or cosmological imperatives. It does not aim to add to classical tales of triumph of the sacred over fetish, modern over primitive, advance culture over stateless societies. Again, this piece does not in any way intend to investigate whether something good ever came from Jerusalem or not, but it intends as it may seem to clarify some misinterpretation or if you may say, misrepresentations of African cultural and cosmological values.


Pedagogical Themes:


Christian religion in this exposition means any faith that accepted God as the maker of the universe. Culture here signifies the way people view their place within a cosmos and what constitute their way of life and the drama of their history; Missionary signifies the British and the Portuguese in the early periods of African colonization and evangelization.


 


DEPARTURE


        Imagine a meeting of two different religions, one superior and the other inferior and their point of encounter was within the halo culture of the inferior. Imagine that the object of their encounter was faith and religion. This historic meeting spurred both religions into trading trips and opinions about whose beliefs systems are “God excellion” or whose worship are idol, pagan  and fetish. The encounter spurred the alien faith to claim she was superior while the host faith was persuaded to accept inferior cultural and religious status because of limited evidence to justify its claims.  The two religions were discussing their basic belief systems emphasizing extensively that there is only one God, who watches over everything and cares for his people; that Jesus Christ was the son of God, who died to save humanity from sin; that his death on the cross and resurrection made eternal life possible for God redemptive children. The other says, we believe in the same one God that you believe in, because he loves and protects our people through the pouring of libation and through liberal and communal libation. We appease gods and our ancestors who have gone before us; and who holds the living accountable for their sins and their shortcomings. At another scene in the dialogue, they started to laugh at each other’s stories on creation, on meaning of human life and death, on reincarnation and on respect for ancestors. And you were right hearing every argument they put forward on the discussion table. As a Christian, I found that the issue of comparative religion is so dicey and sticky that one would hardly validate the notion that doubt is inherent in human condition and in the worship of God and in man’s respect for divinities and the sacred. This personal doubt I believe serves as fundamental catalyst that propels any altruistic cultural or religious inquiry. In fact, religious comparism offers one mysterious illuminations as well as enduring opportunities. In her book, “A History of God,” Karen Armstrong explains in a very insightful way why religion is such a powerful force in people’s lives. She notes:


“Human beings are spiritual animals. Indeed, there is a case for arguing that Homo Sapiens is also Homo religiousus. Men and women started to worship gods as soon as they became recognizably human; they created religions at the time they created works of art… These early faith expressed the wonder and mystery that seem always to have been an essential component of the human experience of this beautiful yet terrifying world. Like art, religion has been an attempt to find meaning and value in life, despite the suffering that flesh is heir to.”


Suffice it to say that an absolute denial on this insight would be fetal if we rely solely on irony than on religious experience in making determination in this expository discourse. Therefore, if Africans are Homo religiousus, as Armstrong would sound, we would be right to conclude then that irrespective of what we say about the nature of other people’s worship or the medium through which they come to know about God or worship him makes them spiritual and religious people. If all men and women at one time worshiped gods, we would be right to say that Africans as well as early missionaries lack the locus standi (moral justification) to call any particular religion pagan. In so far as Africans find meaning and value in life, they still express awe, wonder and decorum at divine essence and majesty. The inability to demonstrate a sufficient connection or proves on this issue makes such arguments lame and illogical. If this is the case, then it amounts to fatality or provocation of a sort to ascribe that African method in the worship of the same supreme deity is primitive and fetish. I therefore question the insight or the mistake Western missionaries make in categorizing African traditional religion as centered solely on the worship of divinities. These queries would help break the iceberg and offer practical instructions on how to look at the other and their faith. It would help confront issues that challenge African traditional culture and worship. In doing so, I will carefully try not to hide behind religious inferences, moral imperatives or spiritual indirection, so that obscurity would not attempt to swallow my logic and judgment. I will rely on analytic logic and common sense knowledge since modern discourse is often doubted until proved otherwise by reason. I intend to support my assumptions with the opinions of reasonable authorities in these fields. These authorities “think” therefore “they are.” Their thoughts would lead us to a better understanding of the topic at hand. Again, my widest imaginations and glimpses would be supported by what Dedalus teaches on how to track the very core of religious labyrinth. This teaching would be nourished by African religious history before the coming of the missionaries. At the beginning before the missionaries set foot on the threshold of African soil, traditional religion like Frankenstein’s monster was actually a gentle but pious religion. It was the doctor’s (Christianity) constant rejection that drove her savage to loneliness and ridicule. Having faced ridicule and rejection, this monster turned out to become a blessing after the same physician (Christianity) once again regarded her with passion and kindness. Her worship after embracing Christian passion no longer reveals “darkness but vulnerability.”


Over and above these, Christianity still struggles with honest skepticism about traditional African faith and beliefs. As a result, Christian skepticism on traditional African religion serves as refreshing oasis or a compelling alternative to the hypocrisy that is prevalent in other organized religion like: Islam (Mohamedean religion common in the Middle East and North Africa); Judaism (Abrahamic religion common in Israel/South America); Hinduism (Indian religion common within South Asia, Trinidad and Tobago); Buddhism (Indian religion common to South Asia and Australia); Shinto (Japanese religion common to Japanese and Chinese cultures) etc. These analyses make religious traditions fall into super-group in comparative religious study arranged by any historical origin or mutual influence. As a result, believers of traditional African religion often cite the feeling of God’s presence as proof of their genius and existence. Some Christian folks today hold cling fingers why making claim that some Africans lack feelings of the presence of Christ as proof of God’s existence and manifestations. However, honest people have continued to praise African courage and determination in persevering despite severe moral doubt or spiritual blackout. Let us not forget that the Israelites at some point in time worshiped a “molting calf” and acted like people without belief or perseverance for the heavenly reward on mount Sinai also known as mount Horeb. Scripture accounted that “when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, “Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Ex 20: 4-6). This type of moral or fetish attitude on the part of the Israelites serves as one of the greatest aspects of secular humanism.  The worship of gods or idolatry on the part of the Israelites violated Jewish theocratic culture and religion. Under the Jewish theocracy, willful disregard of the positive or willful infraction of negative commands of God as proclaimed by Moses and interpreted by Rabbis; thus includes crime against God and crime against society or an individual member of the worshipping community.


For Africans who may not grasp the implicit demands of Jewish theocracy, maybe filled with awe and surprise to say that Western scholarly prejudice on African thoughts, religion and culture began after Western contact hundred and fifty years ago when Africa received derogatory qualifications that is worthy for inanimate objects. An unbiased assessment of missionary prejudices on Africa has an unsavory story to be recounted. In fact, “Barbarism,” “Savagery,” “Paganism,” “Jungle races,” “Dark Continent,” “Fetish People,” and “Bushmen” were derogatory expressions associated with African worship, wisdom, culture and reality. Over and above these illogical prejudices, the missionaries questioned whether Africa has any reflective capacity, i.e. any philosophical or any rational or thinking faculty worthy of human beings. Western and missionary viewpoints deriving from a bias interpretation that Africa has no philosophical reality or cultural identity leaves much to be desired. This interpretation further states that Africa is a cultureless continent where inhabitants co-habits with wild animals in the jungle and in the woods (thick forests).  It exacts enough energy from me to rationally and logically convince students that I have never lived in woods with wide animals in the forest. Indeed, “No continent has been more mistreated, more misunderstood, more misrepresented and much misreported outside itself than Africa” (Sarpong, 1991). Ask the British to mention two concepts, apart from malaria and Kwashiorkor, associated with Africa and the answer is likely to be suffering and death. Ask the Portuguese to describe in lucid words what constitute African socio-economic relation to the global community and the answer would be anemia, under-nutrition and parasitic infestations. Ask the Irish to mention three acronyms, apart from famine, jungle race and drought, associated with Africa and the answer would likely to be wide life, Bushmen, Barbaric practices and stateless societies. Ask Prince Henry what is good or best for Africa and the answer is likely to be navigation school to encourage exploration and the spread of Christianity. Ask modern man or laboratory scientist to share his opinion of an African person, his description will be nothing less to a naked ape or an accidental collection of atoms. Prof. Joshua Lederberg once said: “Now we can define man comprehensibly. Genotypically at least, he is six feet of a particular molecular sequence of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorous atoms.” Ask some French colonists to bare their mind about the people of Ivory Coast and Gabon, and their responses would likely be that the history of Gabon and Ivory Coast is recorded in the calligraphy of agony, traced by refugee life because they crossed to France and Paris under policy of assimilation and re-crossed once more to French frontiers. Tell a French evangelist to close his eyes and paint a lucid picture of what he believes to be African and the answer is likely to be “jungle races,” “firewood gathers” and “dark continent.” Yet some Africans would say they saw their first lions, elephants, tigers and lizards in European Zoos! If I could recall vividly, some bunch of African students in the 50’s say they saw their first elephant in Belgium or Swaziland and they exclaimed in a loud sarcastic voice, “These wild animals are feeling at home here in swagger land.” Arthur Gibson of St. Michael’s college, Toronto was once quoted as saying that “the human being and the computer are species of the same genius. He believes that “an intelligent computer is as much made in the image of God as we are,” and that “a sufficiently sophisticated computer will be equal to man.” He adds that “in our ultimate constitutes, we humans are the same as computer. Both are simply configurations of electrons (Spraggett, 1974). Let no one buy this idea or exchange it for anything less because in African cosmology, the human person stands tall in the class of its own distinct from animals, dell computer, Microsoft chips, or a copying machine. He stands above other inhabitants of the universe in the cosmos anthropoid! I say this because in the destiny of man (heaven) there is no room for computer wisdom or scientific prodigies. With less attention to divine destiny of man, modern man has continued to develop capacity for evil as well as for good, for hate as well as conflict, for enmity as well as for love and cooperation, for violence and suppression as well as slavery and exploitation. Modern man argued Huxley (1959) has exercised them too freely. Huxley further lamented that “in the present chaotic world and mass culture the individual too often feels lost and meaningless.”


As for stateless societies, suffice it to say that Africans have a centralized system of governance and power. Authority was balanced among lineages of equal power so that no one family had too much control over the other. And if dispute arose within the village setting, respected elders from different lineages settled the problem at the village square. While this political structure served the Igbo’s well for centuries; Igbo’s later encountered challenges from European colonizers who expected one single leader to rule over the entire society. As for Barbarism, suffice it to mention that there were “high incidence of callous murders, beastly rapes, senseless suicides, abominable moral perversions, brutal tortures, savage terrorist acts, sadistic radicalism and lunatic hooliganism that have become the bread and butter of the so called civilized world” (Sarpong, 1991). People that inhabited these stateless societies were endowed with the same kind of eyes people in the organized central system of governance had. The so-called “hewers of wood” in the jungle were blessed with two hands and two feet just as people who live in the modern sky creepers of exulted elevators. We learnt in the history of ancient religion that Mediterranean countries at one time hunted Whales in canoes and boat. Some of these canoes were large and sustainable enough to carry at least 15 people at a time.  Beck (2003) et al, even admits that most colonial families lived as hunters and gathers of woods. At that time, animals provided meat for family meal while hides and bone of forest animal products provided clothing, shelter and tools. What appeared more evident and challenging to researchers then was that men and children fished and gathered edible plants and fruits.  Their dedication at planting and harvesting eventually led to the birth of sustainable agriculture. It was these emerging experiences that dramatically transformed their way of life. In addition to the many resources of the sea, the coastal forest provided plentiful food for people to consume (Beck et al, 2003). Between 40,000 and 12, 000 years ago, hunter-gatherers migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge from Asia and began to populate the entire world. Again, Africans like their Western counterparts have organs and red blood cells. They experienced passion and affection as their counterparts do in the Bering Strait. They were warmed by the same global sun and drenched by the same universal rain. They experience the same warm weather and the same sunny seasons. If logic of nature or environmental conditions (earth geography) are fallacious, then Sarpons sentiments are irresistible here: “Africans can be as murderous as Germans and as merciful as Germans; as hypocritical and rude as the British and as honest and polite as the British; as sinful and hypersensitive as the Irish and as saintly and tough as the Irish; as liberal as the American and as generous as the American. They can be pragmatic as Portuguese and as capitalists as Portuguese. There is therefore nothing to choose between them and other human members of the Anthropoid family.” Against this backdrop, George Ehusani (1991) pointed out that, “The disillusionment within the affluent Sweden is infinitely higher than the suicide rate in the indigent Burkina faso.” The clashing of cymbals in the present Mubarak Egypt is insignificant to Saddam Hussein Iraq etc.


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