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ARE AFRICANS RELIGIOUS PEOPLE OR FETISH INHABITANTS? DO THEY HAVE A UNIFYING RELIGION AND CULTURE? TOWARDS A PEDAGOGICAL RESPONSE! part 2

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Written by: U.S.A


MAJOR TRAITS OF TRADITIONAL AFRICAN RELIGION AND CULTURE


If we explore beyond faith and culture immanent in Burkina faso or raging in Mubarak Egypt, we will come to some form of realization that religion, politics and freedom expression have continued to be the center of African moral life because traditional religious beliefs and worships were purely anthropocentric and theocratic. Officially and always, theocracy has always combined clan, community, state and religious affairs together. These combinations gave hint to the strength and decisive glory traditional African religion enjoys. Africans, especially the Igbo’s and the Yoruba’s respect their elders, parents and title holders. African students respect their teachers and seniors as well. The distinction between humans and animals find enduring and radical meaning in human respect. This distinction ultimately separates Igbo man from his Western missionaries counterparts who pay adequate attention and regard to pets more than his fellow human being. Writing of the Igbo’s in this regard, Onwuanibe (1984) notes that the distinction between humans and animals is shown in the fact that one does not greet animals, even if they are highly regarded pets. I believe that we are higher and rational than animals, because we have friends, enemies or kinsmen as the case maybe. Animals don’t have friends or kinsmen at all. Rather, what animals have are enemies when it comes to bone for the dogs or goat for tigers. Animals rub its itching flank against a tree, but a man asks his kinsmen to scratch him (Acheba, p.154). Onwuanibe on similar comparism concludes that “not to be greeted among the Igbo can be construed as a form of depersonalization.”  And to greet somebody is, according to Onwuanibe to take the person as a subject and not as an object; it is to enter an “I-Thou” relationship with him. It is to enter into friendship and communion with him. This friendly communion I believe dislodges the anger he bore in mind for you or the hatred or grudges he has developed for no just cause.


Another strength that leads to traditional African power was the spirit of unilateral commitment to the gods or deities as the case maybe. As a result, traditional African worship was united with the culture of people and linked to other neighboring communities. Such unity in diversity leads to religious and cultural power manifested in the love of neighbor and in the brotherhood of man. Unity in religious matters as well as in cultural affairs has always resulted in wealthy and prosperous culture. As a result, many physical and human resources funneled into African traditional religious activities. These resources drag our reflection to a pragmatic fact where one could view moral imperatives as the epi-center of traditional African life. African societies have always emphasized the imperativeness of morality and religion. Thus, immoral practices were frowned at and treated with disdain. Morality as itemized by (Mbiti, pp. 175-181) begins largely with social and community solidarity. Beyond social and community solidarity, I think morality in us surges like ocean current incorporating acts of co-responsibility along its way till it empties into a united ditch that gives way to brotherhood of man; fatherhood of family; motherhood at home or communalism as universal principle. Taylor rekindled such unity when he affirmed, that to Africans the individual is always an abstraction. That is to say that “I-thou” is only deep in the Cartesian framework. This framework is non-existent in African worldview (weltanschauung). In this regard, an African person is a person to the extent to which he or she learns to say “I am” because I participate.” Mbiti puts it anthropocentrically: “I am” because “we are.” Man adds Taylor (1986) “is literally a family tree, a single branching organism whose existence is continuous through time, and whose roots, though out of sight below the earth may spread further and wider than all the visible limbs above.” Other African values beside morality include: respect for elders, bringing up children well, reliability, courage, perseverance and firm determination etc. Religious values associated with African morality include: immortality, community living, Humanity, fidelity, sense of the sacred, mystery, reverence for sacred places, persons, objects, times and belief in after-life. Africans believe in the ancestral mediation between God and man. They believe in bodily and community purification; in giving attention to crisis situations; in co-responsibility; in the spirit of communal worship; in the solidarity and brotherhood of man; in respect for authority; in accepting sanction from ancestors (excommunication). Also, the poor or the sick are taken care of; widows and orphans are placed in the good hands of the community. Between kith and kin, there is a very strong sense of sharing linked with solidarity and belongingness. Traditional African (Igbo) society values the sacredness of life. They do not kill or take away another man’s life as against gang banging and Euthanasia. For Africans killing or blood shield is considered as “aru” or abomination to the land and defilement of God’s commandments. Suicides were minimal and very rare within community or neighborhood. Achebe (1959) narrated how Okonkwo, a twin title holder was banished from the village for seven years after mistakenly firing a shot gun that killed Ezeudu’s sixteen year old son at the latter’s funeral ceremony. Though it was recognized as a mistake, blood had been shed, the Earth had been offended, and so the appropriate punishment had to be meted.” In L’ Osservatore Romano November (1985), Pope John Paul 11 admits that human life is sacred and must be protected.


Hospitality is a social duty and is the most common value in traditional African culture. In a lucid story about the Yoruba’s of Nigeria, George Ehusani painted a larger than myth picture of how ‘Orunmila’ (the god of wisdom) acted as model of hospitality. The story goes that a time of scarcity and austerity arose in the life of Orunmila. Things were so tough that he had nothing in the house even to eat. It was at the time that three visitors arrived. He welcomed them wholeheartedly, knowing fully well that first impression matters a lot, as they say: “ka rini lode ka se ariya, oyo ni oju onje lo” (it is the cheerfulness with which you welcome somebody that will make the person sit and eat with you). When Orunmila told his wife they had visitors, even if at great cost of himself, for as they say “oju alejo l’ afi nya owo, ehin re la fin so” (we borrow money in the presence of visitors, but, do not payback in their absence). Orunmila collected together all his objects of worship, which included expensive wood carvings and metals, and gave his wife to take to the market, but the expensive items were priced so cheaply that she decided to bring them back home. She complained that some of the items that worth (the equivalent of) one hundred naria were priced for ten. But Orunmila sent her back to sell them for the entertainment of the visitors was priority…“ In a slightly different opinion Onwubiko and Sofola (1973) outlined “wholesome human relations among people; respect for elders and ancestors, community fellow feeling and “live-and-let-live- philosophy.” The live- and-let- live- philosophy ropes Africans within a social hermit to accept natural calamities, prosperity or the anger of the gods often considered punishment for moral failings. In the penetrating words of Prof. Omoregbe, the sense of rationality propels one to embrace morality. This rational sense I believe finds enduring meaning in African philosophy and ethics. It is the reason why an African man must live a moral life. As for rationality and morality, Omoregbe argues that:


“You must live a moral life because you are a rational being. And to be rational is to be subject to the moral law. This means that to be obliged by the moral law is part of what it means to be a human being, for it is part of man’s rationality. Your rationality will tell you that certain kinds of action are bad and must be avoided while other kinds of actions are goods and should be done. It imposes on you obligation to refrain from the former and to perform the later.”


Therefore, if Africans at one time demonstrated moral attitude, then they are rational beings. And a rational being is one who can philosophize or who can make some conjectures. Concerning co -responsibility and solidarity, Dopamu et al, (2004) write that “co-operation and mutual helpfulness are virtues among Africans. There is limitation to what a single individual can achieve all alone. The co-operation of others is highly important in achieving most goals… It is also taught that while it is easy to break a broom-stick, it is not easy to break a full bunch of them.” Indeed, an African man who is not moral or who is not roped in the solidarity of the other is finished. Among the most fundamental values in traditional African cosmology are corporate personalities. When applied to individual person and the other, it means the entire African society is unified successfully in the other. Although basic to our communal way of life, this notion of stateless society was not studied until the stepping in of the missionaries. Right now the missionaries have left, the world is accepting our corporate categories, and they are becoming satisfied how African groupness coalesces into a single representative. The mingling of the individual and the whole in African society does not mean that a family, a tribe, or a people can appear as stateless- single individuals. It simply means that in African cosmology, there is a dynamic interplay between group and individual. And to isolate either or mutually oppose these elements in our cosmology, leads to a cultural misunderstanding. The importance of cultural understanding while Christianizing a people is paramount here. The word “anyi ekpe bi ela” (we the people have decided) is passionately used in African cosmology in a collective sense, to designate the whole community. In its collective sense, it means men in general, the human species, the tribe of men, or all men in general (Gen 1:26, 9:5, Is. 6:12, Sir. 15:17). This is why a sin of one man in the community spills over on all other men precisely because he forms with them a corporate personality (Franine, 1962).


        Another trait of traditional African religion and culture is the respect for ancestors. The status of ancestors in African anthropology has been much discussed over the course of the 20th century. Amplifying Gluckman’s distinction between ancestral cults and the cults of the dead, Fortes brings to the forlore and desolate ‘structural matrix of African ancestor worship,’ noting inter alia the relative lack of elaboration and indeed interest among Africans in the cosmology of the afterworld in which ancestors reside (Kopytoff, 1969). For a very long time, traditional African religion has continued to demand the chief priest to offer blood and animal sacrifice on a regular basis. The story of blood and animal sacrifice was found throughout traditional African culture and its surrounding neighborhood. Like other cultures of the world, the Quetzalcoatl was found throughout Meso-culture. Quetzalcoatl was adopted by Toltec’s, who saw him as god of the morning and evening star, Venus, and as bringer of culture. Just as Meyan’s or the Aztecs worshipped Quetzalcoatl, Africans especially Igbo’s, worshipped Amadioha. They believed that Amadioha was a symbol of life and protection from enemies. As a result, shrines and temples to gods were built on cultural foundations with the belief that the gods would bring prosperity and unity to the entire community. The building of these temples and shrines were dedicated to the gods for the protection of land and human life. Sacrificial offerings were carried out to win the favors of gods and to appease an angry spirit. During religious festivals, traditional African priests make offerings to the gods and presented ritual acts like songs to honor the gods. Some traditional priests were found in Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana and other parts of West Africa, where people had or have temples and cults associated with major spirits or divinities (Mbiti, 1979).


A WRONG IDEOLOGICAL IMPRESSION


An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one’s goals, expectations and actions. It can be thought as comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things. The word Ideology was coined by Count Destutt de Tracy in the 18th century to define a “science of ideas and understanding.” Much of European or missionary understanding is that Africans lack any philosophical thought, political understanding, Epistemological framework or ideological innovations. Against this opinion Ehusani write that “many African scholars of history, philosophy and literature have acknowledged the indispensability of orature as a theoretical foundation for historical, philosophical or literary work in African.” Ehusani believes that since Africans were not initially skilled in the art of writing, orature then embodies and transmitted those moral, ethical and aesthetic values through which they come to view themselves and their place in the universe. In the same sarcastic light, Kwame Gyekye quipped, that the starting point of modern African philosophy could be extracted from the cultural, linguistic, and historical background of African people. Based on the above premises, any meaningful device that could be used to identify the sum totality of African orature (oral tradition) such as vocality, drumming, storytelling, praise, singing and naming could be identified as rational or philosophical discourse. It seems to me that anybody doing the above intellectual exercise is doing philosophy or rational discourse. In the mind of Asante, orature represents the total body of oral discourse, style, and traditions of African people. In the Igbo culture, I see orature to mean the body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of individuals, or groups and how they relate and interact with the living and the dead etc. Asante went further to argue that “only when we examine orature as we have studied modern or classical literatures can we construe the totality of African culture or philosophical values. Any objective scholar or any missionary who refuses to accept the fact that there exists in another culture some rational or oral discourse that constitutes their worldview would need to be diagnosed with Eurocentric disorder or missionary psychosis. Eurocentric disorder or missionary psychosis in my understanding is a psychiatric sickness of the mind that refers to the psychological and philosophical framework which projects only missionary worldview alone, their history, culture, philosophy, or values systems, as the center of the universe on which all else depend around which all must revolve. With passionate and penetrating convictions Pier Gheddo (1973) calls this frame of mind a mania not until Europeans begin to understand something about the “third world” then would they be freed from their ethnocentricism. Against this backdrop, Keita Laciany (1984) add that sober historical research into African cultural history shows that the Ancient Egyptian civilization was essentially African, and that of all the world’s cultures, the first to engage in systematic appraisal of the world as Africa was the Ancient Egyptian, and that those considered steeped in philosophy and science were in reality great borrowers.


AFRICAN PREDICAMENT


Ngugi Wa Thron’o once said that “the cumulative effect of the experience of slavery and colonialism tantamount to a cultural time bomb of any era. Missionary activities or slave experience in Africa as I describe in this discourse led people to experience forlorn kind of life so desolate, pitiful, sad, abandoned, lonely, and inexpressive and hopeless. Life became not only lonely, dreary, but miserable. The effect was “to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their language, in their heritage of struggle; in their unity; in their capacities and ultimately in themselves” (Ngugi wa Thron’o). Therefore, No religion could call another religion fetish without first coming out with some twisted notion of superiority. No evangelizer of the logos (word of God) could call another pagan without coming out with the exalted notion of “Christianity.” No people can enslave another for centuries without coming out with anemic notion of “Lord” and “master.”  I am a Christian but these analyses have no justification to measure the parameter of my faith or belief system. Indeed, let the analysis measure the parameter of my thoughts in a pedagogical discourse. What is at stake here is strikingly dressed in logical exposition of facts to support an idea or to nullify illogical affirmations. In this case therefore, the notion of superiority or the idea of inferiority is in a yearning dialogue in the deep quest for pragmatic meaning. If no meaning is found, if no understanding is reached, which I doubt it would because the Portuguese and the missionaries succeeded in displacing the old order where the new order seems to be schizophrenic and out of place. As a result, African faith, status and family dynamics suffered inimical or anemic distortion. The consequence is that young people become liberated from the authority of their parents where elders lost their inherent inspiration and respect. What is dis-encouraging here is that our ancestors as a result faced dislodgment from their positions of honor and were kept at distant kilometers from their abode on earth. Some authority like Achebe have argued time without number that the missionaries put a knife on the things that held Africans together after which things completely fail apart (Achebe, 1958). Things fall apart was Achebe’s classic novel that was translated into different languages and was read in many Western languages. The story was a poignant portrayal of how colonialism, Christianity and western civilization caused a kind of ‘disequilibrium’ within African societies. Along the line of conservative thought, George Kennan wrote with disgust that if changes occur in a society so rapidly that the experience of parents becomes irrelevant for the needs of children, then something very dangerous and atrocious has taken place- the organic bond of the family is broken and an emotional trauma is created in the minds of the people. What I know for sure is that it would remain difficult for the Portuguese and the missionaries to imagine the violent incursion they had done to African faith, culture and way of life. I mean it would be difficult for them to understand how their influence and transactions helped collapsed African vision of life, of all her beliefs, of every authority, the loss of a people and their identity. All these make African individuals listless, without energy and moral fiber. The legacy or specter that missionaries and western civilization brought to Africa was more of a curse than blessing (Kenneth Kaunda, 1965). Society whose modernization has reached the stage of integrated spectacle is characterized by the combined effect of five principle factors: incessant technological renewal, integration of state and economy, generalized secrecy, unanswerable narrative, and eternal present (see Guy Debord). These negative legacies made Africans spectators in their own land and in their own worldview. The spectators (Africans) were supposed to know nothing and deserve nothing in the rational world. Those who were watching to see what happens next will never act and such must be the spectator’s condition. In a culture of managed spectacles and passive spectators, cultural and rational affirmations appear as a rift, a peculiar lapse, in the prevailing mode (Rich, 1994).


DOES AFRICANS HAVE ANY PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT?


If at one time Africans could not master the English language in all its richness; in its full expressions, variations or structure does not mean they lack rational orature or philosophical mind. Gyekye (1987) passionately praised the philosophical and literary dept of some African proverbs with the use of selected Akan proverbs. He disproves the allegation that logic was not part of African traditional thought.” In much of Mbiti’s (1970) research and analysis, logic and anthropology was used extensively and interchangeably. Mbiti’s research centered much on African cosmology. His works and invocation on African cosmology was overtly anthropocentric. He says that “Africans have their own ontology…but it is an extremely anthropocentric ontology in the sense that everything is seen in terms of its relation to man. The term ontology has its origin in philosophy. The word ontology comes from the Greek ov (on), which literally means entity. While African culture and religion emphasize much about man and his neighbor, Western Christianity emphasize about man and his God. We can justify this assertion in many different ways. The Christian catechism teaches that God created man to know him; love him and to worship him here on earth and to reunite with him in the world that is to come. But in the traditional African ontology or in the Abaluyia (African) cosmological creation story, “God created man so that the sun would have someone for whom to shine.” While African ontology centers on anthropocentric, Christian ontology centers on Deus-anthropometric or Deus divini. No matter how we look at it; African or Western, missionary or pagan; “human history is a cosmic history seen anthropocentrically or micro-cosmically” (Mbiti, 1970). Comparatively, when Islam came to Ghana, Mali, Songhai and other parts of West African cultures, their presence was contradictory opposite to when Spanish evangelizers came to Mexico. On the South of Sahara, many converts to Islam kept their native African beliefs. They found ways to include their traditional rituals and customs into their new religion. These rituals did not in any way alter Muslim values and practices. Despite the English language, Africans spoke Swahili language. Over the centuries, contacts between two peoples, the Bantu speakers and the Arabs, led to the creation of a new people and a new language. According to the history of “transatlantic slave” trade, Arab traders married African women.  With time, people of mixed Arab and African ancestry came to be called Swahili. The word Swahili comes from an Arabic term meaning “people of the coast.” and refers to the East African coast (Beck et al, 2004). Although Swahili peoples do not share a single culture, they do speak a common language with many words borrowed from Arabic. Today, Swahili is spoken by about 30 million people—about half of all people who speak a Bantu language. In Tanzania and Kenya, Swahili is the official language. In Nigerian, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and Efik are traditional languages where English was official means of communication. In Ghana, Akan, Ewe, Ga, Nzema and Gonja were indigenous languages while English is considered the official language. In Mali, French is considered the official language while Bambara is the most widely spoken. Other cultural or indigenous language includes Dogon and Soninke etc.


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