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ARE AFRICANS RELIGIOUS PEOPLE OR FETISH INHABITANTS? DO THEY HAVE A UNIFYING RELIGION AND CULTURE? TOWARDS A PEDAGOGICAL RESPONSE! part 4

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Written by: USA


ADAPTATION


Adaptation will continue to fall short of significant ideas if people within a culture continue to deny the relevance of extra cultural engrafting. In today’s cultural review, or in today’s religious pluralism, there is probably no concept so widely discussed or so dearly beloved by cultural anthropologists than the word adaptation. Yet, this beloved concept is the most widely misunderstood in religious circles or in cultural settings. Adaptation is what traditional African religion and culture need in this scientific age. Most liturgists and some devout cultural strategists have suggested that Africa should take a pride in claiming it as characteristics of her cultural growth and enrichment. Despite this positive suggestion, most of us have given little thought or attention to what we mean by cultural adaptation.  As a result Cultural adaptation ends up being used to describe virtually everything needed to be accepted or insignificant values needed not to be eliminated at all cost.  To give a head start in this issue, let me say a few things about what adaptation is not. Adaptation is not culture per se; Adaptation is not religion as people may think; Adaptation is not a total imitation or association. Adaptation is not a complete assimilation of any values of any kind. Rather, adaptation is a matter of cultural appreciation, cultural borrowing for remaking of lifestyle and habits.  Adaptation as cultural evolutionary process is that by which societies modify their habits or practices to fit into the objective way of life. This subjective definition is an antidote to the view that cultural evolution or accommodation is just like genetic evolution. This is why cultural adaptation has played a crucial role in human evolution.  Humans can live in a wider range of environments than other primates because culture allows the relatively rapid accumulation of better strategies for exploiting local environment compared to genetic inheritance (Moran et al, 2009). This is why cultural transmission often times lead to relatively rapid, cumulative adaptation. Populations of people connected over time by social learning can accumulate the solutions to problems that no individual could do on its own.


One of the greatest accomplishments of Tooby and Cosmides (1992: p. 104) is the explanation of adaptation.  They define adaptation as, “a reliably developing structure in the organism, which, because it meshes with the recurrent structure of the world, causes the solution to an adaptive problem.” This definition and many other analysis signifies that cultural Adaptation irrespective of how it is explicated explores how creative ideas are packaged and nationalized to meet local taste (Moran et al, 2009). There are other elements in African culture that should serve as basis for a positive adaptation: a living awareness of community (foundation for an awareness of the church and people), worship of ancestors (which could be transferred to the saints or our departed relatives), a flair for chieftains, filial piety, and a sense of gratitude. Pope John Paul the 11 after his groundbreaking visit to several African countries including Nigeria remarked joyfully, “African culture is a splendid substratum which a-waits the incarnation of Christianity (See L’Ossavatore, 1982). In any linguistics or in any classical literature, substratum is often understood as a form of language that influences an intrusive language that supplants it; a language that influences, or is influenced by another through contact. To balance this contact or to harmonize this equation, or even to put things in equilibrium, thus providing opportunity for incarnation, Christianity must find radical meaning in people’s life and culture that would require them to adapt and incarnate with velocity so that they will have no course to consider or to reconsider the beauty in their mythology and worldview. When people in a culture find meaning in their worldview, then borrowing values from the outside would become flat and uninteresting. Therefore, any missionary dogma or authoritarian religion that places revelation, God or creed before African substratum (human needs or experiences of a people in a culture) is doing a disservice to the human species (See the Humanist, 1973). Given this fact therefore, the approval resolution to this problem of adaptation is to distant with caution the imposing cultural categories from the suffering mode of a particular culture. This form of adaptation or effort is one out of the many ways to give enculturation a breeding space without even appearing to fall victim to it. No matter how cultural or poignant adaptation may seem, it is not enough to make a people sound solid, and if cultural anthropologists and church Historians who harmonize church and culture think it is, somebody has to tell them otherwise. The trick here is satisfying religious and cultural requirements immanent in African cosmology while escaping the confines of imported categories. Writing about African worldview which functions as cultural mode tends to be disaster in adaptation or a suicide in religious incarnation. On the other hand, writing about the impact of cultural romance refreshes my memories of how “naked” we were like “Adam” before we were told to cover ourselves in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for adaptation by drinking from the cup of distorted assimilation. Let us not embrace anything because we want to be like others. We must not allow cultural or religious adaptation to degenerate into accepting anything that is universal. For African traditional religion to become a universal religion like Christianity, it must come out from its present obscurantism and seek to analyze the Gospel of Christ in the light of African people’s spiritual experience, so that the Gospel of Christ will not be seen as inseparable reality from the humiliated condition that this guest culture imprinted on the indigenous faith. Again, the act of shining out would bestow on Africans the necessary tool or power to break the chains of missionary religious imprint. And for African traditional religion to receive universal character like other world religions there is need for enculturation acculturation and the incarnation of the Gospel message into African belief system that was hitherto termed fetish. Traditional African worshippers must therefore learn to use indigenous African languages as medium for African celebration, proclamation, and prophecy. Enculturation would be effective language-wise, if African liturgical concepts and languages are expressed in traditional African modes and categories. African forms of worship must be celebrated in an African way. Services must be celebrated to have African flavor or coloration. Traditional African drummers must usher in their priests/pastors vested in native African wrappers. The book of the Gospel must accompany the native flutists and drummers. During offertory and the presentation of gifts, African crops and products from mother earth such as: cocoyam, coconuts, maize and oranges must take the place of bread and wine of Christian Eucharistic worship. Fanfare, cannon shots, songs and dance as evidenced in “Kwanza” must take the place of Eucharistic consecration bell. African priests/pastors must use idioms, proverbs and native stories during liturgical celebrations or during traditional church festivals. They are to use these modes instead of the abstract theological exegesis in the name of homilies that often times convey no moral lesson on human life. We know that stories and idioms bring about a graphic appreciation of a message in any local liturgy. It seems to me that when these caveats are put into action, African traditional religion would flower and go beyond its present obscurantism into a broad rehabilitation in its practices and beliefs systems. It will convince the missionaries to approach our local faith with sympathy rather than with arrogance. It will awaken the missionaries to gasp empathically the faith damage they have done to African traditional religion and culture. Also, the missionaries will have the opportunity to realize that African culture and faith were not entirely populated with spirits, charms, magic and divinations. When these are realized, traditional African religion will glow and stand out with vigor as universal religion comparable to Christian worship.


 


Post Reflection


 


        It seems to me that traditional African religion is today at the crossroad. It must, as always, try to remain true to its own values and principles. In the face of today’s world religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism), traditional African religion must recognize the diversity that is part of the richness of humanity and gather for itself something that will lead her into the unity of truths. But there is a twofold danger here: One, of narrowly identifying the unique truths that make up African traditional faith with expression of native cultures; the other, of destroying foreign religious and cultural imposition without the multiplicity of them. These twofold dangers seem to me that it would lead Africa to some wrong intersection, a dead end or a middle of nowhere where they would find it difficult or indecisive to either turn right or make a left signal. If you ask some traditional title holders in Africa about their opinion about Islam or Christianity, they will express in the same ambivalence that it led them to the middle of nowhere. It was Ikenga Metuh (1987) who refers to Horton’s description of the Christianity brought to Africa as the Enlightenment Christianity. This definition was born after Ikenga found himself in a confused state of mind trying to balance the pro and cons of Western Christianity as it is related to African faith and cosmology. He continued that Enlightenment Christianity which the missionaries brought on the shores of Africa soil left much to be desires. This brand of Christianity pioneered by the Irish, French and the British was concerned with Francophone, Irish and British Ideals. Their values which were at the root of Western mannerism was a highly reductionism view of African values and customs. Always, it is difficult for Africans to fill into strange or straight jacket that seems very uncomfortable. Always, it is difficult for the missionaries themselves to fit into a square peg as the case maybe. To fit into a straight jacket is to make one a round peg in a square hole. Paulo Mar Gregorios, (1987), President of the world council of churches for Asia, appears to sum up the whole dilemma of fitting into straight jacket when he says “the chariot of human development has gained momentum but seems to be running amuck without character.” In the same ambivalence, Gregoris goes on to say that:


“the environmental crises, the economic crises, the crises of justice, the crises of faith, the monetary crises, the crises of militarism…all these are symptoms that humanity has not become what it has to be, but also that it is on the wrong track.”


I therefore refuse to accept the idea that what Africa need is enlightenment Christianity. Besides adapting to the needs of the people and culture, there are some cogent questions that require relevant feedback here! How, then, could traditional African thought and wisdom embrace authentic human values and at the same time construct a universally applicable interpretation of Christianity without falling on the wrong track? How could traditional African religion find equality with Christianity and other world religions without first trying to prove a point of similarity, or without a feeling of inferiority complex? What then could be done to initiate a lasting and penetrating dialogue that will establish the fact that neither one nor the other is superior or inferior before the maker of all things? To ask these radical questions are basically the same as to ask how could there be a variety of authentic traditional African faith in God. These questions make it seem to me that the revelation of God to Moses has been expressed in Western tongues, “I AM WHO I AM.” And to express this revelation in traditional African tongue is nothing less but adaptation, or religious incarnation. If one sees this as a problem just as I do, then there would never be other suitable danger or indecisive intersection of identifying the revealed truths of Christian religion with terminologies of traditional African wisdom in which they are expressed radically. We must therefore remain open to all valid faith (Western or traditional values) for the truth that both can discover and be integrated into a unity of truths in the light of the unchanging revealed truths. If Christianity was faced with the problem of transposing revelation from Hebrew to the Greek language, then traditional African faith would altogether face similar but tormenting exercise of reinterpreting reveled truth from English to Igbo language. Often times, language differences spin our mind narrowly to identify the unique truths or the different coloration that revelation takes. Often, it leads us to hear weary sounds of the firecracker or the boom bang from enemies next door.  Most often it causes us to see things and hear voices that do not exist. All these seem to me that revelation takes off on a different annotation according to its expression in diverse languages. According to Jean Danielou SJ (1962) revelation was traditionally expressed in Hebrew and Greek languages. A good example here is the expression, “God is spirit.” The Hebrew word ruach (spirit) evokes the image of a storm, of an irresistible force. But this same word was translated into Greek by the word pneuma, which denotes a very subtle material and thus symbolizes immateriality.  These two cultural ways of expressions employ a rich variety of rhetorical strategies and effects, even while expressing spirituality of the God-head.


If Africans had developed advanced writing system like the Meyans (AD, 250), or creative discuss like Ahiajioke lectures early in time, our orature and culture would have busted forth in a flourishing civilization. We may ask here, how did the Mayans come to such point of glorious departure that made them what they are that caused the Irish not to give them callous remarks as given to Africa? The answers lie in a fascinating tale. It was told that the Mayans used their writing system to record important historical events, carving their glyphs in stories or recording them in a bark-paper known as a codex (Beck et al, 2003). Other books that narrated Mayans history and customs do not exist today. These books were carefully written down by Mayan people themselves after the arrival of the Spanish. But after the British and the Irish came, there was total darkness in Africa and as a result, our orature went into coma in the graveyard. Therefore, it would be impractical as well as imprudent to set Africans against the high-way of divinely inspired Christianity. Indeed, such imposition might be tantamount to liturgical suicides or schizophrenic worship. The reason is because Roman liturgy was typically Mediterranean cult which indeed did not suffer from the same willful defeat as compared to many elements of primitive, pre-Christian African cultures.


The idea of “larger Ears” with regard to libation is a bit like the door Kate Winslet holds onto at the end of Titanic episode: It was not the greatest; it may not be appreciated by other cultures, and Leonardo Dicaprio still died in the long run but at least she survived in the long last. African values may not be great; but her culture must survive even while they are not appreciated by others. This is one way we can strike a chord of rhythm or a tune of appropriation while pursuing cultural optimism and religious anxieties of our time. Therefore, the true test of a religion or enduring affirmation of a culture is not how it fits to suit outside evaluation, or how much a religious or cultural practice is castigated. We know that some first-class religion gives in to offense even when they don’t jealous outsiders like Africans. We know other popular culture don’t give in to African values or regard African cosmology and religion as faith and culture of the inner caucus. We have read with sympathy about the malignant treatment and attitude traditional African religion receives because of her commitment to some cultural values and customs expedient to them. We have read with disappointment how African worships and beliefs are met with unprecedented confrontation by other popular religions. Christianity as we know looks with scorn when Africans pour libation to their ancestors. Christianity looks with piety when an individual out of no fault of his is born from the Osu caste. All these happen even when mother Theresa of Calcutta is acclaimed a devout ancestor of the Christian faith. It happens even when Aaron, Elijah and Abraham are acclaimed as theocratic ancestors of Jewish religion. It happens even when Mohammed is acknowledged as the man who had gone before the Muslim world. It happens when the Asian world continues to acclaim Confucius as the ancestor of Confucius religion. But when it happens to African people, it becomes something to be discussed in ecumenical council. These controversies will continue to break grounds until all religion had the opportunity to “build in” a universal cultural mode or private worldview. There are questions that need to be asked here. To what extent has traditional African religion modify libation to posses’ Christian coloration? To what extent has Christianity developed larger ears to believe that our ancestors could be saints in heaven? To what extent should one who pours libation drift away from communion with those who have gone before them? These are theological questions that find meaning in enculturation and adaptation. These inquiries are neither incapacitating nor are they offensive. Rather, they are ‘religio-cultural’ inquiries founded on the solid rock of contemporary Christianity. Let no one therefore think that modernizations of such inquiries are adaptations moving on a wrong intersection. Let no one say I am off from my conservative Christian beliefs. The very word “adapt” implies that the evangelized people provide something of their own. As a result Luykx (1962) further notes: “missionaries ought to respect the indigenous cultural values that their converts posses and express in the social strata to which they belong, insofar as these institutions and customs are not obviously opposed to faith or morals.” This statement is logical and true in every respect. Using Isaac Newton famous remark in this case, we could say that “If (Luykx) have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Even the greatest cultural Anthropologists or the top-notch comparative religionists know that cultural or religious scheme of things are two factors that faces humanity. They know better like midgets standing on the shoulders of vast pyramids of African culture and religion.


        As a result, lack of cultural respect have resulted in negative attitude which has fortunately yielded to the more positive approach laid down by Pius X11: “when the church invites a people to elevate themselves through the guidance of the Christian religion to a higher human and cultural form, she does not do so in the manner of one who ruthlessly cuts down and destroys a flourishing forest. On the contrary, she initiates like the gardener who grafts a shoot of superior quality onto wild trees in order to make them produce one day a more savory fruits.” This is the more reason why we need to see changes in adaptation, enculturation and acculturation precisely because all religious doctrines are hard to compromise and difficult to pin down. Believers and nonbelievers; Christians and agnostics; Jews and Gentiles alike must develop a romantic interest on how a culture that claims to be deeply spiritual or piously religious would have to deal with religious impossibilities or cultural irregularities. It would be amusing or caricaturic if traditional African faith surrenders by a fear of religious or cultural values because, as near or distant as we would drag this pedagogy, she would still demonstrate to outsides that she has no deficits nor bankruptcy of any sort that would compel her to grudgingly abandon libation.


Let me conclude this pedagogical response with subjective opinion from Elechi Amadi (1982): “We should not throw overboard our cherished social graces, no matter what the pressures of modern living might be… Life is real more meaningful, when we interact very closely with other human beings. Philosophers who argue that reality does not exist are not mad; they merely emphasize the fact that we have to persuade ourselves continually that we are real and that the outside world is real also.  Linking hands with another human being provides that persuasion in a way that nothing else does.” The fundamental question that challenges us is whether opinion in this reflective discourse is adaptive or Eurocentric. Positive adaptation should not mean the loss of African traditional beliefs, worships or values. And to boldly illustrate what we mean, Luykx’s analogy is irresistible: “the initiation rites of certain African tribes resemble closely the initiation rites of early Christianity.” He further argues that in the administration of Baptism, which ordinarily follows a rite designed only for infants, we (Christians) have lost the opportunity to Christianize one of the most precious heritages of the religious culture of Africa.” As a result, Christianity has stigmatized as magic what is no more than natural cult and a practical religious attitude towards God, whose presence is, felt everywhere.” Let us accept the fact that Africans desire to express their feelings to the higher meaning of things by symbolism, rituals or making living contact with the dead (libation is not magic per se, but a purely human impulse to the spirits). Let us put on our thinking cap on these adaptation issues and try to be slow to throw overboard African orature and cultural values. I know that when adaptation is prioritized, the world will no longer talk of anything but African religion. The world will speak less of populated spirits but enduring spirit. The world will come to say, there came a time in human history and in the faith destiny of a people when we said they were worshipping idol gods and engaging in unnecessary respect for the dead while they were simply remembering their past relationship while they were alive.



 

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