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Religion

Have Africans the concept of God?

In every African language, there is a word for the Supreme Being, which word in English is "God." According to Toyin Falola on the religiosity of the Yoruba, one of the best known indigenous religions on the African continent, "Yoruba religion explains that the world was created by Olodumare, the Supreme God, who used Oduduwa as an agent. In this creation myth, Oduduwa founded the world and the Yoruba people" {Culture and Customs 34). Of the Igbos,

Falola observes that they ".. .believe in Chukwu, the Supreme God, who has various messengers such as the sun, sky, and earth" (Culture and Customs 36). In this way, one can easily tell that the concept of God is not foreign to Africa. In fact, the African is so religious that almost everything he does in his daily routine, typically, is prayer in praise of the Supreme Being. A. T. Grove registers the same point in other words: "Religion forms an integral, everyday part of the life of the individual person and the community, but is particular to the clan or larger social group" (44). In the same manner, Africans have a very strong bond with their ancestors, like almost no other group of people, as they invoke their ancestors in whatever they do, whether it is as simple as the sharing of kolanut and palm wine between friends, or as tragic as the burial of a person. Igor Kopytoff reaffirms this when he writes: "The ancestors are seen as retaining their role in the affairs of their kin-group. They are propitiated with 'sacrifices'. They are seen as dispensing both favours and misfortune; they are often accused of being capricious and of failing in their responsibilities, but, at the same time, their actions are related to possible lapses on the part of the living and are seen as legitimately punitive" (414). The situation sharing kolanuts is effectively displayed by Ezeulu in Achebe's Arrow of God:

Ezeulu took the bowl from Nwafo and set it down between his legs. Then he picked up the kolanut in his right hand and offered a prayer. He jerked the hand forward as he said each sentence, his palm open upwards and the thumb holding down the kolanut on the four fingers.

'Ogbuefi Akuebue, may you live, and all your people. I too will live with all my people. But life alone is not enough. May we have the things with which to live it well. For there is a kind of slow and weary life which is worse than death.' 'You speak the truth.'

'May good confront the man on top and the man below. But let him who is jealous of another's position choke with his envy'

'So be it.'

May good come to the land of Igbo and to the country of the riverain folk'

Then he broke the kolanut between his palms and threw all the lobes into a bowl on the flow. (107-108)

Victor C. Ferkiss after emphatically observing that "Africans are everywhere religious" (35), goes on to add:

The religious life of traditional Africa is intertwined with village life generally because just as in ancient Greece, particular deities are the patrons, often the supposed ancestors, of particular tribes. Rules of personal conduct and social custom not only have the sanction of religion but are of its essence. The African village, like the early Greek communities, is a religious community. (36)

This notwithstanding, religious practices vary in one detail or the other from one African society to the other. As A.T. Grove rightly points out, "Details of religious observance vary from one tribe to another. In most of them some form of ancestor worship is practiced and the existence of a supreme being is recognized together with a number of other spirits believed to have some control over material phenomena" (44). In essence, religion is the thread that tightly strings together the beads of philosophy, social theory, politics, theology, medicine, psychology, law and order, birth and death, into one whole—the African Weltanschauung.

Yes, Africans do not only have a concept of God, but are a very religious people. This ideal situation is, no doubt, contaminated today by the different religions that have found their way into the continent, bringing with them, in certain parts of Africa, unfortunate sporadic religious tensions.

 
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