When Africans move to the West, what religion or churches are they likely to become a part of?
Generally speaking, unless they decide to change their faith, like some people choose to do from time to time, Africans who move to the West maintain their faith and the attendant churches they had been a part of when back on the continent. For example, Catholics remain Catholics, and Protestants, Protestants.
Do Africans believe in life after death?
Africans believe very strongly in life after death. They believe, traditionally, that when one dies one joins one's ancestors in the spirit world. It is for this reason that the "cry-die" ceremony, the funeral in the West being a rough equivalent, is very elaborate. In some dirges performed during such ceremonies, the deceased is presented as a messenger who is given messages to take to the ancestors already in the spiritual realm. Accordingly, to the traditional African, he is always surrounded by the spirits of his or her deceased relatives, and so before he or she does anything, he or she calls upon them for support and protection by pouring libation in their honor. Depending on the level of the ceremony, it can be done by an individual in his or her home, or by a traditional priest or priestess if it involves the entire family, or the community as a whole, hence the interaction with the spirit world.
What are rites of passage in Africa?
To begin, it would seem to me that rites of passage occur in virtually every society in one form or the other, but the difference lies in how they are treated, or celebrated as is the case in Africa. In the West, parents are excited about a child's first words, and the first day at school; be it at the kindergarten or college level, it is a big deal and the family as a whole looks up to it. Leon E. Clark extends the analogy further:
In the West, the ceremonies of confirmation in Christianity and Bar or Bas Mitzvah in Judaism marks this passage. In a purely circular sense, acquiring a driver's license in the United States at the age of 16 is a rite of passage, bringing new-found independence but carrying added responsibilities. (2: 71) In the case of Africa, there are also a number of different rites of passage. In traditional African set-ups, age groups, for example, existed to execute different functions within their different communities. Because of the presence of these age-groups, there were different rites to introduce boys and girls into different age-groups. These rites helped them acquire not only their cultures from their mentors, but also a sense of growing up, and of maturing. John C. McCall describes a phase of one such rite before elaborating on its significance:
In the heat of a December afternoon, the streets of a West African village resound with the call of drums. A towering figure covered with raffia palm leaves and topped with a finely carved wooden head is moving through the village. This is an embodied spirit. It is surrounded by young men dressed in short loin-cloths, their bodies whitened with chalk. These men wield long switches which keep the gathering crowd at a distance. The spirit sways with the music, and the men sing as they dash to and fro. After a while, the spirit troupe disappears into the men's meeting house. Then a group of nearly one hundred women singing in unison begin to march ceremoniously down the street. Each hand waves a white handkerchief in perfect synchrony with the music. All through the day, performances such as these will continue: masquerades, singing, dancing, and every sort of festivity.
This is an otumo ceremony performed in a village in Ohafia, Nigeria, as it has been for centuries. It is a rite of passage celebrating the fact that a particular age set has officially gained recognition in the community as full adults. The men and women in the community all belong to age sets made up of those people who are close to them in age. Age-set membership is for life. As people get older, their age set passes through various age grades. The younger grades share various minor civic responsibilities such as keeping paths cleared and cleaning the markets. People look forward to the day that their age set will earn the recognition of otumo and pass into the adult grade. (175)
I regret to say this, yet it is true, that some of these rites are also slowly dying out in some African communities because of the alienating effects of Western cultural presence and its attendant influence on the way of life in African societies. Rites of passage therefore, can be seen as those elaborate traditional ceremonies celebrated at the village level, that mark the graduation of members of the community from one status in life, like an age- group, into another.