The Importance of Revitalizing African Religious Cultures
By Priye S. Torulagha
Human beings on planet earth are currently categorized into three races. The races are: Asian, Black, and Caucasian/White. Of the three races, Caucasians and Asians are very adept in perpetuating and promoting themselves and their cultures, beliefs, values and practices throughout the world. This is why Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism are the most predominant religions in the contemporary world. On the other hand, blacks seem not to be proud of themselves, hence, do not perpetuate and promote their cultures, beliefs, values and practices.
Instead, they tend to deny, denigrate and run away from their cultures while unquestionably imbibing, mimicking and perpetuating the cultures of the members of other races. Thus, while the members of the two other races actively promote their religious cultures, blacks run away from theirs and increasingly identify with the religions emanating from the other cultures. This is why almost every day somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the black world, a writer is writing and or publishing a story in a newspaper or a magazine or on the web about the importance of the Bible or the Koran and or living as a Christian or as a Muslim. On the other hand, it is rare to see or read about any African or black write-up promoting or touting the importance of maintaining African religious cultures. Apparently, at the frenetic speed in which the globalized religious cultures are being spread and adopted by African people, it is inferable that in fifty or more years, most educated Sub-Saharan Africans might likely become totally ignorant of their own cultures. This means that blacks are either consciously or unconsciously contributing to the demise of their own cultures, without even thinking about the implications.
The downward trend in the black cultural world began when other races invaded, conquered and imposed their cultural beliefs and values on the black race. Today, almost every educated black person is embedded in the political, legal, cultural and religious traditions of other cultures. This is why most Sub-Saharan Africans and black people generally who have gone through the formal educational system are capable of regurgitating various sayings in the Bible and or in the Koran in a twinkle of an eye. Yet, the same individuals might find it exceedingly difficult to intellectually discuss the tenets of their traditional religious cultures.
The need to revitalize traditional African religions, otherwise, known collectively here as Ancestralism is overdue. The word Ancestralism is used here since in traditional African religions, including Voodooism in Benin and Haiti, Candomble in Brazil and Santeria in Cuba, God is worshipped through ancestral beings. In other words, just as Christians worshipped God through the teachings and beliefs of Jesus Christ, Moslems worship Alllah through the teachings of Prophet Mohammed and Buddhists worship God through the teachings of Buddha, Sub-Saharan Africans, like Native Americans, Hindus and other Asian societies, worship God through their ancestors. Thus, the following arguments are made to support the revitalization of Ancestralism:
- Political independence without cultural and religious independence amounts to no independence;
- It is cultural suicide for Sub-Saharan African people and their descendants to continue to subscribe to religious cultures that have nothing to do with their own cultural heritage;
- Black people have no respect in the world because they allow themselves to be mis-educated to believe that their own religious cultures are satanic, idol and devil-worshipping and ungodly;
- Political responsibility, transparency and accountability in governance will only take place when African religious cultures become the standard for determining ethical and moral conduct of society rather than the amoral precepts originating from secular humanism that are spreading like wild flowers throughout the black world;
- Africa will achieve greatness when African people fully embrace their cultural world.
- Political independence without cultural and religious independence amounts to independence.
It is self-defeating for Sub-Saharan Africans to assume that the colonially-induced political entities in the continent are independent states. In theory they are but practically they are not. They are not independent states because of the following reasons:
a. Almost all of them with the exception of Ethiopia were created by foreign politico-military powers. However, the African countries can change their dependent status by purposely conducting referenda or plebiscites to allow their citizens to determine the nature, structural configurations, institutions and the territorial integrity of the states.
b. The boundaries of the African states were established arbitrarily, thereby, violating the natural rights of some ethnic groups to exist in contiguous territories. In other words, the natural rights of some African ethnic groups are violated through being scattered into different countries.
c. It could be said that African political independence is meaningless without cultural and religious independence. This is due to the fact that an independent state supposed to have political, social, judicial and religious institutions and processess that are compatible with the cultures of the people. Currently, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the political and legal systems are not compatible with the cultures of the ethnic groups. This is why many educated Africans are not familiar with their cultural systems. It is always strange to see judges and lawyers in many African countries wearing wigs as if they are in European courts. It is amazing that the United States which was established by Europeans decided to do away with the wig while Sub-Saharan Africans continue to maintain that costume. Due to the fact that some European judges wear wigs, should African judges also wear wigs? Why can’t they design official attire that reflect the African cultural world, instead of wearing those Europeanized outfits that make them look like aliens in their own countries?
2. It is cultural suicide for African people to subscribe to religions that have nothing to do with their cultural heritage.
a. Due to religious propaganda leading to mis-education, a considerable number of Sub-Saharan African people have been educated and socialized to believe that the only way they can worship God/Allah is either through Christianity or Islam. If they continue to follow this path, they risk destroying their cultures, themselves and the qualities that make them unique in the world. Already, it could be said that a sizable number of educated African people today are cultural illiterates, in the sense that they know very little about their cultural heritage. Many ethnic groups in Sub-Saharan Africa are losing their rare cultural practices because of increasing adoption of foreign religious and political cultures. No other part of the world can be compared to Africa when it comes to music and dance, yet, the cultural richness is not appreciated by most educated black people in the continent and elsewhere.
b. Indeed, there is a symbiotic relationship between culture and religion. The culture molds the religion and the religion molds the culture. Both must go together in order for social equilibrium and psychological and spiritual compatibility to take place. It is not possible to be an Amhara or Aka or Baka or Banda or Chewa or Gbaya or Ijaw, or Igbo or Hausa or Yoruba or Kikuyu or Fulani or Masai or Ewe or Ashanti or Shona or Zande or Zulu by claiming the ethnicity while ignoring or denying the culture and religion that go with the ethnicity. Currently, Sub-Saharan Africans are probably the only people in the world that live in a state of suspended cultural hibernation. They claim their ethnicity but generally tend to run away from the religious cultures that are intrinsically associated with their ethnic groups. As can be seen, religious crusades emanating from the two globalized religions are increasingly creeping into Black Africa as the adherents of the religions extend their age-old rivalry. This is why many African countries now have religious fault lines that lead to violence and political instability. Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Central African Republic and so forth, are a few of the countries in which the two major globalized religions are breeding hatred and sowing seeds of violence.
c. It is interesting to note that while Sub-Saharan African people are encouraged to reject their religious cultures, the Europeans, Native Americans and Asians embrace their cultures without any hesitation or reservation, even while adhering to the globalized religions. This is why a visit to Cambodia, England, France, Ireland, India, Russia, Germany, Italy, Greece, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, Peru, Mexico and so forth, is like paying a visit to the historical, political and cultural past of these countries and societies. The citizens of these countries are very proud of their Pre-Christian, Pre-Islamic and Pre-Buddhist past and celebrate the achievements of their ancestors with exuberance. Similarly, the Mayans, Incans and the Aztecs of the American continents too celebrate their cultures with eagerness, even though they have lost much of their cultural and political existence after the bloody Spanish conquest of the Americas.
d. In countries like Mexico and Peru, some aspects of Native American Ancestralism have been incorporated into Christian religious rituals. This is done to legitimize Christianity in the eyes of many Native Americans, who also worship God through their ancestral deities, like the Sub-Saharan African, Japanese, Indian and Chinese people. In Brazil, especially in Salvador, Bahia, traditional African religious practices are also incorporated with Christian practices. In some cases, the practitioners of Candomble are allowed to carry out their religious services in proximity to Christian churches. In many parts of Asia, particularly in Indonesia, some elements of Ancestralism are merged with Buddhist and Hindu practices.
Thus, while people from other societies consciously continue to perpetuate and promote their cultures, Sub-Saharan African people risk becoming cultureless if they follow the path they are embarking upon. The proclivity towards avoiding anything having to do with African cultures and the tendency towards doing everything possible to embrace everything that has nothing to do with African cultures means that they are incrementally committing cultural suicide and would end up with no culture at all. Therefore, it was very timely when Prof. Christopher Orubiu and Dr. Emmanuel Biri of Delta State University in Nigeria “condemned the demonization of Urhobo culture under the façade of Christianity” (Egufe Yafugborhi, Vanguard, January 7, 2015).
3. Black people have no respect in the world because they allow others to convince them to believe that their own religious cultures are satanic, devil-worshipping and ungodly.
a. Of the three races in the world, namely, Asian, Black and Caucasian/White, it is only the religions that are associated with the black race that are characterized as satanic, devil-worshipping, and ungodly even though these religions are similar to Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism, and various traditional religions among Native Americans. In short, there is not much difference between Hinduism, Shintoism and Taoism because they are all based on Ancestralism and are characterized by many deities. Yet, it is only the religions that are associated with Sub-Saharan Africans and their descendants in the Americas that are stigmatized. Why?
b. In fact, Ancestralism, which is the African traditional religion, is also the religion of all traditional societies in Asia, Europe, Native America and the Middle East. In other words, the worshipping of God through ancestral deities is the most widespread and practiced religion in the world. Yet, it is only the African version that is condemned as being satanic and ungodly.
c. While the Asians, Europeans and Native Americans embrace Ancestralism, it is only Sub-Saharan African and black people who have accepted to deny their own religious heritage by running away from it. The question is, why is it that the Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thais, South Koreans, Japanese, Native Americans and others, have no qualms about paying homage to God through their ancestral deities while Nigerians, Ghanaians, Kenyans, Congolese, Cameroonians, Chadians, Senegalese, Zimbabweans and so forth, are running, hiding and rejecting their own ancestral religions? The answer lies with the educational systems in the African sub-continent and in the black world which continue to produce deAfricanized educated class of citizens.
d. As a result of the fact that many educated Africans tend to run away from their ancestral religious cultures while working so hard to embrace other peoples religions, they have no respect in the world. The Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thais, Koreans, Japanese, Native Americans are respected because anywhere they go, they carry along with them their religious cultures, foods, attires and other important characteristics of themselves while Sub-Saharan Africans and black people generally are not respected because they find it difficult to carry their own religious cultures, foods, and attires along with them.
In terms of clothing in the African continent, it is North and West Africans who wear their traditional attires proudly, without any hesitation. The Central, Eastern and Southern African regions are devoid of any recognizable formal traditional attire. This is why the political leaders of the countries in these regions always appear in Europeanized suits during major conferences or gatherings. In other words, in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Central African Republic, Angola, Mozambique, Kenya, with the exception of the Masai, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, etc., there is no formalized traditional attire. Hence, the leaders always appear in suits whenever they attend major conferences or travel overseas. On the other hand, North Africans, like other Arabs in the Middle East, have a formalized traditional attire and the leaders wear them proudly. West Africa is filled with very colorful traditional attires and the leaders wear them. In Nigeria, it is expected that their political leaders and important personalities wear traditional attire most of the time when they attend major conference. In fact, in Nigeria, people wear their traditional attires to the office very proudly.
e. Similarly, African states have no respect in the world because African leaders and political elites do everything in their power to embrace the political, judicial, religious and cultural systems of other societies while ignoring and denigrating African political, judicial, religious and cultural systems. It is not surprising that not a single African country has made a conscious attempt to Africanize the political and judicial systems. As a result, they force their citizens to embrace systems that are alien to their cultural world.
f. Whenever the leaders of Britain, France, Russia, India, Japan, China, South Korea etc. travel to any other part of the world, they carry along with them their cultural worlds or perspectives. The Indians, Japanese, Chinese, South Koreans, Thais and so forth, build their religious temples, spread their foods by establishing specialty restaurants, publicize their cultures and actively promote their existence. On the other Hand, African leaders travel to other parts of the world with nothing of African value to show. This is why it is very rare to see or hear of an African country that actively promote African cultures as part of its diplomatic effort to create a better understanding of black Africa. Similarly, Sub-Saharan Africans travel to other parts of the world without promoting themselves and their cultural world. As a result of the failure to actively promote African cultures, the image of black Africa is very negative in other parts of the world. This contributes to the perpetual violation of the rights of black people in many parts of the world. Africans in the Diaspora pay severely for the failure of African countries to promote and perpetuate black cultures in the world.
History shows that the globalized religions have been the most destructive to peaceful coexistence and godliness. Their imperialistic tendencies have led to brutal wars of conquest and conversion. On the other hand, iniquities committed under African Ancestralism pale in comparison to the evils that have been committed in the names of the globalized religions. Even the Holy Bible, especially the Old Testament, is filled with gruesome wars in which people were massacred aimlessly. In some instances, even the name of God was used to justify the need for one ethnic group to massacre another and claim the ownership of land that belonged to the massacred group. African Ancestralism is considered to be so sacred, hence, forceful conversion of people is not encouraged.
Yet, despite the historical facts, it is African religions that are generally condemned for being evil. The sad thing is that African people buy into this erroneous twisting of historical fact by running away from their religious heritage in the hope of catching a ride to heaven through some other cultural bandwagon.
4. Political responsibility, transparency and accountability in governance would be enhanced when African religious cultures become the standard for determining ethical and moral conduct in governance.
Sub-Saharan Africa is bedecked by massive political and financial corruption as public officials embezzle public funds to enrich themselves and their immediate families while subjecting the rest of their citizens to perpetual poverty. Similarly, the continent is filled with political and military leaders who want to rule for life. They do so by rigging elections and intimidating the citizens to allow them to remain in power endlessly.
Due to the aforementioned ills, the law enforcement and judicial systems are fractured, corrupted and toothless, in many instances. As a result, highly connected individuals tend to act as if they are above the law while the politically and financially powerless individuals are subjected to the full weight of the law. Thus, the elite can embezzle with impunity while the rest of the citizens cannot. In Nigeria, for example, about twenty to thirty individuals are given oil blocks (shares/stocks) while the rest of the population are rendered poor. Those with the oil stocks make billions of dollars without even doing anything and the rest of the population scratch their heads and watch helplessly. The elite are able to beat the law enforcement and judicial systems by the hiring the best lawyers and using technicalities of the law to frustrate the legal process. This is why many public officials are not afraid of the law because they know that they can beat the system.
a. It is strongly believed here that as far as Sub-Saharan African countries continue to mimic political, judicial and law enforcement systems that are borrowed from other cultures, Sub-Saharan African countries would always remain unstable due to the contradictions that exist between the African cultures and the foreign cultures.
b. To ensure political responsibility, transparency, rule of law and accountability, it is necessary to compel public officials to swear their oaths of office based on the traditional African religious cultures. If appointed or elected to office, the individual should swear in the name of his or her ancestors to uphold the law and the obligations of the office. Similarly, when someone is suspected or arrested for allegedly committing a crime, the person should be obligated to swear in the name of his or her ancestors to tell the absolute truth. This is very important since no Sub-Saharan African will lie while swearing in the name of his or her ancestors.
c.Swearing in the name of the ancestors would result in the minimization of corruption and an increase in political accountability and transparency.
d. It would also increase integrity, thereby, lessening the threat posed by the two major globalized religions on the national security of many African countries.
5. Africa will achieve greatness when African people fully embrace their cultural world.
It is strongly believed here that as soon as Sub-Saharan Africans realize that it is not possible to exist culturally as Africans without embracing the African religious culture, they would begin to change the world in a dramatic way. Indeed, it is not possible to live in one culture while embracing religions and political systems that originate from other cultures, for the following reasons:
a. As stated above, the culture molds the religion and the religion molds the culture. Both have symbiotic relationships and must always go together in order to avoid psychological, spiritual, political and cultural incongruity.
b. Both the culture and the religion that goes with the culture are molded by the environment and the spiritual forces that members of the society experienced in their lives.
c. The culture and the religion help to establish moral and ethical norms that guide the behavior of the members of any given society. Thus, Sub-Saharan Africans are traditionally molded to embrace certain norms by their religious cultures.
d. When people embrace a religion that is quite different from their cultures, cultural and psychological incongruity takes place immediately. They begin to act in ways that create social disequilibrium. As can be seen, corruption is endemic in Black Africa. Similarly, the countries are very fragile because the structures and institutions of the states are embedded in cultures that have nothing to do with the African people. This is why any African country can experience instability due to the cultural contradictions that exist. Similarly, an increasing number of black people are bleaching uncontrollably to lighten their skins. Similarly, artificial hair has increasingly replaced the natural hair for most black women throughout the world.
e. Indeed, Chinua Achebe was very prophetic when he wrote Things fall Apart.
The Rationale for ReAfricanization of African religious Cultures
To prevent the disappearance of African cultures, after centuries of practicing religions that came to Sub-Saharan Africa through conquest, imposition and colonization and decades of experimenting with political, and judicial systems embedded in secular humanism, it is time to re-traditionalize by consciously revitalizing African religious cultures. African religious cultures should serve as the basis for achieving true cultural, spiritual, psychological and political independence. Moreover, it is essential to use African cultural normative values as the basis for determining ethical and moral conduct and maintaining social equilibrium in society.
Re-Africanization is necessary for the black world to make its presence and its contributions to the world clearly known and appreciated.
It is sad that in the 21st century, Sub-Saharan Africa and the black world have no global cultural identity. This means that black people simply exist by mimicking others instead of proactively contributing to the advancement of the world through their own religious and cultural experiences and perspectives.
As a result of the lack of a global cultural identity, a considerable number of black people in the world seem to suffer from racial inferiority complex. The inferiority complex leads to low self-esteem which is a major motivational factor for skin bleaching, the wearing of synthetic hair by most black women, and the caucasianization of beauty today. It also contributes to the reason why many educated African people run away from their traditional religious cultures and embrace imposed religions as if their own cultures are irrelevant or non-existing. They do so strongly believing that their traditional religions are not worth studying and practicing. It also contributes to the reason why almost all post-colonial Sub-Saharan African countries continue to practice and perpetuate political, judicial and governmental systems that have no resemblance to traditional African political, judicial and governmental systems, even though they claim to be sovereign states. How can any state claim to be sovereign when its governmental philosophy, structures, institutions and processes are embedded in foreign cultures?
Indeed, contrary to the negative characterization, African Ancestralism is a very sacred religion which espouses absolute truth and spiritual purity of mind, body, thought and action. It abhors devilish acts through laws that can be described as spiritual commandments, just as the Ten Commandments in the Bible and the Islamic Sharia. This is why every ethnic group in Sub-Saharan Africa has normative rules which divide behavior into acceptable and unacceptable deeds. The unacceptable deeds are generally typified as “Abominations” or ‘sacrileges” or “taboos”. If African religions were so devilish, why do they have stringent rules concerning acceptable and abominable behaviors?
After roaming in the wilderness of cultural confusion, following conquest and colonization, it is time for Sub-Saharan African people and the black world to reinvent themselves by reawakening the African cultural world. To do so, the first step is to rejuvenate African religious cultures that are collectively referred to as Ancestralism. In this regard, the following suggestions are made:
- Sub-Saharan African children, starting from the primary school, should be exposed to the tenets of the triple cultural heritage, namely, Ancestralism, Christianity and Islam.
- As part of civic education, primary school children should be exposed to African cultures and languages through the school curriculum.
- In the secondary schools, students should be encouraged to study National History, African History and Comparative Global Religions, including Ancestralism.
- At the university level in the continent, every student should be required to take African Philosophy, African Cultures and Religion and African History as part of the university-wide core courses. These courses should encompass both African and Diasporic African educational curricula for students to develop a comprehensive knowledge about their existence.
- To accomplish the items suggested above, it is necessary to change the existing educational curricula which are non-African centered. It is not a secret that due to the foreign-centered nature of formal education, most educated African people are schooled to embrace religious cultures of other societies and not their own.
- African governments should gradually introduce African cultural systems into their constitutional, political, legal and governmental institutions and administrative processes. Currently, it is a violation of the natural rights of the African people for African countries to operate constitutional, political, legal and governmental systems that have no affinity with the beliefs, values, norms, processes and practices of the African people.
It might be appropriate to end this article by showing that Judeo/European/Western Christians have no problem acknowledging their pagan past. This is why the month of January is named after the Roman god of the doorway (Janus), March is named after the Roman god of war (Mars), May is named after Greek goddess Maia, and June is named after Roman goddess Juno. Similarly, Judeo/European/Western Christians pay homage to their pre-Christian deities by naming important milestones, inventions and crafts after them. This accounted for why important inventions, military vessels and missiles are named after Poseidon, Jupiter, and Hercules. The spacecraft that went to the moon was called Apollo. Even the Christian Easter is named after Eastre, a pre-Christian Saxon goddess. Thus, if European Christians have no problem paying homage to their ancestral deities, why are Sub-Saharan Africans running away from their pre-Christian and pre-Islamic ancestral deities? Why are Angolans, Chadians, Congolese, Rwandans, Tanzanians, Togolese, Gabonese, and other Africans running away from their cultural heritage?
While Jewish, Western, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese scholars are busy conducting research studies to uncover the facts about their pre-Buddhist, pre-Christian and pre-Islamic past, a considerable number of African scholars shy away from conducting research studies to find their pre-Christian and pre-Islamic past, fearful of criticism or condemnation for being ungodly and satanic.
Surprisingly, Sub-Saharan African Christians and Moslems have no problem acknowledging the pagan names of the Western calendar, yet, they would not even make the attempt to acknowledge the existence of their ancestral religious heritage. No wonder, the black world has no respect anywhere in the world. While they condemn their own for being paganistic, they eagerly accept paganistic rituals such Christmas Day and Easter.
It is time to launch the African Renaissance. It is time to reawaken a sleeping cultural world. Mr. Ezeana Igirigi Achusim deserves recognition for writing about the power of Dim Orioha in stopping crime and punishing offenders.