Aylward Shorter, MAfr

Secularism in Africa
Introducing the Problem
"Africans are notoriously religious" (Mbiti, John S., African Religions and Philosophy, London, Heinemann, 1969, p. 1). These opening words of Professor Mbiti's classic work African Religions and Philosophy, first published 30 years ago, are just as notorious as the African religiosity they purport to describe and they still correspond to most people's idea of the African reality. The picture is one of ancient religious traditions still flourishing, of Islam dominating huge swathes of the African continent, of Christians in their first fervour, of new religious movements proliferating. In contrast to this religiously edifying vision, Euro America is deemed to be the home of a relentless and inexorable secularism. Western Christians fantasise about a future in which Africa will be among the last bastions of religion on earth, and from where a reverse mission may one day arise, with Africans setting forth to re evangelise the West. In spite of all this, Pope John Paul II, in his Post-Synodal Exhortation after the African Synod, Ecclesia in Africa, pointed to the growing threat of secularism in Africa. Although the subject scarcely received a mention in the speeches, messages and propositions of the Synod, the Pope wrote: "... the rapid evolution of society has given rise to new challenges linked to the phenomena notably of family uprooting, urbanisation, unemployment, materialistic seductions of all kinds, a certain secularisation and an intellectual upheaval caused by the avalanche of insufficiently critical ideas spread by the media" (Ecclesia in Africa, 14 Sept. 1995, no. 76). Pope John Paul spoke in several other passages about the intrusiveness of the media, and also about the "temptation to individualism" so alien to Africa's best traditions (ibid., no. 43). More than 20 years ago, in 1972, the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Believers held a colloquium in Uganda on secularism. The meeting took place at Ggaba National Seminary, Kampala, and it produced a set of conclusions, outlining common problems connected with the subject in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. It also drew up a list of seven recommendations for the ten countries concerned (Conclusions of the Gaba Colloquium on Secularism, mineographed 1972 [copy in the author's possession]). What is interesting in this report is that the whole emphasis is placed on indifferentism and unbelief among the educated élite, rather than on materialism and the unsettling influences of urbanisation. Nothing whatever is said about the mass media. Consequently, the major recommendations concern religious education at third level institutions. It is interesting to compare the concerns of this Vatican colloquium in 1972, with those of Pope John Paul II in 1995. The contrast is an eloquent commentary on developments in Africa during the last 20 years. So far from the African being inherently, if not "notoriously" religious, secularism is rapidly becoming a more generalised phenomenon in the African continent, spreading from a small circle of privileged individuals to a whole society undergoing a spectacular evolution. Definitions and Understandings Sacred and secular represent two different ways of experiencing the same reality. In themselves, they are not in competition or conflict. At the sacred level, reality is experienced as being under the governance of God, as the object of religious faith. The secular, on the other hand, is the same reality construed as being accessible to humanity and under its control. The secular has nothing to do with the concept of "uncleanness", and is therefore not intrinsically opposed to the sacred. However, human societies which are technologically unsophisticated are tempted to allow the sacred to invade the secular sphere and to discourage human initiative or innovation. This has given rise to a positive understanding of secularisation or "secularity" in which a legitimate restoration of the secular

it is supposed that human beings have thrown off the shackles of religion. (Cf. Rather than formal unbelief.. "Inculturation in Europe's Societal Situation: An Introduction". secularism is a datum of modern society. Secularism refers to a situation in which religious faith. and the ascendancy of the human. More often. 1993/4. and that religious faith had nothing to fear from the full realisation of secular potential. in theory and/or practice. but that it constitutes a real "paganism". Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. Such an assumption is based on popular. in Yearbook of Contextual Theologies. the missiologist.. Mich. It is a state in which organised religion loses its hold both at the level of social institutions and at the level of human consciousness. a world in which personal relationships are at a minimum and in which symbolism and ritual are discounted as forms of expression in the interpretation of reality. Douglas bases her critique on a . 1970. and the realisation that the maintenance of material standards in Europe and North America depends on the collapse and possible elimination of vital resources. Eerdmans. Barrie and Rockliff. rational philosophy. In practice.. 61). It is popularly assumed that religion belongs to the childhood of humanity and that primitive people are naively pious. ix). Aachen. p. In a cosmos dominated by objects. because there is so little person to person communication. however. It induces a pseudo religious attitude towards the material and towards a material understanding of reality. Such unbelief is rarely the product of a formal. p. must take account of a number of uncomfortable criticisms. credulous and subject to the teaching of priests and magicians. it is a faith in unlimited human progress. As Mary Douglas points out.sphere is observed to take place. evolutionist theories of society. Secularism banishes religious belief to the private sphere of subjective opinion and elevates popular science alone to the level of public truth. As such. It is a world view which. a conviction that the only truths are those which are accessible to scientific observation and experiment.. Geneva. WCC. Evolutionary theories of secularism. Secularism may stem from explicit unbelief. Leslie Newbigin: Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. The most vigorous of these comes from the anthropologist. apparently confirmed by the spectacular achievements of Western technology. Basically. (Mary Douglas. the denial of the existence of God or of any religious dimension to human life. it is a religious indifferentism induced by the preoccupation with material things. Bishop Lesslie Newbigin. 104). for one reason or another. Such a restoration was the preoccupation of the so called "secular theologians" of the 1960's. but is "an age old cosmological type . 1986 and The Open Secret. it is the product of a world of impersonal things. atheistic. Grand Rapids.cit. In his numerous writings on the subject he argues that materialism not only leads to religious indifference. (Mary Douglas. op. Technological advances over the last 150 years have convinced many people that secularism is the inevitable and final condition of the human race. p. which need have nothing to do with urban life or modern science". (Cf. it is an allegiance to a popular myth of science as the ultimate theory of everything. With the progress of science and technology since the enlightenment. Missio Institute. Mary Douglas. This faith is. Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. it is nothing other than the worship of what is not God. Some Popular Assumptions Concerning Secularism An important part of the secular scientific myth is the belief in human progress. Consumer materialism is nowadays the most common cause of secularirsm. who maintains that secularism is not the exclusive outcome of modernity. a product of definable social experience. who proclaimed that humanity had now come of age. Unfortunately. for example. the situation in which the secular is observed to dominate or even replace the sacred. denies the immanence of God. and very soon develops into "secularism". 1981). Ludwig Bertsch. is felt to be superfluous. secularisation possesses a momentum of its own. London. it is impossible to bring moral pressure to bear on the human controllers. however already being shaken by the current ecological crisis. rather than persons. goes even further in his interpretation of secularism.

London. identified a secularism in Africa which largely took the form of unbelief among intellectuals and élites in universities and higher educational institutions. Scepticism about the perennial character of modern secularism seems to be growing. London. p. It is also difficult to deny that religious certainty was a general characteristic of pre modern society. 235).in other words. .cit. Both Peter Berger. religious faith was still interwoven with public life in the West. organisational criteria. including the Pygmies of the Ituri Forest. and Lamin Sanneh. Secularism as Unbelief The Vatican colloquium of August 1972. 184. and she might well be slightly less forthright in the last years of the 20th century.hypothesis. Other voices are not lacking which proclaim that the secular society contains within itself the seeds of its own decline and dissolution. Mary Douglas was writing at about the same time as the Vatican colloquium on secularism in Africa. (Peter Berger. increasingly. and that African undergraduates hastened to disprove the existence of God as soon as they arrived on campus. In the history of human thought the "ages of faith" were ignored or dismissed. the semi-educated. which is not without its own critics. Mary Douglas believes she can identify secular cosmologies among a number of tribal peoples. an agnosticism or methodological doubt. In matters of religious belief honesty was thought to consist in coming to no conclusion. need to explain the persistence of organised religion in the secular environment. to discount metaphysics and to make no distinction between mind and matter . and it was only the scientific community and working class milieu that tended to be a religious. It is hardly surprising. Nevertheless. while religious doubt tends to characterise modern or post modern society. The first generation of African university students were taught to scoff at organised religion and at religious authority. 1993. Lamin Sanneh. already alluded to. op. that society is defined by a limited number of basic. as being hopelessly flawed. the American sociologist of religion. Marshall Pickering. Sanneh. It arose. The spread of secularism from the Western world to other parts of the globe is difficult to deny. the African missiologist. and the future of secular culture may be less certain than its supporters imagine. In any case.. that African academics prided themselves on their unbelief. therefore. Religious authority was seen as repressive and opposed to true academic freedom. the protagonists of secularism. Christianity and the Global Cultural Process: The African Dimension. 1980. 71. so the meeting concluded. because religious education had not kept pace with secular and academic education. evolutionist scheme. p. This was conceived to be "rational" and "objective". Such freedom demanded an open mind. The Heretical Imperative. in particular. being disseminated through the education system and the encounter with Western technology. This fact alone should make people less certain of the final triumph of secularism for all time. pp. Church leaders saw the universities and other institutes of third level education as places that posed a danger to the faith of young élites. Mary Douglas expressed these opinions more than 25 years ago.Encountering the West. and before the rapid changes of the last two decades. a combination of which prompt people to adopt a pragmatic attitude to life. 225). to be secular. since religion was deemed to be subjective and scientifically untrustworthy. This analysis of unbelief among the academic community is certainly not far from the truth. African universities are part of a secular tradition of higher learning that stems from the Enlightenment and from parent universities in Europe. Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation. sees the Western cultural project as afflicted by a moral relativism that renders it deeply flawed (Sanneh. from a dissatisfaction with organised religion and was imported from abroad. Until the aftermath of the Second World War. and that there have been secular cosmologies in pre modern societies. the fact remains that the phenomenon of secularism is not explained by a simple. Unbelief tended to arise in the minds of the educated and. believe that secularism should not be seen as a more formidable opponent than it is.

At the time of the colloquium. It is the outcome of rapid technological change and is also strongly linked to wealth and the creation of wealth. pp. since the affluent are the principal consumers.. where these are permitted by the State. the emphasis of secularism has now shifted from unbelief to a religious indifferentism caused by consumer materialism. Euro American technocracy. and with it.. but rather of exerting increasing pressure on the religious consciousness itself.cit. Bertsch. efforts have been made to bring religious education at the universities up to the level of secular education. in several of them. and it is associated with what has been called the global culture of "economism". than to face little or no challenge on its own home ground. as was the case with Dar-es-Salaam. the attempt was made to bargain with it and to strike a compromise. Young Christian Students. not only through conferences and instructions at the various chaplaincies. Secularism as Consumer Materialism Consumer materialism is the form of secularism most prevalent in the contemporary world. The indigenous cultures of the Non Western world are powerless against the economic forces of Western capitalism. a certain erosion of academic unbelief. Finally. growth and prosperity.cit. literature and social science were already doing. through the creation of chaplaincies. For a long time this was the principal agenda of Christian theology in the West. Op. The Vatican colloquium of 1972 recommended a re structuring of the Catholic Church. there were already chaplaincies in most universities of English speaking Africa. 183 189. In accordance with the recommendations of the Vatican colloquium. with regard to secular unbelief in academic circles. It generates its own rituals and symbols and creates its own cultural myths of power. Economism has its roots in a Western culture that is intrinsically divisive and imperialist. Pax Christi. There were also departments of Religious Studies. Even if the concept of the national university is still secular. such as the Newman Association. Theology was banished from the curriculum and the word became a synonym for irrelevance. The end result of these theological gymnastics was to give academics the impression that Christian teachings were not worth fighting against. based on the manipulation of technological power and inequality. op. pp. Economic . at an early stage of development. 103 104). and the form which is rapidly appearing in Africa. It is promoted by the electronic media. Then. In some universities. as we shall show in the next section. especially in the media. but also through graduate and undergraduate associations. the Churches are probably now in a stronger position than they were. Finally. as secularist unbelief showed no signs of weakening under the onslaught. the specialised degree courses they offer and the religious options they provide in joint degree programmes. Some people would argue that it is a much healthier situation for religion to strive openly for the allegiance of the élites in a secular environment. to make it relevant to African life. 1 2). religious affiliation and religious opinion occupy a more prominent position on these campuses than they did two decades ago.cit. the prejudice against theology was too strong to allow such a department to come into existence. In general. Economic issues prevail everywhere. it requested a competent adult catechesis of the élites that made greater use of Scripture (cf. This is done.. Berger op. pp. This is another way of referring to the neoliberal. However. success. however.The situation was aggravated by the Church's contestation with secular modernity. however. It is also done very effectively through the departments of Religious Studies. Gaba Colloquium. the last quarter of a century has witnessed a stronger religious presence at universities and institutions of higher learning. Was this already an adumbration of the small Christian communities which came into prominence at the AMECEA study conference of the following year? It also called for the spiritual guidance of university students and those in other institutions of higher learning. and it was asked whether religious studies could add anything to what the departments of history. It is a system which proclaims the overriding importance of the economic factor. (Cf. All things considered. the Christian Churches and Islam have begun to sponsor their own faculties of theology and even their own private universities. through reductionism and accommodation. to make Christianity palatable to the secular consciousness. The attempt was made. the Student Christian Movement and Student Christian Unions.

S.20. a science that can change the world.C. vol. 1978. irreligious and atheistic it may seem". depends on an internal transformation within Christianity itself. popularly equated with rationality itself. it is a movement of "anti culture" which has no substance as a genuine cultural system at all. They do nothing by themselves. departmentalised religion. While countries grow richer. . 1995.factors are assumed to be the main source of meaning and value. The fact remains that economics deals with human motives and behaviour which are far from predictable. not in the equitable sharing of wealth. A History of Christianity in Africa.P. an explanation that is strictly and objectively true. The Church has become the mirror and agent of economism and a vehicle of globalisation. In reality. This neo liberal market ideology is. S. the status of Christianity today as a world religion is largely due to the influence of Western economist culture. Paradoxically. otherwise the faith will continue to be separated from real life (Pedro Arrupe. however materialistic. 109).K. but are static. however. The new evangelisation has to bring about a social transformation. 1.. 106. The extreme reactions of restorationism and reductionism are fatal to religious belief. Berstch. their poorer citizens become more numerous. Elizabeth Isichei. pp. and virtue is defined by economic success. This. if left to operate according to their own impersonal laws.cit. in fact. London. pp. The popular scientific myth views economics as a science. that the Church must make "a fair and sober assessment of modern culture.. The truth is that markets are never free or just. cost effectiveness and growth. profitability. no. p. in which social responsibility and solidarity replace economic rationalism as the dominant motivation. Her missionaries unconsciously introduced secularism. Economism claims universal legitimacy as a world culture. that does not effectively challenge the myths of economism (cf.J. in turn. rooted in individualism or the logic of self interest. op. Success is calculated in terms of economic growth. "Market" (like science itself) is a theory of ev-erything. and the world is conceived as a series of interlinked markets. The late Fr Pedro Arrupe. until manipulated by human beings. but must surpass it or transcend it (cf. by promoting a privatised. Christianity must not merely collaborate with modernity. AFER.. 32). Markets are characteristically held to be "free" and just. It results in cultural homogenisation and impoverishment. "Catechesis and Inculturation". told the 1977 Synod of Bishops in Rome. The root symbol of economism is the market. 262 263).

fables and folktales were passed from one generation to another by word of mouth. which have no place in modern life. statues.Here to stay The colonizers and missionaries labeled Africa a “Dark Continent”. highlighted the discovery of the oldest religion which has changed history. other adventurers and tourists came who portrayed Africans as barbaric and warriors. According to Magesa. brain washing. and so on. legends. many different images have also emerged to describe Africa. etc. The fact that many Africans were not literate does not mean they did not have a history. an Oxford professor of history. the obvious prejudice of nineteenth century scholarship tainted by Darwinism. Sindano’s reaction to this is that history is an account of man’s past activities whether written or not. Fritz confirms that from the sayings and adages in all African languages one can conclude that there always existed philosophy and a system of thoughts in Africa. there is only the history of Europeans in Africa. By Mosala Mufungizi For the last few centuries. Myths. primitive. It is said that archeologists had found what seem to be the remains of the world’s earliest religious site of worship in the remote Ngamiland region of Botswana. December 3. sculptures. Magesa comments that the tendency of some philosophers. material culture. like slave trade. An article in Nairobi’s Sunday Nation. 2006. Modern media and different writings classify African practices as animist. This finding by the University of Oslo not only strengthens Africa’s position as the cradle of modern man but also confirms that Africans have always been notoriously religious. since the continent came into contact with the rest of the world. meaning that it had neither philosophy nor religion. who were neither anthropologists nor ethnographers. followed by the colonizers and missionaries describing Africans as uncivilized and uneducated pagans who had no religion and spirituality. But. slave trading and colonial mentality. portrayed Africa as a dark continent that had no philosophy at all. satanic. Trevor Roper. The early visitors from Europe. where Africans performed advanced rituals some 70 000 years ago. stealing of artifacts. witchcraft and backward. oral literature. ATR came into existence from what people think of the universe and how they solve the mysteries of nature. despite the denial of its existence. Most African societies recorded their history in the form of rock paintings. in the sacred Tsodilo Hills. once wrote: “There is no history in Africa. The rest is darkness and Darkness is not a subject of history”. Westerners know very well what they did to Africa by robbing people of their historical wealth. theologians and students of comparative religion is still to regard ATR as a “primal” or”ethnic” religion thus robbing it of its universal character. Later. African Traditional Religion (ATR) is a strong and dynamic reality in most parts of the continent and enjoys an increasing popularity because it addresses some of the basic spiritual and social needs of the population. If Africa had no history why should the West get interested in their material culture which are symbols of their heritage? Is this not ironical to make Africans feel worthless while west countries are stealing their spirituality? Because of the above attitudes. is a reason behind attitudes toward African traditional religion. . many people have not yet comfortably accepted the status of ATR as a religion among others.

Religion and life I salute the many scholars who are vigorously lauding the ATR. while the Yoruba of Nigeria call him Oledumare. cultural and religious dimensions. Research has also revealed that most Africans still use traditional medicine. They invoke him during meals and different community activities. in their compounds. While modern medicine concentrates on the physical dimension of the human being. in the area of leadership. Historically. It is estimated that thousands of kilograms of medicinal plants are collected and used everyday by traditional healers and mothers at home across Africa. explains this phenomenon when he talks about ATR and Christianity. was ‘eldership’. According to him. he takes it with him to the beer party or to the examination room at school or at the university. being part of the society is practicing their religion and not doing so is to be cut out from the kinship and roots. They used to ‘bribe’ them because they feared spirits were going to do harmful things to them. In the Democratic Republic of Congo. of Daystar University in Nairobi. the approach taken by traditional medicine is global and incorporates physical. the church overlooks men who have great wisdom which only comes with age and experience. It will be wrong to think that it is the white man who brought God to Africans. religion is life and life is religion. community life is religious. Africans believe in the wisdom of the elders (aged) who are the custodians of the African heritage. They also ignored the perceived need for protection from the spirit world. Dr.” he says. They worship him and offer him sacrifices. It is almost an insult. in Rwanda he is Imana and most Bantu call him Mulungu. He adds that many ATR beliefs include the offering of sacrifices and the pouring of libations to appease the spirits so they will not become angry. I met people divining in the open air. Answer to real needs This is a pure indication that the ATR is still in fashion among the so-called believers of other religions. “It is not a cultural thing in Africa for the young people to lead the old. the Baganda of Uganda call him Katonda. moral. Leopold II the King of Belgium was quoted warning the colonizers (missionaries) not to emphasize on teaching God because the Congolese already knew him as “Nzambe”. He adds that: “Wherever the African is. If he is a politician. even though not allowed in Christianity. the Abaluhya call him Nyasae. Many still put rings intended to have protection powers from evil despite their Islamic beliefs. . Because of emphasizing on the “book knowledge”. When Mbiti (1975) says that the African is a notorious religious person. It shows the closeness between man and God. the major reason behind the increasing popularity of the ATR is that the established denominations are not meeting some of the basic spiritual and social needs of their African members. This is very much true because other communities. Not only Christians found themselves in this dilemma. as they referred to him as the giver of life. the Abashi of DR Congo call him Nnamahaanga. such as the Agikuyu of central Kenya. They also obey ancestors who guide and solve the community’s problems. there is his religion which he carries to the field where he is sowing seeds or harvesting a new crop. to mean that religion is found in the people’s lives. the Luo call him Nyakalaga. where a distinction or separation is not made between religion and other areas of human existence.” In Africa. owner of the universe or a great ancestor. Murikwa. knew him and called him Ngai even before the coming of the missionaries. social. Magesa wrote that being excommunicated from the community is like being sent to the Christian hell. In Mali. What Christianity missed. For an African. With the western education. For the Maasai God is called Enkai. It is a ‘way of life’ or life itself. he takes it to the parliament. He added that for an African religion is far more than ‘a believing way of life’ or an ‘approach to life’ directed by a book. he implies that Africans have deep inherent spirituality. the church ignored the virtues that were very important in the old times. like the character of a person. with strict diagnostic and therapeutic procedures being applied. etc. even in the city of Bamako.

Because of the strong belief that ancestral spirits control reality. We have many such cases that explain the practices of ATR in modern day in Africa. All these practices are explained by the fact that the world of spirits still controls the living. the vehicle transporting it was involved in an accident in which two people died. Among the Luo of Kenya. after war. Jean Claude le Grand. because failure to perform them will disturb peace in the community. and these rituals are believed to play a psychotherapeutic role. the concerned person or the community is exposed to death. and conflicting with them require a cleansing in order to survive. The body have been removed from a Nakuru mortuary for burial in Migori. for example. blood relations (kinship). I wonder which one should be the “alternative medicine”. before moving into a new house. and the environment (animals. A recent scenario speaks louder. white is associated with God. at least 80% of the population in the developing world depends on herbal medicine in their primary health care needs. Migori. Many non-Africans today have started to believe in the power of the rituals and the spirituality embedded in them because they are capable of healing and changing mankind. but on the way. Without a cleansing ceremony. They failed to lift it off the vehicle’s floor. holiness. In the ATR. purity. people shaking their heads in disbelief when eight strong men are unable to lift the body. A Luo person who dies in Nairobi will definitively be taken to Luoland as required by culture. ancestors (living dead). etc. If our ancestors have used herbal medicine for thousand of centuries. Upon completion of the building of a new house. The tem (shedding of blood) is a ritual done for a person who has stayed away from home for long. Luo parents have to do sex in their new dwelling before the family can move in. head of emergencies to UNICEF Maputo says that traditional purification rituals have tremendous impact on healing the child. when in Kenya eight men taking a body to a mortuary got a rude shock. Support programs walked side by side with the traditional healers and the community leaders. Among the Sudanese Pastoral communities. there was a need to get the child soldiers back into community life. the world of spirits is very powerful. The two bodies in the accident were easily removed but that of Omondi Magendi got firmly stuck to the vehicle’s floor. was seen jumping a slaughtered white bull during a welcoming home ceremony. the elders (community). Is this not trying to undermine African heritage? Spirituality Those traditional practices are not only performed during disputes but are also used to restore harmony between the visible and the invisible world. rituals are very imperative during burials.According to the World Health Organization. The late Dr Garang. and cleanness.” The ambulance driver had no choice other than driving to the resting-place of the deceased in Awendo. leader of the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) and President of the autonomous government of Southern Sudan. Here rituals become imperative to purify or cleanse the individual (despite the age or social status) or the whole community. Police put the three bodies in an ambulance to the district hospital mortuary. mobilizing the community around him and providing support. such as: the Supreme Being (God). mountains . In Mozambique. Every practice by Africans has a meaning. it symbolizes peace and good health. rivers. rocks. All these practices represent the strong spirituality of the ATR in Africa. Europeans now refer to African traditional medicine as “alternative medicine”. An elderly man in the swelling crowd at the mortuary said: “The ancestor’s spirits could not allow the body to return to the mortuary since they are waiting for him in the grave. In the ATR. purification was performed to ease the return of their boys soldiers to their communities and to civilian life. mainly because it is so holistic and links all the forces of life. harvesting.

so as to build personhood. Africans strive to promote life and enhance kinship and lineage through different ways. Professor Wangare. Conclusion If Africans have a culture. Africans were very united and assisted one another. Community life still exists and influences people in Africa today.and the sacred trees). Once all the forces of life are combined. then. As we recognize the existence of ‘other’. They also warned their wives and children not to come to church. A greeting is so spiritual and religious in Africa not because of the doxology. they conform a strong spirituality. including the tiny baby. before Christianity. They meet and organize cultural nights. hands reaching forward into one dish to partake of the food together. Community life ATR is the foundation of humanness in African society. All this is framed in the ATR. Mbiti argues that for an African to be human is to belong to the beliefs. Nkoyoyo adds that a greeting puts us in touch with the very origins of human religion. Food is spiritual. but one who makes a part of the totality. The ATR is inculcated in the children at a tender age. you cannot talk about religion in Africa. eat indigenous food and drink local brew. which does not conceive man/woman as an individual. Because morality or ethic is of the very nature of religion. as one gets ready for Holy Communion (sharing food together). he must be compelled to share in the meal. which an African cannot do without. Sharing of food is one of the ways of worshiping God and enhancing life that is sacred. they must also be having a spirituality and a religion. but today the society is divided and people have become selfish. All people are brought up with an altruist spirit. An old man told me that. how to say ‘thank you’ and how to greet people. rituals and festivals of the community. The ATR shapes the people’s behavior and teaches good manners and how to relate as social beings. They have been trying to bring the village to town because they miss that kind of fellowship. received seedlings instead of a bouquet usually offered to highplaced guests. Shenk adds that the sharing of food is a profound existence in community. but because of the peace and personhood. Indeed. Although urban duelers have been confronted by modernism. which are confirmed by handshaking. Denying them recognition of their religion is an insult and also ignorance on the part of those who perpetuate these . because he/she is a sign of God’s blessing. If a stranger passes by. He compared the washing of hands as a spiritual cleansing. which represent no spirituality in Africa. Children are taught how to sit decently. in Africa people eat from one common dish. This is a way of reclaiming our culture through attachment to trees rather than flowers. adoption and other social norms as dictated by the society. The preacher was later condemned and cursed by the elders through traditional chants. Hospitality and generosity are imperative for each member of a society. The eagerness to return to our roots is very much sensed in these days. A pastor had to seek protection from the police after he was threatened with death by villagers for leading his followers in cutting down and burning a sacred tree in Kenya. ghost marriage). He/she must join in the meal. where they socialize while dancing in the traditional style. we please God who gives life. Remember. ceremonies. the Kenyan Nobel peace Prize laureate. When a guest arrives in a home. without mentioning community life. like marriage (polygamy. they are aware that the heart of Africa beats in the village. share in the communal mysticism of the meal and a refusal to share is a sign of a curse. Handshaking is a sign that the other person is recognized. he shakes hands with everyone in the house.

. it is encouraging to see African scholars rewriting their history. neither modern education nor other beliefs would replace the values embedded in it. ATR is very different from other religions. We must preserve and document it. a thing Europeans did not understand. They know God by name and consider him as the great ancestor. Of course. African traditional religion is not animist. fetishism. Africans are notoriously religious.prejudices. Despite the opposition against ATR. A Swahili proverb says: “Muacha mila ni mtumwa” (he who abandons his traditions remains a slave). the axis in shaping behavior. Modernism is deeply damaging African traditional religion exposing the people to a slow but sure moral death. It is not inferior to any other and it is universal. We should always remember that if the ATR is annihilated. Africans observe its manifestations from womb to tomb. which can still rebuild the moral uprightness in Africa because of teaching responsibility. The power behind the community life and humanness in Africa resides in the ATR. paganism or witchcraft. least we wallow in ignorance and bedevil our moral values. accountability and humanness. There are many facts about the vibrant works of ATR today as people practice their culture. undergoing rituals. African traditional religion is a springboard for any religious dialogue with Africans. Many initiatives are being lauded to recall African Traditional Religion in order to counter the many problems that affect our communities today. It is only the ATR. as they go through their daily cultural routines. and maintaining peace in the communities. The obedience and submission to him is obvious. Even though the West has besmirched the image of Africa. We cannot expect to achieve peace and development in this continent without revisiting the African heritage.


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