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Some of the colonial power portrayed Africa as primitive in their descriptions, for instance, Cecil Rhodes Social Darwinism advocate states, “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better…” King Leopold of Belgium assertion on civilization, “To open to civilization the only part of the globe where it has yet to penetrate …is, I dare to say, a crusade worthy of this century of progress.” From the above assertions, it is prudent to note that, colonial powers thought Africa to be devoid of the organization in social, political and economic perspective and therefore they wanted “to make Africa, England.” In that thought of naivety of the Africans, there were societal structures and organizations which British did not care to observe. However, it was not going to be easy as where two or three cultures interact a conflict is inevitable.
Although Africa was not a plain or bear continent, Africans had their way of life, structure of government, religion, economic activities, education, systems of marriage and development plans for their societies, nevertheless the British brought their systems which conflicted with Africans established way of life, this was because the British, as many other European powers were economically depressed and Africa appeared to be the only way out. The British wanted to pass the three C’s; Commerce, that is to make money through an acquisition of free labor form Africans, raw materials for their industries as industrial revolution back in Britain was rapidly taking place, the market for their surplus production; Christianity to save Africans.Explorers such as David Livingstone, Vasco Da Gama, Portuguese Diego Cam and Arabs with Muslim faith had missionary zeal. The last C is for Civilization, they wanted to civilize Africans in terms of education, culture and many other aspects. Thus, to a larger extent, the activities of British heartened conflicts.
African traditional religion is rooted in the African culture, it was difficult for Christianity to penetrate through. Portuguese tried in the fifteen century and failed. For Christianity to take the course the Africans had to abandon their culture which was hard so to say. The Missionaries in the nineteenth century, however, came up with an elaborate plan for them to spread Christianity. They introduced through religion, education and health centers which contradicted informal learning and the institution of medicine men. Africans gradually began to embrace Whiteman’s way of life but not without several clashes. These battles are seen in various forms such as spiritual, doctrinal, cultural and practical. The African religion has been given several definitions by different scholars, for instance, Dr. John Mbiti has elaborated aspects of African religion.
In his book African Traditional Religion, Mbiti (1991) African religion is very pragmatic and realistic (p2), he explains that it is applied in circumstances where need arises. In addition he states that religion is rooted in the local language, so to comprehend religious life of an African society one has to understand the local dialect. He further affirms, “To be an African in traditional setup is to be truly religious.” (p30) He states that the religion can be seen in five aspects of culture; beliefs, practices, ceremonies and festivals, religious objects and places, values and morals and religious officials and leaders. He defines African religion as: “ The product of the thinking and experiences of our forefathers and mothers that is men and women of their generations. They formed religious ideas, they observed religious ceremonies and rituals, they told proverbs and myths which safeguarded the life of individual and his community.(pp 13-14) Mbiti notes that African religion has no scriptures as compared to Christianity and other religions, it is written in peoples history ,hearts and experiences of the people.(p14)
Awolalu in his book Sin and its Removal in the African Traditional Religion defines African religion as “…largely written in the people’s myth and folktales, in their songs and dances, in their liturgies and shrines and in their proverbs and pithy sayings. It is a religion whose historical founder is neither known nor worshipped; it is a religion that has no zeal for membership drive, yet it offers persistent fascination for Africans, young and old.” The African traditional religion was not homogeneous as the communities had different ethnic background thus the religious practices such rituals varied one community to the other. It is worth noting that it was oral not scripted or written and was passed from one generation to the other by word of mouth, as I earlier alluded in the definitions of religion. Within their organized societal structures, Africans believed in supernatural beings together with ancestral spirits.The ancestral spirits were believed to link the living societal members to the gods. Therefore, the African traditional religion was and still is interweaved to the African culture.
From the above insights, one cannot talk of African religion without African values as they are intertwined and inseparable. African religion was embedded in moral values or codes or standards which were believed to originate from god through the ancestral spirits, these values when observed one would be rewarded with maybe good harvest from their cultivation of land or increased number of flock of cattle. When these values were violated the culprits were reprimanded. The concept of values is a vital point as one talks of the African religion. For that reason African religion is drawn from the African values and Culture. African Culture was the source of law through the moral codes and values passed from generation to generation. From the above description we can see that law or rules of conduct were embedded in religion and that African religion was interweaved in the African culture.The African religion had some institutions as Mbiti points out in the aspects of African religion, who presided over religious functions, these institutions were believed to communicate directly to ancestral spirits (living dead) who in turn would communicate to the gods and grievances of the living societal members would be heard. In the Kenyan context, these institutions include Orkoyot of the Nandi, Oloibon of the Maasai, Seers, Diviners, and Rainmakers depending on the ethnic communities which they came from. These institutions apart from veneration of the ancestors, they blessed warrior before going for war, advised the political leaders, offered sacrifice to god and conducted rituals for the culprits who violated moral values in the community. The gods had some specific names for instance, in Kenyan context, we had Enkai for the Maasai, Engoro for the Abagusii, Mulungu for Akamba, Asis the Nandi, Ngai for the Agikuyu and Nyasaye for the Luo. There were specific worship places which were regarded as holy, this places included shrines, mountaintops some special trees such as mugumo, hills and some caves. The diversity of the names given to gods and places of worship, show the lack of uniformity in the African Religion. Thus Africans were of different ethnic background and had their own religion, gods and religion as a community.
The clashes can be seen in the five aspects as earlier alluded in Mbiti’s work that is beliefs, practices, ceremonies, festivals, religious objects and places, values and morals, religious officials and leaders. These aspects of African religion differ from those of Christianity.
I) Source/origin of Religion
The Africans believed that their religion was sourced from god, who they believed long before their ancestors’ existence. The British Missionaries conflict with Africans by telling them about the existence of a God who had a son and lived among them many years ago. The religion of British was written (Bible) thus one had to have the ability to read and write in order to understand it, whereas that of African was passed from generation to generation by oral tradition. There is an introduction of a new system of identifying the origin of religion which conflicts with the African system.
II) Places of worship
The Africans revered in special caves, Mountaintops, hills, Forests, Special trees (mugumo) and shrines. The British tell Africans that they should worship God places called Churches. This encounter shows that there is a bit of clashing as the African places were very clearly defined and preserved by the community members. The British also seized African land to construct churches or chapels, Africans as a result became very hostile as they had distinct worship places which occurred naturally. They believed that their land was for cultivation and a gift from their gods.
III) The Practices of Religion
The Africans practiced their religion by reverence to their ancestors, offering human and animal sacrifices and invoking the ancestral spirits. They offered sacrifices in order to get favours in terms of harvest. The African worship was communal that is, all community members used to convene to pray for rain and ask for wellness of the community. The British religion had an aspect of confession of one`s sins before worship, repentance and forgiveness of sin is granted. This aspect of forgiveness of sins lacks in the traditional African religion, one had to be punished for wrong doing. British missionary religion brings out an aspect of offerings in terms of money and tithe which is ten per cent of one`s total earnings.
IV) Religious leaders
In African religion, worship was led by Diviners, Rainmakers, and Seers who were considered righteous. The work of religious leaders was taught through apprecentiship and was hereditary from specific clans in the community. There were certain clans from whom diviners would descend. They were highly respected in the community. The British Christian religious leaders attend school to be trained mainly on theology. They study formalities of worship and nature of God. Any member of Christian family can become a religious leader although there are some myths which say one has to be ‘called’ by God. A Christian leader has to have the ability to read and write so as to pass the scriptures to his congregation.
V) Uniformity of Religion
As I handled earlier in this essay, the African traditional religion was diverse from one ethnic community to the other due to the linguistic differences, migration patterns and origin. Christianity is introduced as a homogeneous religion as the author of it is Jesus Christ, a common ancestry and reference point for all Christians. The diversity of worship is dismantled by the British introduction of this even religion.
Africans were notoriously religious as it was found in each group. Africans who lived as per the traditional way of life were regarded as very religious.it is also worth acknowledging that Africans are at crossroads due to the fact that religion is imbedded in the African culture. It is thus difficult for Africans to fully be committed to Christianity as being fully whole-hearted means they will have to abandon some of the partaking of African culture. This has already happened as some dedicated African Christians refer to traditional religion as paganism, fetish, and animism.
Mbiti J.S (1999) African Religion and Philosophy, Oxford, England, Heinemann Educational Publishers.
Mbiti J.S (1991) Introduction to African Religion Oxford, England, Heinemann Educational Publishers.
Awolalo J.O (1976) Sin and Its Removal from the African Traditional Religion
Uchenna O (2008) African Crossroads: Conflict between African Traditional Religion and Christianity, The International Journal of Humanities volume 6 Number 2
History and Government Form One to Four, KLB Fourth Edition.
Kwasi W. (1998) Towards Decolonizing African Religion and Philosophy, African Studies Quarterly volume 1 Issue 4.
NAME: MUNYALO, DANIEL MUTHENGI
COURSE: GPR 109 LEGAL RESEARCH AND WRITING