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Misunderstanding of Traditional African Beliefs


Decolonising the mind: The misunderstanding of traditional African beliefs

By  on May 6, 2014 | IDENTITY DIGEST  STORY


There are few religions as globally misunderstood as African traditional religions. Whether it is being wrongly labelled voodoo, juju or witchcraft, indigenous African faith systems tend to be associated with darkness, animal and human sacrifices, violence and general backwardness

Mkota Spirit Dancers, a traditional Zanzibari dance troupe from southern Pemba. Photo: BusaraMusic

Mkota Spirit Dancers, a traditional Zanzibari dance troupe from southern Pemba. Photo: BusaraMusic

Few people are aware that Voudou (rather than “voodoo”) is a faith based on harmony with nature, one that expressly forbids the killing of another being, or that most African faith systems believe in the concept of one God above all other divinities and deities, who function much as a pantheon of saints.

From the early colonial period till today, misinformation about African indigenous spiritualities is spread and believed as truth. From Nigeria to Kenya, it is disturbing how we have come to accept the intolerant Western views of African indigenous spiritualities, believing that we are saved because we no longer engage in “idol worship”. We ignore the influences that these systems have had and continue to have on the way Africans worship and conduct their everyday lives. Rather than viewing them as the complex systems they are, we have debased them to nothing but a series of sacrifices.

Shrine house priestess Okomfoyaa Anosua, Besease, Ghana, 1970. Photo: Eliot Elisofon

Religious colonialism is the lesser-discussed arm of colonialism itself, but its psychological effects have been as long-lasting. With religion being the sensitive topic that it is, one close to the hearts of many African people, it is not always easy to have a sensible discussion about the problematic ways in which Eurocentric Christianity and Islam reached the African continent. Yet religious colonialism on Africans is the main reason that most of us have come to view our own indigenous faith systems as epitomes of evil. Presenting local beliefs as nothing but backwater superstitions was part and parcel of how Christian missionaries operated in their bid to bring their religion and Western civilisation to the dark continent. Most missionaries strongly believed that they were saving Africans from satanic oppression and ignorance, an idea that most post-colonial Africans have internalised.

In the 1900s, “traditional African religions still claimed the loyalty of majority of the population of sub-Saharan Africa”. Indigenous faith systems were competition to those missionaries who wanted their religions to be established in Africa, thus they were essentially subjected to a smear campaign.

Percentage of population practicing traditional religion. Graphic: Matthew White

African indigenous faith systems became “primitive”, uncivilised, a necessary evil that had to be dealt with, and an inferior system that had to be done away with. It was not enough to insist that every form of worship in Africa was of the devil, this was tied to African cultures as a way to reinforce the notion that Africans and African civilisations were lesser when compared to that of Europeans.

The lengths to which some missionaries went in their bid to “civilise” people they saw as inferior still astonishes. Little known is the history of indigenous children across the world who were kidnapped, forced into seminaries and taught not only Christianity but also the superiority of Western culture and language in the hopes that they would go ahead as agents of European authority and “civilise” their own people. As a young boy, Malidoma Somé was abducted by Jesuit missionaries and made to undergo indoctrination into European ways of thought and worship in colonial Burkina Faso. Now a diviner in hisDagara tradition, Somé wrote about the brainwashing he received at the seminary and the difficult journey finding his way back to his people’s traditions in Of Water and the Spirit. In the book, Somé writes “religious colonialism tortures the soul. It creates an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and general suspicion. The worst thing is that it uses the local people to enforce itself”. These words are still relevant today.

What exactly are rituals?
To the modern African who distrusts these age-old traditions, indigenous faith systems can be nothing but evil. Proof of this is in the ritual killings that keep on happening in this modern age whether it is 100 graves dug up in Benin Republic or albinos being killed for their body parts in Tanzania. These rituals, otherwise called witchcraft, are said to exist due to the superstitious nature of Africans, which arises from traditional beliefs. It is believed that in rituals, people are regularly abducted and killed, their body parts used to create charms or “fetishes” that are said to bring riches to whoever bears them. These so-called ritual killings have attained the status of urban legends in countries like Nigeria where the 10% of Nigerians who adhere to traditional beliefs have to keep their faith secret or risk being labelled as enablers of human sacrifice. There is a great need to differentiate between legitimate spiritual systems and witchcraft, yet it is widely accepted that human sacrifices were part and parcel of pre-colonial faith systems.

A 39 year-old Tanzanian woman  who survived an attack but lost her arm. In Tanzania, the market for albino limbs is active, believed to be lined to witchcraft. Photo: Under The Same Sun

That these rituals are done with the main aim of making money should hint at their true capitalist nature. In a world where everyone is looking to be rich and wealthy, indigenous African spiritualities are not exempt from being corrupted by those who would do anything to get rich. Discussions about the modern “innovations” in African cultures and religious practices are almost nonexistent, so most of us never consider that the growth of Pentecostal churches is encouraging witchcraft related fears or that market forces are central to today’s beliefs in witchcraft. A few months ago at a work meeting, the topic of ritual killings and idol worship came up and a colleague boldly objected to a idea that ritual killings had been traditionally done by Nigerians in pre-colonial times. She said she recalled when human sacrifices started in Nigeria  – at the time, she was a child growing up in the 1970s. Her opinion is backed by Chief Adelekan, a Yoruba diviner who at a talk in the Manchester Museum insisted that human sacrifices have nothing to do with his indigenous worship. But in people’s minds, this modern practice of ritual killings has been conflated with indigenous faith systems.

VIDEO LINK:
African indigenous spiritualities in the 21st century
Due to the disdain and fear surrounding indigenous faiths, I tell very few Nigerians that I have consulted with a babalawo, a diviner of the Yoruba deity Ifa. I was curious to get a life path reading and to know which Orisha “ruled my head” after a friend had had a similar reading done. Now this confession is enough to freak out a lot of Nigerians, who absurdly believe that Ifá, a deity of divination would demand a human sacrifice. What I do not tell them is that I consulted this babalawo over the Internet. It was through email that my friend introduced me to him, his service was paid for through his website, and after consulting with Ifá, he sent me my life path reading in pdf format. I couldn’t help but compare his very modern and professional service to the recurring stereotype of wild-eyed witch doctors providing consultations in a darkened room that is popular in Nollywood and even Western depictions of any African spiritual system. For those who are open-minded and interested, there are a growing number of priests ordained in their respective spiritualities who are changing the face of indigenous African spiritualities on the continent and in the Diaspora.

A babalawo performing divination with an opele. Photo: Chief Ogunleye

Take Ghanaian priest and healer Kwaku Bonsam, for instance, the focus of this New York Times article. Kwaku Bonsam regularly uses social media for divination purposes, and he also appears on television talk shows. He named himself “Bonsam” which in Twi means “devil” thus knowingly poking fun at the continued demonisation of indigenous faith systems. Unlike the “primitive” witch doctor of popular imagination, Kwaku Bonsam has adopted children, opened a free elementary school and runs a cattle farm. In keeping up with the generation of Pentecostal pastors in Ghana who use the media to deride Ghanaian traditional religion as devil worship in the continued colonial tradition, Kwaku Bonsam uses similar tactics to strike back. In a fascinating case, Kwaku Bonsam stormed into a church with a camera close by, to expose a Pentecostal priest for soliciting the help of his deities and keeping an idol on the church environs. The resulting video (below) was uploaded on Youtube, thus exposing the ways in which indigenous faiths influence the way modern Africans worship.

Pentecostalism has much in common with the way indigenous spiritualities are practiced, with its heavy emphasis on exorcisms and speaking in tongues. In so many indigenous African faiths, spirit possession and trances are a part of worship. In nearby Benin Republic, a country where majority of the population hold on to their indigenous faith, Voudou, Aligbonon Akpochihala hosts his own radio show and appears on television to dispel misconceptions about the Voudou faith. In his own bid to modernise the faith, Akpochihala launched a crash course that allows Voudou devotees to become priests in four months, as opposed to the usual three years. The mere existence of people like Kwaku Bonsam and websites that offer the West African equivalent of Western zodiac signs shows the ways in which indigenous priests are adapting their centuries-old traditions to the modern world and resisting the grand narrative of Christianity and Islam. It shows that African cultures and customs do belong in this world. The keepers of the age-old traditions are staking their claim for credibility despite the many challenges they face.


Ghanaians Want Statue Of Mahatma Ghandi Removed


Ghanaians Want This Statue Of Black People Hater Mahatma Ghandi Removed


 

Ghanaians Want This Statue Of Black People Hater Mahatma Ghandi Removed
Mahatma Ghandi was a notorious racist against Africans.

AFRICANGLOBE – A former Director of the Institute of African Studies, Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo, has started a campaign asking for the removal of the statue of Indian independence icon, Mahatma Ghandi, from the University of Ghana campus.

Prof Adomako Ampofo is urging members of the University of Ghana Council to heed her petition arguing among other things that, Ghandi was racist against Black people and honoring him set the wrong example for students.

In June 2016, the statue of Ghandi was erected on the University campus to the dismay of some members of the university community aware of the apparent racist overtones Ghandi exuded.

Prof Adomako Ampofo cites some of these examples of racism in her petition, like this quote from 1894. ”

“A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.

It should be noted that, the word Kaffir, is a derogatory term for Black people with roots in Apartheid era of South African history.

No racists symbols on world class universities 

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As Africans we have no friends

The petition also contended that, if the University of Ghana sought to be a world class university, it should not be seen to be honoring former bastions of slavery, apartheid and white supremacy.

In other high profile universities, symbols edifying persons associated with controversial stances like white supremacy have been removed.

Prof Adomako Ampofo notes one such example in her petition when in October 2015, “Rhodes University [in South Africa] established a renaming team to remove the name of Cecil Rhodes, former prime minister of the Cape colony, and one of the founders of apartheid.”

The first senate and then the Council of the University of Cape Town, also voted to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes early in 2015, after protests by some students. With these arguments, Prof Adomako Ampofo urged the University of Ghana Council to “do the honourable thing by pulling down the statue. It is better to stand up for our dignity than to kowtow to the wishes of a Third World super-power.”

Find below her full petition 

Dear Honourable members of the University of Ghana Council:

Re: Petition for the removal of the Statute of Gandhi

We the undersigned bring this petition for the removal of the statute of Gandhi to the esteemed Council of the University of Ghana Council for your consideration.

Background: 

On 14 June 2016 a statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi [1] was erected at the Sam Aboah quadrangle[DOK1] . This is the only statue of an historical personality on Legon campus, and soon after it came to the notice of members of the University community and the general public, calls for its removal began within the University community and beyond. [2] We, the undersigned associate ourselves with that call for the reasons outlined below.

Rationale for Removal: 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s racist identity:

Below we provide just a few citations from his own writings to illustrate this.

Before Dec. 19, 1894

“A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.” ~ Vol. I, p. 193

Before May 5, 1895

“In the face, too, of financial operations, the success of which many of their detractors would envy, one fails to understand the agitation which would place the operators in the same category as the half-heathen Native and confine him to Locations, and subject him to the harsher laws by which the Transvaal Kaffir is governed.” ~ Vol. I, pp. 224-225

Before May 5, 1895

“So far as the feeling has been expressed, it is to degrade the Indian to the position of the Kaffir.” ~ Vol. I, p. 229

Sept. 26, 1896

“Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.” ~ Vol. I, pp. 409-410

Before May 27, 1899

“Your Petitioner has seen the Location intended to be used by the Indians. It would place them, who are undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Kaffirs, in close proximity to the latter.” ~ Vol. II, p. 270

June 1, 1906

“The Boer Government insulted the Indians by classing them with the Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. V, p. 59

Source: Gandhi and South African Blacks ( http://www.gandhiserve.org/e/cwmg/cwmg.htm)

*(NOTE-The term kaffir is considered a racial slur used in reference to Black South African natives.)

Gandhi also campaigned against the efforts of the Dalits, The Black “Untouchables” of India, and for the maintenance of the caste system right up to his death.

Supplementary Reading and Links:

The Myth of Mahatma GhandiBy: Velu Annamalai  Ph.D. velu@home.com

Petition calls for Gandhi statue to be removed from Ghana UniversityProfessors say late civil rights leader was racist and considered Indians to be ‘infinitely superior’ to black Africans | Thursday 22 September 2016   |

Ghana: Call to remove Gandhi statue over ‘racist views’
Campaigners urge removal of Indian social activist’s statue from university, saying he was racist towards black people.

#GandhiForComeDown: Ghana to remove Gandhi statue because of his anti-black racism
Lecturers and students began campaigning for the Indian nationalist leader’s statue to be removed shortly after it was installed.
08 OCT 2016 10:14 | MAIL & GUARDIAN ONLINE REPORTER AND REUTERS

Ghana’s problem with ‘racist’ Gandhi
22 September 2016

Was Mahatma Gandhi a racist?
17 September 2015 |  India

GANDHI SPREADS RACIAL HATRED OF AFRICANS
ORGANIZATION FOR MINORITIES OF INDIA

The truth about Mahatma Gandhi: he was a wily operator, not India’s smiling saint
The Indian nationalist leader had an eccentric attitude to sleeping habits, food and sexuality. However, his more controversial ideas have been written out of history
By Patrick French | 7:50PM GMT 31 Jan 2013 |

What did Mahatma Gandhi think of black people?
 | September 3, 2015 |

Continue reading Ghanaians Want Statue Of Mahatma Ghandi Removed

Pope Francis Washes Feet of Refugees for Easter Week


Pope Francis washes feet of refugees for Easter Week

25 MARCH 2016

The traditional Easter Week foot-washing ceremony by the pontiff is meant as a Catholic gesture of service.


The Holy Thursday rite re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles [L''Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP]
The Holy Thursday rite re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles [L”Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP]

Pope Francis has visited a refugee centre to wash and kiss the feet of Muslim, Orthodox, Hindu and Catholic refugees — a gesture of welcome at a time when anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment has risen after the Brussels and Paris attacks.

Francis celebrated the traditional Easter Week foot-washing ceremony at a refugee shelter in Castelnuovo di Porto, outside Rome, inaugurating the most solemn period of the Catholic Church’s Easter season.

The Holy Thursday rite re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles before being crucified, and is meant as a gesture of service.

Francis was greeted with a banner reading “Welcome” in a variety of languages as he processed down a makeshift aisle to celebrate the outdoor Mass.

A fraction of the 892 asylum seekers living at the shelter attended, though others milled around nearby and filmed the event on their smartphones.

Vatican rules had long called for only men to participate in the ritual, and past popes and many priests traditionally performed it on 12 Catholic men, recalling Jesus’ 12 apostles and further cementing the doctrine of an all-male priesthood.

But after years of violating the rules outright, Francis in January changed the regulations to explicitly allow women and girls to participate.


READ MORE: Pope visits mosque in besieged CAR enclave


The Vatican said on Thursday that four women and eight men had been selected. The women include an Italian who works at the centre and three Eritrean Coptic Christian migrants. The men include four Catholics from Nigeria, three Muslims from Mali, Syria and Pakistan, and a Hindu from India.

The new norms said anyone from the “people of God” could be chosen to participate in the ceremony.

While the phrase “people of God” usually refers to baptised Christians, the decree also said that pastors should instruct “both the chosen faithful and others so that they may participate in the rite consciously, actively and fruitfully”, suggesting that the rite could be open to non-Catholics as well.


Source: AP


 

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