Thursday, February 16, 2012

Indigenous African rituals in the back seat of religion

By Maakomele Manaka

The 31st of October marks a dark chapter in our family’s history, because it is the day I was badly injured in a wall accident that claimed the life of a friend. And it also, marks the day we buried my grandmother two years ago.

So, on this day, we normally have lunch with the family and have a couple of laughs, but this time around, because my grandmother was now an ancestor, we decided to have an indigenous African ceremony of giving thanks to those who passed, more like an African version of thanksgiving.

We bought two chickens and a goat, no Turkey. I live in a relatively suburban area, Sophiatown. So when the animals came home in the afternoon for a sleepover, it became a little tricky. The goat would not stop crying, and so my inquisitive and concern next door neighbor calls me around 10pm wanting to know what’s going on, so, I patiently explain to him the traditional ritual about to take place the next day.

Eventually the goat stopped, and then in the middle of the night while watching a movie, I hear, “M a a a a k,  M a a a k” I freaked out, and for a moment I felt like I was having a close encounter of the third kind, but it was the uncomfortable smiley faced goat trying to find a better sleeping position in the garage.

I went to bed and woke up very early. The traditional healers were already at home to take us through the ritual.

While the sangomas were busy invoking the spirits, I couldn’t help but notice, that they were incorporating Christianity in indigenous African religions, calling out Jesus’ name to safeguard the ceremony of thanks.   

So, I began thinking and recalling, that I have never been to a church that incorporates indigenous African rituals in their religions. Yet traditional healers sometimes conduct their ceremonies in the name of Christ. I was puzzled.

The soil we call home has not only suffered from political power struggles though religious battles that seem to have eroded some of the continents indigenous religions.
Is it estimated that 10 percent of the population in Nigeria now follow their native faiths, while Islam and Christianity dominate the streets of Abuja.

Indigenous African religions have seen a decline since the coming of Islam and Christianity, and these two major religions in the world have somehow influenced their ideologies in many indigenous African religions.

So, it is common for an African Christian to participate in a Christian ritual by going to church on Sunday and then participate in an African religious ritual later on in the same week.

Then why is it hard for the Vatican or Mecca, to incorporate indigenous African religions with their belief system? 

Just like in all religions there are differences, though one thing that’s for sure, every religion educates its followers on systems of morality establishing what is right from wrong, good and appropriate from bad or inappropriate behavior, just as in the African indigenous religions.

Robert Baum in Africana, writes, “indigenous African religions are not limited to beliefs in supernatural beings [God and spirits] or to ritual acts of worship, but effect all aspects of life, from farming to hunting, from travel to courtship”.

So, don’t blame indigenous African religions when Bafana Bafana couldn’t qualify for the Afcon Cup, they just showed an inappropriate behavior.

Why should indigenous African religions take a back seat when they’ve incorporated major religions in their rituals?

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