The traditional African religions (or traditional beliefs and practices of African people) are a set of highly diverse beliefs that include various ethnic religions. Generally, these traditions are oral rather than scriptural, include belief in a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic and traditional African medicine. The role of humanity is generally seen as one of harmonizing nature with the supernatural. According to Lugira, "it is the only religion that can claim to have originated in Africa. Other religions found in Africa have their origins in other parts of the world."
Although the majority of Africans are adherents of Christianity or Islam, African people often combine the practice of their traditional belief with the practice of Abrahamic religions. The two Abrahamic religions are widespread across Africa, though mostly concentrated in different areas. They have replaced indigenous African religions, but are often adapted to African cultural contexts and belief systems.
West and Central African religious practices generally manifest themselves in communal ceremonies or divinatory rites in which members of the community, overcome by force (or ashe, nyama, etc.), are excited to the point of going into meditative trance in response to rhythmic or driving drumming or singing. One religious ceremony practiced in Gabon and Cameroon is the Okuyi, practiced by several Bantu ethnic groups. In this state, depending upon the region, drumming or instrumental rhythms played by respected musicians (each of which is unique to a given deity or ancestor), participants embody a deity or ancestor, energy or state of mind by performing distinct ritual movements or dances which further enhance their elevated consciousness.
When this trance-like state is witnessed and understood, adherents are privy to a way of contemplating the pure or symbolic embodiment of a particular mindset or frame of reference. This builds skills at separating the feelings elicited by this mindset from their situational manifestations in daily life. Such separation and subsequent contemplation of the nature and sources of pure energy or feelings serves to help participants manage and accept them when they arise in mundane contexts. This facilitates better control and transformation of these energies into positive, culturally appropriate behavior, thought, and speech. Also, this practice can also give rise to those in these trances uttering words which, when interpreted by a culturally educated initiate or diviner, can provide insight into appropriate directions which the community (or individual) might take in accomplishing its goal.
Followers of traditional African religions pray to various spirits as well as to their ancestors. These secondary spirits serve as intermediaries between humans and the primary God, also referred to as the Supreme Deity. Most African societies believe in a single Supreme being (Chukwu, Nyame, Olodumare, Ngai, Roog, etc.). Some recognize a dual God and Goddess such as Mawu-Lisa.
There are more similarities than differences in all traditional African religions. Often, the supreme Deity is worshiped through consultation or communion with lesser deities and ancestral spirits. The deities and spirits are honored through libation or sacrifice (of animals, vegetables, cooked food, flowers, semi-precious stones and precious metals). The will of the Supreme Deity is sought by the believer also through consultation of divinities or divination. In many traditional African religions, there is a belief in a cyclical nature of reality. The living stand between their ancestors and the unborn. Traditional African religions embrace natural phenomena – ebb and tide, waxing and waning moon, rain and drought – and the rhythmic pattern of agriculture. According to Gottlieb and Mbiti:
The environment and nature are infused in every aspect of traditional African religions and culture. This is largely because cosmology and beliefs are intricately intertwined with the natural phenomena and environment. All aspects of weather, thunder, lightning, rain, day, moon, sun, stars, and so on may become amenable to control through the cosmology of African people. Natural phenomena are responsible for providing people with their daily needs.
For example, in the Serer religion, one of the most sacred stars in the cosmos is called Yoonir (the Star of Sirius). With a long farming tradition, the Serer high priests and priestesses (Saltigue) deliver yearly sermons at the Xoy Ceremony (divination ceremony) in Fatick before Yoonir's phase in order to predict winter months and enable farmers to start planting.
Traditional healers are common in most areas, and their practices include a religious element to varying degrees.
Since Africa is a large continent with many ethnic groups and cultures, there is not one single technique of casting divination. The practice of casting may be done with small objects, such as bones, cowrie shells, stones, strips of leather, or flat pieces of wood.
Some castings are done using sacred divination plates made of wood or performed on the ground (often within a circle).
In traditional African societies, many people seek out diviners on a regular basis. There are generally no prohibitions against the practice. Diviner (also known as priest) are also sought for their wisdom as counselors in life and for their knowledge of herbal medicine.
Virtue in traditional African religion is often connected with carrying out obligations of the communal aspect of life. Examples include social behaviors such as the respect for parents and elders, raising children appropriately, providing hospitality, and being honest, trustworthy, and courageous.
In some traditional African religions, morality is associated with obedience or disobedience to God regarding the way a person or a community lives. For the Kikuyu, according to their primary supreme creator, Ngai, acting through the lesser deities, is believed to speak to and be capable of guiding the virtuous person as one's conscience. Traditionally, as now, the Kikuyu were monotheists, believing in a unique and omnipotent God whom they called Ngai. The word, is related to the Maasai word Enkai, and was borrowed by both the Kikuyu and Kamba. God is also known as Mungu, Murungu, or Mulungu (a variant of a word meaning God, which is found as far south as the Zambesi of Zambia), and is sometimes given the title Mwathani or Mwathi (the greatest ruler), which comes from the word gwatha, meaning to rule or reign with authority.
Ngai is the creator and giver of all things, 'the Divider of the Universe and Lord of Nature'. He gave birth to the human community, created the first Kikuyu communities, and provided them with all the resources necessary for life: land, rain, plants and animals. He - for Ngai is male - cannot be seen, but is manifest in the sun, moon, stars, comets and meteors, thunder and lightning, rain, in rainbows and in the great fig trees (mugùmò) that served as places of worship and sacrifice, and which marked the spot at Mukurue wa Gathanga where Gikuyu and Mumbi - the ancestors of the Kikuyu in the oral legend - first settled.
Yet Ngai is not the distant God that we know in the West. He had human characteristics, and although some say that he lives in the sky or in the clouds, they also say that he comes to earth from time to time to inspect it, bestow blessings and mete out punishment. When he comes he rests on Mount Kenya and four other sacred mountains. Thunder is interpreted to be the movement of God, and lightning is God's weapon by means of which he clears the way when moving from one sacred place to another. Other people believed that Ngai's abode was on Mount Kenya, or else 'beyond' its peaks. Ngai, says one legend, made the mountain his resting place while on an inspection tour of earth. He then took the first man, Gikuyu, to the top to point out the beauty of the land he was giving him.In traditional African religions, such as the Azande religion, a person is said to have a good or bad conscience, depending on whether he does the bidding of God or malevolent spirits.
In many cases, Africans who have converted to other religions have still kept up their traditional customs and practices, combining them in a syncretic way.
Some sacred or holy locations for traditional religions include Nri-Igbo, the Point of Sangomar, Yaboyabo, Fatick, Ife, Oyo, Dahomey, Benin City, Ouidah, Nsukka, Kanem-Bornu, Igbo-Ukwu, and Tulwap Kipsigis, among others.
This list is limited to a few well-known traditions.
Akan religion comprises the traditional beliefs and religious practices of the Akan people of Ghana and eastern Ivory Coast. Akan religion is referred to as Akom (from the Twi word okom, meaning "prophecy"). Although most Akan people have identified as Christians since the early 20th century, Akan religion remains practiced by some, and is often syncretized with Christianity. The Akan have many subgroups (including the Ashanti, the Akuapem, the Wassa, the Abron, the Anyi, and the Baoulé, among others), so the religion varies greatly by region and subgroup.
Similar to other traditional religions of West and Central Africa such as West African Vodun, Yoruba religion, or Odinani, Akan cosmology consists of a senior god who generally does not interact with humans and many gods who assist humans.
Anansi the Spider is a folk hero, who is prominent in Ashanti folktales, where he is depicted as a trickster. In other aspects of Akan spirituality, Anansi is also sometimes considered both a trickster and a deity associated with wisdom, responsible for creating the first inanimate humans, according to the scholar Anthony Ephirim-Donkor.. This is similar to Legba, who is also both a trickster and a deity in West African Vodun.Baluba mythology
The Baluba are one of the Bantu peoples of Central Africa. Their creation deity's name is Kabezya-Mpungu.Dahomean religion
The Dahomean religion was practiced by the Fon people of the Dahomey Kingdom. The kingdom existed until 1898 in what is now the country of Benin. Slaves taken from Dahomey to the Caribbean used elements of the religion to form Vodou and other religions of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.Elegua
Elegua (Yoruba: Èṣù-Ẹlẹ́gbára, also spelled Eleggua; known as Eleguá in Latin America) and Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands is an Orisha, a deity of roads in the religions of Santeria (Santería), Umbanda, Quimbanda, Candomblé and in Palo Mayombe. He is syncretized with either Saint Michael, Saint Anthony of Padua, or the Holy Child of Atocha.Eshu
Eshu (Yoruba: Èṣù, also known as Echú, Exu or Exú) is an Orisha in the Yoruba religion of the Yoruba people (originating from Yorubaland, an area in and around present-day Nigeria). As the religion has spread around the world, the name of this Orisha has varied in different locations, but the beliefs remain similar.Ifá
Ifá is a Yoruba religion and system of divination. Its literary corpus is the Odu Ifá. Orunmila is identified as the Grand Priest, as he is who revealed divinity and prophecy to the world. Babalawos or Iyanifas use either the divining chain known as Opele, or the sacred palm or kola nuts called Ikin, on the wooden divination tray called Opon Ifá.
Ifá is practiced throughout the Americas, West Africa, and the Canary Islands, in the form of a complex religious system, and plays a critical role in the traditions of Santería, Candomblé, Palo, Umbanda, Vodou, and other Afro-American faiths, as well as in some traditional African religions.Kongo religion
Kongo religion is a broad set of traditional beliefs from the KiKongo speaking peoples. The faith bases itself in the idea of a main creator god named Nzambi Mpungu who made the world and spirits who inhabit it. Priestly doctors known as Nganga try to heal followers minds and bodies. Mediatory roles like being a Nganga require legitimization from the other world of spirits and ancestors. The universe is split between two worlds, one of the living (nza yayi) and a world of the dead (nsi a bafwa), these worlds are split by a body of water. Humans continually pass through these worlds in cycle.List of African mythological figures
This is a list of African spirits and/or deities found within the traditional African religions.
This list also covers spirits and/or deities found within the Afro-American religions—which mostly derives from traditional African religions.Lozi mythology
The main function of Lozi mythology is to show that the original Lozi people (the Luyi or Luyana) were dwellers on the Barotse Floodplain of the upper Zambezi River and that they are, therefore, entitled to claim unchallenged title to that homeland. Secondly, Lozi mythology gives legitimacy to the Lozi kingdom's foundations, by linking the monarchy and the people to a creator god, whom the Lozi call Nyambe.
Nyambe's wife was Nasilele (which means "she who is associated with long things") and his mother was Ngula (which means "she who is pregnant"). Nyambe is said to have created both his wife and his mother. He is also said to have created everything else that exists, including the heaven, the Earth and all the plants and animals.Mbuti mythology
Mbuti (Bambuti) mythology is the mythology of the African Mbuti (also known as Bambuti) Pygmies of Congo.
The most important god of the Bambuti pantheon is Khonvoum (also Khonuum, Kmvoum, Chorum), a god of the hunt who wields a bow made from two snakes that together appear to humans as a rainbow. After sunset every day, Khonvoum gathers fragments of the stars and throws them into the sun to revitalize it for the next day. He occasionally contacts mortals through Gor (a thunder god who is also an elephant) or a chameleon (similar to the divine messenger used by Orish-nla of Yoruba mythology). Khonvoum created mankind from clay. Black people were made from black clay, white people came from white clay, and the Pygmies themselves came from red clay. He also creates the animals that are needed by hunters.
Arebati is a lunar deity and Sky Father. In some sources, he was said to have created humanity from clay, instead of Khonvoum.
Tore is a god of the forests who supplies animals to hunters. He is also a thunder god who appears as a storm and hides in rainbows. Most importantly, Tore appears as a leopard in the initiation rites. The first Pygmies stole fire from Tore; he chased them but could not catch them, and when he returned home, his mother had died. As punishment, he decreed that humans would also die, and he thus became the death god.
Negoogunogumbar is a child-eating giant. Obrigwabibikwa is a dwarf who can change himself into a reptile.
A Mbuti soul is called a megbe. When a man dies, his son places his mouth over his to draw in part of the megbe. Another part inhabits the man's totem animal. If the son does not inhale the megbe or the totem animal is later killed, it may escape into the forest, where it becomes a semi-visible being called a Lodi and lives forever with others like it.Nsukka
Nsukka is a town and Local Government Area in southeast Nigeria in Enugu State. Towns that share a common border with Nsukka, are Eha alumona, Edem,Alor-uno, Opi (archaeological site), Orba and Ede-Oballa, Obukpa, Obimo. Other nearby towns include Enugu-Ezike, Ibagwa, Ovoko, Iheaka, Obollo-Afor (formerly centre of the palm oil trade), Nimbo, Adani, Uzo Uwani and Mkpologwu, now also lay claim to the name Nsukka. This is because they all collectively fall into the political zoning system in Nigeria known as Senatorial Zone. As of 2006 Nsukka had a population of 309,633 Nsukka Town is known as the site of the University of Nigeria, the first indigenous Nigerian university, founded by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, first President of Nigeria. Currently the town has a number of Federal Parastatals in the university such as NABDA, CBSS, and the Energy Research Centre.Opele
An Opele (spelled Opuele or Ocuele in Latin America) is a divination chain used in traditional African and Afro-American religions, notably in Ifá and Yoruba tradition.A Babalawo (diviner) uses the Opele in order to communicate with the deity of wisdom/knowledge in the Yoruba tradition (Orunmila), who is able to identify the causes and solutions to personal and collective problems and restore harmony in the person's life through re-balancing of the person's destiny and/or Ori (personal deity). The Opele is the minor divination tool used by Babalawos for Ifa divination; it is believed to be an "assistant" or "slave" of Orunmila, who communicates Orunmila's desires to the Babalawo and from the Babalawo back to Orunmila. It is used for the majority of daily divination work. For divination regarding important ceremonial revelations or life-long information about a client or for very important decisions, Babalawos elect to use their Ikin seeds, which they consider to be the physical representation of Orunmila himself.Persecution of traditional African religion
Traditional African religions have faced persecution from the proponents of different ideologies. Adherents of these religions have been forcefully converted to Islam and Christianity, demonized and marginalized. The atrocities include killings, waging war, destroying of sacred places, and other atrocious actions.San religion
The traditional religion and mythology of the San people is poorly attested due to their interactions with Christianity.Shango
Ṣàngó (Yoruba language: Ṣàngó, also known as Changó or Xangô in Latin America; and also known as Jakuta or Badé) (from shan, 'to strike') is an Orisha. He is syncretized with either Saint Barbara or Saint Jerome. Historically, Shango is a royal ancestor of the Yoruba as he was the third Alafin of the Oyo Kingdom prior to his posthumous deification. Ṣàngó has numerous manifestations including Airá, Agodo, Afonja, Lubé, and Obomin. He is considered to be one of the most powerful rulers that Yorubaland has ever produced, and is noted for his anger.Traditional Berber religion
The traditional Berber religion is the ancient and native set of beliefs and deities adhered to by the Berber autochthones of North Africa. Many ancient Berber beliefs were developed locally, whereas others were influenced over time through contact with other traditional African religions (such as the Ancient Egyptian religion), or borrowed during antiquity from the Punic religion, Judaism, Iberian mythology, and the Hellenistic religion. The most recent influence came from Islam and pre-Islamic Arab religion during the medieval period. Some of the ancient Berber beliefs still exist today subtly within the Berber popular culture and tradition. Syncretic influences from the traditional Berber religion can also be found in certain other faiths.West African Vodun
Vodun (meaning spirit in the Fon and Ewe languages, pronounced [vodṹ] with a nasal high-tone u; also spelled Vodon, Vodoun, Vodou, Voudou, Voodoo, etc.) is practiced by the Fon people of Benin, and southern and central Togo; as well in Ghana, and Nigeria.
It is distinct from the various traditional African religions in the interiors of these countries and is the main source of religions with similar names found among the African diaspora in the Americas, such as Haitian Vodou; Dominican Vudú; Cuban Vodú; Brazilian Vodum (candomblé jeje and tambor de mina); Puerto Rican Vudú (Sanse); and Louisiana Voodoo.Zulu traditional religion
Zulu traditional religion contains numerous deities commonly associated with animals or general classes of natural phenomena.
Unkulunkulu is the highest God and is the creator of humanity. UNkulunkulu ("the greatest one") was created in Uhlanga, a huge swamp of reeds, before he came to Earth. Unkulunkulu is sometimes conflated with the Sky Sun god UMvelinqangi (meaning "He who was in the very beginning"), god of thunder, earthquake whose other name is Unsondo, and is the son of Unkulunkulu the Father and Nomkhubulwane the Mother. The word Nomkhubulwane means the one who shapeshift into any form of an animal.
Another name given for the supreme being Unkulunkulu is uSomandla the ultimate Source of all existence.
Other deities include Nomhoyi, the goddess of rivers, and Nomkhubulwane, sometimes called the Zulu Demeter, who is a goddess of the rainbow, agriculture, rain and beer (which she invented),and She is goddess the Mother who is Ma, uNgungi, the deity of the blacksmiths, iNyanga the moon goddess associated with healers who are called IziNyanga; the word Nyanga is a Zulu word for the moon, Sonzwaphi the deity of healing, Ukhulukhulwanaa star being ancestor who came from the stars and found the ancient Zulus living like animals and without laws. He taught them to built huts and taught them the high laws of isiNtu.The word UNkulunkulu is suspected to be a corruption of the word Ukhulukhulwana.
For further references: Let Not My Country Die by Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa.
Umsamo Iziko LamaThongo by Prof V.V.O.Mkhize.
Edited by Edmund Mandla Tsawe [NdabazeThongo].Ọrunmila
Ọrunmila (Yoruba Ọ̀rúnmìlà, also Ọrúnla or Orúla in Nigeria and Latin America) is an Orisha. He is the Orisha of wisdom, knowledge, and divination. This source of knowledge is believed to have a keen understanding of the human form and of purity, and is therefore praised as often being more effective than other remedies.
See also: Afro-American religion