Every ethnic group in Africa has developed a complex and distinctive set of religious beliefs and practices. Despite their seemingly unrelated aspects, there are common features to these systems, suggesting that African traditional faiths form a cohesive religious tradition.
Traditional African religion is based on oral traditions, which means that the basic values and way of life are passed from elders to younger generations through stories, myths and tales. The elders are the final authority and are trusted completely.
Religion in most African societies also supports moral order. It creates a sense of security and order in the community. Followers believe in the guidance of their ancestors spirits.
Cradle of Mankind
Africa occupies roughly 11.7 million square miles, representing about a fifth of the earth’s total landmass. It is home to over 1 billion people who speak over 1,500 different languages. One in every four of the world’s languages are spoken only in Africa.
Africa is known as the cradle of mankind, being home to the Pharaonic civilization of ancient Egypt, the oldest known literate civilization and the oldest ancient religion. According to historical records, the Egyptian state dates back to about 3300 B.C.
Despite centuries-long attempts by European slave owners, colonists, neo-colonists and orthodox leaders to convert, suppress, and demonize Africa’s original native religions, spiritual traditions have been preserved and passed down. Today only fourteen percent of Africa’s population continue to observe the original spiritual practices of their forefathers.
Tree of Life
Uniting Heaven and Earth
For the Dagara, cosmology begins with the story of creation.
In the beginning there was no earth as we know it. In its place was a burning planet, a ball of fire combusting at high speed. Therefore, fire is the first element of the Dagara wheel. Fire is present in everything, and everything needs fire.
It was not until this moving and burning sphere encountered a huge body of water that things began to change. Water became the second element in the cosmological wheel. The shock resulting from the collision of fire and water not only slowed the combustion process, but also chased fire into the underworld, leaving the surface as a hot steamy place, fertile for the breeding of all kinds of life forms.
This surface, hospitable to life, is what is known as earth, which constitutes the third elemental principal of the Dagara cosmological wheel. The various hard components of the earth provide structure and connection and are known as mineral or stone, the fourth element in the cosmological wheel.
Meanwhile, a steam of great density formed the atmosphere around the earth. As the steam expanded, its pressure began to subside. The reduction of atmospheric pressure was conducive to the birth of life,and thus the fifth element, vegetative nature, came into being.
In African traditional religions the cosmogony usually describes humans appearing near the end of creation. In many creation stories God is likened to a potter who creates humans out of clay and then pours the breath of life into them.
The ruler of (or in) the Heavens. The Supreme God or Supreme Being omnipotent and the Source of all. The name Olodumare symbolizes a divine entity that is not bound by space, time and dimension. By meaning and connotation, this name signifies that the Supreme Being is unique, that His majesty is superlative, that He is unchanging and ever reliable. He is also called Olorun (the owner of Heaven) and Eleda (the Creator) by the same people.
The Edo call Him Osanobuwa, and this means “God who is the “Source and Sustainer of the World”. The Ibo call Him Chükwu, that is the Great Chi or the Great Source of life and of being.
The Nupe call Him Soko, the Great One; He who dwells in Heaven; and they also designate him Tso-Ci meaning the Owner of us, the One to whom we belong. The Ewe-speaking people speak
of Him as Nana Buluku (Ancient of Days), and this suggests His eternity. In Ghana, He is called Onyame, the Great and Shining One who is high and above all.
The truth of the matter is that Africans hold the Supreme Being as a venerable majesty who has several servants (the divinities) under Him to carry out His desires. He is in a class by Himself.
This is why it is not appropriate to describe the religion as polytheistic.
Words of Wisdom
African Traditional Religion
The baobab is the archetypal symbol of the inverted tree, where we integrate and bring the heaven into the earth and the earth into the heaven.
Yorùbá people believe giving birth to children is one of the most important things they live for; they believe children are the most important heritage and legacy to leave behind after death.
A man or woman of marriageable age that refuses to get married does not always get the approval of people of the Yorùbá society. Instead, they make corrective mockery of such individuals until the needful is done.
Olokun- Creator goddess, depth ocean, master weaver. Source
Oya – goddess of the wind Source
My Yoruba: Obatala, orisha of the white cloth
South African History Online: African Traditional Religion
Obatala: the king in white robes