's Ancient Civilizations of the World/Islam vs. Indigenous Religion

History of Islam in Africa and accounts of how the religion spread, especially in Sub-Sahara Africa has always been contentious. Head of Awqaf Africa London, Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah Adelabu has written in his Movements of Islam in face of the Empires and Kingdoms in Yorubaland claims about early arrival of Islam in the southwestern Nigeria. He seconded the Arab anthropologist Abduhu Badawi in the argument that the early Muslim missionaries had benefited their works from the fall of Kush in southern Sudan and the prosperity of the politically multicultural Abbasid period in the continent which, according to him, had created several streams of migration, moving west in the mid-9th Sub-Sahara. Adelabu pointed at the popularity and influences of the Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258), the second great dynasty with the rulers carrying the title of 'Caliph' as fostering peaceful and prosperous migration of the inter-cultured Muslims from Nile to Niger as well as of the Arab traders from Desert to Benue. Adelabu's claim seems to be in line with the conventional historical view that the conquest of North Africa by the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate between AD 647–709 effectively ended Catholicism in Africa for several centuries.

In the sixteenth century, the Ouaddai Empire and the Kingdom of Kano embraced Islam, and later toward the eighteenth century, the Nigeria based Sokoto Caliphate led by Usman dan Fodio exerted considerable effort in spreading Islam. Today, Islam is the predominant religion of Northern Africa, mainly concentrated in North, Northeast Africa and the Sahel, as well as West Africa.

Indigenous ReligionEdit

The work of both Karade and Doumbia support the stance that the concept of 'force' or 'spirit' is a shared underlying theme among the spiritual traditions of the "Sudanic" cultures (i.e. those west of Cameroon and south of the Sahara). Karade asserts that in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria, 'force' is called 'ashe'. He further posits that the task of a Yoruba practitioner is to contemplate and/or ceremonially embody the various deities and/or ancestral energies/profundities in ways analogous to how chakras are contemplated in kundalini yoga. In other words, the deities represent energies, attitudes, or potential ways to approach life. The goal is to elevate awareness while either in or contemplating any of these states of mind such that one can transmute negative or wasteful aspects of their energy into conduct and mindsets that serve as virtuous examples for oneself and the greater community. Doumbia and Doumbia echo this sentiment for the Mande tradition of Senegal, Mali, and many other regions of westernmost Africa. Here however, the 'force' concept is represented by the term 'nyama' rather than 'ashe'.

Divination also tends to play a major role in the process of transmuting negative or confused feelings/thoughts into more ordered and productive ones. Specifically, this process serves as a way to provide frames of reference such that those who are uncertain as to how to begin an undertaking and/or solve a problem can get their bearings and open a dialectic with their highest selves concerning their options on their paths.

Akan religion

The Akan people of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire believe in a supreme god who takes on various names depending on the region of worship. Akan mythology claims that at one time the god interacted with man, but that after being continually struck by the pestle of an old woman pounding fufu, a traditional food, he moved into the sky.[11] No priests that serve him directly, and people believe that they may make direct contact with him. There are also numerous spirits (abosom), who receive their power from the supreme god and are most often connected to the world as it appears in its natural state. These include ocean and riverine spirits and various local deities. Priests serve individual spirits and act as mediators between the gods and mankind. Nearly everyone participates in daily prayer, which includes the pouring of libations as an offering to both the ancestors who are buried in the land and to the spirits who are everywhere. The earth is seen as a female deity and is directly connected to fertility and fecundity.


Odinani encompasses the traditional religious and spiritual concepts and practices of the Igbo. It is a panentheistic faith. In Odinani, there is one supreme God called Chukwu (Igbo: Great spirit) who was before all things and heads over smaller deities called Alusi. There are different Alusi for different purposes, the most important of them is Ala the earth goddess. A traditional herbalist/priest among the Igbo is called Dibia.

Serer religion

The Sereer people of Senegal and the Gambia believe in a universal Supreme Deity called Roog also termed "Roog Sene" (Roog The Immensity). Their elaborate religious traditions deals with various dimensions of life and death, cosmology, astronomy, symbolism, poems, ancient chants etc. Lesser deities include Thiorak or Tulrakh (God of wealth) and Taahkarr or Takhar (God of justice or vengeance).


West African religious practices generally manifest themselves in communal ceremonies and/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/mantric drumming and/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 types of drumming or instrumental rhythms played by respected musicians (each of which is unique to a given deity/ancestor), participants embody a deity/ancestor, energy and/or state of mind by performing distinct ritual movements/dances that further enhance their elevated consciousness, or, in Eastern terms, excite the kundalini to a specific level of awareness and/or circulate chi in a specific way within the body. When this trance-like state is witnessed and understood, culturally educated observers are privy to a way of contemplating the pure/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/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. Further, this practice can also give rise to those in these trances uttering words that, when interpreted by a culturally educated initiate/diviner, can provide insight into appropriate directions that the community (or individual) might take in accomplishing its goal.


Followers of traditional African religions pray to various secondary deities (Ogoun, Da, Agwu, Esu, Mbari, Thiorak, etc.) as well as to their ancestors. These secondary gods serve as intermediaries between humans and the creator god. Most indigenous African societies believe in a single creator god (Chukwu, Nyame, Olodumare, Ngai, Roog, etc.) Some recognize a dual or complementary twin god such as Mawu-Lisa. For example, in one of the Yoruba creation myth, Olodumare, the supreme god, is said to have created Obatala, a secondary deity, who then created humans on earth. Olodumare then infused those human creations with life. "Some societies also deify entities like the earth, the sun, the sea, lightning, or Nature. Each deity has its own priest or priestess."

Practices and rituals

There are more similarities than differences in all African traditional religions. Often, God is worshiped through consultation or communion with lesser deities and ancestral spirits. The deities and spirits are honored through libation, sacrifice (of animals, vegetables, or precious metals). The will of God is sought by the believer also through consultation of oracular deities, or divination. In many African traditional religions, there is a belief in a cyclical nature of reality. The living stand between their ancestors and the unborn. African traditional 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 African traditional religions and culture. This is largely because cosmology and beliefs are intricately intertwined with the natural phenomena and environment. All aspects of weather, thunder, lightening, rain, day, moon, sun, stars, and so on may become emenable 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 star 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 divination board


One of the most traditional methods of telling fortunes in Africa is called casting (or throwing) the bones. Because Africa is a large continent with many tribes and cultures, there is not one single technique. Not all of the "bones" are actually bones, small objects may include 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) and they fall into one of two categories:

Casting marked bones, flat pieces of wood, shells, or leather strips and numerically counting up how they fall—either according to their markings or whether they do or do not touch one another—with mathematically based readings delivered as memorized results based on the chosen criteria.

Casting a special set of symbolic bones or an array of selected symbolic articles—as, for instance, using a bird's wing bone to symbolize travel, a round stone to symbolize a pregnant womb, and a bird foot to symbolize feeling.

In African society, many people seek out diviners on a regular basis. There are no prohibitions against the practice. Those who tell fortunes for a living are also sought out for their wisdom as counselors and for their knowledge of herbal medicine.

African Traditional ReligionEdit

"African Traditional Religion" (Wikipedia)

Last modified on 29 May 2013, at 20:09