African religion(s)

“I am an African, and I set my pride in my race over against a hostile public opinion”.

I find these words by Pixley ka Seme very befitting of the journey we are about to embark on. Abrahamic religions can be dismissed without further argument. This is not say volumes have not been written to prop them up as being the only true religion, an exercise which in of itself, I find very ridiculous. Why a religion whose writings are supposed to have come from the god itself to need apology, is one of those things that begs to be answered. Did the god do such a bad job that men and women have built careers and empires explaining away what the god meant to say or what it wants.

Most of the early visitors to Africa, because they didn’t understand the ways of the people, claimed we didn’t have a religion nor systems of government and this thinking justified among other things the missionary activities and colonialism.

While there has been much scholarship on African religion(s) by theologians and historians, most of this work remains in the sphere of academia. It is not part of popular culture. One can easily walk into a bookstore and find any number of books on Christianity or Islam and they are cheap too, it is not the same with books on African religion and I hope that it will get as much attention as other world religions.

One of the questions we hope to address in this odyssey is whether we should talk of African religion in the singular or religions. And here, the question is whether they are separate and competing religious ideologies or parts of a greater theistic whole that would support the idea of a central origin that spread out through Africa.

To start of, we define religion not only as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal god or gods but as a process of human beings to reconnect with deity or whatever people consider to be a supreme being or cause behind existence. Further, it is argued that religion in its full form encompass ritual, myth and metaphysics. While the Abrahamic religions are monotheistic, the African religion is henotheistic, that is, god appears as personality, as nature and also transcending forms and names, beyond creation itself.

In talking of African Religion(s) we mean here those forms of religion that were developed on the continent of Africa by its indigenous peoples from ancient times, that is prior to the introduction of other religions from outside Africa. We must have note at this early opportunity that most African cultures have no corresponding word for religion as it is in the western world.

The difficulty that has been identified by scholars of religion in Africa is the absence of written material except for the Neterian Religion. We will not get into the dispute of whether North Africa is Africa or belongs in the middle East and whether the ancient civilizations thereof belong to Africa or Middle East. Religion in Africa is passed down from parent to child orally. So far as I can tell, I have found no African religion that was a proselytizing religion. Religion was a living aspect of life. There was no need to look for converts.

As I have already mentioned, African religion can be looked at as Polytheistic monotheism, that is, a system of religion presenting a supreme being and lesser gods and goddesses who serve the Supreme and sustain creation. It is this conception of religion that was earlier on referred to as henotheism. The proselytizing Christians and Muslims argued that monotheism is the advanced concept of religion. Yours truly thinks this is hot air. While there were conflicts between African nations, none of them have been ascribed to a difference of religious opinion as has been the case in most of history of Europe. It can be argued successfully that any religious conflicts on the continent can be linked to conflicts between Islam and Christianity.

The concept of revelation as is claimed by the Abrahamic religions stand in stark contrast to African religions, Hinduism and Buddhism that argue that which is transcendental and unintelligible cannot be related in words, as the intellect cannot fathom the true nature of the Supreme Being. While still on Western religion, we must note here that the claim by practioneers of revealed religions that observance of the tenets of their religions leads to piousness is unfounded and contradicted by the behaviour of missionaries and the general population that ascribe to said religious beliefs.

In concluding this introduction of the general layout of what we shall be looking at, I will mention that the idea of Trinity is of African origin. The three aspects are Amun– the unintelligible and hidden underlying reality which sustains all things; Ra– the subtle matter of creation as well as the mind and Ptah– the visible aspect of the divinity, the phenomenal universe.  So we say

He whose name is hidden is AMUN. RA belongeth to him as his face and his body is PTAH.

This post is informed mainly by the paper by Muata Ashby ‘What is Religion and what is an African Religion.


Who are the people?

In his defence following the first attempt to overthrow the government in Cuba, Fidel Castro, while talking about the people limits his definition to those who, for lack of a better word, are oppressed, the lowly paid and in a way those who believe they have nothing to lose but everything to gain if the regime should be changed.

Michelet and other French historians while talking of the revolution, refer only to the revolutionaries. They exclude the rich classes.

The same thing is seen in the case of Kenya. When the people are talked about, a certain group are excluded.

My question then is, who are the people?

Atheist experience in Africa(?)

It is while reading this post that the question occurred to me of what is the atheist experience in Kenya. First, works such as those by Mbiti add credence to the claim

that Africans are deeply religious and theistic.

I also think the main thesis of the piece, that

The way and manner that atheists in Africa are treated have largely been overlooked. What atheists encounter in the course of their lives has not been adequately highlighted.

Is largely true. Unlike the author, I have not had the opportunity to attend a large gathering of freethinkers or agnostics and atheists. Well, I have attended a beer drinking session organised by my godless friends but never a conference.

Those who have followed this blog long enough recall the furore over registration of an atheist society in Kenya that wound up being decided by the high court in the favour of atheists. Generally, however, it can be argued almost convincingly that atheists are invisible. It is however hard to tell if it is by design or whether it is as a result of mistreatment or a fear of atheists to speak up.

Because I am not a social scientist, nor am I going to do a longitudinal study of atheist experience in Kenya any time soon, the sample for this post is yours truly and the conclusions drawn from it cannot be said to apply to the general population.

In many instances when I have spoken of my godlessness, others have claimed it is a phase, while others think I am confused or worse still others think I am pretending. They convince themselves that I am a believer in their god, maybe even more devoutly so, especially since to some of them, my knowledge of the bible is superior to theirs. The explanation that I read it every so often just to be able to respond to their claims doesn’t cut it with many people.

My workplace is the best. I love my colleagues. While majority are christian only divided by the cult they have opted to associate with, religious discussions hardly feature in our interactions except when I am in my cheerful self and making fun of a thing or two about their beliefs.

While I have read of people who have been disowned by their families, especially America or whose relationships have broken down, I have no such fear. My immediate family is resolved to my godlessness. It bothers no one. My extended family has no such say in how I live my life, so there is no chance they would do something so drastic. Besides, how would they achieve their ends? Block me from going to my house?

What I would however hope for is to get more writings by African scholars on atheism from an African perspective. The Judeo-Christian and Muslim conceptions though interesting, are no longer attractive to me. I am interested in whether in the traditional African societies, atheism existed and how was it articulated? How did society respond to the claims of atheism or is it a western thing in the continent finding its foundation in the rejection of both the missionary and colonial overlord.

I am aware that some of the Kenyans who were at the forefront in the fight for independence, who had at first converted to christianity either quit or only appeared to believe while in public. It is also the case that some of the Independent African Churches were a repudiation of some of the teachings of Jesus, some to the extent of claiming divine revelation without the need for Jesus. These aspects should interest a cultural anthropologist which I am not. My interest would extend only as far as how they treated of houses of worship, if they had such or whether worship took place under sacred trees, stones or in caves. The rest lies in the province of social and cultural anthropologists.

In the next month or two I will read Nkrumah’s Consciencism (if I can find it) and his exposition of materialism as a philosophy. Two books by Okot p’Bitek Decolonizing African Religion and African Religion in Western Scholarship will also be looked at.

I think the thesis of the article attached above has some truth in it, considering for example the experience of atheists in Egypt, Nigeria and so on. But since a study or poll covering Africa hasn’t been done, we can agree there is much more work to be done. Asking atheists of their experience would not be enough. To be meaningful for our purposes, I do think it would be useful to also find out how the rest of society views us.

As a starting point, any atheist, especially of African descent and living in the continent should weigh in. Ark you are not counted :0

black panther

a review.

For most of you, not counting Ark of course, I guess, have watched the hyped  over hyped movie of 2018, black panther a Marvel Comics production. First, I am not watching any hyped movie again in a long time. I hate disappointments, especially in movies, where my only reason for paying to watch is to be mesmerized, entertained and possibly to be taken to a different plane of existence, even just momentarily.

Following persuasion by friends, yours truly watched the movie and has a few things to say about it.

First, we can agree with T’challa’s father, the late king, that a father who has not taught his child well, has failed. We can have a long debate on whether a good man can be a king. That, I think, is in the province of philosophy.

IS advancement to be seen in skyscrapers and toys? Apart from the tall buildings and toys, very little of life in Wakanda is seen. I can’t for the life of me, tell what the life in Wakanda is like. Well, it is a monarchy, there is a council of elders, there is a ritual fight for installation of the king, a fight which methinks, shouldn’t be bloody but ceremonial, especially given that a king is chosen from the royal family. Any contender for the throne could just get a Ji jitsu trainer for the opportune moment.

I like the women though, especially Okoye and Shuri. Okoye’s loyalty to the nation of Wakanda is beyond dispute. She tells W’kabi she would kill him for Wakanda without question. When Killmonger becomes king, she makes it known her allegiance is to Wakanda regardless of who sits on the throne. Shuri reminds me of Q in Bond movies. She is at home with gadgets in a way that makes you, for a few moments, want to be her friend. You may, if she is up to it, be transported to the future. It is also the women who save Wakanda from Killmonger. Shuri, Nakia and the queen mother, devastated with the defeat of T’Challa look for allies to get the usurper out of the throne. It is their determination that at the end, that makes it possible for Wakanda to be involved in world affairs, but in a more humane way, through science and technology not war.

There is, an invocation of the role of ancestors in the African community. This happens, if I recall correctly, three times, the first at the enthronement of T’Challa, then of Killmonger and thirdly when T’Challa is sent to the ancestors where he declines to join them in eternal repose, arguing there is work to be done. I wish I could on occasion tell the ancestors to eff off!

As with most Hollywood movies, no movie is complete without a villain, even if it is a cardboard character. And for Black Panther, the villain is Killmonger. He believes, for whatever reason, his rightful place is the throne of Wakanda. After helping the artifact thief, Klaue, steal and escape from a CIA interrogation room, he kills him only to deliver the body as a trophy to Wakanda, where he challenges T’Challa. A ritual fight is organized, T’Challa gets the beating of the century and a for a brief interlude, we have a madman general at the helm. His idea of domination means conquering the world, with weapons, the American dream. I think the Americans, dream of an empire like the British empire of old, so that their imagination of an advanced civilization must include in it empire building.

Go watch the movie at a theater near you. You may be entertained.

For better reviews than I can ever write, visit here, here and here, written by a friend of mine

when Mak is an aerial photographer

The photos were taken using my phone from an elevation of between 100-150m

This is called deforestation for

The light aircraft yours truly was chauffeured around in

more signs of deforestation

an aerial view of Nairobi is not complete without a picture of the site for slum tourism justaposed with highrise development

these farms can only be appreciated while airborne

some of you didn’t go to good schools and don’t have an idea what a fault line looks like. Here is me doing community service