individual African’s religious commitments in line with philosophy as apriori- additional thoughts


In this post, I presented the view of Mbiti that where the African is, there is his religion which would imply the African was always religious. But this, argues Okot P’Bitek, is not true. Mbiti was a Christian pastor and his biases influenced his thinking. It can be argued the same about Okot, that his irreligiosity influenced his thinking.

He writes for example.

in so far as Africans believed in certain ‘powers’, they may be called religious; but, as most of them did not hold beliefs in any deities similar in conception to the christian god, we may refer to traditional Africans as atheistic in their outlook.

What then should be the duty of the scholar interested in studying African religion(s)? He says it is remove the susty Greek metaphysical dressings as quickly as possible before African deities suffocate and die just like the Christian God has perished. He says further that deities exist to serve the interests of men. The African deities are for man, and not man for them.

The student should leave behind the idea that the temporal order of nature is in some sense inferior and illusory. There is no other-worldiness in African religious thought. The ethics is not grounded on a promise or threat by some god that the good people will, in the future, enjoy life in heaven, while the bad will cook in great fire. To the African, this is the only world, and it is neither inferior to any other not illusory.

While Christian apologists and theologians argue their god is unknowable, the knowledge of Africans about their deities is not limited, inadequate or ridiculous in anyway. It should be known that for most Africans, the names, abode and characteristics of their deities are known and knowable.

Finally, the student interested in African religion must leave behind the belief in a one God and the assumptions which arises from it.

Other practical lessons that can be derived from African religion is on matters of sex. On this Okot writes

Christian sex ethics, its other-worldiness, and its preoccupation with sin are important areas for study because, here Christianity contrasts vividly with African religions.

Maybe, the time has come for all of us to say with Fritz Mauthner that

God is dead. The time has come to write his history.

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

28 thoughts on “individual African’s religious commitments in line with philosophy as apriori- additional thoughts

  1. john zande says:

    I’m curious why these essays refer to “Africans” as if they were some homogeneous cultural group. Surely the experiences in the north west differ radically from those of the north east, and the north east from those of the southern tip.

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    • makagutu says:

      Good question.
      First we can agree that Islam and Christianity are not indigenous to Africa though the Ethiopian orthodox church has been in Africa since say the 4th century but they don’t evangelize.
      Studies from across Africa by dispassionate researchers show similarities and I think this is what informs African religion.

      Liked by 1 person

      • john zande says:

        So, the unifier is what? Pantheism? Animism?

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        • makagutu says:

          There was no animism in Africa. Or at least in the studies I am familiar with

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          • john zande says:

            Pantheism then?

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          • makagutu says:

            Nope. Here, religion- I don’t know if we can call it that- was for all intents practical. Pantheism is a western tradition arising from inadequacy of Christianity and Judaism (at least from the work of Spinoza) a problem that we here did not have. So I don’t think pantheism has any explanatory power.

            Liked by 1 person

          • john zande says:

            Fair enough. I’m thinking Candomblé here in Brazil, which is rooted in west Africa.

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          • makagutu says:

            Do they have a high god or something?

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          • john zande says:

            To be honest, I have no idea, but wiki says this: Candomblé developed in a creolization of traditional Yoruba, Fon, and Bantu beliefs brought from West and Central Africa by enslaved captives in the Portuguese Empire.

            Does that mean anything to you?

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          • The Ewe tribe to which I belong has a belief system most closely related to that of the Fon. We trace our origins to ancient Dahomey in present day Benin. Pantheism is the closest description for African religion. Among all African tribes there are multiple hierarchical gods and they are not separated from nature. The idea of a single god is funny to the African – whose side is a single god on then? The master or the slave? So the slave has his god, likewise the master. The African gods are ranked viz:
            1. Supreme god
            2. Earth goddess
            3. Lesser gods/Deities
            4. Spirits
            5. Ancestors (Dead relatives)
            6. Totems etc. Prayers are necessarily addressed to the supreme god through lesser ones, normally through deities or ancestors.

            A river or a rock is said to be sacred because a god was “seen” near it. The river/rock at once becomes synonymous with the god and is named after it. To not separate god from nature or natural events is pantheistic.

            Liked by 1 person

          • john zande says:

            Cool, and thanks. In aboriginal culture (Australia) the spirits of the Dreaming (which is a very poor translation) became natural features of the land, although the Dreaming continues.

            Liked by 1 person

          • You’re welcome. I get that – myth as a pre-reason invention. Why not the spirit of the fighting or hunting man but dreaming man? Maybe they figuratively transfer the serenity/peace experienced by the dreaming man to the land or natural environment.

            I need to also make a point that I think is important. The ancient African is nothing like the Aborigine of Australia. With the exception of the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa, Africans of Sub-Sahara, founded kingdoms and built empires. An example is the ancient Mali, Ghana and Songhai empires. They exhibited all the features (laws, customs, armies, economy, governmence etc.) of a thriving society. In fact the typical African king is a way more effective leader than the so called democratic leaders we have today. The Ashanti King organised and trained a 40,000 man army to fight British Domination (Anglo-Ashanti Wars). Dahomey was the first kingdom to organise and train female armies (as auxiliaries). Although Dahomey did not have a direct confrontation with the British, they occasionally dominated other tribes including the Yoruba. Three great kingdoms ruled West Africa prior to colonialism, namely:
            1. The Kingdom of Yoruba
            2. The Kingdom of Dahomey and
            3. The Kingdom of Ashanti. I think but for colonialism, African tribes would have greatly advanced under their own kings – having a unique religion, language, culture, economy, government etc.

            Liked by 2 people

          • john zande says:

            Of that I have no doubt. Given the state of the world and its predominant economic model, let’s hope it’s not too late to revive that path. We need an alternative.

            I’ve spoken to Noel about this before, but in no (recorded) aboriginal language is there a word for “ownership.” The concept is completely alien to them, and I find that quite beautiful. The whole concept of a sedentary life was in fact alien to them. Years ago I heard a dreaming story which has always stuck in my head. It concerns two brothers hunting in the top end during the wet season. This wet season was particular severe, there was no let up, and one night one of the brothers built himself a shelter to keep the rain off. Seeing the shelter in the morning, the other brother tore it down. They continued with their hunt. That night, to escape the rain, the first brother again built a shelter. In the morning, his brother saw it and promptly tore it down. They hunted through the day, then that night the first brother started to build another shelter because the rain just wouldn’t stop. His brother saw this, and killed him, saying, “This is not what we do.”

            Liked by 1 person

          • Sadly, Africa has gone past “too late” and I think the change is irreversible unless ChristianIty is done away with. Christians are trained as sheep and sheep do not confront their own reality. Nobel Laureate, Soyinka, describes the current generation as “wasted.”

            In West Africa, one could own any substance in accordance with the customs. All land within a kingdom is vested in the king but is given to inhabitants for farming. Ownership of land is normally through inheritance rather than outright purchase and each tribe has its own word for ownership. Among my people to say a land is in “Awuba” means the land has been given out for long lease (20 years or more). Having no sense of ownership creates peace but I think if people own something either individually or severally they are more determined to defend it.

            The dreaming story you just told reminds me of Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel was probably a Cro-magnon story and I have a strange suspicion that the story was actually about the invention of fire. Nature could make fire through lightening/thunder but for an individual to create fire, it was a remarkable achievement at the time for which his envious brother killed him – note that the killer is almost always older than their victim. Among primitive tribes you could be punished for trying to rise above the older members of the tribe – it shows disrespect. Modern society is not much different. Contemporary examples will be: a younger woman could not marry until her older sister marries first or If a young man acquires a property he must pretend it’s for his father or uncle or even hide it from everyone otherwise someone will definitely be envious and it’s only a matter of time that some evil will be plotted. Concerning the dreaming story you told, if the first brother had kept the shelter hidden then I believe everything would have been okay.

            Liked by 1 person

          • makagutu says:

            Sadly, Africa has gone past “too late” and I think the change is irreversible unless ChristianIty is done away with. Christians are trained as sheep and sheep do not confront their own reality. Nobel Laureate, Soyinka, describes the current generation as “wasted.”

            this is so true. we truly have been wasted by our education. our governments.

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          • Not just that but also through religion, media etc.

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          • makagutu says:

            That’s quite some story.

            Land was communally held. Families would be apportioned land to till or build homes. I don’t think there were fights over land. Maybe populations were also low then. I have seen kin kill kin over land these days and we call it development.

            Liked by 1 person

          • makagutu says:

            this i agree

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          • makagutu says:

            I once read a novel about Dreaming. What a fine story

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          • john zande says:

            Stories, and they are beautiful. It is a crime against humanity that we have lost so many.

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          • makagutu says:

            You can say that again. Stories are beautiful things.

            Liked by 1 person

          • makagutu says:

            This is interesting.
            In Luo, the word nyasaye which was translated to god has a plural nyiseche and as far as I know, the classical properties associated with the Christian god are alien in LuoLand.

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          • Precisely. Every tribe in Africa conceives of many gods, some of whom are even metamorphic. It reminds me of the argument between Akunna and Mr. Brown in “Things fall Apart:”

            “Whenever Mr. Brown went to that village he spent long hours with Akunna in his obi talking through an interpreter about religion. Neither of them succeeded in converting the other but they learned more about their different beliefs. “You say that there is one supreme God who made heaven and earth,” said Akunna on one of Mr. Brown’s visits. “We also believe in Him and call Him Chukwu. He made all the world and the other gods.” “There are no other gods,” said Mr. Brown. “Chukwu is the only God and all others are false. You carve a piece of wood–like that one” (he pointed at the rafters from which Akunna’s carved Ikenga hung), “and you call it a god. But it is still a piece of wood.” “Yes,” said Akunna. “It is indeed a piece of wood. The tree from which it came was made by Chukwu, as indeed all minor gods were. But He made them for His messengers so that we could approach Him through them……..”Your queen sends her messenger, the District Commissioner. He finds that he cannot do the work alone and so he appoints kotma to help him. It is the same with God, or Chukwu. He appoints the smaller gods to help Him because His work is too great for one person.” “You should not think of Him as a person,” said Mr. Brown. “It is because you do so that you imagine He must need helpers. And the worst thing about it is that you give all the worship to the false gods you have created.” “That is not so. We make sacrifices to the little gods, but when they fail and there is no one else to turn to we go to Chukwu. It is right to do so. We approach a great man through his servants. But when his servants fail to help us, then we go to the last source of hope. We appear to pay greater attention to the little gods but that is not so. We worry them more because we are afraid to worry their Master. Our fathers knew that Chukwu was the Overlord and that is why many of them gave their children the name Chukwuka-“Chukwu is Supreme.” “You said one interesting thing,” said Mr. Brown. “You are afraid of Chukwu. In my religion Chukwu is a loving Father and need not be feared by those who do His will.” “But we must fear Him when we are not doing His will,” said Akunna. “And who is to tell His will? It is too great to be known.”

            Mr. Brown contradicts himself by saying God is a loving father at the same time we must not think of him as a person.

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          • makagutu says:

            Not that I can make sense of

            Liked by 1 person

          • john zande says:

            I see they believe in Olodumare as the highest of high.

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  2. renudepride says:

    One of the major problems of the Christians and Muslims is that they always judge the beliefs of others through their own imaginations. If one is truly interested in studying other beliefs, one must consider the source only – independent of any conceptions based on personal experience. Naked hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

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