The Luo idea of god

Continuing from where we stopped a few days ago where we treated of African religion in general. We will now look at specific manifestations of the religious experience of different groups found in Africa.

Ogot (1964) notes that the original homeland of Western Nilotes is a difficult historical problem which has defied any satisfactory solution. What little is known is that about 1000CE they were living in the open grass plains of the present Equatorial and the eastern parts of the Bahr el Ghazal province of the Republic of Sudan.

The Luos, a Nilotic group, are divided into three groups; Northern, Central and Southern Luo and are found in Sudan, Ethiopia, Zaire, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The Northern group found in Ethiopia and Sudan is believed to have moved the least as compared to their other kin who moved South to their present homelands in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda.

Studies show, that while the concept of god is similar in some fundamental ways between these groups, there re slight variations that have been attributed to changes in time and space as these groups moved and interacted with others along the way. The argument being advanced here us that a change in the way of life results in a change in the idea of god.

Ogutu (1975) informs us that to the Luo, Jok is the ultimate object of ritual and was worshipped at the chiefdom shrines which were either erected for the purpose or were unusual natural phenomena or outstanding landmarks in the landscape. In most cases, these shrines , those that were built, were the houses/ homes of the leader of the group. The function of Jok, we are told, was limited to the clan and chiefdom. They also believed that Jok rested where people wanted it to rest. One can see here that the god worshipped was still a local god, almost under the direction of its human worshippers. We see eventually, this god transformed to an omnipresent god.

In the same work referred to already, the author, referring to a work by Okot p’Bitek says sacrifices were offered at the chiefdom shrines to Jok (god) and to the ancestors and any hostiles ghosts were dealt with accordingly. It is evident there was some belief among the Luo of a life after death in some form. Where these spirits (ancestors) resided is one that I have not seen answered.

From Ogot (1961), we learn that to the Shilluk Juok. Jok is the greatest spirit, and creator and sustainer of the world and everything in it. He notes, referring to a work by Leinhardt, that Juok is conceived in trinity that is in spirit and body. While referring to an article by Hayley, he says Jok can be seen as a natural power permeating the universe, neither well nor badly disposed towards mankind, unless made use of by man. It can be said that Jok is a kind of impartial, impersonal, limitless and universal power.

Ogot argues that because the people believe the vital force, that is, jok, can only be received through intermediaries as the ‘spirits of the air’ or prophets. For this reason, it is expected that the ancestors or medicine-men, diviners should be treated with respect.

To the Padhola, another Luo group, Were (god) is conceived of as one Supreme Being that manifests itself as Were Madiodipo ( god of the courtyard), Were Othim (god of the wilderness). The name of god is never spoken, but always referred to as Jamalo ( the one from above) (Ogot, 1972).

It should be noted, in passing, that to the Central Luo, the idea of a god responsible for man’s suffering did not exist.

As I mentioned in the beginning, that the idea of god is determined in time and space, the Luo concept of god changed during their migration from a god that rested where the community wanted it to, to a god found everywhere (Nyakalaga). What merits comment here is that the sun and other stellar objects, as many others have claimed, was not worshiped as a god but rather was seen as a manifestation of god, that is, the sun as the eye of god.

While it is generally believed by majority of Kenyans that the Kenyan Luo have always been fisher folk, this is in deed far from the truth. Evidence show that they were pastoralists and agriculturalists and only adopted fishing once they settled around the lake region. Fishing became a religious activity centered on the fishing vessel.

It is to be noted, to the Luo, any doubt on the existence of god Nyasaye/ Were/ Jok was an absurdity.

The Luo of Kenya perceive god as  jachwech (moulder), nyakalaga (omnipresent) and jarit (protector). Unlike other groups, for example the Jews with their god of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, the Luo see god as wuon ogendni (guardian of all people).  God is also said to exist in space (nyakalaga- everywhere present) and in time (wuon kwere- father of ancestors).

The cosmology of the Luo simply states that god moulded the earth. A creation ex nihilo is a concept they have no word for.


Ogot (1961) The Concept of Jok. African Studies, Vol 20 2.

Ogot (1964). Kingship and statelessness among the Nilotes. The Historian in Tropical Africa. 284-304

Ogot (1972). On the making of a sanctuary. The historical study of African Religion. 122-135

Ogutu M.E.G (1975) An historical analysis of the Luo idea of God. Unpublished Thesis, University of Nairobi.

 

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Sex, morals and religion- an odyssey

We continue with our summaries of the book by Bethwell A. Ogot, History as destiny and history as knowledge. This is possible, to a great extent, because the chapters stand alone and can be treated individually.

A man revered by Kenyans generally but Catholics specifically, Cardinal Maurice Otunga, in 1998 termed calls for gender equality unchristian, ruled out the ordination of women as priests terming this ungodly and to crown it all, led a group of catholic faithful in burning condoms and books on AIDS prevention, and family life education.

The author tells us, starting with the ancient Chinese civilization, the basic form of marriage was polygamy. A married man, besides his wives, would seek entertainment in the company of ‘singing girls’. The grounds for divorce were; disobedience to parents’ in-law, having no son, adultery, jealousy of the husband’s other wives, leprosy, thieving and talkativeness. However, a wife who had no family to go back to wouldn’t be divorced or if, having married her when he was poor, he had become rich.

Starting in 8th Century BCE India, the gods were no longer important. Hinduism and Buddhism sought new ways to transcend the gods, to go beyond them. The Buddha appearing in 538 BCE taught that the only thing that was important was the good life. To the Indian, platonic love was inconceivable. To them, Bethwell notes, love, if it existed, had to be consummated. Those who renounced love had to do so utterly and completely. He notes the Kama Sutra, a manual of etiquette, dealing entirely with eros still has some application today.

Moving to Japan, the author notes the attitude towards sex, marriage, chastity, adultery is more concerned with etiquette and manners than with religious beliefs or tenets. To them, he writes, sex is considered a minor matter but something good, part of the general human feelings which cannot be evil and subject to moralizing. The real aim of marriage in Japanese society is the procreation of children and thereby to ensure the continuity of family life. He adds any purpose other than this simply serve to pervert the true meaning of marriage.

Turning our gaze to Africa, we find in Egypt, a religion that was a fertility cult, with the earth as the female element and the sun as the male and their union beget life. Monogamy was the general rule. The position of the woman was exalted. Her security guaranteed be legal provision that a father could reclaim his daughter if his son in-law insulted, injured or humiliated her and demand return of the dowry.

Elsewhere in the Tigris and Euphrates Valley, arose the Babylonian civilization. They bequeathed humanity with the Hammurabi code which had a strong and direct influence upon Mosaic law, though it was considered more liberal and humane.

From here, we see the birthing of monotheism in Palestine with their god which they argued transcended gender but would remain essentially male and with it the demotion of the women. In Judaism therefore, women were not required, and therefore not permitted to become rabbis, to study Torah and to pray in the synagogue. To their credit, however, it could be sinful to avoid such pleasures as wine or sex, since they had been provided for man’s enjoyment. We must however note their obsession with female virginity and almost pathological fear that illegitimate children might be smuggled into a family, which saw them promulgate a law

A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the lord.

Christianity through the works of Paul, its architect, Augustine of Hippo, Tertullian and contrary to other religions looked at already, regarded sexual relations outside marriage as a grave sin. Total abstinence was considered a nobler state than marriage. Gregory the great declared it was the lust of our parents’ flesh that was the cause of our being and to this extent, human existence was itself sinful. To Augustine, the originator of the doctrine of original sin, god had condemned humanity to eternal damnation simply because of Adam’s one sin. To Augustine, we owe the heritage of a religion that teaches men and women to regard their humanity as chronically flawed. Augustine writing to a friend wrote

What is the difference, whether it is a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any women?

Augustine was clearly puzzled that god would have made the female sex, after all,

If it was good company and conversation that Adam needed, it would have been much better arranged to have two men together as friends, not a man and woman.

Tertullian, writing before Augustine had already instigated women as evil temptress and eternal danger to mankind. He wrote

Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of god on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You so carelessly destroyed man, god’s image. On account of your desert, even the son of god had to die.

In 1059, Pope Leo IX formally insisted on the chastity of all priests. During the reformation and counter reformation, the celibacy question arose. Melanchthon preached against celibacy, Zwingli married at 40 being the first priest of RCC to dare do so in five centuries and Martin Luther married a nun. The Anglican church arising from the King’s lust for a lovely damsel, in this view, was conceived in sin.

Contemporary works on sex can be seen in the works of Kant who argued there is no way in which a human being can be made an object of indulgence of another except through sexual impulse. The conclusions from the work of Paul Fleischmann is that the substitution of sexuality for religious life constitutes one of the most prominent and pervasive elements of cultural pathology. The works of Freud are also important, at least, to the extent that he laid the groundwork for the liberation of the sexual aspirations of women from both an oppressive personal sense of guilt and the shame and humiliation of social stigmatization.

Of most recent publication that has had a great bearing on sex, morality and religion is the Kinsey Report in the late 1940s. Of the many conclusions, two are of interest to us

  1. The complete failure of orthodox morality- in spite of religion, moral philosophy, the influence of schools, church, mosque, temple and social conventions, it is obvious that human beings obey their sexual instincts to a far greater extent than the most pessimistic puritans ever hinted at. They noted that sex could not b sublimated. Fear of punishment or exposure made little difference to a person’s sexual activities.
  2. The rules of self-conduct were invariably influenced by personalities of those who set up the rules. The report shows, indirectly, that practically all the popular conceptions of sex morality are ill founded, hence, moral judgements are dangerous because they are unavoidably personal.

In his conclusion, the author notes contemporary evidence shows a progressive shift in attitudes. In all societies throughout the world, the prize of the virgin in marriage has given way to sexual enjoyment on the part of both sexes before marriage.

His last paragraph, below, is almost a lament. He writes

Where does all this leave us in Africa? We abandoned our Old Testament for other peoples’ Old testament, Torah and Quran. Now that our mentors are abandoning their gods and their rights, we are blindly following them in their wastelands inhabited by hollow men and women. A catalogue of indecencies now stares us in the face, including nudity, transvestitism, prostitution, pre-marital sex, extra marital sex, rape, incest, homosexuality, lesbianism and other emerging unnatural mode of sex.

He finishes by asking a question

How do we obviate this sexual rot that is threatening to deplete the human race? Perhaps Africa need a Kinsey Report to analyse all the popular conceptions of sex, morality and religion, before we can pontificate ala Cardinal Otunga. Perhaps Africa needs its own sex manual, its own Kama Sutra. Perhaps Africa needs its own sex text books, from which ignorant teenagers can acquire basic biological facts.

On authenticity of the bible

Of the 66 books of the bible at least 50 are anonymous works or forgeries. To teach that these books are divine, and to accept them as such, denotes a degree of depravity on the one hand, and an amount of credulity on the other, that are not creditable to a moral and enlightened people. 

Says Remsburg J.

Bunyan on the other hand tells us

Every book of it, every chapter of it, every verse of it, every word of it, is the direct utterance of the most high.

I take sides with Remsburg.