Social Studies – African Kingdoms: Traditional Religion
Even though Africa was made up of very different tribes, most of Africa practiced animistic religion. So, tribes that lived in different areas would tend to have different beliefs.
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And they would be so different from each other that it was if maybe they evolved in a different area than another. They didn’t all have the exact same deities.
They did not have the exact same beliefs, but for the most part, African tribes practiced animistic religion. And animistic religion centered on the belief that deities or gods are embodied in the animals that people depend on for food and service.
So, ritual worship was important. People would ask the animals to die for them so they could have food, and they could have clothing, or to submit to them so they could have service animals to work the fields. And so, ritual worship was important, and some of the activities that people practiced were drumming, dancing, divination, and sacrifices. And divination was the calling out of evil spirits, and so, if someone thought that there were evil spirits, a diviner would be called in to take care of the situation. But the drumming and dancing and ritual sacrifices were all the ways that the African tribes would show respect to their deities, in hopes that they would continue to help them, so the animals would continue to serve them, the animals would continue to be around to be hunted so that they could eat.
And there were also well-developed concepts of good and evil in animistic religion. Some things were seen as clearly good, some things were seen as evil, some things were interpreted certain ways. For instance, these tribes believed that some disasters, illnesses, etc., were evil, and they were a result of witchcraft. So, someone was doing something bad and causing this evil to befall them. Or someone wasn’t doing the good that they were supposed to be doing, causing this evil to befall them. And so, a specialist, known as a diviner, was called upon to fight the power of evil that was within someone, if they were sick. Or that was within the weather, if there was some bad weather, the diviner would be called upon to try to deter the weather from coming that way. If there was a natural disaster, the diviner would come and say, “Please don’t let this happen again.”
In addition, some disasters, illnesses, etc., were believed to be due to a lack of respect to deities or animals, because they believed that the deities were in the animals. So, if maybe someone killed a whole herd of an animal, say there was a herd of buffalo, and someone herded them all over a cliff to where they all died. But the people didn’t need that much food, it was a big waste. And so, that was considered disrespectful to that animal, and it could also be looked at as a way that whoever ran that herd over the cliff and wasted so much food was drawing evil toward their tribe.
And so, that person wouldn’t have been looked upon very fondly, because while they brought plenty of food to them, it was way more than they needed, and it was a waste, and it wasn’t honoring the deity that was in that buffalo. And so, it could also be looked at as a way that evil was going to be brought down on that tribe. So, if anything bad happened after that point, they might blame it on that person running the herd of buffalo over a cliff and wasting them.
Many African tribes also agreed on the existence of a creator deity. So, we have all these deities that are in the animals that people interact with on a daily basis, but they also believed that there was a creator. The creator would have been the ones to create the very first ancestors of a tribe, and allow them to procreate and live. And so, the ancestors who had founded a tribe were regarded as very powerful. They were considered links between the living and the deities. So, the deity was the one who was going to give life to the ancestors, and the ancestors gave life to everyone else. But the oldest ancestors back that a tribe talked about would be regarded as very powerful, and were to be respected because they were considered links between the living people and the deities. And so, people were going to pay a lot of respect to their ancestors.
Now, many of the African tribes did practice animistic religion. But slowly, other religions came into Africa. Many monotheistic religions spread to Africa, such as Islam and Christianity. But even though these religions spread to Africa, many traditional religions were still practiced. The tribes would often recognize both religions rather than converting.
So, the African tribes really liked what they were used to, and they believed in the deities that were in the animals. They believed in a creator deity, and they saw no problem with believing in the god of Islam, or the god of Christianity, has just another god. So, while some did convert to monotheism, either Islam or Christianity, many African tribes still continued to practice both religions rather convert to just one. And so, many of them did still practice animistic religion.