The centrality of African spirituality continues to be diminished by the influence of Western culture and religions. With all the dimensions of modernity, African religions are despised. This is as seen from the polemics mainly coming from Christian churches, as well as the long-lasting legacy of colonialism which ruled African customs as paganistic, barbaric, backward, and “uncivilized.”
In all this, it becomes clear that imperialism has resulted in the erosion of African spirituality from the national consciousness discourse.
The introduction of Islam and Christianity as the dominant religions of the continent was brought about by colonization. African institutions had to be undermined for colonization to move at a ruthlessly swift pace, engulfing all aspects of the Africans’ psyche.
Colonization meant that African people were not supposed to be proud of their culture, values, customs, and practices. They had to be subservient to the new religions, particularly Christianity.
Western colonization made Africans view their indigenous spirituality as shallow, lacking depth, evil, primitive, and that partaking in it lacked any soulful sense whatsoever. Against this backdrop, African indigenous religions lost their relevance among the majority of Africans.
In contemporary Christian churches (especially those with an inclination towards Pentecostalism), African religions are continuously assailed. Ancestors are often alluded to as evil spirits that bring endless cycles of calamities on families.
Everything associated with African religions is treated with contempt and scorn in various Christian churches. This is despite the fact that the global world order (inspired by capitalism) already concludes that African religions are inferior and meaningless.
This racist view of African religions has not changed much. Africans have been taught to hate their roots through centuries of imperialism. While freedom of religion is a guaranteed right in some African countries, the indigenous religions have lost their grip. The white colonizers managed to instill a solid conclusion in the minds of many an African – the indigenous religions of Africa are evil and should not be entertained. As if that is some form of moral aberration.
This has had an oppressive effect on the minds of African people. Forced to deny their roots and ancestors, the inspiration to search more about their identity is sucked away. Africans have had to contend with forms of national consciousness that do not fully appreciate the role of pre-colonial societies in getting to where we are now.
The reference to spiritual figures was high during struggles for liberation, as opposed to today’s society which has become highly urbanized, modernized, and individualistic. And does not care much about the deep history of the continent. As if history has ended.
However, to deny this history is akin to gross injustice. By refusing to acknowledge, and study more about African traditional religions, a sense of identity that is fulfilling to the soul is missing. African traditional religions were the hearts and souls of pre-colonial societies and served those societies with priceless lessons about life.
African religions were crucial in forming the moral compass of societies. An individual’s existence was nothing without being intrinsically tied to the whole community. In turn, the whole community was nothing without these committed individuals.
These religions shaped and informed the identities of countless African societies (today, most of what we consider ‘natural’ to black people in terms of values and morals was shaped by these religions, which most people now despise in our contemporary times).
While one is free to choose whatever religion they wish, it is not necessary to denigrate African religions. It is not necessary to deny the existence of these religions together with their roots in pre-colonial societies. It is not necessary to say that African religions are evil, barbaric, and regressive. Because that is not the case, at all.
This is a result of centuries of imperialism, and as watered down to contemporary populations through modernity.
There are plenty of good values to learn from African indigenous religions about life and everything that comes with this.
Regrettably, most Christian churches choose to disparage African religions and fail to speak about how these were instrumental when African countries fought for their liberation from the colonizers at different stages of history.
They fail to appreciate that the emphasis of African identity on totems is informed by these indigenous religions. Totemism embodies the souls of nature similar to men. This is an indispensable part of the African psyche, despite apparent attempts to view this in light terms. They are important for a group’s identity.
This example on totemism serves to illustrate the point that our national consciousness is still informed by these values – which have their roots in pre-colonial societies.
Before colonization, these religions were the way of life. They were everything. Hence, they should not be treated as an “end of history.”
African religions always stressed the importance of communalism – and with how contemporary African societies have become increasingly individualistic, it is important to revisit these principles. In African religions, man lives in a state of relationships and interdependence. Man, as an individual does not live on his terms, but in terms of the human community and nature.
From these values flow Ubuntu – “I am because we are.” Modernity has resulted in people who are selfish, and who think their actions do not affect the public. Public interest has been set aside, and this manifests itself in some ludicrous decisions taken by African governments in collusion with private capital (both global and local). People are now irritable, impatient, lack good attention spans, and have become extremely materialistic.
But it is always important to remind each other, in attempts to decolonize the African mind, that African indigenous religions are not evil. And have never been evil. With the rapacious materialism of today’s age, which makes people do absurd things all because of money, it is imperative to return to some of the teachings found in African traditions – teachings that help us value the community.
This will help people regulate their actions in the public interest and foster more empathy. In turn, there will be a robust national consciousness that is always historically aware of its identity. For contemporary African peoples, African traditional religions may have lost their appeal but it does not mean that they are worthless – on the contrary, they are rich.