Form 1 CRE Notes On African Concepts Of God, Spirits And Ancestors
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TOPIC 8: AFRICAN CONCEPT OF GOD, SPIRITS AND ANCESTORS
AFRICAN RELIGIOUS HERITAGE
African societies had a religion even before the coming of Christianity and Islam.
- Every aspect of their life was controlled by religion.
- They believed in the existence of God that they referred to in different names.
- They believed that everything in the world both living and non-living were created by God.
- That is why professor Mbithi refers to Africans as being notoriously religious.
- These stories that try to explain the origin of the earth are called Myths.
Importance of Myths
1) Myths try to explain certain aspects of life, which seems to be difficult to explain e.g. where death came from.
2) They try to explain the origin of a people and their culture.
3) Myths unite a community together because they believe they have some origin.
4) Myths are also educative.
5) Myths are also for entertainment.
6) Myths explain why people behave in particular way.
AFRICAN CONCEPT OF GOD
- African communities believe that God is Supreme Being who is beyond human understanding.
- The Africans respect and honor God. This kind of respect is not given to other human beings.
- Most African communities believe that;
i. God is the creator: for he created the living and non-living. He created all from nothing.
ii. God is all-powerful: He is the one who makes all and he has the power and strength over all things. (Omnipotent).
iii. God is all knowing: (Omniscient). This means that nothing can be hidden from God.
iv. God is good: All that He created is.
v. God is Merciful: loving and just.
vi. God is holy: God does not make mistake and fail in any way.
vii. God is transcendent: (He is beyond human understanding; people rarely have physical representation of God).
viii. God is all seeing: people believe that He has eyes that see everywhere.
ix. God is omnipresent: for He is ever present in the world at the same time.
x. God is spirit. He is believed to be in the spirit form and invisible but His presence can be felt.
xi. God is everlasting (eternal). He was there at the beginning and he will be there to the end. He’s the same today, yesterday and tomorrow.
xii. God is the provider for he provides man with all that man needs to sustain e.g. Bukusu called him Were Khakaba meaning the provider.
-The spiritual world is dominated by spiritual beings i.e. spirits and the living dead.
- There are good and bad spirits. There are spirits that are created by God; these are called divinities.
- There are spirits that are believed to have been human beings. These are called Common Spirits.
- Some spirits that are believed to be in charge of natural occurrences e.g. earthquakes, lightning.
- Spirits are believed to dwell in the underworld; these include riverbeds, rocks or caves, mountains, valleys, lakes, forests etc.
- It is believed that spirits would be blown from one homestead to another. They are also believed to be more powerful than the living but can be manipulated e.g. diviners or mediums are believed to use the spirits in their work.
COMMUNICATION WITH THE SPIRITS
- Spirits are consulted through offerings, sacrifices, prayers, songs and dances.
- Shrines are also built for the spirits.
- There is also the pouring out of libations. However, the practices of consulting God through spirits have been greatly affected by Biblical teachings.
The role of spirits
- Some of the spirits are consulted by diviners, mediums and medicine men.
- Bad spirits could bring misfortune amongst the people.
- Some spirits are used by magicians, sorcerers and witches to bring calamities.
- The spirits also provide people with explanation to certain strange things which they find in the universe.
- Religious specialists consult spirits in order to find a cause or solution to a problem.
- A spirit also relay God’s response to human request e.g. during calamities such as famine, floods, drought.
- Spirits are also consulted before serious undertaking such as wars. Spirits are believed to bring victory.
- They can give warning to impending dangers.
ANCESTORS (LIVING DEAD)
- The term “living dead” has been used to mean a person who is physically dead but whose character is still active in memory of those who know him.
- Such a person is believed to be alive in the spirit world.
- On the other hand ancestors can be used to refer to those who have been forgotten.
- The living dead are believed to be Bilingual i.e. they speak the language of the living dead and also speak the language of the people with whom they lived with until recently.
- The ancestors (living dead) act as link between the living and God and therefore are respected and remembered through naming of the children after them.
- Whenever a community feels that the ancestors are not pleased with them, they would appease them through the act of offering sacrifices.
- There is also pouring of the libations.
- They also show respect to the dead by honoring their wills and wishes.
- The dead are also remembered during occasions like initiation.
- Their names are also at times mentioned in prayers.
- The dead are also consulted through diviners or medicine men whenever a decision is to be made.
Role of ancestors
1. Act as link between the living and the dead.
2. Ancestors help to preserve and sustain traditional standards of the community.
3. They are also used to regulate the behavior of those who are still living e.g. would punish the living.
4. They protect the living.
5. Give instructions to the family as what should be done on certain issues affecting the family.
6. They warn of impending punishment to those who fail to carry out their wishes.
7. Participate in community ritual ceremonies e.g. burying the dead.
8. Ancestors also welcomed the dead in the world of the living dead.
AFRICAN HIERACHY OF BEING
GOD --> DIVINITIES--> COMMON SPIRITS--> LIVING DEAD-->HUMAN BEINGS-->ANIMALS & PLANTS -->NON-LIVING THINGS
The African understanding of the universe is that it consists of two parts i.e. visible (earth) and the invisible, which is the sky.
- The universe has an order in which the beings are arranged.
- In the hierarchy God occupies the highest position. He is the creator of the universe.
- Below God are divinities who are personal aides to God.
They control major forces of nature.
- Under divinities there is common spirit. These are spirits of those who died long ago.
- The fourth in the hierarchy are the living dead who act as the intermediaries between the living and God.
- The fifth in the hierarchy are human beings who include those physically alive and those yet to be born.
- Living things like animals and plants make up the next level. Human beings use them as food.
--They are also used as sacrifices and offerings to God.
Some plants and animals are regarded as sacred in certain African communities.
-At the bottom of hierarchy are the non-living things, which include rivers, lakes, mountains, rocks, valleys and caves
Responsibility of the living towards God
- The living have a lot of duties towards God e.g. the living have the responsibility of thanking God for whatever he has done.
- The livings also honor God through praying to Him and honoring Him as the provider.
- They also sing and dance in worship of God.
- The livings also honor God through offering of sacrifices and people are expected to take the best of their flock.
- The Africans also have to respect the name of God and is not to be mentioned carelessly.
- The Africans also have the responsibility of teaching the young ones about God.
- It is also the responsibility of the living to take care of God’s creation e.g. in some Communities it is a taboo to kill young animals.
Responsibility of the living towards Spirits and Ancestors
- All the living has to respect the spirits and ancestors.
- It is also responsibility of the living to consult the spirit world in times of need.
- This is done through religious specialists such as diviners and mediums.
- The living have to honor sacred places e.g. caves, shrines, river beds, mountain etc.
- The living also shows concern for the dead by pouring out the libation and food.
- The living also honors the wishes of the dead. It is believed that going against their wishes would bring punishment.
- The people have the responsibility of taking care of the community’s land as it is believed that land belongs to the community.
- It is their duty to protect the community’s culture. This culture would be passed from generation to generation.
AFRICAN WAYS OF WORSHIP
- Worship refers to an act of showing respect, honor and love for God.
- The methods of approaching God differ from one community to another.
i. Offering of sacrifice: It involves shedding of blood whether human beings, birds or animals.
The sacrificial animals are carefully selected.
Sacrifices are usually offered by religious specialists like the diviners and priests.
They roast the animal and believe the smoke reached God.
ii. Through offerings: Offerings are gifts given to God other than those that involve shedding of blood. Offering include things like food stuffs milk or harvest from the firm.
iii. Through prayers: People may also communicate to God through prayers.
African prayers are usually short and to the point.
Prayers are usually offered before sacrifices.
iv. Through religious specialists such include diviners, mediums, prophets or elders.
The specialists act as intermediaries between the people and the spirits.
v. Through songs and dances.
The Africans also worship God through singing and dancing especially during communal
act of worship.
vi. Through Shrines: Communal worship is carried out at particular places known as Shrines. The Agikuyu have a sacred tree known as the Mugumo tree.
Other Communities have shrines like rocks, mountains and caves.
vii. Pouring of libation: This is meant to appease God. Before one starts eating, some food would be thrown down for the ancestors.
viii. Through ancestral spirits.
Ancestors and the living dead are believed to have to have a lot of influence on the living.
ix). Through spirits: People would also communicate with God through the use of spirits. This is done through diviners and medium.
AFRICAN TRADITIONAL WAYS OF VENERATING ANCESTORS AND SPIRITS
Veneration simply means the ways in which the Africans show respect and honour to God. These include:
- Offering sacrifices
- This is done to maintain good relationship between the living and the dead.
- Pouring out of libation
- The Africans pour libations to the ancestors in form of grains, piece of meat, milk or beer.
- Inviting them to participate in the community rites such as marriage, birth and burials.
- Through naming
- Some communities venerate ancestors through naming new born babies after them.
- Calling their names in prayers
- The ancestors are also venerated or calling their names in prayers.
- Giving the dead a decent burial. The graves of the dead are well maintained and the
- Body is carefully placed in the grave.
- Honoring the will and wishes of the dead.
- It is believed that if the will and wishes are not honored, the dead would bring bad omen to the living.