The Info List - Traditional African Religion

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The Traditional African religions
Traditional African religions
(or traditional beliefs and practices of African people) are highly diverse and include various ethnic religions.[1] Generally, these traditions are oral rather than scriptural,[2][3] include belief in a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic and traditional medicine.[4][1] The role of humanity is generally seen as one of harmonising nature with the supernatural.[1][5]


1 Statistics 2 Ceremonies 3 Spirits 4 Practices and rituals

4.1 Divination

5 Virtue and vice 6 Sacred places 7 Religious persecution 8 Traditions by region

8.1 Central Africa 8.2 East African 8.3 Southern Africa 8.4 West Africa 8.5 African Diaspora 8.6 North Africa

9 Notes 10 References 11 Further reading 12 External links


An early 20th century Igbo medicine man in Nigeria, West Africa

Practitioners of traditional religions in Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
are distributed among 43 countries, and were estimated to number over 100 million,[6] although the largest religions in Africa are by far Christianity
and Islam. Ceremonies[edit] West and Central African religious practices generally manifest themselves in communal ceremonies or divinatory rites in which members of the community, overcome by force (or ashe, nyama, etc.), are excited to the point of going into meditative trance in response to rhythmic or mantric drumming or singing. One religious ceremony practiced in Gabon
and Cameroon
is the Okuyi, practiced by several Bantu ethnic groups. In this state, depending upon the region, drumming or instrumental rhythms played by respected musicians (each of which is unique to a given deity or ancestor), participants embody a deity or ancestor, energy or state of mind by performing distinct ritual movements or dances which further enhance their elevated consciousness.[7] When this trance-like state is witnessed and understood, practitioners are privy to a way of contemplating the pure or symbolic embodiment of a particular mindset or frame of reference. This builds skills at separating the feelings elicited by this mindset from their situational manifestations in daily life. Such separation and subsequent contemplation of the nature and sources of pure energy or feelings serves to help participants manage and accept them when they arise in mundane contexts. This facilitates better control and transformation of these energies into positive, culturally appropriate behavior, thought, and speech. Herseys Further, this practice can also give rise to those in these trances uttering words which, when interpreted by a culturally educated initiate or diviner, can provide insight into appropriate directions which the community (or individual) might take in accomplishing its goal.[8] Spirits[edit] Main article: List of African mythological figures Followers of traditional African religions pray to various spirits as well as to their ancestors. These secondary spirits serve as intermediaries between humans and the primary God. Most African societies believe in a single Supreme Creator God
(Chukwu, Nyame, Olodumare, Ngai, Roog, etc.).[9] Some recognize a dual God
and Goddess such as Mawu-Lisa.[10] Practices and rituals[edit]

Bakongo masks from the Kongo Central

There are more similarities than differences in all traditional African religions.[11] Often, the supreme God
is worshiped through consultation or communion with lesser deities and ancestral spirits. The deities and spirits are honored through libation, sacrifice (of animals, vegetables, cooked food, flowers, semi-precious stones, precious metals, etc.). The will of God
is sought by the believer also through consultation of oracular deities, or divination.[12] In many traditional African religions, there is a belief in a cyclical nature of reality. The living stand between their ancestors and the unborn. Traditional African religions
Traditional African religions
embrace natural phenomena – ebb and tide, waxing and waning moon, rain and drought – and the rhythmic pattern of agriculture. According to Gottlieb and Mbiti:

The environment and nature are infused in every aspect of traditional African religions and culture. This is largely because cosmology and beliefs are intricately intertwined with the natural phenomena and environment. All aspects of weather, thunder, lightning, rain, day, moon, sun, stars, and so on may become amenable to control through the cosmology of African people. Natural phenomena are responsible for providing people with their daily needs.[13]

For example, in the Serer religion, one of the most sacred stars in the cosmos is called Yoonir the (Star of Sirius).[14] With a long farming tradition, the Serer high priests and priestesses (Saltigue) deliver yearly sermons at the Xoy Ceremony (divination ceremony) in Fatick
before Yoonir's phase in order to predict winter months and enable farmers to start planting.[15] Divination[edit] Main article: African divination

Early 20th century Yoruba divination board

Since Africa is a large continent with many ethnic groups and cultures, there is not one single technique of casting divination. The practice of casting may be done with small objects, such as bones, cowrie shells, stones, strips of leather, or flat pieces of wood.

Traditional healer of South Africa performing a divination by reading the bones

Some castings are done using sacred divination plates made of wood or performed on the ground (often within a circle). In traditional African societies, many people seek out diviners on a regular basis. There are generally no prohibitions against the practice. Those who divine for a living are also sought for their wisdom as counselors in life and for their knowledge of herbal medicine. Virtue and vice[edit] Virtue in traditional African religion is often connected with carrying out obligations of the communal aspect of life. Examples include social behaviors such as the respect for parents and elders, raising children appropriately, providing hospitality, and being honest, trustworthy, and courageous. In some traditional African religions, morality is associated with obedience or disobedience to God
regarding the way a person or a community lives. For the Kikuyu, according to their primary supreme creator, Ngai, acting through the lesser deities, is believed to speak to and be capable of guiding the virtuous person as one's conscience. Traditionally, as now, the Kikuyu were monotheists, believing in a unique and omnipotent God
whom they called Ngai. The word, is related to the Maasai word Enkai, and was borrowed by both the Kikuyu and Kamba. God
is also known as Mungu, Murungu, or Mulungu (a variant of a word meaning God, which is found as far south as the Zambesi of Zambia), and is sometimes given the title Mwathani or Mwathi (the greatest ruler), which comes from the word gwatha, meaning to rule or reign with authority. Ngai is the creator and giver of all things, 'the Divider of the Universe and Lord of Nature'. He gave birth to the human community, created the first Kikuyu communities, and provided them with all the resources necessary for life: land, rain, plants and animals. He - for Ngai is male - cannot be seen, but is manifest in the sun, moon, stars, comets and meteors, thunder and lighting, rain, in rainbows and in the great fig trees (mugùmò) that served as places of worship and sacrifice, and which marked the spot at Mukurue wa Gathanga where Gikuyu and Mumbi - the ancestors of the Kikuyu in the oral legend - first settled. Yet Ngai is not the distant God
that we know in the West. He had human characteristics, and although some say that he lives in the sky or in the clouds, they also say that he comes to earth from time to time to inspect it, bestow blessings and mete out punishment. When he comes he rests on Mount Kenya
Mount Kenya
and four other sacred mountains. Thunder is interpreted to be the movement of God, and lightning is God's weapon by means of which he clears the way when moving from one sacred place to another. Other people believed that Ngai's abode was on Mount Kenya, or else 'beyond' its peaks. Ngai, says one legend, made the mountain his resting place while on an inspection tour of earth. He then took the first man, Gikuyu, to the top to point out the beauty of the land he was giving him.In traditional African religions, such as the Azande
religion, a person is said to have a good or bad conscience, depending on whether he does the bidding of God
or malevolent spirits. In many cases, Africans who have converted to other religions have still kept up their traditional customs and practices, combining them in a syncretic way.[16] Sacred places[edit] Some sacred or holy locations for traditional religions include Nri-Igbo, the Point of Sangomar, Yaboyabo, Fatick, Ife, Oyo, Dahomey, Benin City, Ouidah, Nsukka, Kanem-Bornu, and Igbo-Ukwu
among others. Religious persecution[edit] Main article: Persecution of traditional African religion Traditions by region[edit] This list is limited to a few well-known traditions. Central Africa[edit]

Bantu mythology
Bantu mythology
(Central, Southeast, Southern Africa)

Bushongo mythology (Congo) Lugbara mythology (Congo) Baluba mythology (Congo) Mbuti mythology (Congo)

Dinka religion (South Sudan) Hausa animism (Chad, Gabon) Lotuko mythology (South Sudan)

East African[edit]

Bantu mythology
Bantu mythology
(Central, Southeast, Southern Africa)

Akamba mythology
Akamba mythology

Maasai mythology (Kenya, Tanzania, Ouebian) Kalenjin Religion(Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) Dini Ya Msambwa
Dini Ya Msambwa
(Bungoma, Trans Nzoia, Kenya)

Southern Africa[edit]

Bantu mythology
Bantu mythology
(Central, Southeast, Southern Africa)

Lozi mythology (Zambia) Tumbuka mythology (Malawi) Zulu mythology (South Africa)

San religion (South Africa) Traditional healers of South Africa Manjonjo Healers of Chitungwiza of Zimbabwe

West Africa[edit]

Akan religion
Akan religion
(Ghana, Ivory Coast) Dahomean religion (Benin, Togo) Efik mythology (Nigeria, Cameroon) Edo religion (Benin kingdom, Nigeria) Hausa animism (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Togo) Odinani
(Igbo people, Nigeria) Serer religion
Serer religion
(A ƭat Roog) (Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania) Yoruba religion
Yoruba religion
(Nigeria, Benin, Togo) West African Vodun
West African Vodun
(Ghana, Benin, Togo, Nigeria) Dogon religion (Mali) Vodun

African Diaspora[edit] Main article: Afro-American religion North Africa[edit]

Ancient Egyptian religion
Ancient Egyptian religion
(Egypt, Sudan) Traditional Berber religion
Traditional Berber religion
(Morocco (including Western Sahara), Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso) Hausa animism (Sudan)


^ a b c Encyclopedia of African Religion
(Sage, 2009) Molefi Kete Asante ^ Juergensmeyer, Mark (2006). The Oxford Handbook Of Global Religions. ISBN 0-19-513798-1. ^ S. Mbiti, John (1991). Introduction to African religion. ISBN 0-435-94002-3. ^ An African Story BBC
Archived November 2, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. ^ What is religion? An African understanding Archived May 21, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. ^ Britannica Book of the Year (2003), Encyclopædia Britannica (2003) ISBN 978-0-85229-956-2 p.306 According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, as of mid-2002, there were 480,453,000 Christians, 329,869,000 Muslims and 98,734,000 people who practiced traditional religions in Africa. Ian S. Markham, A World Religions Reader (1996) Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. is cited by Morehouse University as giving the mid-1990s figure of 278,250,800 Muslims in Africa, but still as 40.8% of the total. These numbers are estimates, and remain a matter of conjecture (see Amadu Jacky Kaba). The spread of Christianity
and Islam
in Africa: a survey and analysis of the numbers and percentages of Christians, Muslims and those who practice indigenous religions. The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol 29, Number 2, (June 2005), discusses the estimations of various almanacs and encyclopediae, placing Britannica's estimate as the most agreed on figure. Notes the figure presented at the World Christian Encyclopedia, summarized here Archived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine., as being an outlier. On rates of growth, Islam
and Pentecostal Christianity
are highest, see: The List: The World's Fastest-Growing Religions, Foreign Policy, May 2007. ^ Karade, B. The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts, pages 39–46. Samuel Weiser Inc, 1994 ^ Annemarie De Waal Malefijt (1968) Religion
and Culture: an Introduction to Anthropology of Religion, p 220–249, Macmillan ^ Willie F. Page (2001) Encyclopedia of African History and Culture, Volume 1, p55. Published by Facts on File, ISBN 0-8160-4472-4 ^ Peter C. Rogers (2009) Ultimate Truth, Book 1, p100. Published by AuthorHouse, ISBN 1-4389-7968-1 ^ John S. Mbiti (1990) African Religions & Philosophy 2nd Ed., p 100–101, Heinemann, ISBN 0-435-89591-5 ^ John S. Mbiti (1992) Introduction to African Religion
2nd Ed., p. 68, Published by East African Publishers ISBN 9966-46-928-1 ^ Roger S. Gottlieb (2006) The Oxford Handbook of Religion
and Ecology, p. 261, Oxford Handbooks Online ISBN 0-19-517872-6 ^ Henry Gravrand (1990) La Civilisation Sereer Pangool, PP 21, 152, Published by Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines du Sénégal, ISBN 2-7236-1055-1 ^ Simone Kalis (1997) Médecine Traditionnelle, Religion
et Divination Chez les Seereer Siin du Sénégal: La Coonaissance de la Nuit, L'Harmattan, ISBN 2-7384-5196-9 ^ Resolving the Prevailing Conflicts Between Christianity
and African (Igbo) Traditional Religion
Through Inculturation, by Edwin Anaegboka Udoye


Information presented here was gleaned from World Eras Encyclopaedia, Volume 10, edited by Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure (New York: Thomson-Gale, 2003), in particular pp. 275–314. Baldick, J (1997) Black God: The Afroasiatic Roots of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Religions. New York: Syracuse University Press. Doumbia, A. & Doumbia, N (2004) The Way of the Elders: West African Spirituality
& Tradition. Saint Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications. Ehret, Christopher, (2002) The Civilizations of Africa: a History to 1800. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. Ehret, Christopher, An African Classical Age: Eastern and Southern Africa in World History, 1000 B.C. to A.D. 400, page 159, University of Virginia Press, ISBN 0-8139-2057-4 Karade, B (1994) The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts. York Beach, MA: Samuel Weiser Inc. P'Bitek, Okot. African Religions and Western Scholarship. Kampala: East African Literature Bureau, 1970. Princeton Online, History of Africa Wiredu, Kwasi Toward Decolonizing African Philosophy And Religion
in African Studies Quarterly, The Online Journal for African Studies, Volume 1, Issue 4, 1998

Further reading[edit]

Encyclopedia of African Religion, - Molefi Asante, Sage Publications, 1412936365 Abimbola, Wade (ed. and trans., 1977). Ifa Divination
Poetry NOK, New York). Baldick, Julian (1997). Black God: the Afroasiatic roots of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions. Syracuse University Press:ISBN 0-8156-0522-6 Barnes, Sandra. Africa's Ogun: Old World and New (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989). Beier, Ulli, ed. The Origins of Life and Death: African Creation Myths (London: Heinemann, 1966). Bowen, P.G. (1970). Sayings of the Ancient One - Wisdom from Ancient Africa. Theosophical Publishing House, U.S. Chidester, David. "Religions of South Africa" pp. 17–19 Cole, Herbert Mbari. Art and Life among the Owerri Igbo (Bloomington: Indiana University press, 1982). Danquah, J. B., The Akan Doctrine of God: A Fragment of Gold Coast Ethics and Religion, second edition (London: Cass, 1968). Gbadagesin, Segun. African Philosophy: Traditional Yoruba Philosophy and Contemporary African Realities (New York: Peter Lang, 1999). Gleason, Judith. Oya, in Praise of an African Goddess (Harper Collins, 1992). Griaule, Marcel; Dietterlen, Germaine. Le Mythe Cosmogonique (Paris: Institut d'Ethnologie, 1965). Idowu, Bolaji, God
in Yoruba Belief (Plainview: Original Publications, rev. and enlarged ed., 1995) LaGamma, Alisa (2000). Art and oracle: African art and rituals of divination. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0-87099-933-8. Archived from the original on 2013-05-10.  Lugira, Aloysius Muzzanganda. African traditional religion. Infobase Publishing, 2009. Mbiti, John African Religions and Philosophy (1969) African Writers Series, Heinemann ISBN 0-435-89591-5 Opoku, Kofi Asare (1978). West African Traditional Religion
Kofi Asare Opoku Publisher: FEP International Private Limited. ASIN: B0000EE0IT Parrinder, Geoffrey. African Traditional Religion, Third ed. (London: Sheldon Press, 1974). ISBN 0-85969-014-8 pbk. Parrinder, Geoffrey. "Traditional Religion", in his Africa's Three Religions, Second ed. (London: Sheldon Press, 1976, ISBN 0-85969-096-2), p. [15-96]. Peavy, D., (2009)."Kings, Magic & Medicine". Raleigh, NC: SI. Peavy, D., (2016). The Benin Monarchy, Olokun & Iha Ominigbon. Umewaen: Journal of Benin & Edoid Studies: Osweego, NY. Popoola, S. Solagbade. Ikunle Abiyamo: It is on Bent Knees that I gave Birth (2007 Asefin Media Publication) Soyinka, Wole, Myth, Literature and the African World (Cambridge University Press, 1976). Umeasigbu, Rems Nna. The Way We Lived: Ibo Customs and Stories (London: Heinemann, 1969).

External links[edit]

Traditional African religion portal Religion

African Comparative Belief Afrika world.net A website with extensive links and information about traditional African religions[dead link] Baba Alawoye.com Baba'Awo Awoyinfa Ifaloju, showcasing Ifa using web media 2.0 (blogs, podcasting, video & photocasting)[dead link] culture-exchange.blog/animism-modern-africa An article explaining the parallels between traditional and modern religious practices in Africa

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in Africa


Akan mythology Akamba mythology Bahá'í Faith Bantu mythology Berber mythology Bambuti mythology Buddhism Bushongo mythology Christianity Dahomey
(Fon) mythology Dinka mythology Efik mythology Egyptian religion Hinduism Irreligion Islam Isoko mythology Jainism Judaism Khoe/San religion Lotuko mythology Lozi mythology Lugbara mythology Malagasy mythology Masai mythology Igbo religion Serer creation myth Serer religion Tumbuka mythology Waaq Yoruba religion Zulu religion

Sovereign states

Algeria Angola Benin Botswana Burkina Faso Burundi Cameroon Cape Verde Central African Republic Chad Comoros Democratic Republic of the Congo Republic of the Congo Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) Djibouti Egypt Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Ethiopia Gabon The Gambia Ghana Guinea Guinea-Bissau Kenya Lesotho Liberia Libya Madagascar Malawi Mali Mauritania Mauritius Morocco Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Rwanda São Tomé and Príncipe Senegal Seychelles Sierra Leone Somalia South Africa South Sudan Sudan Swaziland Tanzania Togo Tunisia Uganda Zambia Zimbabwe

Dependencies, autonomies and other territories

Canary Islands (Spain) Ceuta (Spain) Madeira (Portugal) Mayotte (France) Melilla (Spain) Puntland Réunion (France) Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic St. Helena (UK) Socotra (Yemen) Somaliland Western Sahara Zanzibar (Tanzania)

See also: Afro-American religion

v t e


Major religious groups
Major religious groups
and religious denominations




Haredi Hasidic Modern

Conservative Reform Karaite Reconstructionist Renewal Humanistic Haymanot



Eastern Catholic Churches

Eastern Christianity

Church of the East

Assyrian Church of the East

Eastern Orthodoxy Oriental Orthodoxy

Ethiopian Orthodoxy

Independent Catholicism

Old Catholicism


Adventism Anabaptism Anglicanism Baptists Calvinism

Presbyterianism Congregationalism Continental Reformed

Lutheranism Methodism Pentecostalism Evangelicalism


Jehovah's Witnesses Mormonism Jesuism




Hanafi Maliki Hanbali Shafi'i


Twelver Isma'ilism Zaidiyyah

Ahmadi Ibadi Non-denominational Quranism Zahirism Salafism

Wahhabism Ahl al-Hadith

Mahdavia European Islam Nation of Islam



Azáli Bábism Bahá'í Faith

Druze Mandaeism Rastafari Samaritanism



Vaishnavism Shaktism Shaivism Ayyavazhi Smartism Balinese




Zen Thiền Seon

Pure Land Nichiren Madhyamaka Tiantai

Theravada Vajrayana

Tibetan Shingon Newar Bon



Dravidian Jainism

Digambara Śvētāmbara

Sikhism Gurung shamanism Bon
Lamaism Kirant Mundhum


Manichaeism Yazdânism

Yazidism Ishikism Ali-Illahism Yarsanism



Armenian Baltic

Dievturība Druwi Romuva

Caucasian Celtic


Germanic Hellenism Italo-Roman Romanian Slavic


Finnish Hungarian Uralic

Mari Mordvin Udmurt

Central and Northern Asian

Burkhanism Chuvash Manchu Mongolian Siberian Tengrism

East Asian

Benzhuism Bimoism Bon Cheondoism Confucianism Dongbaism Faism Hmongism Jeungsanism Luoism Meishanism Mileism Muism Neo-Confucianism Ryukyuan religion Shenism Shigongism Shinto Taoism Tenrikyo Wuism Yiguandao

Southeast Asian

Burmese Satsana Phi Malaysian Indonesian

Marapu Kaharingan Kebatinan

Philippine Vietnamese

Caodaism Đạo Mẫu Hoahaoism



Akan Akamba Baluba Bantu Berber Bushongo Cushitic Dinka Efik Fon and Ewe Guanche Igbo Isoko Lotuko Lozi Lugbara Maasai Mbuti San Serer Tumbuka Waaq Yoruba Zulu


Candomblé Kumina Obeah Quimbanda Palo Santería Umbanda Vodou Voodoo Winti

Other groups

Bathouism Bongthingism Donyi-Polo Kiratism Sanamahism Sarnaism Aboriginal Australian Native American Mesoamerican Hawaiian Polynesian


Discordianism Eckankar Jediism New Age New Thought Pastafarianism Raëlism Satanism Scientology Thelema Unitarian Universalism Wicca

Historical religions



Near East

Arabian Egyptian Mesopotamian Semitic

Canaanite Yahwism



Proto-Indo-Iranian Armenian Ossetian Vedic Zoroastrianism

Mithraism Zurvanism




Celtic Germanic

Anglo-Saxon Continental Norse


Gnosticism Neoplatonism

Manichaeism Balkan Roman Slavic



Apostasy / Disaffiliation Behaviour Beliefs Clergy Conversion Deities Entheogens Ethnic religion Denomination Faith Fire Folk religion God Meditation Monasticism

monk nun

Mysticism Mythology Nature Ordination Orthodoxy Orthopraxy Prayer Prophesy Religious experience Ritual

liturgy sacrifice

Spirituality Supernatural Symbols Truth Water Worship


Animism Deism Dualism Henotheism Monotheism Nontheism Panentheism Pantheism Polytheism Transtheism

Religious studies

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and society

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and irreligion

Antireligion Deism Agnosticism Atheism Criticism LaVeyan Satanism Deconstruction Humanistic Judaism Irreligion by country Objectivism Secular humanism Secular theology Secularization Separation of church and state Unaffiliated

Overviews and lists

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