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Are Western Religions Swallowing African Religions?

06 December 2010

This is a transcript of a radio interview at Talk Radio 702.

Part 1

Firstly, let's make a distinction between African tradition and African religion. African religion is the indigenous AFrican belief system, which has all the elements of any other religion.

Every religion is part of a people, and every people has a culture. Western religions are part of a culture, Western culture. And part of this culture involves rituals, ceremonies and are all based on language; for language is the tool of transmission of the message carried by a culture(or religion for that matter).

Part of the culture of Western religions is the value system, religious scriptures, church culture, religious leaders, belief in the Supreme Being, and ways of approaching the Supreme Being. Among these will also be the many myths surrounding world religions such as the creation mythology, belief in the spirits, views of the universe.

African tradition is a culture of a people of Africa, which has many tenets. Part of tradition is rites of passage, rituals, ceremonies, language and a world view.

Can tradition be separate from religion?

Not exactly. This is why today, even though it is said Africa is a Christian and Muslim continent, people of Africa are dual practictioners of their indigenous religion plus the Western religion they may have adopted.

So this poses the question whether Western religions indeed are majority religions. For, religion contains many elements to come to the conclusion whether a religion is major or not. From my understanding, the practice of Western religions in Africa is conditional on the ability of the African person to follow such a religion while they continue to practice many of their traditions. And many of these traditions are religious in nature.

This conflict, of tradition and Western religions, can be clearly seen from the advent of African Christian churches. These churches were born out the need for an African to continue to practice tradition while at the same time giving an ear to a foreign religion.

Can they practice tradition and Western religions?

The state of affairs is such that people practice both, to a degree. So people have adopted whatever parts of Western culture that suits them and extended their traditional customs to include these new customs.

Part 2

Are African religions on the increase or dying?,/p>

It has been at least 500 years since Western religions assimilated Africa and its ways of doing things. Almost in all cases of Western assimilation, the Western culture and religions were not a matter of choice for an African. These religions have been forced upon the people, yet 500 years down the line we are still asking the question whether African religions are dying.

If African religions still exist after about 10 generations following this assimilation, then I am not sure if the question is still relevant today. Especially if you look at the fact that these Western religions are institutionalised and therefore control many areas of our lives. (school, home affairs, work, pension, media)

There has been many conflicts in Africa, with many solutions that have failed to bring peace. As a result, the people of Africa has said let's look at African solutions for Africa's problems.

That mindset has brought us to the question of identity.

All over Africa people are saying we must reclaim what is ours as a basis for any future political or social advancements. Identity forces people to say "who am I?" And part of that idetity question is the question of the role of culture in finding these African solutions.

As a result, we have programmes such as African Union, NEPAD and others who are strongly focused on changing Africa. We continually hear calls to Africanise our universities. We hear calls to acknowledge the cultural diversity of Africa. All these are strides towards an increased awareness of African culture, and therefore our indigenous religions.

How much of African tradition and that of Western religions will remain is a matter for speculation. What we know is that the people now have a consciousness that begs the question: who is an African? Or rather what makes you African?

All these are means towards an increased awareness of African heritage. And heritage is our culture, including religion.