|OVERVIEW OF AFRICANIST RELIGIONS
Religion plays an essential part in the life of all African communities.
Among some communities spiritual symbolism informs every part of their
lives, including language and architecture. At the core of Africans
religion is a supreme being or spirit. This supreme being can only be
addressed through intermediaries, and they can be Islamic, Christian,
the spirits of deceased family members, or other illustrious ancestors.
The colonial occupation of Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries by
Aphaean powers typically affected a disunion of African people from their
belief and social systems. Chief among the legacy of the occupation is
the misidentification and conflation of Africans traditions, cultural
practices, rituals, games, deviations, distortions, speculations, and
philosophy into catch all terms such as "animism", "ancestor worship"
and other terms that mischaracterise African religion.
The disintegration of the ancient African ritual began in earnest with
the rise of trade in African persons in 650 AD. Society began to fail
as people fled back and forth to avoid the carnage of slave trade, and
the collapse of old empires led to the disintegration of order. The
loss of meaning of much of the ancient ritual of the Kushite age left
disembodied and disunited elements in control of only small segments
of African religious craft.
By the time that the colonial occupation came to an end, African
rituals were portrayed as having acquired sometimes terrifying elements.
Much of the priesthood in certain parts of Africa was in competition
with African civil and military authorities. In some places they were
in open revolt or under attack. This situation was exercebated by the
colonial occupation which abolished African regious practice, and of
course the occupation was responsible for the misanthropic portrayal
of African faith and the racist distortion of African religious rituals.
The fragmentation of the Post-Slavery social systems brought about the
rise of smaller, more militant political entities had not the extensive
sense of attachement to their historic past as earlier society had been.
These were typified in the late 1880s in central Africa by the states
led by such leaders as Nyungu Ya Mawe (Pot of Stone), Mirambo, Nzwala
Meno, and others, many of whom were dependent on slave trade for their
EXPLODING THE MYTH OF VIOLENCE
The stereotypical image of traditional African religion is an extremely
frightening image of animal and human sacrifice, and mutilation. These
actions, if in fact if they took place at all, happened outside the
prescribed and acceptable morality of religious practice. There is no
religion in Africa's past that condones the killing of children or
eating human flesh. In fact such actions are prohibited and were
feared tales carried in horror stories about strangers (slavers).
The questioning of the violence associated with the ancient religion
is an old part of culture in Africa. Punishment and ritual even for
accidental violence was elaborately drawn out with sanctions including
banishment used to discourage it. In fact the central feature of African
sensibility, which perneates stories about Africa through much of ancient
history, is the strikinng fairness, sensitivity and kindness with which
Africans treat each other and strangers. European explorers such as
Mungo Park, David Livingston, and others describe an Africa that is in
contrast to the horrors of the image portrayed by racists.
ISISM: THE CASE OF AN ANCIENT AFRICAN RELIGION
The sensibilities expressed in the ancient Egyptian texts reveal the
wholesome nature of African religion. African religion was the source of
the world largest religions including; Islam, Christianity, Buddhism,
Up until the rise of Roman Empire and Christianity, the worship of Isis
was the most prevalent in Africa. The demise of Isism can be dated to
several key periods and incidents. In the most ancient times, the fall
of pre-Helene civilisation in the Mediterranean beginning in 1700BC. In
more recent times, the Rise of the Roman Empire, and its ineviatble
clash with Africa. The most critical of the Roman era was the five year
war between Rome and Kush (29BC-24BC) that ended in a truce.
The rise of Rome also engendered the revolt and overthrow of the Kushite
capitals (4 BC) by several nations in the Kushite empire (which, contrary
to conventional history, covered the entire African continent at one
time). The final key events responsible for the assault on Isisian worship
include the destruction of non-Christian temples and artifacts beginning
in 390AD (marking the start of the European Dark Ages, and the rise of
Because Isism was so ubiquitous and entrenched, all of the surviving
religions around the world have retained key elements of this religions.
Even today African culture is overwhelmingly suffused with both purer and
corrupted forms of Isism.
We can measure the impact of Isism, or Isisian beliefs on modern life
by a variety of methods. In Africa, this is easy because the languages
and social order still retain reference to the Isisian world view. There
are places in Africa where the local langages still refer to the Earth
with varietions of the name Isis. Moreover, the dominance of matrilinial,
matrilocal and matriarchal social systems in Africa to a remarkably
greater than elsewhere on Earth.
In Europe, there are place names and iconography that still carry images
of Isis as the Holy Mother, except that she is usually potrayed as black
skinned, and she is now conflated with Mary the mother of Jesus. The
holiest icons of Orthodox Catholicism are in fact Isisian, including the
Holy Mother of Khazan (perhaps forever lost). The image of the Madonna
and Child, the ideas of Death and Resurrection, the existence of heaven
and paradise, all harken back to the lore of Isis, Osiris, Seth and the
other lords of the African patheon.
Consider that the capital of France, the city of Paris, is named after
Isis, from the early temple of Isis (Pari Isidos). At the site of the
temple is the Cathedraw of Notre Dame. Originally the Dame referred to
Isis. Some European names harken back to Isisian words. For instance
the names Candace and Andromeda are especially indicative. Candace
derives from the title of the High Priestess of Isis "Kandake", who
was also the Ruler of the Kush, and religious equivalent of the Pope
for all followers of Isis around the world.
The name Andromeda translates "ruler of men" and is a name associated
with the African princess in the the lore of Perseus and the Gorgon
called Medussa. Also associated with the millieu of the Isisian times
are stories of militant reaction to patriachy which is associated in
Homeric lore with Amazons, Gorgons and fear and awe inspiring images
of female (and African) violence.
The Isisian modes of cultural expression are still under assault and
are being corrupted. Until the 20th century European women still wore
the "Nodus Isiacus", a kind of knot used from the ancient times for
tying drapes and clothes in temples. Women in Africa still use the
Nodus Isiacus, and while they attach no significance to it, it is
interesting to see that African people who give no thought to their
aesthetic impulses owe their expressions to a specific idea and
belief now lost to time.
Today, Europes (and through colonial occupation, Africa's) highest
form of literary art, Homeric poetry, is replete with "Aethiopian"
origins for context, forms, and for content. The images and myths of
the ancient Helenes are remarkably consistent with the clash of Greek,
and African (more specifically Isisian culture).
RASTA: THE CASE OF A MODERN AFRICAN RELIGION
The belief in the divinity of Ras Tafari, also known as Haile Selasie
is profoundly rooted in the resistence against colonial occupation in the
lands of African people (in Africa and elsewhere). Rasta can be most
accurately described as an Pan-African Nationalist Judeo-Christian sect.
Rasta worship combines sholarship, Judaism, and class warfare, anti-
colonialism, and African essentialism. The mythology of Rastafarianism
actually predates Ras Tafari, and was integral to the struggles of
Africans against slavery. However, before the ascendence of Haile
Selasie, the set of beliefs that are have come to be associated with
Ras Tafari, were known by other names. For instance, the religious
elements of Rasta are indistinguishable from non-Rasta African beliefs
about the relation of the Judeo-Christian God and Africans (known as
Ethiopians in the Greek and modern translations of the bible, Koran,
Today many Africans (Christians) included celebrate a tradition that
that claims some of the people mentioned in the bible are African.
This tradition is central to the Rasta belief system. However, Rasta
does reverence certain biblical individuals (African or otherwise)
who are given significance beyond that accorded them by other Judeo-
Christian religions. Biblical persons who are key to Rasta beliefs
include; King Solomon, Queen Sheba, Jesse, Moses, Isaih, Daniel and
the other persons associated with captivity in Babylon, or with the
rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Rastas also share language with other religions, such as the use of
code in identifying certain belief concepts. Almost universally all
Rastas (just like Christians and Jews) use the term "Babylon" to mean
undesirable "Worldliness". Rastas call God "Jah" the shortform of
"Yahweh" or "Jehova". And "Jahman or jahwoman" (a follower of God)
is interchangeable with "Rasta" (follower of Ras Tafari).
Origins of Rasta
A conflation of advancements in African nationalism in the late 1950s
eraly 1960s, as well as the Haile Selasie's Pan Africanism, and the
claims of the Kebra Negest, as well as West Indian relious forms and
Abyssinian royal claims of descent from Solomon, all produced the
modern form of religion called Rasta.
In 1963 Haile Selasie in an effort to unite Africa, proposed to
re-rename the African continent, Ethiopia. He then renamed Abyssinia,
so that it is now called the Republic of Ethiopia, declared some of the
land free for settlement by Africans in Diaspora and former slave
communities in the Americas, and bacame the Chief Spokes person for the
liberation and unification of Africa. Addis Ababa, was then made the
capital city of Africa and the headquaters of the Organization of
The masses of Africans (especially those resident outside Abyssinia),
and most whom were poor and desparate, began to see Emperor Haile
Selasie as pan African-nationalist hero. But as early as the Second
World War, thousands of African soldiers volunteered for combat to
eject the Italians from Abyssinia.
By the end of the 1960s, as Africans in the America's were becoming
more militant, myths and lore surrounding haile Selasie grew.
His divinity was always part of the tradition of monarchy in
Abyssinia, however, in combination with Pan-African militancy, it
became a source of veneration, and Rastafarian religion was born.
Rastas believe that Haile Selasie is a direct descendant of the
King Solomon of Jerusalem and Queen Makeda of Sabo (Sheba), the
southern lands of modern Ethiopia. Rastas also revere Jesse the
grandfather of Solomon, whom they believe to be black man.
Rastafarian also has strong astrological components to explain
Selasie divinity. According, Rasta tradition has it that Selasie's
birth was foretold, by astrologers, on account of Neptune and
Pluto moving toward each other beginning in the year 1399; both
planets travelled along the Heliocentric Line, taking 493 years
to intersect; the moment came in July 1892 when Selasie was born.
Rastafarians use the Kebra Negest, Torah, the Bible and the Koran
as Holy Books. From these they read prophesies and the history
of Ras Tafari, and the divine destiny of the nation of Ethiopia.
There are several million Rastafarians today. Rastafarian culture
and religion are strongest in Jamaica and the USA. Over the years
Rastafarians have developed communities and their nationalist
favour has popularized Africa political movements. Leading Rasta
icons include the late Bob Marley.
There are other African belief systems that have become more
acceptable because of the growth of Rasta.
VODOO: THE RELIGION THAT SURVIVED OCCUPATION