Traditional African Religion Essay

South African Traditional Religion Essay

South Africa is a very diverse place. It is often called, “The Rainbow Nation” because it has so many integrated religions. The five major religions are Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and, largest of all, Christianity.

Christianity makes up more than 80% of the religious population. Of those, most are protestant, a form of the Western Christian Church separate from the Roman Catholic Church. The main difference between the two is their concepts of God and the way the practice/worship. Some of these churches have Branched off into African Independent Churches. They have combined parts of christianity with native african tradition.

In terms indigenous african religion, it is known as The Religion of the San People. Everything is focused on community. Worshipping, funerals, and births, are all celebrated by the entire tribe. When you are born into a tribe, you usually stay with them most of your life. This helps build security and order, because everyone knows the basics of everyone else's pasts.

Family is also a large part of the tradition. Someone is always guided by their family, even if their family is hundreds of miles away. Ancestors are a major factor too. To communicate with God, that person must speak through their ancestor or through a shaman, because they are not holy enough to speak to God directly. To speak through a shaman, all of the men and woman of a tribe. The woman sit in a circle, with the men around them. In the center is the shaman. The woman clap a beat and sing, while the men dance in the outside circle. While this is happening, the shaman is possessed by an ancestor from someones family. Most ancestral spirits are kind and helpful. If someone is straying down the wrong path, they may spread a minor disease like a cold to warn them and get them back on track.


When it comes to weddings, the tradition does not disappoint. They have several stages. The first stage lasts a few days. In that time, there is a lot of celebration, but there is also a very important decision being made. During the celebration, the two families who plan to be married decide on a price for the groom to pay to the brides father for her hand in marriage. This is called a Lobola.

In Africa, the Lobola is usually paid in cattle. Even after the creation of money, cattle still was used. The number of cattle a family had represented that families success, power, and financial...

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African Traditional Religion is a thriving scholarly business, but a serious disconnect exists between contributions that celebrate a generalized African Traditional Religion and those that describe particular religions and aspects of religion on the basis of ethnographic and archival research. The generalizations begin by citing allegedly negative characterizations of African culture: it is argued that African beliefs and practices are misunderstood and unjustly condemned, that Africans are everywhere and always profoundly religious, and that their religion or religions are comparable to religions anywhere else. On the other hand, historians and anthropologists, skeptical with regard to abstractions and generalizations, focus on the religion of particular peoples to show how belief and practice fit into everyday life. They struggle with epistemological questions such as, “On what evidentiary basis can an individual or group be said to “believe” in anything?”. There is little dialogue between the two points of view, but the readings suggested in this section reveal some of the differences. Chidi Denis Isizoh’s website carries links to a variety of essays on traditional religion and its relations with Christianity and Islam; it also includes Ejizu’s overview (Emergent Key Issues in the Study of African Traditional Religions). More and more material is available on the Internet, notably at African Traditional Religion, but not all of it should be regarded as representative or authoritative. Journals such as the London-based Africa, Cahiers d’Études Africaines (Paris), and the Journal of Religion in Africa (Leiden, The Netherlands) publish articles on religion from time to time, representing the latest thinking. The edited collections Blakely, et al. 1994; Olupona and Nyang 1993; and Olupona 2000 provide essays on specific examples of African religion by leading scholars, while implicitly illustrating the gap between “spiritual” and “ethnographic” approaches. None of this literature, however, deals with the radical objections raised in Criticism concerning the definition of religion, the errors introduced by intercultural translation, and the depth of outside influence on supposedly timeless “traditional religion.”

  • Africa.

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    The venerable journal of the International African Institute offers academic articles on all aspects of African history and culture, including religion.

  • African Traditional Religion. Africa South of the Sahara.

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    An idiosyncratic collection of sources from professional to popular.

  • Blakely, Thomas D., Walter E. A. van Beek, and Dennis L. Thomson, eds. Religion in Africa. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.

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    A wide-ranging symposium with contributions by major specialists in the field. Unlike Olupona’s collections (Olupona and Nyang 1993, Olupona 2000), this one does not presume or discuss “African spirituality.” One of the three sections deals with “religion and its translatability,” a topic and a problem of concern to both missionaries and anthropologists.

  • Cahiers d’Études Africaines.

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    Offers articles in French and English on all aspects of African culture, often manifesting a distinctly French intellectual approach.

  • Emergent Key Issues in the Study of African Traditional Religions.

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    A historical review and critique of the subject and of major problems and disagreements associated with it, written by Christopher Ejizu. The review suggests that the defensive tone of much writing about African Traditional Religion is directed against outdated studies that no one takes seriously anymore. The main website African Traditional Religions, maintained by Chidi Denis Isizoh, is a useful guide to further reading.

  • Journal of Religion in Africa.

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    Scholarly articles on Islam and on Christian and non-Christian religious diasporas. An excellent source for insights into contemporary scholarly issues and approaches.

  • Olupona, Jacob K., ed. African Spirituality: Forms, Meanings and Expressions. New York: Crossroad, 2000.

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    Olupona identifies African spirituality in myth, and ritual as that which “expresses the relationship between human being and divine being” (p. xvi). Leading scholars cover a wide range of topics and religious practices, including Islam and 3rd-century North African Christianity, rarely questioning the concept of spirituality itself.

  • Olupona, Jakob K., and Sulayman S. Nyang, eds. Religious Plurality in Africa: Essays in Honour of John S. Mbiti. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1993.

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    A collection representative of the “religio-phenomenological” approach to comparative religion, theology, and philosophy, in which religion is conceived of as a phenomenon sui generis, “the transcendent” is universally recognized, and religions are presented in isolation from their cultural and historical contexts. Two chapters concern Islam in Africa.

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