Media and Ritual: Death, Community and Everyday Life (Media, Religion and Culture)
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In the creation story of the Abaluhya of Kenya, the Supreme Being, called Wele Xakaba, created the universe in a manner that resembles the seven-day creation of the world by God in the Bible, with the seventh day being a time of rest. There are myths that say the world was created out of an existing abyss or a watery universe uninhabited by animate beings. In African cosmological narratives creation is always portrayed as a complex process, whether the universe is said to have evolved from preexisting matter or from divine thought. The Fon of Benin, in western Africa, and their neighbors, the Yoruba of Nigeria, share many elements of a highly intricate cosmology.
The names given to the specific deities in Benin may vary slightly from those of the Yoruba. There are similar motifs in the cosmological narratives of both cultures, though the Fon narratives are more complex than the Yoruba's. In the Fon creation myth the Supreme Being, Mawu, is of indeterminate gender. Mawu is sometimes female and sometimes male. Mawu is often associated with a partner, Lisa. As a female, Mawu is associated with the Moon and has power over the nighttime and the western universe.
Lisa, as the male, commands the Sun and occupies the eastern universe. These twin creators give birth to another set of twin deities, who in turn beget seven pairs of twin offspring. Therefore, twins are esteemed in Fon culture. Mawu-Lisa once gathered their children together to distribute what they owned among them.
To the most senior set of twins Mawu-Lisa bestowed authority to rule the Earth. Another set, "Twins of Storm," retained authority to govern thunder and lightening. Representing iron and metal, the most powerful pair maintained jurisdiction over the manufacture of iron implements such as knives, hoes, arrows, and, beginning in the twentieth century, guns and automobiles. According the mythology, these twin gods took command of vital functions in developing the Fon economy: cultivating land for agriculture, building roads and paths, manufacturing tools, and improving weapons of war, farming, and hunting.
Mawu-Lisa positioned human beings in the region between the sky and the underworld, commanding humans to dwell there and to return to his own abode after a specified number of years. Mawu-Lisa also created spirits and deities, bestowing upon each a special "esoteric" ritual language through which they communicate among themselves. By ministering to deities and humans in liturgical worship, the clergy learn these rituals and languages.
In this narrative Legba messenger of the Supreme Being and other gods gained knowledge of all sacred languages of the divinities, enabling himself to initiate communication among other deities. That other West African cultures have similar creation myths and ensuing social traditions is evidence of influence between cultures. The Winye of Burkina Faso center their creation myth on female and male twins, whom the Supreme God sent as primordial parents to establish human life in the created world.
Their rebellious behavior, however, caused dismay; they resorted to acts of sorcery and refused to submit to the natural succession of generations. The female twin held back her own offspring for a year; after she finally gave birth, the children—twins themselves—rebelled against their parents by establishing themselves as an autonomous pair. Recognizing the superiority of their own children, the parents pledged to obey them, and they sacrificed a goat in acknowledgment. The story conveys the division and crisis between two generations; through sacrifice, order is restored.
This myth acknowledges the importance of primordial beings and their innate procreative powers, which ultimately benefit civilization.
Several other African cosmologies are also characterized by an emphasis on primordial disorder, conflict, or chaos. Though such disorder at first comprises "negative" forces, ultimately it becomes the source of a workable social universe.
In some traditional African cosmologies primordial divinities have a dispute in which subordinate gods must take sides. While the Supreme God serves as the adjudicator in such conflicts, one demigod eventually takes command over the others. Such myths of conflict often provide humanity with unwritten guidelines for establishing institutions of morality, ethics, and behavior. Some African societies have creation myths that correlate with their social and political organization. An example is the northern Yatenga society of western Africa.
The Nioniosse "rose up" from the underworld, and the Foulse descended from the sky. The Nioniosse command the "cult of the earth" and other rites relating to fertility, and the Foulse command the reigning monarchy, personnel, chiefs, and kings. The two complementary realms represent the world's governance and agricultural life. This myth gives credence to the importance of the underworld as the sphere that nourishes human life.
Unlike Western myth, which seems partial to the reign of sky beings and portrays heaven as the abode of the Supreme Being, many African cosmologies consider the sky and the earth as equally significant spheres through which the divine create an enchanted universe. African cosmogonic myths, which explain the origins of the universe, contain a people's conception of superhuman beings—the Supreme Being, the divinities, the demigods, and the spirits that operate in the created world.
The African pantheon of gods, goddesses, spirits, and other superhuman beings is difficult for outside observers to comprehend. Deities are varied in number and complex in character. In most places in the African world it is believed that the supernatural and the natural realms interact. The lives of gods and humans become entangled through daily experiences. The gods and goddesses often populate the expression of core community beliefs, and people make frequent and daily references to them.
Deities inhabit a world primarily created for humans, and they exercise tremendous influence over day-to-day human affairs. Because the spirits inhabit the natural world, no practical distinction exists between the natural and the supernatural world. The pantheon of deities is often given a collective name; for the Yoruba of Nigeria it is orisa, and for the Baganda of Uganda it is balubaale. The intricate myths and legends describing African deities provide ample evidence of their habits, functions, powers, activities, status, and influence.
In several traditions myth portrays the divinities as anthropomorphic beings who share many characteristics with humans. They can speak, they are visible, and they endure punishments and rewards. Yet they are unlike humans in that they are immortal, superhuman, and transcendent. The most significant superhuman being is the Supreme God, who represents universality and greatness. The myths of many African cultures describe the Supreme God's global significance and place him or her high above the other deities in the pantheon.
At times supreme gods are understood to be females and males who complement each other as husband and wife or brother and sister, similar to Mawu-Lisa in the religion of the Fon of Benin. In some cultures the pair's kinship bond may signify the unity of divine energy. Although the Supreme God is a creator god, the work of creating the universe, especially when such acts entail physical labor, is often delegated to subordinates who act according to the Supreme God's instructions. The Supreme God may also be seen as a divine principle embodying the idea of life abundance and the blessings of human procreation and agricultural fertility.
In many myths the Supreme God, after creating the universe, withdraws to a comfortable distance and delegates the affairs of the universe to lesser divinities. Some African groups have cults dedicated to the Supreme Being, but in general the creator does not have a special cult of devotees. This is because he occupies the realm beyond the physical abode of humans and thus remains outside their immediate influence.
In some southern African religious groups, however, the Supreme God is not considered to be remote. A classic example is the regional cult of Mwari a creator god in western Zimbabwe and eastern Botswana. Members of the Mwari cult engage primarily in rituals that are intended to influence the economy and maintain environmental balances.
Many Africans practice ancestor veneration. Ancestors are generally the deceased elders of either gender who have passed from the realm of the living to that of the superhuman. They retain membership in their family, community, clan, and kin groups. Beliefs and practices of ancestor worship vary according to the local culture and religious traditions.
For example, for the Komo of Congo Kinshasa the ancestors play a role equally prominent to that of deities. They serve as guardians of the living, and they pass down the various Komo rituals. In some other groups notions of ancestors are more expansive and may include various categories of human spirits; in others ancestors include spirits of deceased children.
For the Ba Thonga people of southern Africa, among whom the ancestral system is well developed, ideas and ritual practices relating to the cult of the dead are central aspects of community life. Communities in the Congo, like many other African cultures, often view kinship, lineage, chieftaincy, and elderhood as factors that unite the ancestors with the living. For example, in the Ba Kongo a group of peoples who live in the Congo and Angola and Kaguru an ethnic group of Tanzania societies, the elders are closest to the ancestors, and they wield much influence on how to consult and propitiate them.
The elders determine what displeases the ancestors, whom to blame for the ancestors' displeasure with the living, and who will interpret the ancestors' will. Ancestors maintain a strong moral authority over the living; the elders speak for the ancestors when they intervene in and resolve conflicts. Ancestral propitiation takes many forms in Kaguru society, including cleaning the graves of the deceased, pouring libations of beer, and making offerings of flour or tobacco.
Crises call for more elaborate sacrifices, such as the slaughter of chickens, goats, and sheep.
In many instances the Kaguru ancestors are approached communally. Traditional African cultures have various standards and restrictions for attaining ancestral status and spirituality, and at times even a child may become an ancestor. There is no standard or widespread characteristic of ancestorhood, but the criteria used throughout Africa share similarities. For instance, ancestors often attain their status after they have received proper burial rituals. Gender is a major factor in many traditional ancestral cultures; males rather than females have tended to benefit from ancestral ideology.
The Manyika of Zimbabwe bestow ancestor status only on males, and the status is not necessarily associated with fatherhood; a childless Manyika adult male who dies may become an ancestor if a nephew includes him in his own ancestor cult. The matrilineal agricultural people of central Zambia require that males offer sacrifices to the ancestors on the right side of a doorway, while females offer sacrifices on the left.
Certain sacred children may also become ancestors. The Sukuma and Nyamwezi people of Tanzania believe that twins are ancestors because multiple births indicate an excess of fertility. Women retain exclusive rights to direct any rituals related to twin ancestors, perhaps because they are responsible for their physical birth.
In the African cosmological vision death does not cease or annihilate human life—it is merely the inevitable transition to the next stage of life. It initiates the process of attaining ancestorhood. Proper burial rites and ceremonies ensure a peaceful passage. For the Bambara of Mali a death causes great anxiety, confusion, and unpredictability. It is thought that the fortune of the deceased and that of their descendants become equally volatile and that the community is thus temporarily endangered. The Bambara fear that the death of a lineage head may disturb the entire lineage. The Yoruba believe that the death of an elder who has worked diligently to provide unity and strength in the lineage causes the entire household to become empty and devoid of cohesion.
In most African communities a deceased person must be properly buried to become an ancestor. Proper burial entails a performance of elaborate funeral ceremonies by all members of the deceased's descendants. In addition, the deceased must have died a good death; Africans regard premature death that results from an accident or a "shameful disease" such as smallpox, leprosy, and AIDS to be a dreadful death.
Most significantly, the deceased must have lived to an old age, meaning that they will have possessed wisdom and experience. When an elderly person dies, Africans traditionally avoid using the word "death. In avoiding the word "death," people uphold the belief that an individual is greater than death itself.
The African understanding of immortality is tied to remembrance after death. Thus, to have many children who can preserve one's memory is to secure one's immortality. Among some peoples of East Africa it is thought that a person dies only if he or she has no one to remember him or her. In African traditional religions it is believed that ancestors sometimes experience what is generally referred to as reincarnation.
The ancestors are responsible for perpetuating their lineage, not only by making possible the procreation of the living members of the lineage but also through rebirth. The Yoruba hold that children born soon after the death of grandparents or parents are reincarnated if they are of the same sex as the deceased. For instance, a girl born after the death of a grandmother or mother is called Yetunde or Iyabo "mother has returned" , and a boy born after the death of a grandfather or father is called Babatunde "father has returned".
The Yoruba purport that such children normally show the traits and characteristics of the deceased. While the Kaguru have no such generic naming system, their naming patterns are closely associated with ancestral veneration. Newborns are said to come from the place of the ancestors, not necessarily in actual physical rebirth but in terms of the particular qualities of the deceased. Through divination every Kaguru infant is given the name of the closest ancestor in time. There is an apparent contradiction in the simultaneous belief in ancestor veneration and reincarnation. How can the ancestors live in the underworld and at the same time return to their lineage to live again?
The religion of the Lupupan people of Congo Kinshasa illustrates how this belief is sustained in most African communities. The Lupupans believe that the body mbidi houses the spirit kikudi and that when death occurs, the spirit leaves for elungu, a special land that the ancestors inhabit. Wild pigs protect and guide elungu and run errands for the ancestors. If the living maintain a cordial relationship with the ancestors, one of the spirits returns to be reborn into the lineage. In principle, an individual's spirit can reside on Earth in another body three times, after which the cycle is complete; that individual may appear a fourth time as a fierce totemic animal, perhaps a leopard.
Rebirth of the deceased spirit occurs through a grandchild not a child, because the spirit must skip a generation. Thus, newborn grandsons take the name of their deceased grandfathers. Western notions of the afterlife came to the Lupupans in the nineteenth century with the arrival of Christianity. The Lupupans incorporated Christian ideas into their systems. While other traditional African societies may possess fewer elaborate details of reincarnation, several of them hold the view that ancestors are born into their lineage.
Another essential aspect of African traditional religion is divination, which devotees use to access the sacred knowledge of the deities and the cosmos. The process of divination allows the deities' feelings and messages to be revealed to humans. Individuals or groups of people practice divination in order to discern the meanings and consequences of past, present, and future events.
Various forms of divination exist in African societies. Perhaps the most common is the appearance of signs that the elders consider to have significant meanings—for themselves, the people around them, the family, the clan, or the village. For instance, howling dogs signify the impending death of a relative.
An injured toe means that a visit will be dreadful. A nightmare indicates the coming of an unpleasant event. Evan Zuesse, a scholar of religious studies, suggests that the Fon people of Benin practice three basic types of divination: possession divination, wisdom also called instrumental or interpretive divination, and intuitive divination.
In possession divination a spirit possesses the diviner or sacred objects. By contacting the supernatural realm of spirits, gods, ancestors, or other divine beings, the diviner attains a state of possession or shamanic trance, usually through dancing and other ritual performance. The spirit takes hold of the diviner and speaks in spirit voices, which are interpreted by the diviner's assistants.
In wisdom divination the client seeks help from a diviner, who uses certain divination instruments to diagnose the cause of illness and prescribes appropriate ritual sacrifices and medicine. Intuitive divination uses the deep spiritual insight of the diviner, who has great power to reveal issues and concerns of the client.
In Ifa divination a client consults a diviner babalawo , who throws a divining chain opele made of nuts on a mat and then recites the message of the Ifa deity who appears. Clients listen to the poetic recital and identify aspects of it that relate to their problem. A precise response emerges through additional inquiry, and the diviner prescribes appropriate sacrifices. Various African cultures have developed intricate sets of ethical customs, rules, and taboos. Many societies believe that their morals originated with God and the ancestors and were imparted to humans as elements of God's creation of the world.
These moral values are thus embedded in the religious ethos and cosmology. Because the gods and ancestors created the society's ideals, people are highly reluctant to stray from them. If offended, however, she can exhibit extremely violent reactions. In most traditional African cultures morals are of two classes—those that govern individual conduct and those that govern social and community relations.
Morals that govern social conduct and community relations, and thus protect the group, tend to be rigorous, because the welfare of the group is highly valued. Fundamental human rights are often seen as important not for the sake of individuals but for the collective survival of the group. Community morals govern the family unit, from maternal and paternal relatives to extended families, clans, and lineages. Family members must adhere to specific roles, privileges, and rights. Because they regulate an infinitely larger number of relationships and personal interactions, morals governing the community are complex.
To promote the welfare of communities, societies have established taboos and consequences for breaking them. Marriage to a close relative, incest, and disrespect of property and life are taboo. It is forbidden in most places for the young to disobey the elders. This is because Africans assume that respecting elders is a way of acknowledging the wealth of their experiences, their contributions to community growth, and that they are close to the world of the ancestors. Many African societies anchor their moral values on belief in the ancestors, who are regarded as the ultimate custodians of family mores.
Breaking the laws of the community offends the ancestors, who may wreak disaster upon the offender and community as well. The ancestors often reward devotion to ancestral traditions by bestow blessings upon members of their lineages. Specific deities are ordained by the Supreme God as custodians of rectitude. The gods are concerned with many issues in the day-to-day life of the people, including their fertility, agricultural production, governance, and health and well-being.
The gods watch over a person's values, morals, and sense of justice. Although African religions have not embarked on a systematic theology, the myths, rituals, and stories of the gods and ancestors point to a profound statement on moral justice. The gods and ancestors are guardians of morality.
They profess habits of truth, justice, honesty, good character, and diligence. They reward good deeds and punish bad deeds. A number of the traditions talk about judgment, through which evil deeds are punished and good deeds are rewarded.
Africans believe that punishment may be communal or may pass from one generation to another. Lineage or familial misfortune signifies punishment for the past sins of members of the lineage. Certain antisocial behaviors, such as theft, witchcraft, and sorcery, are taboo, and offenders may suffer punishment of death. Because African religions focus on contemporary worldly salvation, Africans believe that bad character is punished in this world.
African religious leaders include the sacred kings and chiefs who often serve as both spiritual and community leaders. Kingship is integral to African belief systems for at least two reasons. First, in the origin myths of several peoples, such as the Baganda of Uganda and the Edo of Nigeria, the first king or chief of the community was endowed with the sacred power of the Supreme Deity.
At times rulers have been described as gods or as endowed with God's divinity. Second, the physical well-being of a king reflects the well-being of his people, including their agricultural and hunting life. Indeed, in ancient African kingdoms, whenever the power of the king waned, he committed suicide to save the community. In modern African societies, such as that of the Zulu of South Africa, the king's roles as ruler, judge, and ritual specialist are often critical in maintaining a functioning society. Even with the advance of literacy and the impact of Islam and Christianity in Africa, the king continues to function as a sacred canopy under which foreign traditions are subsumed and celebrated.
Africans who follow a traditional religion rely on no scriptures, canonical texts, or holy books to guide them. In African traditional religions guidance is provided through myths, which are handed down orally. Elders, priests, and priestesses have served as guardians of the sacred traditions. Throughout Africa innumerable myths explain the creation of the universe, how man and woman appeared, the origin of the culture, and how people arrived in their current location. Oral narratives define morals and values for traditional religions, just as written texts do for religions that have sacred books.
Culture and Biology
Because of the oral nature of African sacred texts, the faithful who transmit this knowledge are considered sacred. Among many African ethnic groups, however, some sets of oral narratives exist that serve as sacred texts. A classic example is Ifa divination, which is popular among the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria. The Ifa corpus is a large body of poetic oral narratives that are memorized by diviners and recited during divination performances.
There is hardly a topic or issue that Ifa fails to address. To learn about divine will and directives, an Ifa diviner babalawo uses 16 specially selected palm nuts or a divining chain opele made of 8 half palm nuts tied into a chain. The diviner holds the chain by the middle and throws it on a mat, making a U shape, so that four nuts fall on each side of the mat.
The nuts expose either convex or concave sides, thus displaying 16 possible forms of Ifa signature. Each signature stands for a symbol called an odu, each of which corresponds to a chapter also called an odu containing several verses of oral poems. The diviner then recites the odu that appear in the divination castings. After the recitation the client tells the diviner if any of the verses is relevant to the crisis.
At this stage the client may reveal to the diviner the nature of his or her inquiry.
Chapter 15. Religion
The diviner recalls and interprets an appropriate text and, through further questioning, arrives at a definitive cause of the client's quest. The diviner prescribes a remedy, which is usually a sacrificial ritual, but in a case of grave illness medicinal herbs may offer a cure. During their long periods of apprenticeship diviners memorize Ifa verses, which may be as long as odu. The message and sacrifices contained in Ifa verses are a genre of oral tradition; they preserve the Yoruba religious worldview through myths, proverbs, songs, and poetry. Highly trained diviners have largely been responsible for memorizing and transmitting important historical and cultural events to the living generation.
Because there are no sacred books, however, it is impossible to know what traditional religions were like or 1, years ago. Oral myths elude permanent display on paper, stone, or other media; African traditional religions remain changeable according to the needs of their followers. Accordingly, if religious believers no longer find a belief or ritual useful for daily spiritual life, it may easily be set aside forever.
African art is a central part of traditional religious expression. It is known worldwide for its powerful ability to represent abstract ideas and spiritual forces. African artists produce sacred icons and symbols of traditional religions in an enormous array of forms, both abstract and representational. Traditional artists typically carve images that express the powers of God, demigods, ancestors, and spirits as intermediaries between deities and humans.
A royal stool may depict powerful animals such as leopards and tigers. Practitioners of African traditional religions are generally familiar with the symbols and icons, but often only a few trained individuals can interpret the significance of such symbolic and iconic forms, which are used to imply religious meaning in initiation, divination, and secret societies. In addition to abstract forms, many religious artists borrow from forms found in nature—such as insects, trees, leafs, and animals—to produce intricate design motifs.
Common animal motifs are the chameleon, centipede, butterfly, lizard, snake, tortoise, and fish. Many species of birds, including the ostrich, vulture, dove, and heron, inspire artists. Cultural objects and status symbols—such as an amulet, royal crown, staff, divination sign, or dance wand—often inspire designs. Such designs are incorporated into everyday objects; these may be a writing board, comb, game board, or scissors.
In certain regions of Africa traditional hairstyles have their own religious significance. A male priest or a traditional ruler may wear a long hairstyle signifying a female deity, thereby assuming the persona of the deity and establishing a special connection with her. Shrines, religious objects, and sacred places are decorated with many forms, shapes, and colors to express religious concepts.
While there have been great male and female religious leaders throughout Africa's history, none can be elevated above others in their importance to religious history. In indigenous traditions the leaders are the mythic beings and culture heroes who were responsible for founding empires, civilizations, clans, and lineages that later formed the core of the religioethnic traditions of their peoples. Many people are involved in religious leadership, and a single religion can have priests, priestesses, sacred kings and queens, prophets, prophetesses, and seers, all of whom have been important religious leaders throughout the ages.
This "democratization" of religious responsibility is in line with a general tendency of avoiding the concentration of spiritual powers in the hands of a single individual. Leaders in African traditional religions are the people who impart religious wisdom and guidance to believers. African societies do not clearly delineate an individual's religious title. A priest can be a diviner, a king can be a seer, and a prophet can be a priest and a diviner. Even if a person has a number of spiritual skills, however, he or she may concentrate efforts in a single area.
Various roles carry distinct names in West African languages. Religious leaders play numerous roles in a traditional African society. Many offer sacrifices or make verbal demands on the behalf of believers. The most powerful religious leaders are spirit mediums, members of a family or clan who are responsible for communication between an ancestor and his or her descendants. Diviners are vital for communicating with the spirit world. People consult diviners for any number of issues, but the most common reasons are for a misfortune, such as sickness, death, or calamity; spirits are likely to have knowledge about the causes of a misfortune.
Diviners have vast accumulations of secret knowledge and are highly intuitive about human nature. Priests and priestesses are natural leaders because they are in direct service to God and dedicate themselves to the deities for life. The oldest man of the family or community is often a priest, because he is the closest to the dead and has lived the longest life. In a village one priest usually leads all other priests. A head priest is chosen by his predecessor; otherwise, village elders or a chief's council make this decision.
According to traditional belief, there are powerful spirits who, acting through spirit mediums, have been involved in historical events in Africa. For instance, Mbuya grandmother Nehanda, a spirit medium in Zimbabwe, played an important role in mobilizing people in the fight against for political independence beginning in the late nineteenth century. Nehanda, considered an incarnation of an oracle spirit, was eventually hanged by colonial authorities in Nevertheless, throughout the twentieth century her spirit, speaking through other spirit mediums, continued to work closely with the freedom fighters in the struggle for independence.
Contemporary African religious leaders include those who have been interested in reviving traditional religion. One of the foremost of these is Wande Abimbola born in , who in was selected by the elder babalawo s in Nigeria to be the awise awo agbaye chief spokesperson of Ifa and Yoruba religion and culture. In Abimbola was appointed the adviser to the president of Nigeria on culture and tradition. Numerous scholars in diverse fields of interest carry out studies of African religions.
Major scholarly research about African traditional religions had a late start. In the fourteenth century "outsiders" began to inquire into the nature of African cultures and religions. Muslim and European colonial traders, travelers, slavers, missionaries, military personnel, mercenaries, and administrators frequently recorded naive accounts of African cultural customs, traditions, and religions.
Although their inquiries were fraught with bias, some outsiders were more reliable than others. Much of the early authorship was conducted by anthropologists working for colonial governments or by Christian missionaries. By the s colonial governments in Africa had opened several colleges as offshoots of European institutions across the continent.
Death and culture
Although the standards for these colleges were high, the curriculum did not include the study of European or African religions. During the s and s departments of religious studies were created in universities in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. Colonial offices continued to govern universities and colleges. Departments of religious studies did not appear in East Africa until the s. In West Africa colleges gained autonomy during the struggle for independence in the s.
With autonomy came a revitalized study of religions, which recognized the religious pluralism of independent countries. The emphasis on Christian studies that had long dominated the religious studies field was replaced by an emphasis Islamic studies and African traditional religions. The early African scholarship of J.
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Danquah — from Ghana and J. Olumide Lucas from Nigeria in the first part of the twentieth century produced interesting studies of African indigenous religion. In the s Africans entered into the scholarly discourse on African indigenous religions. For example, John Mbiti from Kenya, the most prolific of the African scholars, challenged the Eurocentric notion that Africans had no notion of a Supreme God. Mbiti's work inspired numerous studies on God in African religions. Among the scholars responding to accusations that Africans lack a notion of God was E.
Idowu, with J. Awolalu and Geoffrey Parrinder an English Methodist minister who taught religion in Nigeria , put in place a structure for the study of African religions that later scholars adapted for their own studies. These three scholars established the idea of the centrality of a Supreme God surrounded by myriad lesser gods. Mulago, were influenced by the inclusive views of liberal theology developed by Protestant and Catholic academic theologians in North American and European universities. They began to abandon their doctrinal, orthodox, and christocentric views of African religion.
From the postcolonial years in the s to the early s, the study of African religions entered a mature phase. During this period many scholars of African religious studies were passionately nationalistic. In the forefront was E. Bolaji Idowu. Perhaps the finest critic of African religious scholarship was Ugandan writer and anthropologist O. The study of African religions today is a global phenomenon, with methodologies and theoretical approaches that range from collecting ethnographic data to addressing the works of missionaries who try to convert the indigenous people to Christianity.
Media and Ritual: Death, Community, and Everyday Life - Johanna Sumiala - Google книги
During the s and s many African scholars began to study abroad. The overwhelming majority of scholars in religious studies departments are now Africans. In contrast to structured Western religions, traditional African religions are organized with relatively little concern for formal structure. African religions rely on no single individual as a religious leader but instead depend upon an entire community to do religious work.
Priests, priestesses, diviners, elders, chiefs, kings, and other authority figures may perform sacred and ceremonial rituals. Depending on the kind of religious activity, various religious authorities may preside over specific rituals. Africans do, however, precisely define the structure of their cosmos. From greatest to least significance, African traditional religions begin the hierarchy with a being or god who remains supreme.
Next are divinities and ancestors, who represent the invisible world. Then there are priests and holy persons, who are intermediaries between the seen the living and the unseen worlds. Finally, living humans remain for a time in the visible world. Members of an African religious tradition are often divided into the initiated and the uninitiated.
The initiated are priests and priestesses and may hold titles within the cult. They carry out specialized duties. The uninitiated are the rest of the members of the religious group, who have not performed any major initiation rituals that qualify them to serve in the group's inner circles. Every African community and ethnic group has its own religious places, which can take several forms. Some are fabricated, some are found in nature, and others are natural but altered in some fashion. Some structures are built for specific religious purposes, to protect the faithful from inclement weather, or to protect religious objects from the elements.
Larger buildings, such as temples, function exclusively for religious purposes; there are numerous temples for the worship of various deities. Temples are located all over the continent, especially among the ethnic groups in southern Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda. In some cases kings, queens, and other nobility are buried in temples. Some harbor shrines and ancestor graves. Shrines, the most common religious structure, exist throughout Africa. Shrines may be exclusively for family members or for public use. They usually contain revered religious objects and are used for religious activities such as pouring libations, performing rituals, saying prayers, and making offerings.
Shrines are usually the center of a family's religious life and are the connection between the visible and invisible world. Priests or priestesses watch over both community shrines and family shrines. Altars are small structures where offerings can be placed and sacrifices performed. They may be in shrines or temples, or they may stand on their own. Shrines and altars are most often found in natural spaces or in locations that are considered powerful places for connecting with the invisible. A taboo frequently restricts the kinds of materials used for building shrines and altars.
Often only local materials found in the environment may be used to build these structures. Shrines are often established above familial and ancestral gravesites; the grave itself may also serve as a shrine. Families memorialize deceased relatives and lineages at their gravesites. At such shrines the living may communicate with the departed person; the family may also convey messages to God through the deceased. Graves play a more important religious role for farming communities than for pastoralists, who are constantly moving from one place to another. The location of graves varies from group to group.
In most West African communities burials take place on pieces of land within the family's compound; these are regarded as secured places where the dead will be at peace. Graves may also be located in a sacred forest where the spirits of the ancestors concentrate. A bad death suicide or murder may cause the victim to be buried in the "waste bush" to discourage the spirit from reincarnating or disturbing the peace of the living. Natural religious sites are vast in number, and every traditional African culture has many.
These sites include forests or parts of forests , rivers, lakes, trees, mountains, waterfalls, and rocks.
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They are thought to be the meeting places between heaven and earth and between visible and invisible worlds. Thus, they are important places to communicate with spirits of the dead, with God, and with the heavenly world. The faithful usually designate natural places as sacred sites based on historical or special events.
Such natural spaces are usually set aside from everyday uses such as grazing cattle, washing clothes, and growing crops. On the other hand, well-informed traditional leaders can potentially play crucial roles in reducing the spread of Ebola. In addition, well-informed traditional leaders can help with identification of people in their communities who can be trained and provided with protective equipment for burial of suspected Ebola victims in specially-designated burial areas in line with their cultural norms.
In a similar manner, Christian and Islamic leaders can draw on guidelines described in the Bible and the Koran respectively, to encourage their congregants to adhere to scriptural recommendations of handling of dead bodies that minimize the contraction of infectious diseases. For example, the book of Numbers Chapter 19, Verses describes how people were to handle themselves after touching a dead body. Similarly, in Leviticus Chapter 21, Verses , priests were instructed not to come in contact with any dead person probably as a way of preventing them from spreading infections to other members of the community given their prominent role in society.
Through highlighting such verses, both Christian and Islamic leaders can play a significant role in educating their fellow congregants on the importance of reducing contact with deceased bodies. The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa clearly demonstrates that scientifically proven methods of combating the transmission of infectious diseases, if not culturally and religiously acceptable to a community, are likely to be resisted and rendered less effective.
There is, thus, a need to investigate and align preventative measures with cultural norms and values of affected communities. Where there are incompatibilities between religious and cultural practices and prescribed scientific preventive measures, there is a need to widely consult and collaborate with traditional and religious leaders. We propose that, for effectiveness of community-based preventive programs, traditional leaders should be engaged and assigned important roles in monitoring and implementation of preventive measures against the spread of Ebola.
One of the major challenges faced with the current Ebola outbreak is lack of mutual trust and understanding between health officials and affected communities. The rapid burial of deceased without notification of relatives resulted in a belief that medical professionals were keeping the corpses for nefarious purposes. In a similar outbreak in Uganda in , such mistrust was exacerbated when rumors circulated that some Westerners were buying human body parts [ 15 ]. Fostering mutual trust between health officials and affected communities is the ultimate key to success of scientific measures aimed at combatting the spread of the disease.
Without this mutual trust, adherence to preventive measures is likely to be compromised and, as witnessed in some communities, health official were even attacked and barred from executing their duties. The inclusion of traditional and spiritual leaders and trained people drawn from affected communities in leadership positions is likely to improve understanding and adherence to preventive measures. There is a likelihood that widespread Ebola vaccination campaigns will be launched in the near future.
Previous polio vaccination campaigns in Nigeria were boycotted by some communities amidst rumors that the vaccine contained infertility drugs, caused polio-myelitis, and spread HIV and AIDS, in addition to varied religious reasons . It is, thus, likely that the success of Ebola vaccination campaigns in West Africa will, to a large extent, depend on the direct involvement of traditional and religious leaders. We further identified the need for awareness campaigns specifically targeting traditional and spiritual healers. Given the religious and cultural beliefs of some people in West Africa, it is difficult to effectively control spread of Ebola without the support of traditional and spiritual healers.
It is encouraging to note that a recent study by Umeora [ 3 ] shows that some traditional and spiritual healers and leaders have shown some willingness to collaborate with health officials in mobilizing communities for effective prevention of the spread of Ebola. Figure 1 , summarizes our proposition that awareness campaigns specifically targeting traditional leaders, traditional and spiritual healers, and other influential community leaders should be launched in all high risky areas for effective implementation of Ebola awareness and preventive measures.
As highlighted in this paper, it is crucial to consult leaders of traditional and religious institutions and collaborate with them at all stages of Ebola prevention campaigns especially those that are incompatible with cultural and religious practices. Proposed approach to dealing with traditional and religious issues impacting preventive measures in Ebola affected areas. Once an outbreak is confirmed or suspected, apart from making all health personnel physicians, nurses, assistants et cetera , awareness campaigns specifically targeting traditional and religious leaders chiefs, village headmen, church pastors, mosque imams , as well as traditional and spiritual healers should be launched.
These groups of people should then collaborate in educating, implementation and monitoring of prescribed preventive measures. Traditional leaders should identify people under their jurisdiction that will be trained and assist in carrying out community-based preventive programs such as burial of deceased bodies. Both authors did literature search and wrote parts of the initial manuscripts. In addition, they both edited and approved the final manuscript. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Pan Afr Med J. Published online Oct Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer.
Received Jan 24; Accepted Mar Keywords: Ebola, traditional and religious practices, traditional leaders, spiritual healers. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Commentary The current Ebola viral disease outbreak in West Africa, affecting communities in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone with contained cases in Nigeria, Mali, and Senegal, is the largest known outbreak since the discovery of the virus in The Impact of religion and tradition on transmission of Ebola Perceived Causation of Diseases and Death: adherence to prescribed preventive measures by people in affected communities is central to a desirable outcome in the fight against Ebola.
Conclusion The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa clearly demonstrates that scientifically proven methods of combating the transmission of infectious diseases, if not culturally and religiously acceptable to a community, are likely to be resisted and rendered less effective. Open in a separate window. Figure 1. Acknowledgments Thanks to John Kaldor for assisting with the French translation of the abstract.
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