Unpacking African Spirituality by Pastor Xoliseka Matara

THE WORLDVIEW

We can’t begin to talk of African Spirituality without comparing it to other spiritual formations.

The worldview is mainly a manner in which we look at things in general. It’s how we see things or interpret life and the world around us. It’s the assumptions that we make about life as influenced by those who lived before us or who still live around us.

Christian worldview is the manner in which Christians view the world as influenced by the bible.

African worldview is the manner in which Africans view the world as expressed through parables, religious myths, religious rituals, social order, and life events etc.

African Spirituality is therefore born from the African worldview.

GOD AND AFRICA

It’s not true, as the popular belief suggests from many formations especially from some Christian circles, that God did not speak to Africans in the past; the problem might only be the response or rather what Africans did with the revelation they received from God. Africans always knew that there is a super power, the one who created the universe, the one whom all creation is subject to. They might have used different names from the ones which are prominent in the western and eastern world views.

AFRICAN BELIEF

Africans believed that God was like a great Chief, so awesome that ordinary people could not approach Him except through their intermediaries. So, their response was to find someone or something through which they can approach God. The main intermediary that they found more suitable was ANCESTORS. Even Ancestors have their own standard, there are people who specialize in talking to ancestors so ancestors can talk to God.

According to Africans, the same God that appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the same God that they believe in. The only difference is that the lineage from Abraham down to Jesus is different from that of Africans. Israel had their own intermediaries through which they could approach God, Africans have their own which can be non-human spirits and ancestors.

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Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Like other religions or spiritual formations, African Spirituality involves many stages in a life of a human being; theses stages include:

Birth
Africans believe that a child is a gift from ancestors. There are rituals that persuade ancestors to grant the couple children. There are other rituals that are also done once a child is born mainly for the protection of child as he/she is growing.

Daily Living
Appeasing ancestors is part of life. This is done through rituals which is a sort of worship, visiting graves, brewing beer, slaughtering and shedding blood and talking to ancestors. It is done in order to request ancestors to provide blessings and protection to the members of the family.

Death
African spirituality has more focus on death and the dead than the living. This, they claim, is the same as Christianity that cannot pray without mentioning Jesus, God of Abraham etc. In other words, death is believed to be at the centre of all these religions.

According to Africans, when a man dies, his souls first roams around the homestead or neighbourhood. The Soul is believed to have joined other ancestral spirits in the spirit land. In the African religious belief system there is no hell or heaven, and no resurrection. It is believe that when in spiritual state, the  individual gains more vital force than in a physical state. The living must appease the spirit through regular sacrifices and offerings.

The dead are still people, they return to their human families from time to time and share meals, provide protection and give guidance.  These ancestral spirits cannot be touched nor seen by the living, but can only experience through prayers, dreams, misfortunes and/or blessings, significant social events, appearances of peculiar snakes or animals, images and shrines and through prophets and mediums.

Death does not end life because the souls continues to live in more or less the same way the deceased lived. Souls goes to the spirit land, it does not expect resurrections.

According to Africans death is caused by evil agents. It is only in recent times, due to the influence of Christianity, that Africans accept death just as natural or even God’s own doing.

Death has always been viewed as unnatural, a sorrowful event that they fear and will use medicines and charm to prevent. Death is a separation between body and soul. They believe the soul lingers around the neighbourhood until it is bid farewell on the day of the funeral.

The soul lives on as it is immortal, they beg it to be kind and give good health, plenty of children, food or riches. There is still a relationship between the dead and the living, the spirit will come from the spirit land and bring messages. Though death bring mourning but it’s also the beginning of great blessings.

African spirituality expects anyone who follows it to show great sense of respect for others both dead and the living.

INTERMEDIARIES 

Christianity has Christ as their intermediary, Islam has Mohamed as their intermediary, Africans have Ancestors as their intermediary. Intermediary is the mediator, the one who performs acts on behalf of others, just as Christians have Prophets, Pastors, Evangelists as  specialists in teaching people about Christian religion.

Africans have their own specialist which include:
•       Medicine men or Herbalists (General doctors)
•       Diviners
•       Mediums
•       Disease and rain specialist
•       Priest
•       Destructive specialist (Witches, wizard, sorcerers, magicians)

All these religions influence one another in part either dilute the strength or in fact strengthens it. African spirituality varies from one region to the other e.g. there are practices that are popular in West Africa but not in Central or East Africa etc. Some are influenced by Christianity, others by Islam. All of them are based on belief which may be beyond logic.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Xoliseka Matara, is a Senior Pastor at Golden Gates FMC. He is also a Social Entrepreneur, Inspirational Speaker and Author of the book titled Us Against Them in a War for African Treasure.

Pastor Matara is also the husband to Linkie Matara and a Father to Bohlale Matara.


We want to extend a word of gratitude to Pastor Matara for this simple yet profound piece on African Spirituality. This beautiful comparison and contrasting of African Spirituality with Chrisitanity makes you see that for an African, worship was not a choice but a way of life, an African was born into the life of worship, he didn’t have the luxury of choice because there was no other way of life.

Mfundisi sibamba ngazo zozibini, maz’ enethole.

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