Today is the second day of our Introductory course on African Cultures and Religion. We sat down to listen to a lecture by one of Africa’s best-known Catholic theologians, Laurenti Magesa. Excellent lecturer and very interesting subject matter! His agenda is for the recognition of African Religion as one of the World Religions. Unfortunately, African Religion, for the longest time (and only up until recently) was only considered to be nothing more than a collection of superstitions, a form of paganism/animism or a primitive belief system not worthy of mainstream theological reflections and scholarly attention. Sadly, despite the rise of scholarship on African Religion, many still do.
Magesa argues that the reasons for this lack of respect for African Religion are: 1) Sheer prejudice and ignorance, 2) its lack of Scripture (though he contends that in all of these world religions-their Scriptures came much later), and 3) African Religion has no interest in aggressive proselytizing. He then advances the notion that African Religion meets all the criteria for what constitutes “religion.” And these are: 1) It has a system of beliefs, 2) It has a code of behavior (called “taboos”), and 3) it has a system of rituals. He also notes that African Religion is “widespread” and not confined in Africa. To prove, one can see the rituals of African Religion in the diaspora (in countries like Brazil, Surinam and Haiti) and in the religion of Santeria.
With regards to its lack of Scripture, I agree with his contentions, but also think that perhaps it is a blessing in disguise that the African Religion does not have a Scripture. Many of the world religions (if not all) have used their Scriptures to systematically oppress women, the poor, orphans, gays, aliens and anybody who may constitute “the other.” They have become a tool, not for human transformation and thriving, but for its destruction. That is the curse of having a Scripture (and Christianity is notorious for this).
But I do understand the importance of having one-it is an effective way of preserving the narratives, traditions and memory of a community of faith. It is good to know that (according to Magesa) a movement to start recollecting the stories of faith, taboos and rituals indigenous to Africa, and collecting and preserving these by putting them into writing has already began. Can’t wait to read it when it’s completed.