Traditional African Faiths
From the oral and cultural traditions of East Africa, Kwanzaa is a time for families and communities to come together and a time to reaffirm the traditional African values. Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday, is based upon seven principles called the Nguzo Saba:
- Ujimaa—Collective work and responsibility
- Ujamaaa—Commitment to family and community
- Niaa—Dedicated life
“Lord God, give me a life, a strong life, that I may flourish in health and light. My sons and daughters belong to You. They are Your children. All that I have is Yours. You are the Master.” —Baluba prayer, Zaire
In the traditional faiths of Africa, God is the supreme creator, planner, and procreator—at once mother and father of the universe. The sacred is found in the highest aspects of everyday life. While different ethnic groups in Africa do not necessarily follow identical beliefs and practices, there are more similarities than differences among them.
The emphasis in African faiths is on close relationships with nature, the living, and the dead. These relationships are based upon love, respect, and reverence toward the ancestor spirits. There is no separation of religious life from other aspects of life. All things organic and inorganic are produced through various interactions of human beings and divine forces within the universe.
Ancestors, the guardians of the spirit, pass on to humans the energy of the Divine. This energy is made available to humans when they live in accordance with the laws of Nature. In this way, people can use this divine energy to attract and heal those who have moved away from Nature’s laws. In African religions, human beings are vital forces who operate in active, intimate rapport with the forces of Nature-influenced by them and influencing them.
Since there is no distinction between daily life and religion, there are no specifically identifiable ancient teachers or sacred texts. In traditional African life, religion is a matter of right living, the secrets of which have been orally passed on from generation to generation by the ancestors, high chiefs, and often royalty (who are believed to be descendants from God). The greater body of works that tell about African religious beliefs can be found in myths and legends transcribed by scholars. Myths emphasize human interactions and the unity between the living and the dead. The living are instructed to live harmonious lives through carefully guided traditional rituals and practices. If people are successful in their lives, they are given back to the spirit world as a reward for their conscientious living. In mythology, the dead reappear on earth through reincarnation as spirits or other beings. Myths also explain African concepts of death, creation, evolution, and the relationship of humans to other living creatures and natural phenomena.
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All Faiths Hall Quotations
“Father, O mighty force, that force which is in everything, come down between us, fill us, until we be like Thee, until we be like Thee.” —Susu from Guinea
“Great Elder! Ruler of all things earthly and heavenly, I am Your warrior, ready to act in accordance with Your will.” —Kikuyu, Kenya
“Beauty! The world is full of enjoyment.
Beauty! There is joy in the world.
But should God remove His hand, All would vanish.” —Ibo, Nigeria
“And though I behold a man hate me, I will love him.
O God, Father, help me. Father!
O God, Creator, help me. Father!
And even though I behold a man hate me, I will love him.” —Prayer of a Dying Man, Dinka, Sudan
“We are on a market trip on earth;
Whether we fill our baskets or not, Once the time is up, we go home.”—Ibo, Nigeria