A major section of the 20th century belonged to colonisers who existed on the exploitation of their dominions. One of those places was Africa. Apparently, ever since the Abrahamic wave hit its shores; the metaphysical structure of people’s life got dismantled.
Jacob Olupona, a US-based Nigerian born researcher has done extensive research on African history before colonisation. He has a PhD in the history of religions from the USA. Jacob is currently doing his research in the USA itself. In an exclusive interview with Harvard Gazette, Olupona elaborated on a wide range of factors affecting African past and present.
Africans revered their ancestors
Olupona first deals with the role of ancestors in classic African societies. Original African society had reserved a significant role for them. Ancestors were required to be respected and they provided advice to living ones of their families. Like Hinduism, there were proper shrines dedicated to them.
It is still not clear whether ancestors were considered deities or not. Some societies did consider them deities, while for some, they were a human guiding force. However, ancestors were believed to occupy a higher position than living humans. They provided blessings as well as illness, depending on how you treat them.
Binary division of religion does not exist in Africa
Olupona is a firm believer of the fact that dividing African society into polytheistic or monotheistic is not the way forward. According to him, the binary division bypasses the concept of African spirituality, which is based on the concept of deities, gods, and spirit beings. It is pertinent to note that binary division of religion was imposed by Abrahamic religions all around the world including India.
Over a period of time, the African way of life was overtaken by the practitioners of Abrahamism. Within the last 120 years, Christians in Africa have increased from 7 million to over 450 million today. Islam has also followed the same trajectory. This has led to a decline in the traditional African population being reduced to only 10 percent of the total population.
To preserve culture, codification is necessary
Olupona addressed the key issue which led to African society being colonized by Abrahamic religions. He pointed towards African morality not being codified as the main reason for people allowing Europeans to colonise them. Olupona categorically stated that unlike Muslims and Christians, indigenous Africans never relied on imposing their values through texts.
In Africa, oral tradition prevailed and words spoken through mouth were transferred from one generation to another. Africans allowed for flexibility in the morals guiding their daily lives. Abrahamic religions took advantage of this flexibility by inserting their own traditions into their structure. Africans being malleable could not recognize the threat and accommodated their colonizers.
You lose your culture if you concede your way of life
Olupona pointed out the relevance of indigenous religion in everyday life. “We would lose a worldview that has collectively sustained, enriched, and given meaning to a continent and numerous other societies for centuries through its epistemology, metaphysics, history, and practice”, said Olupona
He described how Christianity and Islam are negatively shaping the African way of life. He said that both religions are softly forcing to identify as belonging to either of two. He unequivocally stated that foreign religions do not have that same connection to the African continent.
Colonies are shedding the legacy of their colonizers
Ever since the people of Asia and Africa got political independence, a resurgent movement towards their roots has been taking shape in both continents. Prominent intellectuals of the regions have focused on finding the real history hidden underneath the burdensome and imposed legacy of colonizers.
There are religions and there are ways of life. The fundamental difference between both of them is that one is dogmatic while the other is not. The way of life frees you while religion binds you to their specific traditions. That is the fundamental difference between Abrahamism and indigenous ways of life like Africans’ way of life and Hinduism.