BELIEF IN THE HIERARCHIES AND ENTITIES OF POWER [AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION]

1 Belief in the Hierarchies and entities of power

The existence of powers in hierarchies and entities in their organized structured are not new invention in African Traditional religion.This construct of power varies from culture to culture.[1] In one way or the other, it is important to know that every person, no matter the culture within African Tradition Religion is under those entities of power and is dependent on them for the good life, for the purpose of a better life, there must be a harmonious correlation or synergy between human power and divine entities.

There is no culture that uphold to African Traditional Religion  that does not belief in the existence of a supreme being, and has other unity of powers in between divinities, ancestors, mystical powers, sacred days with features and events, rites of passage, religion specialists, and prohibitive laws and taboos.[2] Other lower levels of hierarchy include, “the sacredness of interpersonal relationship and kingship”[3] which may be considered as the visible personality that are very close to human. But for the purpose of this study, since it is not directly dealing with the concept of Hierarchies in African Traditional Religion, or worldview, this study will only give a brief preview of the five basic hierarchies that are considered very important in African Traditional Religion.

2.3.1.1.1          Supreme Being (God)

In African Traditional Religion, God is the supreme. The Supreme Being is the genesis and sustenance of all celestial and terrestrial beings.[4]It is believed with African society that the African Supreme Being, however, rarely plays a role in the daily activities of the people. No one would even think of knowing this being or trying to know him or her as a personal savior, but only through a medium or intermediaries. However, this one God is known by many names, according to the cultural peculiarities and the experience of the people. The Supreme Being is the pyramidal apex of the African concept of God.[5]

2.3.1.1.2          Divinities

In the theocratic government of the universe, the divinities are held to be lower than the Supreme Being, but higher than ancestral spirits. This gives a basic explanation, discusses the relationship between the divinities and the Supreme Being, and offers a categorization.[6] Divinities or deities are considered as lesser god.[7]In many traditions or cultures in African societies, it is believed that divinities are offerings of the Supreme Being. For instance, according to Deji Ayegboyin and Charles Jegede in encyclopedia of African Religion:

The Akans of Ghana say explicitly that the abosom are the children of Onyame. Among the Edo, Olokun is held to be the son of Osanobwa, whereas among the Yoruba, Orisa-Nla is said to be the offspring of Olodumare. Generally, divinities in Africa are believed to be beings that were brought into being distinctively with unique and supernatural destiny.[8]

The presence of  divinities is not really a proof that African Traditional Religion is a polytheistic religion as many claimed, rather, it is important to know that African Traditional Religion recognizes Supreme Being to be  the one God, above all gods without any mixture. Also, African Traditional Religion is henotheism, that is, the acceptance of the existence of secondary deities and lesser spirits, without being distracted away from monotheism, which is the idea of one God- the Supreme Being.[9] The names of Bes, Ptah, Atum, Ra, Amen, Khnum, Set, Ausar, and Auset are among the oldest names for divinities in the world.[10] The Pantheon of Yoruba gods is  known as  the orisa. It has a membership of as many as 1,700 divinities. Examples are Orisanla,Orunmilla,Esu,Ogun,Jakutaand Sango,Guulu,Kiwanuka,Kitaka,Walumbe,Wanga,Musisi,Mukasa,Kibuuka,Vodun,Mawu-lisa,Sagbata, and Sogbo. All these divinities have one role or the other to play in bringing salvation to the people of African Traditional Religion.[11]

2.3.1.1.3   Spirit

In the African worldview, spirits exist. This is not a debatable issue in most African societies. The existence of spirits that are employed in the maintenance of balance and harmony represents the continuous search for equilibrium.[12] Yet there is every reason to believe that there is a divinity, spirit, or ancestor that is capable of relating to every human activity.[13]

African belief that the spirit is everywhere and contains in everything. Encyclopedia of AR posited that:

Certain elegant trees such as the Iroko may have pots and leaf fences around them. Baobabs, the sacred trees of Senegal, remain a meeting place of the spirits, sometimes ritual sites of the priests and priestesses, despite the presence of Islam in the country. The forests are particularly full of spirits and divinities.[14]

Krüger et al. identify three categories in the spirit world of African Traditional Religion, namely the spirits of ancestors, nature spirits and deities. Although the border between spirits and gods is perforated.[15] Spirits in African Traditional Religion are considered to be nondescript, immortal and invisible entities. This is because they do not posses material body through which they could be seen but they may incarnate into any material thing in order to make themselves seen for any reason or purpose.They are lower that the divinities.

2.3.1.1.4  Ancestors

Ancestors are called the living dead.[16]They are considered as the spirit of the dead lower than deities or divinities. They are believed to be intermediaries between the living and the dead, heavens and earth. Also, they are considered as benevolent spirits.  They return to their human families from time to time because, symbolically, they are believed to be always present and spiritually in control of the family’s affairs. Sometimes failure to connect with the ancestors through prayer and sacrifices is believed to lead to catastrophe.[17]

Furthermore, it is preeminently believed in African Religion a religion of reverence for the ancestors.[18]Ancestors appear more important on a daily basis than the Supreme Deity. According to Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama African Traditional Religion believes that:

It is the ancestors who must be feared, who must be appeased, and to whom appeals must be directed; they are the ones who must be invoked and revered because they are the agents of transformation. In effect, the ancestors know the people; they have lived among them and have a keen insight into the nature of ordinary lives. A person’s life can change drastically if he or she does not pay proper homage to the ancestors. Some ancestors,… are more powerful than others, but all are essentially concerned about the well-being of the society.[19]

In every culture, Ancestral Spirits vary since it is believed to be the spirit of the dead in African Traditional Religion. In many African Cultures, the ancestors are variously referred to as, for example, Nsamanfo (Akan), Egungun (Yoruba), and Nkukunkulu (Zulu).[20] Every community has a special name and place for the ancestral spirit or the spirit of the dead for the purpose of feeding the spiritual beings, and in response, they grant blessings on the context in which these ceremonies take place.[21]

It is believed in African Society that the actual life of the physical life here is being influenced by the activities of the ancestors. The Encyclopedia of Black African posits that:

Human physical existence is the consequence of the actions and determinations of deities and ancestors and is being continually influenced by them. The character and existence of human physical existence are determined and shaped by the greater and parent spiritual reality. Each human being exists because of the ancestral line of which she or he is a part. The ancestral line extends from the creator, the deities, and the clan ancestors. No human being exists apart from that lineage or continuum. Each human being has a personal mission.[22]

Also, Africans regard the ancestors as the keepers of morality.[23] Consequently, they exert every effort to maintain an appropriate lifestyle by avoiding the activities that were considered tabooed by the past ancestors. Often times, catastrophe occurred are attributed as punishments inflicted by ancestor. In this reason, the living must do everything they can to avoid crossing the forbidden path laid down by the departed ancestors.[24]

2.3.1.1.5 Mystical power

Mysticism belongs to the core of all religion.All religious doctrine can be traced to its roots in mystical experience[25] In the other words,there is no religion that does not have mystical power which can be related with supernatural power.Those religions that had a historical founder all started with a powerful personal experience of immediate contact with the deity. After all, the crave religion is power. Mystical power is a state of having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence.[26]

Mystical Power in African Traditional religion is the power of the unseen forces and unexplained sources. [27]  and it is assumed that it is associated with salvation or the wellbeing of the people of Africa and Africans in diaspora. In one way or the other, this power must be acquire or retain.[28]  Richard German quoted John Mbiti in his book and posited that: Many African societies understand that the universe has a power; or force or whatever else one may call it. This includes divination, magic, sorcery and witchcraft. They affect everyone for better for worse.[29] This power can either be initiated or inherited[30]

The exhibition and the usage of this mystical power are associated to the performances of medicine men and women, diviners and seers who use natural objects, plants and animal for medicine, magic, charms and amulets.[31]  Some traditionalist believes that mysterious powers are embedded in the things or objects and can be extracted for specific means. Also, these powers can be transferred through certain object or by spiritual means. Mystical powers can be sent to specific destination for an intended good or evil.[32] Mystical powers can be transmittable by contact with objects carrying or mediating such powers. [33]

2.3.1.1.6 Sacred days with Features and events

African Religious Worldview is centered on belief that every animate and inanimate object is sacred.[34] Since the belief is that all animate and inanimate things has spirit in them.[35] Religiously and philosophically, Africism identifies the World and/or the Universe to be the base of sacred space, sacred time, and all sacred elements therein.[36]

However, many things are considered more sacred than others. Encyclopedia of African religion posited that:

All animals are sacred in African religious traditions. They play vital roles in the creation of the heavens, Earth, and people. They bring messages of life, death, social order, customs, and practices. Some are regarded as deities, whereas others represent deities.[37]

For example wild animals and domestic animals are considered to be as sacred but domestic animal are considered more sacred than wild animal “since they provide food for humans and are a source of social wealth and standing”[38] and are often used for sacrificial purposes, and certain of their body parts – such as feathers, nails entrails, horns, break, and blood are used for sacrifices.[39] In Africa, many ethnic groups use objects that have been set aside as sacred for the purpose of protection. Thus, an amulet in this sense is anything that can be used to bring safety to the carrier of the object.  Indeed, the idea of the amulet is that it brings the benefits of the sacred to the living.[40] Days are often considered as sacred for the schedule of major rites of passage, including birth, marriage, circumcision, coming of age initiation and death. Many communities considers days as sacred.[41]

2.3.2 The belief in Cosmology

African Traditional Religion believes that the cosmos was created by Supreme Being God.[42] After creation, the Supreme Being distant himself with the creation and delegated that responsibility to spirits and lesser gods, such as gods of fertility, rain or forest.[43] For theis reason the creator God cannot be known. The supreme God in African traditional Religion is considered as Deus Absconditus (the hidden God) and Deus Incognito (the unknown God).[44] Also, a deus otiosus or “idle god” is a creator godwho largely retires from the world and is no longer involved in its daily operation, a central tenet of Deism (a philosophical position that posits that a god does not interfere directly with the world.[45] Molefi Kete Asante in Encyclopedia of African Traditional Religion has this to say in relation to the Abasi and Atai: the two deities in Efik land:

Abasi and Atai were so disgusted with the happenings on Earth and with the affairs of their own children and their grandchildren that the two deities soon withdrew to the sky, leaving humans to deal with their own affairs. This is why Abasi is not known to be involved in the ordinary lives of the people. He created the universe and all things that are in it and then, after failing to control his own human creation, retired to the far reaches of the sky. Therefore, for ordinary issues of taboos and rituals, the Efik people must rely on strong ancestral spirits, sometimes in societies of secrets, to assist them with the manifold problems and concerns of daily living. They have no possibility of coaxing Abasi to return to their society to give advice or wisdom; this is now the affair of lesser spirits.[46]

Every tribe or culture has a myth concerning the relationship between the universe and the Supreme Being. Most of all, it is believed that the Supreme Being cannot be known, except through the intermediaries which are considered as lesser gods. “In addition to the divinities, ancestors also play a major role as intermediaries between the living and God.”[47]


[1] Zacheaus Mathema, 2007, Towards an Understanding of the African  worldview, in the Church, Culture , and Spirit, (Kwabena Donkor,ed.) Biblical Research Institute Silver Spiring, MD 20904 p. 39

[2] Ibid                                  

[3]Zacchaeus A. Mathema, The African worldview: a serious challenge to Christian discipleship, Ministry Magazine, 2007; Retrieve from: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2007/10/the-african-worldview.htmlon20/10/2018

[4]  Willie Canon- Brown,2009 Encyclopedia of African Religion, SAGE Publications, Inc. Californaia, 118

[5] Ibid 12

            [6] Deji Ayegboyin and Charles Jegede, 2009, Encyclopedia of African Religion, SAGE Publications, Inc, California, 209 -212

[7] Ibid 4

[8] Deji Ayegboyin and Charles Jegede, 2009, Encyclopedia of African Religion, SAGE Publications, Inc, California,211

[9] Aloysius M. Lugira,2009, Encyclopedia of African Religion, SAGE Publications, Inc, California,13-14

[10] Ibid xxiii

[11] Aloysius.M Lugira, 2009, African Traditional Religion, SAGE Publications Inc. Califonia, 53-63

[12]Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama, 2009, African Traditional Religion, SAGE Publications Inc. Califonia, xxiii

[13] Ibid xxv

[14] Ibid xxvii

[15] Krüger, J.S., Lubbe, G.J.A & Steyn, H.C., 2009, The human search for meaning: A Multireligion Introduction to the Religions of Humankind, Van Schaik Publishers, Pretoria

[16] Nwafor Matthew Ikechukwu, International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology, The living-dead (ancestors) among the Igbo-African people: An interpretation of Catholic sainthood, Godfrey Okoye University Enugu, Nigeria. Received 10 March, 2017; Accepted 31 March, 2017 Retrieved from: http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/IJSA/article-full-text-pdf/3A83D9563934/on 17/01/2018

[17] Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama,  2009, Encyclopedia of African Religion, SAGE Publications Inc. Califonia, 30

[18] ibid           

[19] Ibid,

[20] Molefi Kete Asante and  Ama Mazama; 2009 Encyclopedia of African Religion, SAGE Publications, Inc,Califonia, 34

[21] Molefi Kete Asante and  Ama Mazama; 2009 Encyclopedia of African Religion, SAGE Publications, Inc, Califonia,  670

[22] Ibid 34

[23] Molefi Kete Asante and  Ama Mazama; 2009 Encyclopedia of Black Africans, SAGE Publications, Inc, Califonia, 56

[24] Ibid 89

[25]David Steindl-Ras, The Mystical Core of Organized Religion, Retrieved from: https://gratefulness.org/resource/dsr-mystical-core-religion/ on 10/3/2018

[26] Merriam Webster’s 11 Collegiate Dictionary, Retrieved from: https://books.google.com.ng/books?id=TAnheeIPcAEC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

[27] Richard Gehman 2013; African Traditional Religion in the light of the Bible, Margadashan production.India  P. 53

[28] Zacchaeus Matheema in Kwabna(ed) The Church, Culture and Spirit; Biblical Research institute; Silver Spring. 37- 38, 40

[29] Richard J. Gehman, 1990  African  Traditional Religion in Biblical Perspective, East African Educational Publishers , Kenya:  p.85

[30] Ibid

[31] https://www.lausanne.org/content/west-african-case-study/19/12/2017

[32] Ibid

[33] Richard J. Gehman, 1990  African  Traditional Religion in Biblical Perspective, Kenya: East African Educational Publishers , p.85

[34]https://worldstudiesclass.wikispaces.com/file/view/AfricanTradreligions.pdf/ 19/12/2017

[35]Kanu, Ikechukwu Anthony (OSA) African Traditional Religion in a Globalizing World, in  International Journal of Humanities Social Sciences and Education (IJHSSE) Volume 1, Issue 8, August 2014, PP 4-12 ISSN 2349-0373 (Print) & ISSN 2349-0381 (Online)

[36] Aloysius M. Lugira, 2009,Encyclopedia of African Religion,  SAGe Publication, Inc, California, p.13

[37] Ibid

[38]Molefi Kete Asante, 22009, Encyclopedia of African Religion, SAGE Publications Inc. California,  54

[39]https://worldstudiesclass.wikispaces.com/file/view/AfricanTradreligions.pdf/ 19/12/2017

[40]Molefi Kete Asante, Encyclopedia of African Religion, SAGE Publications Inc. California,43

[41] Ibid 7

[42]https://watumishiwaneno.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/african_worldview_

introduction.pdf/21/12/17

[43] Ibid

[44]www.credomag.com/2012/05/10/deus-absconditus-and-deus-incognito/21/12/2017

[45] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_otiosus/21/12/17

[46] Molefi Kete Asante and  Ama Mazama; 2009, Encyclopedia of African Religion, SAGE Publications, Inc, Califonia, 2

[47] Ibid 100 BY Pastor EDARA UMOETTE

inim kufre
Author: inim kufre

CEO Happy Choice

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