Concept of Salvation in African Traditional Religion

Salvation is an indispensable element in all religions.[1]To many, the history of the world is, at the same time, the history of salvation.[2] Rosemary Goring, defines salvation “as the deliverance of humankind by religious means from sin or evil, the restoration of human beings to their true state, and the attainment of eternal blessedness.” [3] Here, salvation presupposes that there is a situation from which persons or things need to be saved or rescued.[4]

According to John Mbitti, African Traditional Religion has to do with physical and immediate danger that threatens individual or community, good health and general prosperity or safety. Salvation is not just an abstraction, it is concrete, and hold in terms of both what has happened and is likely to be encountered by people as they go through daily experience.[5]

Salvation in African Traditional Religion is the central focus of the religion. It is as well a theme that gives meaning to life. African Traditional Religion is not just a way of life, but an experience or an encounter with the Supreme Being and the people of Africa. It is a religion that is meant for the wellbeing of the people in Africa. African Traditional Religion was revealed according to God’s will for the purpose of solving sin or evil problem and bringing salvation of the people of Africa. Therefore, salvation which God has brought deals with every form of pain, misfortune, sorrow or suffering; every kind of sickness and illness; every death whether of an old man or of the infant child; every failure of the crop in the fields, of hunting in the wilderness or of fishing in the waters; every bad omen or dream: these and all other manifestations of evil that man experiences are blamed on somebody in the corporate society.[6]

Encyclopedia of African Traditional religion clarifies that Salvation is a locus of God’s revelation to African ancestors and therefore a sufficient means of salvation or meaning for the African people.[7]

In this case, Salvation in African Traditional Religion is not just a concept but an embodiment of a whole, which comprises of all the ingredients that brings remedy to human problems and beautifies life for the people of Africa.  Since Salvation in African Traditional Religion is an experience from the Supreme Being, therefore it gives them the sense of security, it is their identity and it is for them an act of deliverance from any kind of difficulty they may experience life.[8]The presence of problem is the call for salvation; in this case, salvation acts to help them solve any problem encounter in life. Every family, every ethnic group has encountered one problem or the other and as such everyone desires salvationfor a remedy to life problem. That which gives meaning to life and brings solution to life’s challenges is salvation.

Rev. Dr. Emmaunuel Kingsley Larbi, posited that the Akan people in Ghana describes salvation as  “nkwagye.”

The term salvation is made up of two words: nkwa and gye. Nkwa, … means  vital life , vitality, vigour, health, happiness and  felicity., in short, nkwa means  abundant life, that is, “life in all its fulness” Gye has  several meanings, but when used  in the  salvific sense it means  to: rescue, retake, recapture, redeem, ransom, buy out of  servitude or penalty; it also means to release, to free, to  deliver, to save. It could also mean: to lead, to conduct, to guide, to take along with; or  to protect, to defend; or  to preserve. [9]

The term nkwa-gye therefore is pregnant with rich meaning. Among other things, it means the “liberation or preservation of abundant life, or saving of abundant life.”[10]  The Akan concept of salvation has so much to do with the concrete realities, things one can identify with in the day to day life. It has to do with the physical and immediate dangers that militate against individual or communal survival and enjoyment of nkwa, that is, life in all its fullness.[11] It embodies ahonyade (good health, general prosperity and safety and security. This is the general context within which salvation is perceived.[12]

African Traditional religion refers to salvation as a good and acceptable way of life here and now.[13]  They relate the Supreme Being as the source of salvation. Whatever God means to the people of Africa is salvation. Salvation in Africa has to do with removal of physical and immediate dangers that threaten individual or community survival, good health and general prosperity or safety. Salvation is not just an abstraction: it is concrete and pragmatic( reality)[14]

Furthermore, the concept of salvation in African Traditional Religion is associated with location that can be considered as sacred to provide salvation for the people of Africa.

There are some places that are held sacred. These can be shrines, sacred mountains, rocks, caves, shrubs, etc. These places are considered to provide safety (salvation) for human beings, animals, birds and trees. Any animal or person hiding in any of these places may not be killed or molested. Trees in sacred places may not be cut down nor the vegetation destroyed. This means in effect that sacred places save life from destruction even if paradoxically they are spots where sacrifices and offerings are made.[15]

Moreso, salvation within the African cultural heritage means redeeming and sanctifying the good and destroying the evil. Anything that brings relieve to this present life, and future life salvation. Wherever relief may come from is considered as the source of salvation in African concept. Salvation in African Traditional religious means wrestling with issues that hinder Africans here from reaching their full potential here and now. The conflict is not between God and humanity, but between God human enemies.[16]

Since salvation involves every experience that brings solution to the problem of evil in African community and beyond. Therefore, salvation can be categorically mean healing, liberation, protection from evil power, life after death, wealth and prosperity, good health, process to better living, divine providence to present need, joining ancestral community, remedy to evil, solution to  problem here and now, divine encounter, victory in warfare, periodical suffering, mission call, good news, redemption, propitiation, expiation, atonement, forgiveness, restitution, mystical or supernatural power, deliverance, place of Escape or refuge, an Acceptance into a community, right to an inheritance, grace or unmerited favor, befitting burial, restoration.[17]

2.10  The Process of Gaining Salvation

The process of gaining salvation is not a debatable issue in African traditional religion since salvation is linked with Religion and religious practices. Religion can be defined as a ways which human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. It is also commonly regarded as consisting of the way people deal with ultimate concerns about their lives and their fate after death.[18]  Religion as a matter of fact, is the main process through which one can receive salvation since it has so much to do with a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.[19]

African Traditional religion is a religion, and a means of communicating with the Supreme Being through involvement of some practices in reverence to the gods and deities for the well-being of the people of Africa. For this reason, African Traditional religion became part and  parcel of African  daily life  and became their heritage which is carried along from generation to generation. African Religion is the product of the thinking and experiences of our forefathers. They formed religious ideas, they formulated religious beliefs, and they observed religious ceremonies and rituals. They told proverbs and myths which carried religious meanings, and they evolved laws and customs which safeguarded the life of the individual and his community.[20]  For this reason, every member of African Traditional religion regards the religion not just as a way of life but as means of salvation. It is his or her ubuntu or humanity. No African can exist without his/her traditional religion.

2.10.1  Rites of Passage: Rites of passage are fundamental act (or set of rituals) performed according to prescribed social rules and customs.  [21]These are ceremonies that mark important transitional period in a person’s life, such as birth, puberty, marriage, having children, and death. Rites of passage usually involve ritual activities and teachings designed to strip individuals of their original roles and prepare them for new roles.[22] Rite of birth: The rite of birth is the first of the major Africans rites or initiations and its involves initiating the infants into the world through a ritual and naming ceremony. It is a believe that the infants has come to fulfill a particular mission or projects, and has a great message to deliver.[23] Because of infant mortality remains high, the people of many African cultures are extremely superstitious during the first few of a child’s life, and carry out rituals to protect it from hazards.[24] For example:

·         The Himba of Namibia never leaves a baby on its own or even put it down, lest the child be stolen away by some malevolent spirit.

·         The Wodaabe of Niger do not name a child before its 12th birthday so that he or she cannot be identified by the spirit of death.

·         For Maasai babies, however, names are so important that they are bestowed by village elders soon after birth. Pregnancy Rites: These are rites carried out to ensure safe delivery. So when a woman is pregnant, she rejoices with her husband and the immediate family. Necessary precautions are taken to ensure normal gestation and delivery. Sacrifice of thanks is made to the supreme God, or the family gods or ancestral spirit. Prayers are offered for the health of the mother and her baby.[25] Often, there must be obstacles; the usual thing done to prevent any disastrous consequences is to appease the gods of iron (Ugu) or make sacrifices which may involve the feeding of young children. The young children as it is believed will bring luck to the expectant mother. Sometimes the expectant mother may be told to worship the gods of the rivers Olokun (Ika Ibo) if she is found to be Ogbanje the daughter of the river.[26] The Rite of Puberty or Adulthood:  The rite of Adulthood is another initiation or rites which is refers initiation into adulthood.As they enter the adult world during their teenage years, African youngsters undergo a variety of initiation rituals. These rites provide individuals with instruction about what will be expected of them during the next phase of their lives. [27] These rites may include and female circumcision or mutilation respectively. Marriage Rites: The Rite of Marriageis another initiation rite and it represents not only the joining of two families, but also the joining of the two missions of the new couple.[28] Though marriage in African Society is a social affair but it is a complex affairs. Without procreation, marriage is incomplete. Different customs are observed in the matter of finding partners for marriage. In some societies the choice is made by parent. In some African societies marriage is not allowed between close relatives. If such is done it is expected that obstacle will befall the marriage, such as sickness, childlessness,or death of any child born by the couples.[29] Death RitesDeath rites can also be regarded as rite of ancestorship.[30] This concern passing over into the spirit world. The rituals surrounding death is complex and varies from place to place.There are two types of burial in most African societies. The first burial applies to any person who dies at tender age, but the second burial is restricted to persons who are old. In the first burial as soon as the person dies the relatives after washing and dressing the corpse a grave is dug. At the interment various objects are put in the grave especially money. These are meant for the use of the deceased on his journey to the world beyond.The second burial is merely ceremonies and involves a lot of expenses on the part of the family. The second burial varies from a few weeks to a year or more. As there is much expenses involved the rite may be delayed, but if the ghost of the dead man is believed to be troublesome, and to appear in dreams, then the complete rites is hastened[31]

2.10.2 Naming ceremony

The birth of a child is always a time to rejoice. It means that the couple was blessed and that the family unit and the community are being strengthened. In many African countries rituals and festivals are to be involved to celebrate the arrival of the child. In some African societies, it is believed that a child does not officially start existing until he or she is named as part of his or her rite of passage. Among the Akamba people, a child is named after three days. A goat is then slaughtered as a token of appreciation for ancestors who are responsible for human fertility.[32]2.10.3 Scarification: It is the practice of piecing the skin with sharp object in a controlled way on various part of the body in order to create marks of distinction. This can be done with knife, glass, stone or even a coconut shell. Scarification, in African culture communicates gender, age, social status and many other messages  to the  community who these powerful message man. Also, traditionally scarification is believed to have healing powers, enhance beauty, and  is an important part of ethnic identity and rites of passage to mark stages in the life process such as  puberty and marriage. It is believed that without scars a person was often considered ugly, antisocial, cowardly or poor.[33]

2.10.4 Piercing: In many African countries, piercing (of the ears lips an nose) are stretching (with objects such as straw, wood, plates and even bone) are a part of initiation into adulthood and preparation for marriage. This is witnessed in the Djiinja culture’s betrothal rite in which the man who is to marry a Djiinja girl begins to transfix her lips by piercing and inserting a blade of straw which is later replaced by a plug of wood, a disc, and eventually a plate as a sign of ‘possession’ by the husband of the now woman. Lip piercing is also seen among the Mursi and Nuba of Ethiopia as a rite of adulthood. The Dogon, of Mali practice lip piercing in order to commemorate Noomi, the ancestor spirit who gave them the power of speech. In Chad, piercing of the upper labret is a sign of manhood. Both men and women among the Masai and Fulani tribes engage in ritualistic earlobe (and cartilage) piercing and stretching to mark the stages of life. Once pierced and stretched, the Masai are able to hang intricately beaded jewelry through the stretched holes for adornment during traditional ceremonies, including circumcision for both men and women. Even ancient male Egyptian royalty has been discovered to utilize piercing rituals.[34]

2.10.5Sacrifice:African Traditional Religion considers sacrifice  as one of the main instrument of obtaining salvation or favour from the supreme being.Sacrifice is primarily a means of contact or communion between the Divine and man. It serves as the best way through which man maintains an established relationship between himself and his object of worship. It is a gift offered to God or to a superhuman being in recognition of their superiority over humanity. Animal sacrifice is considered as the usual way of offering praise. Bull, goat, or chickens are the most common objects of sacrifice, offered at every stage of rites of passage.[35] In African Traditional Religion, it is believed one will obtain favor or gainadvantage through the instrumentality of sacrifices.[36]


[2] Encyclopedia of Religion,  Vol. 12, 7881

[3] Rosemary Goring, ed. 1995, “Salvation” in The Wordsworth Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions, (Herefordshire: Wordsworth Editions,) 455

[4] Encyclopedia of World Religions, 405

[5] John Mbitti,1974 “Some Reflections on African Experience  of Salvation today” in living faths and  Ultimate Goals, Geneva: World  Council of Churches,1-133

[6] Kasomo Daniel:  An investigation of sin and evil in African cosmology , International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology Vol. 1(8) pp. 145-155, December, 2009 Available online ISSN 2006- 988x © 2009 Ac

[7] Encyclopedia of ATR 285



[10] Ibid

[11] ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] ibid


[15] Ibid

[16]Mugabe, Henry J.1994  “ Salvation from an African Perspective.” Indian Journal of Theology 36.1, 31-42

[17] Ibid;



[20] Mbiti J.S 1975: An Introduction to African Religion Lusaka. Published by Heinemann Educational Books, 12






[26]Dr. C.N Nwadiokwu, E.S Nwadiokwu, E.N Favour, M.E Okwuazun; Rites of Passage African Traditional Region; International Journal of Education and Research Vol. 4 No. 9 September 2016; Retrieved  from: on 12/12/2017


[28]Manu Ampim;Africana Studies;; ; Retrieved  from:


[30] 1/3/2018



[33] Ibid


[35] Aloysius.M Lugira, 2009, African Traditional Religion, Chelsea House 132, West 31st Street New York Ny 10001,73

[36] 8/1/18

inim kufre
Author: inim kufre

CEO Happy Choice

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *