It helps us confront the gap between our ideals about the world and our actual experiences of it. Family relationships are framed by a set of stereotypical societal values: mothers are loving and altruistic, fathers protect and provide, children are dutiful and make their parents proud. Tragedy explores the ultimate expressions of our fears that life will disappoint us. Discovering new planets — Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.
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Medea about to kill her children , Eugene Ferdinand Victor Delacroix. The Lupupans incorporated Christian ideas into their systems. While other traditional African societies may possess fewer elaborate details of reincarnation, several of them hold the view that ancestors are born into their lineage. Another essential aspect of African traditional religion is divination, which devotees use to access the sacred knowledge of the deities and the cosmos. The process of divination allows the deities' feelings and messages to be revealed to humans.
Individuals or groups of people practice divination in order to discern the meanings and consequences of past, present, and future events.
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Various forms of divination exist in African societies. Perhaps the most common is the appearance of signs that the elders consider to have significant meanings—for themselves, the people around them, the family, the clan, or the village. For instance, howling dogs signify the impending death of a relative. An injured toe means that a visit will be dreadful.
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A nightmare indicates the coming of an unpleasant event. Evan Zuesse, a scholar of religious studies, suggests that the Fon people of Benin practice three basic types of divination: possession divination, wisdom also called instrumental or interpretive divination, and intuitive divination. In possession divination a spirit possesses the diviner or sacred objects. By contacting the supernatural realm of spirits, gods, ancestors, or other divine beings, the diviner attains a state of possession or shamanic trance, usually through dancing and other ritual performance.
The spirit takes hold of the diviner and speaks in spirit voices, which are interpreted by the diviner's assistants. In wisdom divination the client seeks help from a diviner, who uses certain divination instruments to diagnose the cause of illness and prescribes appropriate ritual sacrifices and medicine. Intuitive divination uses the deep spiritual insight of the diviner, who has great power to reveal issues and concerns of the client. In Ifa divination a client consults a diviner babalawo , who throws a divining chain opele made of nuts on a mat and then recites the message of the Ifa deity who appears.
Clients listen to the poetic recital and identify aspects of it that relate to their problem. A precise response emerges through additional inquiry, and the diviner prescribes appropriate sacrifices. Various African cultures have developed intricate sets of ethical customs, rules, and taboos.
Many societies believe that their morals originated with God and the ancestors and were imparted to humans as elements of God's creation of the world. These moral values are thus embedded in the religious ethos and cosmology. Because the gods and ancestors created the society's ideals, people are highly reluctant to stray from them.
If offended, however, she can exhibit extremely violent reactions. In most traditional African cultures morals are of two classes—those that govern individual conduct and those that govern social and community relations. Morals that govern social conduct and community relations, and thus protect the group, tend to be rigorous, because the welfare of the group is highly valued.
Fundamental human rights are often seen as important not for the sake of individuals but for the collective survival of the group. Community morals govern the family unit, from maternal and paternal relatives to extended families, clans, and lineages. Family members must adhere to specific roles, privileges, and rights. Because they regulate an infinitely larger number of relationships and personal interactions, morals governing the community are complex.
To promote the welfare of communities, societies have established taboos and consequences for breaking them.
Marriage to a close relative, incest, and disrespect of property and life are taboo. It is forbidden in most places for the young to disobey the elders. This is because Africans assume that respecting elders is a way of acknowledging the wealth of their experiences, their contributions to community growth, and that they are close to the world of the ancestors.
Many African societies anchor their moral values on belief in the ancestors, who are regarded as the ultimate custodians of family mores. Breaking the laws of the community offends the ancestors, who may wreak disaster upon the offender and community as well. The ancestors often reward devotion to ancestral traditions by bestow blessings upon members of their lineages. Specific deities are ordained by the Supreme God as custodians of rectitude.
The gods are concerned with many issues in the day-to-day life of the people, including their fertility, agricultural production, governance, and health and well-being. The gods watch over a person's values, morals, and sense of justice. Although African religions have not embarked on a systematic theology, the myths, rituals, and stories of the gods and ancestors point to a profound statement on moral justice. The gods and ancestors are guardians of morality.
They profess habits of truth, justice, honesty, good character, and diligence. They reward good deeds and punish bad deeds. A number of the traditions talk about judgment, through which evil deeds are punished and good deeds are rewarded. Africans believe that punishment may be communal or may pass from one generation to another. Lineage or familial misfortune signifies punishment for the past sins of members of the lineage. Certain antisocial behaviors, such as theft, witchcraft, and sorcery, are taboo, and offenders may suffer punishment of death. Because African religions focus on contemporary worldly salvation, Africans believe that bad character is punished in this world.
African religious leaders include the sacred kings and chiefs who often serve as both spiritual and community leaders. Kingship is integral to African belief systems for at least two reasons. First, in the origin myths of several peoples, such as the Baganda of Uganda and the Edo of Nigeria, the first king or chief of the community was endowed with the sacred power of the Supreme Deity. At times rulers have been described as gods or as endowed with God's divinity. Second, the physical well-being of a king reflects the well-being of his people, including their agricultural and hunting life.
Indeed, in ancient African kingdoms, whenever the power of the king waned, he committed suicide to save the community. In modern African societies, such as that of the Zulu of South Africa, the king's roles as ruler, judge, and ritual specialist are often critical in maintaining a functioning society. Even with the advance of literacy and the impact of Islam and Christianity in Africa, the king continues to function as a sacred canopy under which foreign traditions are subsumed and celebrated.
Africans who follow a traditional religion rely on no scriptures, canonical texts, or holy books to guide them. In African traditional religions guidance is provided through myths, which are handed down orally. Elders, priests, and priestesses have served as guardians of the sacred traditions. Throughout Africa innumerable myths explain the creation of the universe, how man and woman appeared, the origin of the culture, and how people arrived in their current location.
Oral narratives define morals and values for traditional religions, just as written texts do for religions that have sacred books. Because of the oral nature of African sacred texts, the faithful who transmit this knowledge are considered sacred. Among many African ethnic groups, however, some sets of oral narratives exist that serve as sacred texts. A classic example is Ifa divination, which is popular among the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria.
The Ifa corpus is a large body of poetic oral narratives that are memorized by diviners and recited during divination performances. There is hardly a topic or issue that Ifa fails to address.
To learn about divine will and directives, an Ifa diviner babalawo uses 16 specially selected palm nuts or a divining chain opele made of 8 half palm nuts tied into a chain. The diviner holds the chain by the middle and throws it on a mat, making a U shape, so that four nuts fall on each side of the mat. The nuts expose either convex or concave sides, thus displaying 16 possible forms of Ifa signature.
Each signature stands for a symbol called an odu, each of which corresponds to a chapter also called an odu containing several verses of oral poems. The diviner then recites the odu that appear in the divination castings. After the recitation the client tells the diviner if any of the verses is relevant to the crisis.
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At this stage the client may reveal to the diviner the nature of his or her inquiry. The diviner recalls and interprets an appropriate text and, through further questioning, arrives at a definitive cause of the client's quest. The diviner prescribes a remedy, which is usually a sacrificial ritual, but in a case of grave illness medicinal herbs may offer a cure.
During their long periods of apprenticeship diviners memorize Ifa verses, which may be as long as odu. The message and sacrifices contained in Ifa verses are a genre of oral tradition; they preserve the Yoruba religious worldview through myths, proverbs, songs, and poetry. Highly trained diviners have largely been responsible for memorizing and transmitting important historical and cultural events to the living generation.
Because there are no sacred books, however, it is impossible to know what traditional religions were like or 1, years ago. Oral myths elude permanent display on paper, stone, or other media; African traditional religions remain changeable according to the needs of their followers. Accordingly, if religious believers no longer find a belief or ritual useful for daily spiritual life, it may easily be set aside forever. African art is a central part of traditional religious expression. It is known worldwide for its powerful ability to represent abstract ideas and spiritual forces.
African artists produce sacred icons and symbols of traditional religions in an enormous array of forms, both abstract and representational. Traditional artists typically carve images that express the powers of God, demigods, ancestors, and spirits as intermediaries between deities and humans. A royal stool may depict powerful animals such as leopards and tigers.
Practitioners of African traditional religions are generally familiar with the symbols and icons, but often only a few trained individuals can interpret the significance of such symbolic and iconic forms, which are used to imply religious meaning in initiation, divination, and secret societies.
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