African Religions


Figure 1.--This boy lived in Ethiopia's Omo Vlley, an area populated by many small, often orimitive tribal groups. It seems that he is a Christian. Once aling with the the Gospel, the European missionaries insisted on a modicum of European culture, including modesty. Now many missionaries are more willing to respect or at least tolerate local custom even when it differs from European standards of modesty.

The earliest evidenceof religion in Africa comes from Egypt and the Nile Valley. Egyptians were worshipping Isis, Osiris, Ra, Amen, and other gods (3,000 BC). Egyptian religious practices . Further south uip the Nile, the Kushites generally adopted Egyptian religious practices and added gods like Apedemak and Sebiumeker. Nubian gods, like Bes, seem to have traveled down the Nile and entered the Egyptian pantheon. Subsaharan Africa was the home of a wide range of traditional religious beliefs. For the most part they were animistic beliefs, although actual practices varied widely. There was no united Africam state, thus religious practices were highly varied. Culture patterns in Africa generally follow ethnic lines. And this can be observed with religious patterns. The Bantu people of West Africa seem to have began to move from polytheism to monotheism at a faurly early point. The idea of monotheism appeared in the person of the Sun God intrioduced by the Pharaoh Aknaten (around 1300 BC). Monotheism disappered, however, with the death of Aknatenm. Polytheism continued in North Africa, spread by the Phoenicians who introduced Tanit and Ba'al. The Greeks and then the Romans introduced their gods to North Africa. Monotheism did not become entrenched in North Africa until Christianity began to become an important force in the Roman Empire (3rd century AD). Constantine's conversion led to the comversion of North Africa and the spread iof Christianity in East africa, especially Axum (modern Erutrea and Ethiopia). One of the greatest Christian scholsrs was St. Augustine who lived in North Africa. North African Christians resisted attemopts by the Emperor, inclusing the Council of Nicea to standardize Christian beliefs. North African Christians included Donatists, the Catholics, and then the Vandal Arians. The Christian divisions and attempts by the Byzantine emperors to force adoption of a standardizeed faith were factor in the Muslim victories in Egypt and the rest of North Africa (7th century). The Moors turned north into Spain and not south into Adrica. In the east, Axum blocked Islamic expansion beyond southern Egypt. The conquest of Egypt and the Levant, however, off the Egyptian Coptic Christians and those in Ethiopia from the rest of Christendom. At the same time, the Bantu in sub-Saharan West Africa were gradually expanding into southern Africa, introducing their reloigious beliefs. The Bantu were moving away from polytheism. The Bantu tended to believe in ghosts and their power to influence the living. These ghosts included dead ancestors or popular rulers. Islam gradually moved across the Sahara and became entrenched in the northern grasslands areas of West Africa. Islam did not penetrate into the tropical rain forests of West and central Africa. South of the rain forests, Bantu religion remained dominant. Further south, in the Kalahari desert, the San people retained their own traditionl religion, similar to Bantu religious practices. Because Arab traders were active in the Indian Ocean, they mopved further down the coast of East africa, but did not move inland, except fot trade and slave raiding. The Europeans first reached beyond the Sahara (15th century), but theyu also did not move inland until the Scrable for Africa (19th century). At this time, missionaries began wide scale conversions. Traditional religious practices which once dominated the continent have declined as both Islam and Christianity have spread in Africa. Africa today is dominated by two religions. Islam in the north and Christianity in the south. Traditional religious tend to hold on in isolated rural areas. And while they have declined, elements survive in both Islamic and Christian religious observation.

Egypt

The earliest evidence of religion in Africa comes from Egypt and the Nile Valley. Egyptians were worshipping Isis, Osiris, Ra, Amen, and other gods (3,000 BC). Egyptian religious practices . Further south uip the Nile, the Kushites generally adopted Egyptian religious practices and added gods like Apedemak and Sebiumeker. Nubian gods, like Bes, seem to have traveled down the Nile and entered the Egyptian pantheon.

Animism

Subsaharan Africa was the home of a wide range of traditionalreligious beliefs. For the most part they were animistic beliefs, alought actual practices varied widely. There was no united Africam state, thus religious practices were highly varied. Culture patterns in Africa generally follow ethnic lines. And this can be observed with religious patterns.

Polytheism

Polytheism was common in orth Africa, spread by the Phoenicians who introduced Tanit and Ba'al. The Greeks and then the Romans introduced their gods to North Africa. The Bantu in sub-Saharan West Africa were gradually expanding into southern Africa, introducing their religious beliefs. The Bantu were moving away from polytheism. The Bantu tended to believe in ghosts and their power to influence the living. These ghosts included dead ancestors or popular rulers.

Monotheism

The Bantu people of West Africa seem to have began to move from polytheism to monotheism at a fairly early point. The idea of monotheism appeared in the person of the Sun God introduced by the Pharaoh Aknaten (around 1300 BC). Monotheism disappered, however, with the death of Aknatenm. Monotheism did not become entrenched in North Africa until Christianity began to become an important force in the Roman Empire (3rd century AD). Constantine's conversion led to the comversion of North Africa and the spread iof Christianity in East africa, especially Axum (modern Erutrea and Ethiopia). One of the greatest Christian scholsrs was St. Augustine who lived in North Africa. North African Christians resisted attemopts by the Emperor, inclusing the Council of Nicea to standardize Christian beliefs. North African Christians included Donatists, the Catholics, and then the Vandal Arians. The Christian divisions and attempts by the Byzantine emperors to force adoption of a standardizeed faith were factor in the Muslim victories in Egypt and the rest if North Africa (7th century). The Moors turned north into Spain and not south into Adrica. In the east, Axum blocked Islamic expansion beyond southern Egypt. The conquest of Egypt and the Levant, however, off the Egyptian Coptic Christians and those in Ethiopia from the rest of Christendom. Islam gradually moved across the Sahara and became entrenched in the northern grasslands areas of West Africa. Islam did not penetrate into the tropical rain forests of West and central Africa. South of the rain forests, Bantu religion remained dominant. Further south, in the Kalahari desert, the San people retained their own traditionl religion, similar to Bantu religious practices. Because Arab traders were active in the Indian Ocean, they mopved further down the coast of East africa, but did not move inland, except fot trade and slave raiding. The Europeans first reached beyond the Sahara (15th century), but they set up coastal trading posts abd for the most part did not move inland. The first Europeans to move inland were missionries beginning in the early-19th century. Other Europeans folowed later as part of the Scrable for Africa (late-19th century). At this time, missionaries began wide scale conversions. Traditional religious practices which once dominated the continent have declined as both Islam and Christianity have spread in Africa. Africa today is dominated by two religions. Islam in the north and Christianity in the south. Traditional religious tend to hold on in isolated rural areas. And while they have declined, elements survive in both Islamic and Christian religious observation.

Countries

Africa is split between Islam and Christianity. Interestingly despite the geographic proximity to India, Hinduism has made no inroad on the continent. African religions were largely animistic and varied folk cults. The first religion of any complexity was the Egyptian religon of the Nile Valley, but it does not seem to have had any significant influence beyond the Nile Valley of northeastern Africa. Rome conquered the Mediterranean coast of northern Africa (2nd-1st century BC) and introduced its pagan religion, but it did noy spread beyond the Mediterranean coast or was adopted by the indigenous popultion. Christian spread throughout the Roman Empire and was adopted as the state religion Empire (4th century AD). Christianity continued to domonate northern Africa after the fall of Romem but except in the East did not pentrate further south. Axum (modern Ethipopia) became a powerful Christian state. Arab warriors spread Islam throuhout northern Africa (7th century AD) and over time the region became largely Islamicized with importan Christian comminities especally in Egypt. There erre also smaller Jewish communities which had developed during the Roman era. Arab traders also spread Islam along the coast of East Africa. Arabs began the Africa slave trade, both in the Sahel and East Africa. There were as a result centuries of Arab violence against African peoples. At first the Africans were animists, but the violence coninued in many aras after Africans began converting to Christinity. Christinity did not reach Subsaharan Africa until the Portuguese began moving south along the Atlantic coast searching for a trade route to the East (15th century). Unlike the actions in the Americas, neither the Portuguesor Soanis=h and subsequently the Dutch, English, and French made an attempt to Chistinize the Africans or move inland. Like the Arabs, they began a very luctarive slave trade (16th century). It is unclar the dimension of the Arab slave trade, but the European Atlantic slave trade compressed into three centuries was the largest forced movement of people in history. and many of enslaved Africans, especially in the Caribbean were consumed in what were essentially death camps. Only with the Scramble for Africa did the Europeans begin to move inland and begin a major effort to convert the African people. Along with conversion and colonization came an effort to end the slave trade, resisted by Islamic groups. Today Africa is split between and Islamic north and Christian south. There is also a sliver Islam that goes south long the coast of eastern Africa. In Christian and Islamic communities, religious beliefs are often affected by the beliefs and practices of traditional religions which continue to be important in several countries. Across the central band along the Islamic/Christian divide, Islamic militants have become increasingly violent, attacking Christians including little girls they can enslave. This is a resumption of the Islamic violence throughout large areas of africa before the Europeans supressed the slave trade. There is no comparable violence from Christians. Nor is there any observeable moral outrage from Muslim countries and Islamic clerics.








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Created: 8:39 PM 10/25/2008
Last updated: 4:21 PM 5/28/2017