African Ethnic Religions

by: Meghana Vankina, Janice Yoo, Bobby Shi & Daniel Yousef

What is Animism?

  • A belief in numerous personalized, supernatural beings that inhabit both objects and living beings and govern their existences
  • A belief that "everything is conscious" or "everything has a soul"

Concept of Animism

Animism originated through early human need to understand the elements. For example, if it was raining, they did not understand why it was raining. So, they did a rain dance to please the god that controlled rain, and in other cases of disasters, did other ethnic practices. Some beliefs of animism are doing rain dances or other traditional acts to please the gods that control the elements. Also, some people in Senegal sacrifice animals and other things of that nature. Most tribes have their own versions of animism based on tradition and culture, so there are really no branches and divisions within the concept of animism.

Origin of African Ethnic Tribes

Akan Tribe

Origin:

  • The first Akan settlement, the Kingdom of Bonoman, was established in the 11th century as a trading state between the Akan and their neighbors. During different phases of the Kingdom of Bonoman, groups of Akans migrated out of the area to create numerous states, which ultimately led to the rise of the most well known Akan empire, the Empire of Ashanti.


Basic Religious Beliefs:

  • The Akan strongly believe in the concept of matrilineality, a system in which descent is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors. The traditional Akan rural organization is based on matrilineal lineages, which are the basis of inheritance and succession. Several lineages are grouped into a political unit headed by a chief and a council of elders, each of whom is the elected head of a lineage.

    The political units are grouped into eight larger groups called abusua: Aduana, Agona, Asakyiri, Asenie, Asona, Bretuo, Ekuona and Oyoko. The members of each abusua are united by their belief that they are all descended from the same ancient ancestress. Members and their spouses belong to different abusuas, with mother and children living and working in one household, but their husband/father living and working in a different household.


Classification:

  • Ethnic


Branches or Subgroups:

  • Ashanti, Akwamu, Akyem, Akuapem, Denkyira, Abron, Aowin, Ahanta, Anyi, Baoule, Chokosi, Avikam, Avatime, Ebrie, Ehotile, Nzema, Abbe, Aboure, Coromantins, and Ndyuka


Dogon Tribe

Origin:

  • Among the Dogon several oral traditions have been recorded as to their origin. The first Dogon settlement was established in the extreme southwest of the escarpment at Kani-Na.


Basic Religious Beliefs:

  • The Dogon are strongly oriented toward harmony, which is reflected in many of their rituals. For instance, in one of their most important rituals, the women praise the men, the men thank the women, the young express appreciation for the old, and the old recognize the contributions of the young.


Classification:

  • Ethnic


Branches or Subgroups:

  • Fante, Kwahu, Sefwi, Ahafo, Assin, Evalue, Wassa, Adjukru, Akye, Alladian, Attie, M'Bato, Abidji

Geographic Distribution

Akan:

How the tribe diffused:

  • Akan diffused through relocation diffusion. They migrated to their current location from the Sahel and Savannah region of West Africa into the forested region between the 10th and 12th centuries.


Holy Places:

  • There is no specific shrine or holy place that the Akan people go to for worship. Instead, the Akan people consider sacred spaces and shrines to be holy, such as personal huts, village shrines, places of deceased chiefs, natural-phenomena shrines, and burial places of chiefs. Natural shrines such as trees, hills, groves, pools, streams, falls, and rapids represent the elements of water, earth, air, and fire.


Where it is practiced today:

  • The Akan people are an ethnic group of West Africa predominantly in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.


Number of followers:

  • Roughly 500 thousand followers


Map:

LOOK BELOW. (First picture)


Dogon:

How the tribe diffused:

  • Dogon diffused through relocation diffusion. Over time the Dogon moved north along the escarpment, arriving in the Sangha region in the 15th century. Other oral histories place the origin of the Dogon to the west beyond the river Niger, or tell of the Dogon coming from the east. It is likely that the Dogon of today combine several groups of diverse origin who migrated to escape Islamization.

Holy Places:

  • Binu Shrine of the Dogon people of Mali. What makes a place sacred is the belief that a particular spot or object has a connection with God. Sacred places in animism are not tied to one building but can be found in the land itself. Waterfalls, mountains, unique trees and rock formations all can be places where spirits dwell. People visit sacred sites and leave offerings of food, magical objects, and other gifts to ask for the spirits' blessing.

Where it is practiced today:

  • The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the central plateau region of the country of Mali, in the West of the Continent of Africa, south of the Niger bend, near the city of Bandiagara, in the Mopti region.


Number of followers:

  • The population numbers between 400,000 and 800,000

Map:
LOOK BELOW. (Second picture)

Unique Features

Akan:
Important people:

  • The Akan community is headed by one male elder, usually a priest. The priest is believed to make contact with the supreme gods, including the highest god, Brekyirihunuade ("the one who knows and sees everything").


Holy Texts:

  • No written form exists, but passed down orally and through art.


Religious symbols:

  • The Akan believe that the universe was created by a Supreme Being, whom they refer to variously as Oboadee (Creator), Nyame (God), Odomankoma (Infinite, Inventor), and Ananse Kokuroko (The Great Spider; The Great Designer). Akan sculptures also represent religious values, ideals, and freedoms.


Place of worship:

  • The Akan people worship near mountains, rivers, valleys and in personal shrines.


Dogon:

Important people:

  • Each Dogon community, or enlarged family, is headed by one male elder. This chief head is the oldest living son of the ancestor of the local branch of the family.

Holy Texts:

  • No written form exists, but passed down orally and through art.

Religious symbols:

  • Dogon art represents religious values, ideals, and freedoms.

Place of Worship:

  • The Dogon people paint cliffs to mark places where important ceremonies take place. The site at left is a place where coming of age ceremonies (Dama) are held.

Impact on social and family structures: (BOTH TRIBES)

  • Animism does not impact the family structures in the Akan and Dogon community.

Impact on cultural beliefs and expectations: (BOTH TRIBES)

  • The core beliefs of animism persist in non-animistic religions today. Even monotheist religions such as Christianity and Islam, among others, proclaim the existence of human souls as well as spirits. All religions believe in some sort of survival of the dead beyond earthly life. The honor for the dead found in all faiths arose from animism.

Christian and Islamic Impact

Christianity and Islam got involved with the traditional African religion when Christianity was the dominant religion, but then Islam took over the north. But there are some similarities within them. For example, they all have one powerful being, a deity, they both acknowledge and respect the dead, and believe that there are spirits whether they are in either heaven or hell, or on Earth around us. Another similarity is that they both believe in the evil side of things, such as demons and the devil. The tribes think that the only way to get the demon out of the possessed person is by exorcism, same as the Christians. The diffusion of these two universal religions caused some Africans to convert to these religions, especially Islam in the north, but because of isolation, many Africans continue to practice traditional religions.

ESSENTIAL QUESTION

How does popular culture effect the daily practices of Ethnic African tribes/religions?
Dogon Dama